One of the things I like to do when learning about ancient myths is map them out so I have a complete list of every myth, along with a vague idea of chronology. So for this book, I’ve taken all of the Egyptian myths that I could find and charted them in one chronological timeline.
Some of these myths don’t fit any known chronology, but have an internal sequence of events. Others do correlate to actual historical time periods. For those, I’ve tried to place them in the correct order, according to the time period that they correlate to.
So in this article, you’ll find:
- A complete chronological timeline of ALL Egyptian Mythology
- A breakdown of the different eras
- An explanation of all the major myths
- A brief summary of each (full articles for each to come later)
First, let’s get what each of you want anyway, the complete list. If you want the complete breakdown, continue reading.
Also, I should mention: spoilers for these thousand-year-old myths ahead.
Also, don’t forget to visit our Egyptian Mythology hub, where we have a LOT more articles like this one.
The Primordial Myths
I categorize these first myths as “primordial” because they happen largely outside of normal time and space and involve the formation of many key elements of creation. These myths show the emergence of the Sun god and his progeny.
They include the following:
- Egyptian Creation Myths: There are actually several of these, depending on the region of Egypt where the myth originated, but most agree that a Sun god emerged, pushed back the chaos, and created the first gods (and sometimes humans) on the Earth. Learn more here.
- Ra vs. Apophis: Ra, or another of the sun gods, often battles the great serpent, Apophis, in his early exploits.
- The Loss of Shu and Tefnut: In the original creation myths, Ra often loses his two children: Shu and Tefnet. He sends his eye out to search for them.
- The Forbidden Love of Geb and Nut: Shu and Tefnut have children, Geb and Nut, who also fall in love. But one represents the sky, and the other the Earth. They cannot meet. Furthermore, Ra forbids ut from having children, so she has to turn to Thoth to help her. Eventually she bears Osiris, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys.
- Sekhmet and Ra: Ra becomes disillusioned with humans, so he creates Sekhmet to destroy them. But she gets overly zealous and Ra is forced to appease her blood lust through wine in order to tame her.
Once this era ends, we enter the golden age of Egyptian storytelling…
The Descendants of Ra
The string of stories that make up the Osiris myth are the most famous of Egyptian literature. Even though Egyptian Mythology is not as popular in western culture as stories of Hercules or Thor, most have probably heard of Osiris, Isis, or Horus.
So let’s take a look at the stories that make up this epic cycle:
- Ra’s Secret Name: At some point, Ra is old, and the younger generations want a chance of ruling. Isis is particularly keen on Osiris being the new king, so she uses deceipt and poison to learn Ra’s true name and thereby gain power over him. Osiris becomes king of the gods, and Ra retreats to his sun barge.
- Osiris vs. Seth: Seth grows jealous of his brother and kills him, cutting up his bodies into multiple pieces and sending them in various directions so they can never be reunited. Isis sets out to try and find the pieces of her husband, and eventually does so, resurrecting him, but only long enough for her to conceive a son.
- Isis and the Seven Scorpions: While Isis is pregnant, she is denied shelter by a wealthy woman who’s son is then cursed with scorpion venom and later healed by Isis.
- The Birth of Horus: Horus is eventually born, and Isis raises him unbeknownst to Seth, preparing him to one day remove his uncle from the throne.
- Horus vs. Seth: Horus confronts his uncle and their battle is long and hard. Eventually Horus wins and Seth is sent to the underworld, where he is forgiven by Osiris and given a small temple in the Underworld. He continues to reign over the storms from there.
Additional Myths of the Egyptian Pantheon
There are a few other random myths about the Egyptian gods and goddesses. These are hard to place on a specific point of the timeline, so I’ve just included them here:
- The Seven-year Famine: In this work, the Pharaoh Djoser works with Imhotep, an ancient magician, to end a seven-year famine.
- The Golden Lotus: Seneferu, a Pharaoh, at the advice of his magician, goes on a vacation and is rejuvenated and reminded of the important things in life.
- Teta the Magician: The son of Seneferu, Khufu, summons a great magician who tells him that someone else’s son will eventually supplant him.
Pharaohs like Djoser and Khufu were real people, and the first pyramids were built for them. So naturally their legend continues to live on in story.
