previous next


*)=Apis), the Bull of Memphis, which enjoyed the highest honours as a god among the Egyptians. (Pomp. Mela, 1.9; Aelian, Ael. NA 11.10; Lucian, de Sacrif. 15.) He is called the greatest of gods, and the god of all nations, while others regard him more in the light of a symbol of some great divinity; for some authorities state, that Apis was the bull sacred to the moon, as Mnevis was the one sacred to the sun. (Suid. s.v. Ammian. Marcell. 22.14; Aelian, l.c.; Lutatius, ad Stat. Theb. 3.478.) According to Macrobius (Macr. 1.21), on the other hand, Apis was regarded as the symbol of the sun. The most common opinion was, that Apis was sacred to Osiris, in whom the sun was worsllipped; and sometimes Apis is described as the soul of Osiris, or as identical with him. (Diod. 1.21; Plut. de Is. et Os. 20, 33, 43; Strab. xvii. p.807.)

In regard to the birth of this divine animal Herodotus (3.28) says, that he was the offspring of a young cow which was fructified by a ray from heaven, and according to others it was by a ray of the moon that she conceived him. (Suid., Aelian, ll. cc.; Plut. de Is. et Os. 43.) The signs by which it was recognised that the newly born bull was really the god Apis, are described by several of the ancients. According to Herodotus (l.c. ; comp. Strab. l.c.), it was requisite that the animal should be quite black, have a white square mark on the forehead, on its back a figure similar to that of an eagle, have two kinds of hair in its tail, and on its tongue a knot resembling an insect called κάνθαρος. (Compare Ammian. Marcell. l.c. ; Solinus, 32.) Pliny (Plin. Nat. 8.71), who states, that the cantharus was under the tongue, adds, that the right side of the body was marked with a white spot resembling the horns of the new moon. Aelian says, that twenty-nine signs were required ; but some of those which he mentions have reference to the later astronomical and physical speculations about the god. When all the signs were found satisfactory in a newly born bull, the ceremony of his consecration began. This solemnity is described by Aelian, Pliny, Ammianus Marcellinus, and Diodorus. (1.85.) When it was made known, says Aelian, that the god was born, some of the saered seribes, who possessed the secret knowledge of the signs of Apis, went to the place of his birth, and built a house there in the direction towards the rising sun. In this house the god was fed with milk for the space of four months, and after this, about the time of the new moon, the scribes and prophets prepared a ship sacred to the god, in which he was conveyed to Memphis. Here he entered his splendid residence, containing extensive walks and courts for his amusement. A number of the choicest cows, forming as it were the harem of the god, were kept in his palace at Memphis. The account of Diodorus, though on the whole agreeing with that of Aelian, contains some additional particulars of interest. Pliny and Ammianus Marcellinus do not mention the god's harem, and state that Apis was only once in every year allowed to come in contact with a cow, and that this cow was, like the god himself, marked in a peculiar way. Apis, moreover, drank the water of only one particular well in his palace, since the water of the Nile was believed to be too fattening. The god had no other occupation at Memphis, than to receive the services and homage of his attendants and worshippers, and to give oracles, which he did in various ways. According to Pliny, his temple contained two thalami, and accordingly as he entered the one or the other, it was regarded as a favourable or unfavourable sign. Other modes in which oracles were derived from Apis are mentioned in the following passages : Lutat. ad Stat. Theb. 3.478; D. L. 8.9 ; Paus. 7.22.2; Plin., Aelian, Solinus, ll. cc.; Plut. de Is. et Os. 14.

As regards the mode in which Apis was worshipped, we know, from Herodotus (2.38, 41), that oxen, whose purity was scrupulously examined before, were offered to him as sacrifices. His birthday, which was celebrated every year, was his most solemn festival; it was a day of rejoicing for all Egypt. The god was allowed to live only a certain number of years, probably twenty-five. (Lucan, Phars. 8.477; Plut. de Is. et Os. 56.) If he had not died before the expiration of that period, he was killed and buried in a sacred well, the place of which was unknown except to the initiated, and he who betrayed it was severely punished. (Arnob. ad v. Gent. vi. p. 194.) If, however, Apis died a natural death, he was buried publicly and solemnly, and, as it would seem, in the temple of Scrapis at Memphis, to which the entrance was left open at the time of Apis' burial. (Paus. 1.18.4; Clem. Al. Strom. i. p. 322; Plut. de Is. et Os. 29.) The name Serapis or Sarapis itself is said to signify "the tomb of Apis." Respecting the particular ceremonies and rites of the burial, its expenses, and the miracles which used to aecompany it, see Diod. 1.84, 96; Plut. l.c. 29, 35. As the birth of Apis filled all Egypt with joy and festivities, so lis death threw the whole country into grief and mourning; and there was no one, as Lucian says, who valued his hair so much that he would not have shorn his head on that occasion. (Lucian, de Sacrif. 15, de Dea Syr. 6; Tib. 1.8; Ammian. Marc., Solin. ll. cc.) However, this time of mourning did not usually last long, as a new Apis was generally kept ready to fill the place of his predecessor; and as soon as he was found, the mourning was at an end, and the rejoicings began. (Diod. 1.85; Spartian. Hadr. 12.)

The worship of Apis was, without doubt, originally nothing but the simple worship of the bull, and formed a part of the fetish-worship of the Egyptians; but in the course of time, the bull, like other animals, was regarded as a symbol in the astronomical and physical systems of the Egyptian priests. How far this was carried may be seen from what Aelian says about the twenty-nine marks on the body of Apis, which form a complete astronomical and physical system. For further details respecting these late speculations, the reader is referred to the works on Egyptian mythology by Jablonsky, Champollion, Pritchard, and others.

The Persians, in their religious intolerance, ridiculed and scorned the Egyptian gods, and more especially Apis. Cambyses killed Apis with his some own hand (Herod 3.29), and Ochus had him slaughtered. (Plut. l.c. 31.) The Greeks and Romans. on the other hand, saw nothing repugnant to their feelings in the worship of Apis, and Alexander the Great gained the good will of the Egyptians by offering sacrifices to Apis as well as to their other gods. (Arrian, Arr. Anab. 3.1.) Several of the Roman emperors visited and paid homage to Apis, and his worship seems to have maintained itself nearly down to the extinction of paganism. (Suet. Aug. 93, Vespas. 5; Tacit. Annal. 2.59; Plin. l.c.; Spartian. l.c., Sept. Sever. 17.)


hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.41
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.38
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.28
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.18.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.22.2
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 93
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.71
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 3.1
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.21
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.84
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.85
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.96
    • Aelian, De Natura Animalium, 11.10
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: