User:Roger Pearse/Isis Sources

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When the enemy forced an entrance and the temple was fired, he hid during the night with the guardian of the shrine, and in the morning, disguised in the garb of a follower of Isis and mingling with the priests of that fickle superstition, he went across the Tiber with a single companion to the mother of one of his school-fellows.


Moreover, they say that he used to shave every day and smear his face with moist bread, beginning the practice with the appearance of the first down, so as never to have a beard; also that he used to celebrate the rites of Isis publicly in the linen garment prescribed by the cult.


From here:

Do not shun the temple of Memphis where the heifer of the Nile is worshipped. There everything is done that Jupiter formerly did.
Do not look into what goes on in the temple of the Egyptian Isis.


From Metamorphoses book 1

                  The Goddess was appeas'd; and at the word
                  Was Io to her former shape restor'd.
                  The rugged hair began to fall away;
                  The sweetness of her eyes did only stay,
                  Tho' not so large; her crooked horns decrease;
                  The wideness of her jaws and nostrils cease:
                  Her hoofs to hands return, in little space:
                  The five long taper fingers take their place,
                  And nothing of the heyfer now is seen,
                  Beside the native whiteness of the skin.
                  Erected on her feet she walks again:
                  And two the duty of the four sustain.
                  She tries her tongue; her silence softly breaks,
                  And fears her former lowings when she speaks:
                  A Goddess now, through all th' Aegyptian State:
                  And serv'd by priests, who in white linnen wait.
                    Her son was Epaphus, at length believ'd
                  The son of Jove, and as a God receiv'd;
                  With sacrifice ador'd, and publick pray'rs,
                  He common temples with his mother shares.
                  Equal in years, and rival in renown
                  With Epaphus, the youthful Phaeton
                  Like honour claims; and boasts his sire the sun.
                  His haughty looks, and his assuming air,
                  The son of Isis could no longer bear:
                  Thou tak'st thy mother's word too far, said he...

From Metamorphoses book 9:

When slumbring, in the latter shades of night,

                  Before th' approaches of returning light,
                  She saw, or thought she saw, before her bed,
                  A glorious train, and Isis at their head:
                  Her moony horns were on her forehead plac'd,
                  And yellow shelves her shining temples grac'd:
                  A mitre, for a crown, she wore on high;
                  The dog, and dappl'd bull were waiting by;
                  Osyris, sought along the banks of Nile;
                  The silent God: the sacred crocodile;
                  And, last, a long procession moving on,
                  With timbrels, that assist the lab'ring moon.
                  Her slumbers seem'd dispell'd, and, broad awake,
                  She heard a voice, that thus distinctly spake.
                  My votary, thy babe from death defend,
                  Nor fear to save whate'er the Gods will send.
                  Delude with art thy husband's dire decree:
                  When danger calls, repose thy trust on me:
                  And know thou hast not serv'd a thankless deity.
                  This promise made, with night the Goddess fled;
                  With joy the woman wakes, and leaves her bed;
                  Devoutly lifts her spotless hands on high,
                  And prays the Pow'rs their gift to ratifie.
                    Now grinding pains proceed to bearing throes,
                  'Till its own weight the burden did disclose.
                  Then Telethusa had recourse to pray'r,
                  She, and her daughter with dishevel'd hair;
                  Trembling with fear, great Isis they ador'd,
                  Embrac'd her altar, and her aid implor'd.
                    Fair queen, who dost on fruitful Egypt smile,
                  Who sway'st the sceptre of the Pharian isle,
                  And sev'n-fold falls of disemboguing Nile,
                  Relieve, in this our last distress, she said,
                  A suppliant mother, and a mournful maid.
                  Thou, Goddess, thou wert present to my sight;
                  Reveal'd I saw thee by thy own fair light:
                  I saw thee in my dream, as now I see,
                  With all thy marks of awful majesty:
                  The glorious train that compass'd thee around;
                  And heard the hollow timbrels holy sound.
                  Thy words I noted, which I still retain;
                  Let not thy sacred oracles be vain.
                  That Iphis lives, that I myself am free
                  From shame, and punishment, I owe to thee.
                  On thy protection all our hopes depend.
                  Thy counsel sav'd us, let thy pow'r defend.
                    Her tears pursu'd her words; and while she spoke,
                  The Goddess nodded, and her altar shook:
                  The temple doors, as with a blast of wind,
                  Were heard to clap; the lunar horns that bind
                  The brows of Isis cast a blaze around;
                  The trembling timbrel made a murm'ring sound.

