ANUBIS . The Egyptians represented the god Anubis as a black jackal (a wild dog?) crouching "on his belly," or as a man with a jackal's or dog's head. Anubis is the Greek form of his Egyptian name, Anpu ; the meaning of the latter is uncertain. The cult of Anubis originated in Middle Egypt, in the seventeenth province (nome), where his worship was centered. The province's town of Hardai, which had a dog cemetery in its environs, was called Kunopolis (Cynopolis) by the Greeks. But the cult was spread all over the country.
Anubis is one of the oldest funerary deities. Originally a destroyer of corpses, he was reshaped by theologians as the embalmer of gods and men. To Anubis was entrusted the mummification of Osiris (the ruler of the dead) and his followers, and the guardianship of their burials. Later Egyptian texts referred to Anubis as the son of Osiris—the product of a relationship between Osiris and his sister Nephthys.
In funeral ceremonies, the role of Anubis as promoter of the revival of the dead was performed by a priest-embalmer. Thus their earlier enemy had become their powerful ally. During the New Kingdom and later periods, a figure of the recumbent god usually appeared atop the "mystery chests" containing the prepared viscera of the dead. In this way Anubis, "he who is over the mystery," fulfilled his duty as keeper of the internal organs that he had resuscitated.
Anubis tended not only the physical well-being of the dead but their moral nature as well. He played a prominent part in the judgment hall of the hereafter. As "magistrate of the court" he examined the deceased, whom he permitted to leave the hall if the outcome was satisfactory. He continued to be the "conductor of souls" (Gr., psuchopompos ) in the cult and mysteries of Isis during Hellenistic and Roman times. Anubis was closely associated with the pharaoh, not only after his death but at his birth as well.
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DuQuense, Terence. Jackal at the Shaman's Gate. Thame Oxon, 1991. Anubis Lord of Ro-Setawe.
DuQuense, Terence. At the Court of Osiris. London, 1994. Anubis and judgment.
Grenier, Jean-Claude. Anubis alexandrin et romain. Leiden, 1977. Anubis in the Greco-Roman period.
Heerma van Voss, Matthieu. Een mysteriekist ontsluierd. Leiden, 1969. Anubis and the "mystery chest."
Heerma van Voss, Matthieu. Anoebis en de demonen. Leiden, 1978. Anubis as "magistrate of the court."
Leclant, Jean. "Anubis." In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, edited by John Boardman et al. Zürich, 1981. Anubis in the classical world.
M. Heerma van Voss (1987 and 2005)
The Book of the Dead
Son of Nephthys and Osiris
In the early days of ancient Egypt, Anubis (pronounced uh-NOO-bis), also known as Anpu, was the god of the dead. Later, when Osiris (pronounced oh-SYE-ris) took over this role, Anubis became the god who oversaw funerals. He was also the guardian of the underworld , or land of the dead, where he took the dead to the hall of judgment. Here he helped weigh each person's heart against the feather of truth before presenting the soul to Osiris.
Anubis was the son of the goddess Nephthys (pronounced NEF-this), who had tricked her brother Osiris into fathering her child. The goddess's husband, Set , hated Osiris and planned to murder the child when he was born. Nephthys therefore decided to abandon the infant at birth. She hid him in the marshes by the Nile River where he was found by Isis (pronounced EYE-sis), the wife of Osiris. Isis raised Anubis, and when he reached adulthood, he repaid her by becoming her protector. Later, when Osiris set out to conquer the world, Anubis accompanied him. Osiris was murdered by his old enemy Set, who tore his body to pieces. Anubis helped find the pieces of Osiris's body and embalmed them, or preserved them so well that they never decayed. Because of his actions, Anubis is said to have performed the first Egyptian burial rites and to have introduced the practice of embalming the dead to Egyptian culture. The Greeks and the Romans also worshipped Anubis, whose name is actually the Greek form of the Egyptian name Anpu. Anubis was frequently merged with the similar Greek god Hermes (pronounced HUR-meez) and given the name Hermanubis.
Anubis in Context
Ancient Egyptians were experts at the practice of embalming, which involves preserving the remains of the dead so they last through the funeral or burial and beyond. The Egyptians developed an embalming process known as mummification in which a dead body is wrapped in strips of cloth and dried out for preservation. Ancient Egyptians believed that a person's body was still needed after death, since it transported the soul to the afterlife. For this reason, Anubis played a crucial role in the way ancient Egyptians dealt with death and the dead.
Key Themes and Symbols
Anubis is primarily associated with death and the dying. Images of Anubis depict him as a jackal, a type ofwild dog, or as a man with the head of a jackal. Jackals prowled Egyptian cemeteries at night, looking for food and even eating corpses. The Egyptians believed that Anubis, in the form of a jackal, would keep real jackals away and protect the dead. In this way, Anubis represents a guardian and caretaker for Egyptians after they have died.
Anubis in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
The image of Anubis appears on many ancient Egyptian tombs. In fact, the distinctive jackal-headed figure is one of the symbols most commonly identified with ancient Egypt. More recently, Anubis has appeared as a character in the television show Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007).
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Even though Anubis is considered a god of death and the guardian of the underworld, ancient Egyptians viewed him as a protector and guide. What does this suggest about the ancient Egyptian view of death and the afterlife? How do you think this is different from, or similar to, modern views on death?