In the centre, are three Osiris statuettes, swaddled and immobile, wearing the White Crown with an ostrich feather on either side, and sceptre and the flail crossed at the breast. The "Sovereign of the Occident" – the kingdom of the underworld – Osiris was the dead god brought back to life by the rites of mummification enacted by his sister-wife Isis. She is shown on his right as the mater lactans. Dressed in a long robe, she originally offers her left breast to the child seated on her knees, Horus, born of the posthumous union of Isis and Osiris. The child-god is generally represented sitting naked with the sidelock of youth. Sometimes, as here on the left, he bears the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, because he is also Horus the avenger of his father, the legitimate sovereign ,who, according to Herodotus, "was the last ruler over Egypt", before the "human" pharaohs succeeded him.
These statuettes bear witness to the importance of the Osirian cult in the Egyptian sanctuaries from the 1st millennium BC onwards. In 238 BC, the trilingual decree of Canopos celebrated the feast during which Osiris sailed on the ship that carried the sun through the night, from a repository at Thonis-Heracleion to the holy of holies of the Osireion – the « tomb of Osiris » – at Canopos. The ritual deposits and cult instruments brought to light during archaeological excavations by the IEASM in the ancient canal that linked the two sites demonstrate the sacred aspect of this major waterway used during the Mysteries of Osiris. In the course of these celebrations, figurines representing the god were modelled from earth sown with barley and soaked with water from the new flood, their germination being the symbol of the rebirth of Osiris. He was made green, the colour of life, of renewal and of prosperity.
Bronze statuettes discovered on the site of Thonis-Heracleion, Egypt, 6th-2nd century BC. Photograph and layout Christoph Gerigk, ©Franck Goddio /HILTI Foundation.