Love poems

From the Love Poems:


From Amores ch.13 (context is child-birth after an attempted abortion)

Isis, thou who in Paraetonium dost dwell, and in Canopus' kindly meads and Memphis and palm-bearing Pharos and those plains where the Nile, quitting its mighty bed, flows and bears through seven channels its hurrying waters to the sea. By thy timbrels I entreat thee, and by the head of dread Anubis--so may the pious Osiris ever accept thy offerings, so may the drowsy serpent glide round about thine altars, and the hornèd Apis march in the procession; look mercifully on Corinna, and spare two lives in one, for thou to my mistress wilt give life; she will give life to me. Full often, on days appointed for thy worship, hath she sat within thy temple at the hour when thy priests enwreathe their brows with laurel.
And thou who takest pity on women who are suffering the pangs of childbirth when they seek to be delivered of the burden that stirs within them, come, propitious Ilithyia, and hearken to my prayers. She merits that thou shouldst count her among thy favoured ones; and I, apparelled all in white, will offer incense at thine altars. I at thy feet will lay my votive gifts, and this inscription will I add: "Ovid for Corinna's safety makes this offering." And all I pray thee is to justify these same offerings and inscription.

Ars Amatoria

From book 3, ll.633-638, p.144 (Melville tr.)

What use a spy when theatres abound,
When you are free to haunt the racing-ground,
Or with your rattle sit at Isis' feet,
And where no male groom may follow, can retreat,
When the male eye from Bona Dea's rites
Is banned, save such as she herself invites.

Pontic epistles

Book 1, Epistle 1 - To Brutus. p.371:

But do not suppose that, either because I have deserved, or have experienced the anger of the Prince, he is unwilling that he should be worshipped by me. I have beheld one who confessed that he had offended the Divinity of Isis, clothed in linen,3 sitting before the altars of Isis; another, deprived of his sight for a fault like his, was crying, in the middle of the road, that he had deserved it. The inhabitants of heaven rejoice that such public declarations are made, that they may prove by testimony how great is the extent of their power.
3 Clothed in linen.]—Ver. 51. Isis is thus called, as it was requisite that, in her worship, her priests and devotees should be arrayed in linen garments.

(There must be more references...)


Satire 6

Her household is governed as cruelly as a Sicilian Court. If she has an appointment and wishes to be turned out more nicely than usual, and is in a hurry to meet some one waiting for her in the gardens, or more likely near the chapel of the wanton Isis, the unhappy maid that does her hair will have her own hair torn, and the clothes stripped off her shoulders and her breasts.
If the white Io 61 shall so order, she will journey to the confines of Egypt, and fetch water from hot Meroe 62 with which to sprinkle the Temple of Isis which stands hard by the ancient sheepfold.63 For she believes that the command was given by the voice of the Goddess herself----a pretty kind of mind and spirit for the Gods to have converse with by night! Hence the chief and highest place of honour is awarded to Anubis,64 who, with his linen-clad and shaven crew, mocks at the weeping of the people as he runs along.65 He it is that obtains pardon for wives who break the law of purity on days that should be kept holy, and exacts huge penalties when the coverlet has been profaned, or when the silver serpent has been seen to nod his head. His tears and carefully-studied mutterings make sure that Osiris will not refuse a pardon for the fault, bribed, no doubt, by a fat goose and a slice of sacrificial cake.
63. The Temple of Isis was in the Campus Martius near the polling-booths (saepta) here called ovile.

