An offering to your ka, Laura
An offering to your ka, Laura

My friend, Laura Janesdaughter, has indeed passed into the embrace of Isis. She was and is a great lover of the Goddess and a mentor of priestesses. She died at dawn on Memorial Day, surrounded by priestesses chanting for her and reading into her ears words from the sacred books. I could not wish for a better death. Goodbye, sweet priestess and teacher and friend.

Today’s post is dedicated to Laura.

Let us talk today about the aretalogy of Isis from a place called Maroneia. It is in the very northernmost part of Greece, in Thrace near the Bulgarian border. In legend, the city of Maroneia was founded by Maron, who some say was a son of Dionysos and some say was a son of Osiris (remember the close connection between these Gods). In ancient times, Maroneia was famous for producing nearly magical wines; hence the Dionysos-Osiris connection, no doubt.

The hymn to Isis from Maroneia is classed with the aretalogies of the Goddess, though in style it is somewhat different. An aretalogy is usually first-person statements by a Deity about Her or His nature and powers. This one is an address to the Goddess, which switches back and forth between second and third person. It is written in Greek on stone and found in a sanctuary dedicated to The Egyptian Gods, Isis and Serapis.

Hellenized Isis and Serapis
Hellenized Isis and Serapis

Its discoverer dated it to the 2nd-century BCE, which makes it the oldest of the known Isis aretalogies. Though it is also the most different of the aretalogies, and aims to interpret Isis to Greeks by connecting Her to Demeter, Athens, and Eleusis, scholar Louis Zabkar, who has studied the hymns to Isis at Philae as well as the aretalogies, is convinced that the original text on which this hymn is based is indeed Egyptian.

The Maroneia aretalogy was created and inscribed for Isis in gratitude for “the miraculous healing of my eyes.” Thus, it is a votive offering. Here is the text, which follows the author’s explanation about his healing:

Earth, they say, is the mother of all, from her who was first, you were born [as her] daughter.

You took Serapis as [your] companion, and after you [thus] instituted legitimate marriage, the world shone out before your faces, illuminated by Helios and Selene. Thus you are two, and [yet] you are called the many by men. Life indeed knows you alone to be the gods.

How would it not be hard to master the subject of a eulogy when one must begin the praise by [first] recalling many gods?

With Hermes she discovered writings, the sacred ones of these for the initiated, and the demotic for all [others].

She established Justice, so that each one of us, just as he by nature endures equal death, may also be able to live in conditions of equality.

She established language for men, for some the barbarian, for some the Greek, so that the human race may live in mutual friendship, not only men with women, but all with all.

You have given laws; they were called thesmoi in the beginning.

Thus the cities were solidly established, because they discovered that violence is not lawful, but that the law is without violence.

You made that parents be honored by their children, considering them not only as parents, but as gods.

This is why gratitude should be [even] greater, since it was the goddess [herself] who made out of natural necessity a law.

You are pleased with Egypt as your dwelling-place; among the Greek cities you most honor Athens.

It is there that for the first time you made known the fruits of the earth.

Triptolemos, having subdued your sacred serpents, carried by a chariot, distributed the seed to all Greeks.

This is why we are eager to see in Greece, Athens, and in Athens, Eleusis, considering [Athens] the City of Europe, and [Eleusis] the Sanctuary of the City.

She decreed that life should come into existence through man and woman.

She decreed … that the woman ….(and the rest is lost)

Writing in Greece to Greeks, the author securely ties Isis to Demeter and Her Mysteries at Eleusis, yet he knows that She is an Egyptian Goddess. What’s more, if you look at the specific qualities of Isis you will indeed find parallels with the other known Isis aretalogies of known Egyptian origin. (We can look at those in another post, later.)

The key things in this hymn for me are the claim that Isis and Serapis are “the two” and yet “the many,” the Goddess’ prohibition against violence, Her establishment of language for the mutual friendship of man and woman as well as all humankind, and the statement of the overall equality of human beings since we all share equal deaths. If we die equally, then the Goddess decrees we should live equally.

Powerful stuff.