The Contendings of Horus and Seth
Manuscript of 'Contendings of Horus and Seth' in hieratic script in the Chester Beatty Library
Sizelength: 55 cm
Createdc. 1147 BC
Luxor, Luxor Governorate, Egypt
Present locationDublin, County Dublin, Ireland

"The Contendings of Horus and Seth" is a mythological story from the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt found in the first sixteen pages of the Chester Beatty Papyri and deals with the battles between Horus and Seth to determine who will succeed Osiris as king.

Chester Beatty Papyrus I

The Papyrus Chester Beatty I dates to the Twentieth Dynasty during the reign of Ramesses V (reigned 1149–1145 BCE) and likely came from a scribe's collection that was recorded for personal entertainment (Chester Beatty Pap I, Oxford). The papyrus contains the story of The Contendings of Horus and Seth as well as various other poetic love songs. The original provenance of the papyrus was Thebes. When found, the papyrus measured 55 cm (22 in) and had been torn and crushed.[1] The papyrus was published by the Oxford University Press in 1931 and currently is located in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.[2]

The story

Arguably the most important part of the Chester Beatty Papyrus I is the mythological story of "The Contendings of Horus and Seth" which deals with the battles between Horus and Seth to see who will be the successor to the throne of Osiris. The specific time of the Contendings is a period during which the fighting has temporarily stopped and Seth and Horus have brought their case before the Ennead. Throughout the story, Horus and Seth have various competitions to see who will be king. Horus beats Seth each time. The beginning of the story is a sort of a trial when both Seth and Horus plead their cases and the deities of the Ennead state their opinions. Later in the story, Seth fights with Horus and after several long battles Horus finally wins and becomes the king.

Consequences of the story

The story of "The Contendings of Horus and Seth" is important to Egyptian society because of its significance to kingship. The story reflects the customary pattern of inheritance for kingship in Ancient Egypt: father to son. The story is also significant to the idea of divine kingship because it sets up the idea of the triad of Osiris as the dead king, Horus as the living king on earth, and Isis as the king's mother.

Further reading and academic analyses

Many researchers and Egyptologists have dealt with "The Contendings of Horus and Seth". John Gwyn Griffiths, for example, talks about the whole conflict between Horus and Seth in his book The Conflict of Horus and Set. In the book, Griffiths discusses the different aspects of the ongoing battle for the office of Osiris, including the mutilations, homosexual episode, and the trial. Griffiths argues that the myth is of political and historical origin and that the story of Horus and Seth has to do with tribal struggles before the unification of Egypt.[3] Other historians have discarded this idea when it comes to "The Contendings of Horus and Seth" and say that this particular story was created simply as a religious myth and that it should not be considered of historical context (Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt).

In Ancient Egyptian Literature, Antonio Loprieno argues that the Contendings is one of the first instances of "mythology as a textual genre" and when mythology enters the literary field. He says that this has to do with the story as a political satire (Loprieno 50)[4]

In the Oxford publication of the Chester Beatty Papyrus I that contains "The Contendings of Horus and Seth", the discussion is conducted by Alan H. Gardiner, where he compares the story with the stories of the Greek deities and of Homer's Odyssey.

See also


  1. ^ Beatty, Alfred Chester, and Alan H. Gardiner. The Library of A. Chester Beatty. [London]: Walker, 1936. Print
  2. ^ "Chester Beatty Library | The Chester Beatty Library website, gallery, exhibition, collection". Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  3. ^ Griffiths, J. Gwyn. Allegory in Greece and Egypt. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1967. Print.
  4. ^ Loprieno, Antonio. Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and Forms. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996. 50+. Print.