1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Busiris

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BUSIRIS, in a Greek legend preserved in a fragment of Pherecydes, an Egyptian king, son of Poseidon and Lyssianassa. After Egypt has been afflicted for nine years with famine, Phrasius, a seer of Cyprus, arrived in Egypt and announced that the cessation of the famine would not take place until a foreigner was yearly sacrificed to Zeus or Jupiter. Busiris commenced by sacrificing the prophet, and continued the custom by offering a foreigner on the altar of the god. It is here that Busiris enters into the circle of the myths and parerga of Heracles, who had arrived in Egypt from Libya, and was seized and bound ready to be killed and offered at the altar of Zeus in Memphis. Heracles burst the bonds which bound him, and, seizing his club, slew Busiris with his son Amphidamas and his herald Chalbes. This exploit is often represented on vase paintings from the 6th century b.c. and onwards, the Egyptian monarch and his companions being represented as negroes, and the legend is referred to by Herodotus and later writers. Although some of the Greek writers made Busiris an Egyptian king and a successor of Menes, about the sixtieth of the series, and the builder of Thebes, those better informed by the Egyptians rejected him altogether. Various esoterical explanations were given of the myth, and the name not found as a king was recognized as that of the tomb of Osiris. Busiris is here probably an earlier and less accurate Graecism than Osiris for the name of the Egyptian god Usiri, like Bubastis, Buto, for the goddesses Ubasti and Uto. Busiris, Bubastis, Buto, more strictly represent Pusiri, Pubasti, Puto, cities sacred to these divinities. All three were situated in the Delta, and would be amongst the first known to the Greeks. All shrines of Osiris were called P-usiri, but the principal city of the name was in the centre of the Delta, capital of the 9th (Busirite) nome of Lower Egypt; another one near Memphis (now Abusir) may have helped the formation of the legend in that quarter. The name Busiris in this legend may have been caught up merely at random by the early Greeks, or they may have vaguely connected their legend with the Egyptian myth of the slaying of Osiris (as king of Egypt) by his mighty brother Seth, who was in certain aspects a patron of foreigners. Phrasius, Chalbes and Epaphus (for the grandfather of Busiris) are all explicable as Graecized Egyptian names, but other names in the legend are purely Greek. The sacrifice of foreign prisoners before a god, a regular scene on temple walls, is perhaps only symbolical, at any rate for the later days of Egyptian history, but foreign intruders must often have suffered rude treatment at the hands of the Egyptians, in spite of the generally mild character of the latter.

See[edit]

  • H. v. Gartringen, in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie, for the evidence from the side of classical archaeology.
(F. Ll. G.)