Egyptian perspectives: Isidoros’ hymns in praise of the goddess Hermouthis and legendary pharaohs (early first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptian perspectives: Isidoros’ hymns in praise of the goddess Hermouthis and legendary pharaohs (early first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 26, 2024,

Ancient authors: Isidoros from the village of Narmouthis (early first century BCE), Étienne Bernand, Inscriptions métriques de l’Égypte gréco-romaine (Paris: Université de Franche-Comté, 1969), 631-652 (nos. 175-176) = SEG VIII 548-551 = V.F. Vanderlip, The Four Greek Hymns of Isidoros and the Cult of Isis (Toronto: Hakkert, 1972) (link to Greek on PHI).

Comments: These four hymns (in Greek) were set up by one Isidoros in a temple for the local goddess Hermouthis, or Renenutet, in the village of Narmouthis in the Fayum or Lake district of Egypt. They provide a window into local interactions among immigrants in connection with the festival of the goddess and a launching point into the importance of oral legends about gods and pharoahs as deployed in local ethnic rivalries.

You can read much more about these inscriptions in chapter four of Harland’s Ethnic Relations in the Ancient Mediterranean: Social Life Under Empire (forthcoming).


[Hymn 1: Hermouthis’ achievements and favours to humanity, with reference to Lycians, Syrians, Greeks, Thracians and Egyptians]

Oh provider of wealth, queen of the gods, lady Hermouthis [i.e. Renenutet],
all-powerful Good Fortune (Agathe Tyche), with the great name Isis,
Deo, highest discoverer of all life,
all kinds of actions were your care so that you might give
(5) life to humankind and observance of law to everyone.
You also taught customs so that some justice might exist.
You gave skills so that men’s life might be comfortable,
and you discovered the blossoms of the fruit.
Because of you, the heaven and the entire earth have been established,
(10) as well as the wind gusts and the sun that gives sweet light.
By your power all the channels of the Nile are filled
at the harvest season, and its most turbulent water is poured
on all the earth, so that produce may be unfailing.
All mortals living on the boundless earth,
(15) Thracians and Greeks, and all barbarians,
express your beautiful name, a name most honoured by everyone.
But each declares the name in their own language in their own homeland.
The Syrians call you Astarte, Artemis, Nanaia.
The Lycian peoples (ethnē) call you lady Leto.
(20) The Thracian men also name you as mother of the gods.
But the Greeks call you Hera of the great throne, Aphrodite,
Hestia the good, Rheia and Demeter.
But the Egyptians call you “Thiouis” because they know that you, being “One,” are all
other goddesses invoked by the peoples (ethnē).
(25) Mighty one, I will not stop singing about your great power.
Deathless saviour with many-names, greatest Isis,
who saves cities and all citizens from war:
citizens, partners, possessed slaves, and children.
As many as are bound fast in prison, in the power of death,
(30) All those being disturbed by long, painful sleepless nights;
all those wandering in a foreign land;
all those sailing on the Great Sea in winter,
when men are destroyed and their ships capsize –
all of them are saved when they have prayed for you to assist.
(35) Listen to my prayers, you whose name has great power!
Prove yourself merciful to me and put an end to every pain.

Isidoros wrote it.

[Hymn 2: Hermouthis’ family and her further favours for humanity]

Greetings, Good Fortune, with the great name Isis, greatest
Hermouthis! In you every city has shown great joy.
You are the discoverer of life and produce, which all
mortals enjoy because of your favours.
(5) All who pray to you to assist their business
are rich in piety for all time.
All who experience deadly diseases by fate,
if they pray to you, immediately attain life.
Certainly the good lower spirit (agathos daimōn), strong Sokonopis,
(10) lives with you in the same temple. He is the good provider of wealth,
founder of both earth and starry heaven,
of all rivers and very fast streams.
Anchoes your son, who lives in the highest part of heaven,
is the rising sun who shines light.
(15) Surely all who want to have children,
if they pray to you, receive the blessing of children.
Persuading the golden river Nile, you lead it in season
over the land of Egypt as a blessing for men.
Then all produce blooms and you distribute it to everyone
(20) you want to, providing a life of all sorts of good things.
When they remember your gifts, everyone to whom you have granted wealth
and great favours which you give them to possess all their lives
offer to you one tenth of these favours,
celebrating each year at the time of your festival.
(25) Afterwards you allow everyone, as the year rolls round again,
to celebrate in the month of Pachon.
Joyful after celebrating your festival, they return home
reverently and are filled with the sense of the good living that comes from you.
Provide a share of your gifts to me as well, lady Hermouthis,
(30) your suppliant, happiness and especially the blessing of children.