Historical Folktales: The Middle Kingdom
The Middle Kingdom lasted roughly from 2040 to 1782 BCE. We have two primary myths that take place during this time. Once again, just because they take place during the Middle Kingdom does not mean this is when they were written.
- The Adventure of Sinuhe: A man named Sinuhe deserts Egypt, but finds many blessings from Hathor and thrives in a foreign land.
- The Peasant and the Workman: A peasant is robbed and tries to get recompense, unsuccessfully for many years, but he persists and he eventually succeeds. It is a beautiful demonstration of the Egyptian ideas of equality, which though still painful by modern standards, were uniquely fair in the standards of the day.
Historical Folktales: The New Kingdom
Then we have the New Kingdom, which is where most of these folktales take place, and probably when most were written as well, though many were likely compiled or written down later. Here are some the best tales from this era:
- Queen Hatshepsut: The gods conspire to create Hatshepsut, first female pharaoh of Egypt. She goes on to be one of the greatest rulers that Egypt has ever seen.
- The Taking of Joppa: The city of Joppa is taken by deceit in a manner very similar to Troy.
- Sphinx and the Prince: Thutmose, a descendant of Hatshepsut, speaks with Horus and becomes a great pharaoh.
- The Princess and the Demon: Rameses the Great marries Neferu-Ra, who asks for his help in curing her little sister. Together they gain the aid of the god, Khonsu.
- The Book of Thoth: A man named Setna seeks after the Book of Thoth and is cursed when he acquires it.
- Se-Osiris and the Sealed Letter: Setna’s son, Se-Osiris, becomes a renowned mage after he bests an Ethiopian magician.
- The Land of the Dead: Setna and Se-Osiris visit the afterlife together to see what happens.
- The Shipwrecked Sailor: A sailor tells the story of having been shipwrecked on an island with a talking serpent.
- The Story of the Two Brothers: Two brothers, Anpu and Bata, have various unfortunate adventures.
- The Story of the Greek Princess: Paris and Helen of Troy stop in Egypt during the reign of Seti. There, Thoth makes a copy of Helen who goes back to Troy while the real Helen waits in Egypt until Menelaus arrived.
- The Treasure Thief: Rameses III commissions a great pyramid as a treasure house. The architect builds a secret door that his sons eventually use to steal treasure.
The great epic here is the adventures of Setna and later his son, Se-Osiris, but it’s also worth noting the influence that Greek thought is having at this stage. Already you can see direct parallels to the siege of Troy in the Taking of Joppa, and direct involvement in the actual story of Troy with the Story of the Greek Princess.
Final Chronological Tales
Chronologically, these last stories take place at the end of the timeline, though one of them is less of a story and more of a vague prediction.
The Girl with the Rose-red Slippers: This is a story that takes place during the Persian invasion, several hundred years after the New Kingdom, and closer to Alexander the Great and the overall decline of the Egyptian empire as it was known. During the Persian conquest, Egypt opens itself to Greece. A Greek man named Charaxos falls in love with a slave girl, buys her, and grants her freedom. She has a Cinderella-like story.
End of the Universe: Many Egyptian texts vaguely hint at the end of the world, though it is generally not looked on favorably, like we want to avoid it. In some texts, Atum says he will eventually dissolve the world and all will return to the primordial chaos that once existed and all will cease to exist except Osiris and Atum. But, given the Egyptian affinity for cycles, it’s likely that an orderly world would return once again.
If you know of any other myths from Ancient Egypt, please let me know! I’d love to add any others to this list that I may have missed.
What is the most famous Egyptian myth? The Osiris mythic cycle is the most famous Egyptian myth, including the entire legend of his death at the hands of his brother, his rebirth, the birth of Horus, and the revenge that Horus takes on Seth.
What does Egyptian mythology teach us? Egyptian myth, like all other myths, was meant to explain the world around them. But Egyptian stories particularly focused on the importance of order in driving back the darkness and uniting contenious factions, which may have had something to do with past history of conflict and unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Egyptian Mythology Bibliography
- Armour, R., 2010. Gods and myths of Ancient Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press
- Pinch, G., 2004. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Clayton, M., 2017. Egyptian Mythology: A Fascinating Guide to Understanding the Gods, Goddesses, Monsters, and Mortals.
- Wilkinson, R., 2017. The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson.
- Lewis, S., 2018. Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Egyptian Myths, Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, and Monsters.