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Isis and Osiris: Demonology vs. Henotheism?

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Reams and reams have been written by scholars about the demonological and henotheistic features of the Isiac cult. The role played by Isis in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses as supreme and primigenial Goddess and, at the same time, as demon has been recently interpreted by N. Méthy as an effort to create a “mythical image,” a literary character who personifies the myth joining philosophical and religious demands. R. Turcan prefers to interpret this feature of Apuleius’ and Plutarch’s work as a result of a substantial philosophical change within Middle Platonism: they renounced demonology to the advantage of “Isis’ feminine henotheism,” an answer of a certain paganism to the theological crisis typical of the second century a.d., an “Age of Anxiety.” But, as shown by G. Sfameni Gasparro, Isis’ henotheistic role is not a product of the imperial theological crisis, but has its roots in the Hellenistic epoch (see aretalogistic literature). An inscription of Thessalonica gives us the pretext for bringing up this issue once more and investigating how the Egyptian religion (and in particular its demonological and henotheistic connotations) had to be imbued with Hellenistic Greek philosophy, and how Plutarch’s and Apuleius’ propagandistic choice of Isis and Osiris as personifications of a religious and philosophical Supreme Being was first of all an attempt at reconcilement among different cultural and philosophical systems.

Affiliations: 1: Kollegforschergruppe “Religiöse Individualisierung in historischer Perspektive” Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt Am Hügel, 1 D-99084 Erfurt Germany, Email:


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