9th satire

Not long ago, as I remember, you were a gallant more notorious than Aundius; you used to frequent the Temple of Isis and that of Peace with its Ganymede, and the secret courts of the Foreign Mother----for in what temple are there not frail fair ones to be found?

Satire 12

Who knows not that it is Isis who feeds our painters? 4
4. i.e by employing them to paint votive tablets for her temples.

Satire 13

Another fears that punishment will follow crime; he believes that there are Gods, but perjures himself all the same, reasoning thus within himself: "Let Isis deal with my body as she wills, and blast my sight with her avenging rattle, provided only that even when blind I may keep the money which I disavow; it is worth having phthisis or running ulcers or losing half one's leg at the price!


Antiquities 18, ch. 3 (Whiston)

4. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of the Jewish affairs.
There was at Rome a woman whose name was Paulina; one who, on account of the dignity of her ancestors, and by the regular conduct of a virtuous life, had a great reputation: she was also very rich; and although she was of a beautiful countenance, and in that flower of her age wherein women are the most gay, yet did she lead a life of great modesty. She was married to Saturninus, one that was every way answerable to her in an excellent character. Decius Mundus fell in love with this woman, who was a man very high in the equestrian order; and as she was of too great dignity to be caught by presents, and had already rejected them, though they had been sent in great abundance, he was still more inflamed with love to her, insomuch that he promised to give her two hundred thousand Attic drachmae for one night's lodging; and when this would not prevail upon her, and he was not able to bear this misfortune in his amours, he thought it the best way to famish himself to death for want of food, on account of Paulina's sad refusal; and he determined with himself to die after such a manner, and he went on with his purpose accordingly.
Now Mundus had a freed-woman, who had been made free by his father, whose name was Ide, one skillful in all sorts of mischief. This woman was very much grieved at the young man's resolution to kill himself, (for he did not conceal his intentions to destroy himself from others,) and came to him, and encouraged him by her discourse, and made him to hope, by some promises she gave him, that he might obtain a night's lodging with Paulina; and when he joyfully hearkened to her entreaty, she said she wanted no more than fifty thousand drachmae for the entrapping of the woman. So when she had encouraged the young man, and gotten as much money as she required, she did not take the same methods as had been taken before, because she perceived that the woman was by no means to be tempted by money; but as she knew that she was very much given to the worship of the goddess Isis, she devised the following stratagem: She went to some of Isis's priests, and upon the strongest assurances [of concealment], she persuaded them by words, but chiefly by the offer of money, of twenty-five thousand drachmae in hand, and as much more when the thing had taken effect; and told them the passion of the young man, and persuaded them to use all means possible to beguile the woman. So they were drawn in to promise so to do, by that large sum of gold they were to have. Accordingly, the oldest of them went immediately to Paulina; and upon his admittance, he desired to speak with her by herself.
When that was granted him, he told her that he was sent by the god Anubis, who was fallen in love with her, and enjoined her to come to him. Upon this she took the message very kindly, and valued herself greatly upon this condescension of Anubis, and told her husband that she had a message sent her, and was to sup and lie with Anubis; so he agreed to her acceptance of the offer, as fully satisfied with the chastity of his wife. Accordingly, she went to the temple, and after she had supped there, and it was the hour to go to sleep, the priest shut the doors of the temple, when, in the holy part of it, the lights were also put out. Then did Mundus leap out, (for he was hidden therein,) and did not fail of enjoying her, who was at his service all the night long, as supposing he was the god; and when he was gone away, which was before those priests who knew nothing of this stratagem were stirring, Paulina came early to her husband, and told him how the god Anubis had appeared to her. Among her friends, also, she declared how great a value she put upon this favor, who partly disbelieved the thing, when they reflected on its nature, and partly were amazed at it, as having no pretense for not believing it, when they considered the modesty and the dignity of the person.
But now, on the third day after what had been done, Mundus met Paulina, and said, "Nay, Paulina, thou hast saved me two hundred thousand drachmae, which sum thou sightest have added to thy own family; yet hast thou not failed to be at my service in the manner I invited thee. As for the reproaches thou hast laid upon Mundus, I value not the business of names; but I rejoice in the pleasure I reaped by what I did, while I took to myself the name of Anubis." When he had said this, he went his way. But now she began to come to the sense of the grossness of what she had done, and rent her garments, and told her husband of the horrid nature of this wicked contrivance, and prayed him not to neglect to assist her in this case.
So he discovered the fact to the emperor; whereupon Tiberius inquired into the matter thoroughly by examining the priests about it, and ordered them to be crucified, as well as Ide, who was the occasion of their perdition, and who had contrived the whole matter, which was so injurious to the woman. He also demolished the temple of Isis, and gave order that her statue should be thrown into the river Tiber; while he only banished Mundus, but did no more to him, because he supposed that what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love. And these were the circumstances which concerned the temple of Isis, and the injuries occasioned by her priests.

