The Great Quarrel
or The Contendings of Horus and Seth
This is written on Papyrus Chester Beatty I in Thebes during the New Kingdom and the reign of Ramses V. Its´purpose is entertainment rather than religious instruction, and it is written in a humorous way. Most likely it goes further back as its´content builds upon earlier tales of the deities involved . The tale is long with many incidents and what follows here is a much shortened version.
The story begins as Horus and sets out from Chemmis where has grown up, protected by his mother Isis. It will however be clear that her help is still needed if he is to win his father´s throne back from Set.
Horus appears in front of the Council of the Gods at Heliopolis, presided over by Atum. Here he claims the right to the throne of Egypt, which Shu, the son of Re thinks is justice. Also Thoth, the god of wisdom agrees.
Isis cries out in joy:
"Hence, North Wind! to the west and tell the good news to the 'still vigorous one'" (Osiris).But Re has not yet given his word, and is angered that the gods have not waited for his decision. He is silent for a while and Seth takes his chance to suggest that he and Horus go outside and decide by combat who shall have the throne, something which Thoth disagrees with as Horus is after all the son of Osiris. Re is still angered as he prefers the strength of Seth to a young, unproven boy.
Things come to a standstill for a period of eighty years before the gods decide to seek the advice of Neith, the creator goddess. A letter is sent off in the name of Re. Her answer is curt and somewhat impatient; give the office to Horus, otherwise she will get angry and the sky will topple. To placate Seth she suggests that he be given Re´s two daughters Anat and Astarte as wives. Everyone is relieved except for Re who accuses Horus of being a weakling and not strong enough for such an important office. A quarrel break out and Re leaves them to go sulking on his own. This is where Hathor steps in to cheer him up. She goes to stand before him and pulls her skirts up, revealing her private parts. This changes Re´s mood, he laughs and returns to the council and tells Horus and Seth to state their cases.
Seth boasts of his strength and says that only he is the one who can slay Apophis, the enemy of Re, every day from the prow of the sunboat. Some gods approve of this as Seth is the elder one, though Thoth and Anhur questions if it is justifiable to give the throne to a brother while the rightful heir, the son is capable of taking assuming it. Isis now loses patience and speaks to gain the sympathy of the council, while Seth refuses to submit to any council as long as Isis is present. Re then moves the whole company to an island and tells the ferryman Nemty to not let any woman looking like Isis be ferried across.
Isis however is more clever than they think. She deftly disguises herself as an old woman and tricks Nemty into rowing her across. In the bargain for the fare Isis pays him with a golden ring.
On the island Isis changes herself again, now into a young, beautiful woman and catches the attention of Seth and presents herself as the widow of a herdsman whose son is in danger of having his father´s cattle confiscated and himself and the mother evicted from their home. Seth is indignant at this injustice and at this point Isis changes herself again, this time into a kite. From the branches of an acacia she tells Seth that his own verdict has condemned him.
Seth is very agitated and complains to Re, then he has Nemty dragged before the tribunal and punished by having his toes cut off. The whole company then moves to a mountain in the desert and gives the throne to Horus, but Seth manages to intercede it by challenging Horus to a contest.
Now follows a series of bizarre events, probably with the purpose of discrediting Seth. In the first one, Horus and Seth changes into hippopotami and stay under water for three months. Isis becomes concerned for her son and fashions a copper harpoon and throws it at the spot where they disappeared under the water. She misses and hits Horus instead but retrieves it by her magic when he complains. On her next throw she hits Seth but when he appeals to her and claims the brother-sister relationship between them, she withdraws the weapon again.
Next, Horus emerges out of the water, enraged that his mother spared the life of Seth. He cuts off her head and she turns into a headless statue of flint. Later Seth finds Horus asleep under a tree and attacks him and gouges out his eyes which he buries in the sand where they turn into lotus flowers. Hathor discovers Horus and by pouring gazelle milk into his eye sockets she causes them to heal. Re then hears of what has happened, loses patience with them both and summons them to his court where he orders them to stop quarrelling.
Seth pretends to agree, and invites Horus to his home, but he has not yet given up and so makes a homosexual attack on Horus. Horus however resorts to trickery himself and manages to catch the semen of Seth, which he later shows his mother Isis. She is outraged, cuts off his hand, throws it into the marshes and by her magic creates a new one for him. Then by the use of powerful ungents she makes Horus´s phallus arise and catches the semen in a jar, spreading it on lettuces which Seth later eats. By having homosexually dominated Horus, Seth hopes to make Horus appear as the laughingstock before the gods, but Horus instead wants their respective semen be called forth from where it is located. Thoth does so, and the semen of Seth comes out, not from Horus, but from the marshes where his hand had been thrown by Isis. Horus´s semen appears as a gold disc on the head of Seth who is now is the one humiliated.
But Seth does not give up. Instead he challenges Horus to make a ship of stone to race it against his own. Horus then builds a ship of pinewood and coats it with plaster so that it looks like stone. Seth however, builds a ship of stone, which immediately sinks, which causes him to once again turn into a hippopotamus and destroys Horus´ boat. Horus has had enough and wants to kill Seth, but is stopped by the other gods. Then he sails off to Neith at Sais and expresses his frustration and amazement that he, despite so many judgment for his sake, he still not has gained the throne of his father. At this point there is an exchange of letters between Re and Osiris in the underworld. The result is that Osiris threatens them all with the agents of the underworld which do not fear to bring down any wrongdoer, including the stars in the heavens together with man and god alike and make them descend below the Western Horizon to the kingdom of Osiris. This causes them all to think things over and to finally instate Horus on the throne of Egypt.Seth is the prisoner of Isis, but Re still favours him and states that Seth will accompany Re in the heavens and that his voice will be heard in the thunder itself.