Isidoros wrote it. Listening to my prayers and hymns, the gods
have rewarded me with the favour of contentment.

[Hymn 3: Hermouthis’ favours for pharoahs and for the peoples of all tribes at the festival]

Guardian of the highest gods, lady Hermouthis,
Isis, pure, holy, great, with the great name Deo [i.e. Demeter],
most revered giver of good things to everyone,
with great piety you provide favours, wealth,
(5) and a life that involves sweetness and finest enjoyment:
happiness, success, and painless understanding.
All those who live the most blessed lives, excellent men,
sceptre-bearing kings, and all who are rulers,
when they are under your sway, rule until old age,
(10) leaving behind shining and brilliant wealth in abundance
to their sons, grandsons, and men who come after.
But the one whom the heavenly Queen has held most loved of princes
rules both Asia and Europe,
keeping the peace. The harvests grow heavy for him
(15) with all kinds of good things, bearing excellent fruit,
and where there are wars and slaughter
of great numbers of men, your strength and divine power
annihilates the multitude against him. But to the few with him, it gives courage.
Listen to me, Good Fortune, when I make a request from you, lady:
(20) whether you have journeyed into Libya or to the south wind,
or whether you are living in the outermost regions of the north wind always
blowing sweetly,
or whether you live in the blasts of the east wind where the sun rises,
or whether you have gone to Olympos where the Olympian gods live,
or whether you are in heaven above, judging with the immortal gods,
(25) or whether, after having mounted the chariot of the swift-driving sun,
you are directing the world of men, looking down on the many
actions of the impious and gazing down on those of the pious.
Whenever you are present here too, you witness an individual person’s excellence,
delighting in the sacrificial animals, libations, and offerings
(30) of the people who inhabit the district of Souchos, the Arsinoites,
peoples of mixed tribes (pamphylōn ethnōn) who all, yearly, present
on the twentieth of the month of Pachon and Thoth, bringing to your feast a tenth for you,
for Anchoes, and for Sokonopis, most sacred of gods.
Hearing my prayers, black-robed Isis, the merciful,
(35) and you great gods who share the temple with her,
send the Physician (Paian) to me, healer of every pain.
Isidoros wrote it.

[Hymn 4: Praise for the legendary pharaonic founders and gods]

Who built this pure temple for greatest Hermouthis?
What god remembered the completely holy one among those who are blessed?
He marked it out as high Olympos and innermost shrine.
For Deo the most high, Isis the law-bringer,
(5) for Anchoes the son, and the good lower spirit, Soknopis –
all immortals – he created a most just refuge.
They say someone was born a divine master of Egypt.
He appeared as lord over the entire country,
rich, pious, and with the greatest power.
(10) A famous one who also had excellence equal to that of heaven,
because the earth and sea listened to him;
the streams of all the beautiful-flowing rivers, too;
the breath of the winds, too, and the sun which shows sweet light
and on its rising is visible to all.
(15) Groups of winged creatures together listened to him
and he commanded all who heard his voice.
It is clear that the birds listened to him,
because those who have read the sacred writings
speak about this king once sending a message by way of a crow,
(20) and she flew off with the written message, carrying his message.
This is the case, for he was not a mortal man, nor was he son of mortal master.
Rather, born from a great and everlasting god –
even from Souchos, completely powerful and extremely superior
good lower spirit (agathos daimōn) – this son appeared on earth as master.
(25) The maternal grandfather of this one is the distributor of life,
Ammon, who is also Zeus of Greece and Asia.
For this reason, everything listened to his voice, including all
animals on earth and groups of winged creatures in the heavens.
What was the name of this one? What ruler,
(30) what king, or who among the immortals, determined it?
Actually, it is the one who raised him, Sesoosis [Senwosret], who has gone to the western heaven,
who gave him a beautiful name, “Brilliant Sun.”
When the Egyptians say his name in their language
they call him “Pharoah Manres (Porramanres), the great undying one” [i.e. Amenemhet III].
(35) I have heard from others a marvel that is a paradox:
how he “navigated on the desert by wheels and sail.”
Reliably learning these things from men who inquire
into such matters, I myself had arranged for all this to be inscribed,
translating for Greeks the power of a master who is a god,
(40) power that no other mortal has equally possessed.
Isidoros wrote it.


Source of the translation: Translation by Harland in consultation with Vanderlip 1972 (as above).

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