Legends of the Gods

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Legends of the Gods

By E. A. Wallis Budge

Section IV

IV. Nor, indeed, ought such an examination to be looked on as unnecessary whilst there are so many ignorant of the true reason even of the most ordinary rites observed by the Egyptian priests, such as their shavings 1 and wearing linen garments. Some, indeed, there are who never trouble themselves to think at all about these matters, whilst others rest satisfied with the most superficial accounts of them: "They pay a peculiar veneration to the sheep, 1 therefore they think it their duty not only to abstain from eating its flesh, but likewise from wearing its wool. They are continually mourning for their gods, therefore they shave themselves. The light azure blossom of the flax resembles the clear and bloomy colour of the ethereal sky, therefore they wear linen"; whereas the true reason of the institution and observation of these rites is but one, and that common to all of them, namely, the extraordinary notions which they entertain of cleanliness, persuaded as they are, according to the saying of Plato, "none but the pure ought to approach the pure." Now, no superfluity of our food, and no excrementitious substance, is looked upon by them as pure and clean; such, however, are all kinds of wool and down, our hair and our nails. It would be the highest absurdity, therefore, for those who, whilst; they are in a course of purification, are at so much pains to take off the hair from every part of their own bodies, at the same time to clothe themselves with that of other animals. So when we are told by Hesiod "not to pare our nails whilst we are present at the festivals of the gods," 2 we ought to understand that he intended hereby to inculcate that purity wherewith we ought to come prepared before we enter upon any religious duty, that we have not to make ourselves clean whilst we ought to be occupied in attending to the solemnity itself. Now, with regard to flax, this springs out of the immortal earth itself; and not only produces a fruit fit for food, but moreover furnishes a light and neat sort of clothing, extremely agreeable to the wearer, adapted to all the seasons of the year, and not in the least subject, as is said, to produce or nourish vermin; but more of this in another place.

Footnotes
202:1 A rubric in the papyrus of Nes-Menu in the British Museum orders the priestesses of Isis and Nephthys to have "the hair of their bodies shaved off" (No. 10,188, col. 1), but they are also ordered to wear fillets of rams' wool on their heads.

203:1 Probably the ram of Amen. Animal sacrifices were invariably bulls and cows.

203:2 This saying is by Pythagoras--Παρ? θυσ?αν μ? ?νυχ?ζου. The saying of Hesiod (Works and Days, 740) is rendered by Goodwin:--

"Not at a feast of Gods from five-branched tree,
With sharp-edged steel to part the green from dry."

 

 

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