Seraperion I & II (cont.)
By Antoine Gigal
His consort was Sekhmet "the Powerful", "Great in Magic", the feared and untameable lion. Guardian of the threshold, protector of the gods, warrior that Ra did not hesitate to send to punish the people on earth who no longer wanted any contact with the heavens and were cutting themselves off from the divine. Some texts even give the impression that she had a part in unleashing the Flood. Then in the Greek tradition, let us not forget that there is the disturbing story of the nymph transformed into the cow Io by Zeus (associated with Ptah) and who, after an epic journey, ends up arriving in Egypt, where Zeus (Ptah) gives her back her human form and where she gives birth to Epaphus (the Egyptian Apis) and spreads the cult of Isis. The Egyptians associated Io with Hathor, and according to some researchers Epaphus-Apis became king of Egypt and founded Memphis and was venerated as the god Apis. Strange, aren't they, all these interconnections? In any case, from this story we also learn that Zeus was willing to turn himself into a bull at times. So here we have a divine being Ptah, linked with the underworld, linked with the creation of the world or its re-creation needed after the Flood, and his consort Sekhmet, who also has a link with the Flood.
Plan of part of the Serapeum
But what further explanation is there for the Apis bull and the sarcophagi in the Serapeum? Let's look at what we know from the texts. This descent of a god into a body of animal flesh on Earth gave rise to all sorts of very strict rules.
The choice of the bull used for the physical manifestation of the god was far from being left to chance. Judge for yourself: the bull had to be black and white with a white belly, it had to have a white triangular mark on its forehead, an eagle with spread wings on its back, a crescent moon on its side, a scarab-shaped mark under its tongue and a tail with long hairs parted in two. So it was a bull that was predestined for the role.
Herodotus even tells us that the Apis is "a calf from a cow that cannot bear any more offspring. The belief of the Egyptians is that a flash of lightning descends upon the cow and makes it receive Apis." Priests scoured the whole country to find such a calf. Once he was found, he was carried down the Nile to Memphis by boat, housed in a magnificent golden cabin. There followed a great celebration because it meant that the living god had come to incarnate in the country; it was a tremendous honour and great joy.
A seven-day feast was held to mark his entry into the temple of Serapis, after which he had an easy life, with tasty delicacies and priests in his service, a harem herd available, music, jewellery to adorn him and great popularity each time he was led out in grand style for festivities among the cheering people. He was so handsome that Plutarch wrote, strange as it may seems to us today, that "Apis is a beautiful image of the soul of Osiris."
A drawing by Paul Lucas, the great collector of antiquities for Louis XIV, who travelled to Saqqara in 1700. The upper part gives a good idea of what lies beneath inside the Serapeum.
There were further reasons for his popularity. Indeed, it was said that every child who felt the breath of the Apis then had the ability to predict the future.
Thus people crowded round him. In fact, Apis himself was consulted as an oracle.
If he accepted the food you handed him, if he extended a particular leg for instance - everything was matter for interpretation. He was also revered because in the afterlife, anyone who was under his protection had control over the four winds.
He was also apotropaic, meaning he was supposed to divert bad fortune. And as soon as one Apis died, the search for another one began.
Also, according to my research, the Apis is linked to what is called the sign of Tanit. Tanit was a moon goddess of fertility, birth and of the city of Carthage, of Phoenician origin. Her shrine is at Serepta (still close to the word "Serapis") in southern Phoenicia, where she is associated with the goddess Astarte (Ishtar). And brace yourself, in Egyptian Tanith = Ta Nit, that is to say, "the land of Neith". The goddess Neith was another warrior, who also watched over the mummy of Osiris, thus a goddess who fights and is connected with the underworld and resurrection. There's always this tangle of deities in different areas and different eras.