Nephthys, from Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. II
Although she appears frequently in Egyptian sources, the deity Nephthys apparently did not have her own body of myth independent of the Osiris legend. Her role is primarily funerary, as the counterpart of her sister Isis, in mourning and protecting the dead. Nephthys is usually portrayed as a woman with her name. Nb-hwt, “mistress of the mansion.” on her head. Sometimes she is
shown with outstretched wings: more rarely she is depicted in the form of a bird.
Nephthys’ character was established by the time of the Pyramid Texts (c.2400 sal). According to the texts, she is one of the Ennead of Heliopolis, the daughter of Geb and Nut, and the sister of Osiris. Isis and Seth. Although she is Seth’s consort, she supports Osiris, and is closely associated with Isis. When Osiris dies. Isis and Nephthys transform themselves into kites, lament his death, and restore his body, thus protecting it from decay. Together. they guard the young Honis and the deceased king. Isis and Nephthys are typically paired, and while both are essentially beneficent, Nephthys can be associated with darkness, as when Isis represents the ascending day bark and Nephthys the descending night bark.
The Pyramid Texts refer to Nephthys as the mother and nurse of the king. suggesting an association with divine birth, and the Westcar Papyrus portrays her aiding the birth of future kings. In solar religion. Isis and Nephthys assist Re, indicating a possible origin as sky goddesses.
Most representations of Nephthys occur in funerary contexts. She protects the canopic jars: her association is with Hapy as the guardian of the lungs. Isis and Nephthys are depicted behind the throne of Osiris in the Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead), occupying the solar bark in the Book of Gates, and beside the tomb of Osiris in the Book of That Which Is in the Undenvorld (Amduat). They adorn the exteriors of New Kingdom royal sarcophagi: the feather patterns on Theban nshi-coffins represent their outstretched wings, and they figure prominently in the vignettes on canonnage coffins of the New Kingdom and later. Funerary scenes in nineteenth dynasty private tombs show Nephthys at the head of the coffin. Isis at the foot. and Anubis administering to the deceased.
From the fifth dynasty onward, female dryt mourners are shown portraying Isis and Nephthys in funerary scenes. Two Graco-Roman versions of the Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys were intended to be performed by women impersonating the goddesses in temples and funerals respectively. There is little evidence for an individual cult of Nephthys, although three twentieth dynasty priests of her cult, and one from the Late Period, are attested. The birthday of Nephthys was celebrated on the last epagomenal day.
Nephthys is usually portrayed as childless, although in some Greco-Roman versions of the Osiris legend, Anubis is the child of Nephthys by Osiris. Other sources list her as the mother of a son by Re and a daughter by Hemen.
Although rarely associated with deities other than Isis. she is occasionally identified with Seshat or Anuket. In the Ptolemaic period, Nephthys attends the Apis bull, and the Greeks sometimes identified her with Aphrodite or Nike.
Armour, Robert A. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. Cairo, 1986. Brief discussion of Nephthys and her role in the Osiris legend.
Bonnet, Hans. Reallexikosz der egyptischen Religionsgeschichte. Berlin, 1952. Encyclopedic treatment of source material for the history of Egyptian religion, with details of textual evidence for the cult of Nephthys and associated deities.
Fischer, Henry George. “Representations of Dryt-mourners in the Old Kingdom? Egyptian Studies I: Varia. pp. 39-50. New York, 1976.
Presents additional evidence for female mourners who impersonate Isis and Nephthys, supplementing Wilson’s earlier study.
Griffiths, John Gwynn. Plutarch De Iside et Osiride. Cardiff. 1970.
Edited text of the Graeco-Roman account of the Osiris legend, with introduction, translation, and commentary.
Hart, George. A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. London, 1986. Brief, popular description of Nephthys and her portrayal in art.
Quirke, Stephen. Ancient Egyptian Religion. London, 1992. A recent study of Egyptian religion for the general reader. emphasizing art historical evidence from the British Museum.
Wilson, John A. “Funeral Services of the Old Kingdom.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 3 (1944), 201-208. A discussion of female mourners in the guise of Isis and Nephthys.
Written by: DENISE M. DOXEY
Quoted from: Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. II