Jewish War book 7, ch. 4: Vespasian and Titus spend the night before their triumph in the Isaeum Campense.

4. Now all the soldiery marched out beforehand by companies, and in their several ranks, under their several commanders, in the night time, and were about the gates, not of the upper palaces, but those near the temple of Isis; for there it was that the emperors had rested the foregoing night. And as soon as ever it was day, Vespasian and Titus came out crowned with laurel, and clothed in those ancient purple habits which were proper to their family, and then went as far as Octavian's Walks; ...

Valerius Maximus

Source: Based on this page: "Valerius Maximus tells us that the authorities attempted to purge the cult from Rome, going so far as to destroy her temples–though none of the workmen would take up an axe so the politician in charge had to remove his toga and start trashing the temple himself."

4. The senate decreed the demolition of the temples of Isis and of Serapis, but none of the workers would stretch out their hands to do so. The consul P. Aemilius Paulus, taking off his toga praetextus, took a hachet and struck the doors of the temple with it. (AUC 534)


Apologeticum, chapter 6. The following is the ANF translation:

The consuls Piso and Gabinius, no Christians surely, forbade Serapis, and Isis, and Arpocrates, with their dogheaded friend, admission into the Capitol— in the act casting them out from the assembly of the gods— overthrow their altars, and expelled them from the country, being anxious to prevent the vices of their base and lascivious religion from spreading.

Cassius Dio

Cassius Dio, book 40, ch.27, discussing events during the triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus.

But it seems to me that that decree passed the previous year, near its close, with regard to Serapis and Isis, was a portent equal to any; for the senate had decided to tear down their temples, which some individuals had built on their own account. Indeed, for a long time they did not believe in these gods, and even when the rendering of public worship to them gained the day, they settled them outside the pomerium.

Book 53, 2:4. The policies of Augustus.

4. As for religious matters, he did not allow the Egyptian rites to be celebrated inside the pomerium, but made provision for the temples; those which had been built by private individuals he ordered their sons and descendants, if any survived, to repair, and the rest he restored himself.

Book 54, 6:6

6 Agrippa, then, checked whatever other ailments he found still festering, and curtailed the Egyptian rites which were again invading the city, forbidding anyone to perform them even in the suburbs within one mile of the city.


Histories, book 4, ch. 84

A temple [of Serapis], befitting the size of the city, was erected in the quarter called Rhacotis; there had previously been on that spot an ancient shrine dedicated to Serapis and Isis.

Annals, book 2, ch. 85. Actions of Tiberius (cf. Josephus)

Another debate dealt with the proscription of the Egyptian and Jewish rites,96 and a senatorial edict directed that four thousand descendants of enfranchised slaves, tainted with that superstition and suitable in point of age, were to be shipped to Sardinia and there employed in suppressing brigandage: "if they succumbed to the pestilential climate, it was a cheap loss." The rest had orders to leave Italy, unless they had renounced their impious ceremonial by a given date.

