A voice from the heavens sang out the joyful news: Osiris, the lord of all things, had been born.
The fortunate baby grew to be a handsome, wise king. He taught his unruly people to lead a more civilized life. He showed the Egyptians how to sow and reap crops. He instructed them in laws and had them build temples to the gods. He invented the flute so that the Egyptians might bring music to their worship. Osiris was beloved by all except for his jealous brother Seth.
Seth secretly took Osiris's measurements and had a magnificent chest built, exactly the size of the king. At a banquet, he playfully suggested that anyone who fit in the chest could keep it. Osiris climbed in. Seth quickly slammed the lid down, nailed it shut, and threw it into the sea.
Osiris's grieving widow Isis wailed at the treachery. She chopped off her hair and tore off her clothes. Then Isis wandered all the way to Phoenicia to find her husband's body, which she brought back and hid in a Nile swamp.
One night Seth tramped through the swamp while hunting. He spied the chest, threw it open and chopped Osiris in 14 pieces. Then he scattered the body parts. Isis began the painful journey to retrieve the pieces. She knew her beloved husband could not make his own journey to the underworld if he was not whole.
When Isis had completed her sad task, she and the gods Thoth and Anubis embalmed and mummified Osiris. They created the first funeral rites. Isis changed herself into a bird and breathed life into her husband by flapping her wings. Osiris was reborn, but claimed another throne: he became ruler in the land of the dead.
Floods, droughts, the burning desert sun: nature was extreme in ancient Egypt. There was no escaping the forces of the natural world, or the universal opposites, life and death. Egypt's complex mythology reflected this. And the most profound aspect of Egyptian life was its cult of death. Egyptians prepared for an afterlife that would be similar to their present life. Osiris, king of the dead, god of death and rebirth, ruled over their underworld.