Plutarch, Isis and Osiris


Pharsalia, book 8

Though we have admitted to Roman temples your Isis and your dogs half divine, the rattle which bids the worshipper wail, and the Osiris whom you prove to be mortal by mourning for him, yet you, Egypt, keep our dead a prisoner in your dust.

Book 9:

Let all their tombs make atonement to Magnus who has none at all. I shall rifle the grave of Isis, now worshipped over the world ; the limbs of Osiris, swathed in linen, I shall scatter in the public streets ; I shall lay the gods as fuel whereon to burn my father's head.


Book 1, 3: Illness in Phaecia

What use is your Isis, to me now Delia, what use
the bronze that you rattled so often in your hand,
or, while you worshipped with holy rite, I remember,
your bathing in pure water, sleeping in a pure bed?
Now, goddess, help me now (since the many pictures
in your temples witness that you can heal)
so my Delia fulfilling her midnight vows
might sit before your sacred doors, shrouded in linen
and twice a day be bound to speak your praise, conspicuous
with loosened hair among the Pharian crowd.

Martial, Epigrams

Book 2, 14. About a man trying to get a dinner invitation.

Disappointed here likewise, he next haunts the Memphitic temple of Isis,2 and seats himself near the seats of that sad heifer.

Book 3, 20.

Tell me, my Muse, what my Canius Rufus is doing. ... Or, if he has retired from thence, is he pacing the portico of the temple of Isis,3 or traversing at his ease the enclosure of the Argonauts?
3. See ii. Ep. 14. The original has merely "temple," but all the commentators agree that the temple of Isis is meant.

Book 4, 43

I swear to you by the extravagance and madness of the rites of Isis and Cybele.

Book 10, 48

The priesthood of the Pharian heifer 1 announce to her the eighth hour,2 and the guard armed with javelins now return to their quarters.3
1. Isis. 2. 2pm. 3. Probably the Praetorian cohort.

Book 12, 29 About a man who steals linen napkins whenever invited to dinner.

The bareheaded priests of Isis, clad in linen vestments, and the choristers who play the sistrum, betake themselves to flight when Hermogenes comes to worship.


2.33A, 4.5.34

Book 2, 33

The wretched rites are back again: Cynthia’s been occupied these ten nights. And I wish they’d end these sacraments that Inachus’s daughter sent from tepid Nile to Italy’s women! This goddess, whoever she was, who so often separates lovers, was always ill-natured. Surely Io you learnt from hidden couplings with Jove, what it is to wander, when Juno ordered you, a girl, to wear horns, and lose your speech to the harsh sound cows make.
Oh, how often you galled your mouth on oak-leaves, and chewed, in your stall, on once-eaten strawberry leaves! Surely it’s not because Jupiter removed the wild aspect from your face, you’ve for that reason been made a proud goddess? Surely you’ve enough swarthy acolytes in Egypt? Why take such a long journey to Rome? What good’s it to you to have girls sleep alone? Believe me, your horns shall appear again, and we’ll chase you, savage one, from our city: there was never friendship between Tiber and Nile.
But you, for whom my sorrows prove far too calming, let’s make the journey three times, those nights when we’re free.

Book 4, 5:1-78 Elegy for a procuress

If by chance he roughs up your hair, his anger’s useful: after it press him into buying peace. Then when he’s purchased your embraces and you’ve promised love, pretend that these are the pure days of Isis.


Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass

Book 11 contains an account of the initiation of Lucius into the cult.



XCIII. With regard to the religious ceremonies of foreign nations, he was a strict observer of those which had been established by ancient custom; but others he held in no esteem. For, having been initiated at Athens, and coming afterwards to hear a cause at Rome, relative to the privileges of the priests of the Attic Ceres, when some of the mysteries of their sacred rites were to be introduced in the pleadings, he dismissed those who sat upon the bench as judges with him, as well as the by-standers, and beard the argument upon those points himself. But, on the other hand, he not only declined, in his progress through Egypt, to go out of his way to pay a visit to Apis, but he likewise commended his grandson Caius for not paying his devotions at Jerusalem in his passage through Judaea.