My Lord (Neb.y) and His nephew have a relationship best described (in true Facebook fashion) as “It’s Complicated”.
This shouldn’t be a surprise when one thinks about it. Take a familial relationship (in this case, Uncle/Nephew), add in a sexual relationship that eventually results in offspring, an argument over power before the other gods, and some epic physical confrontations and who would expect smooth sailing? The netjeru are known for turbulent relations; why would interactions between Set and Heru be any different?
And yet, the translations of the Contendings of Heru and Set can be interpreted in dozens of ways…and have, depending on whom you read. Sometimes, readers interpret them as EVIL SET out to steal from GOOD HERU. Sometimes, readers interpret them as battles between two equals with one being helped by His mother. Other times, readers see the Contendings as a commentary on what was going on politically with the Ennead while Set and Heru acted as pawns.
Until recently, I read the Contendings as a continuous story that were only captured on one papyrus, Chester-Beatty Papyrus I, and that were meant as a tale about inheritance and respect for one’s relatives. Then, an amazingly intelligent friend (and member of my religious community) pointed out that the Contendings, like most mythic stories from Ancient Egypt, were cobbled together during the Greek period from literary references. Now, I look at them as vignettes comprising centuries of interactions between Neb.y and Heru, including a sexual relationship that was consensual. I take pleasure in the fact that te Velde agrees with this point.
This brings me to the Lettuces.
(The following is a translation of part of ‘The Contendings of Horus and Seth’ from Chester-Beatty Papyrus I, as edited by W.K. Simpson)
…Said the Ennead: “Let Horus and Seth be summoned in order that they may be judged.”
Then they were brought before the Ennead. Said the Universal Lord before the Great Ennead to Horus and Seth: “Go and obey what I tell you. You should eat and drink so that we may have (some) peace. Stop quarreling so every day on end.”
Then Seth told Horus: “Come, let’s make holiday in my house.”
Horus told him: “I’ll do so, surely, I’ll do so, I’ll do so.”
Now afterward, (at) evening time, bed was prepared for them, and they both lay down. But during the night, Seth caused his phallus to become stiff and inserted it between Horus’s thighs. Then Horus placed his hands between his thighs and received Seth’s semen.
Horus went to tell his mother Isis: “Help me, Isis, my mother, come and see what Seth has done to me.” And he opened his hand(s) and let her see Seth’s semen. She let out a loud shriek, seized the copper (knife), cut off his hand(s) that were equivalent. Then she fetched some fragrant ointment and applied it to Horus’s phallus. She caused it to become stiff and inserted it into a pot, and he caused his semen to flow down into it.
Isis at morning time went carrying the semen of Horus to the garden of Seth and said to Seth’s gardener: “What sort of vegetable is it that Seth eats here in your company?” So the gardener told her: “He doesn’t eat any vegetable here in my company except lettuce.” And Isis added the semen of Horus onto it. Seth returned according to his daily habit and ate the lettuce, which he regularly ate. Thereupon he became pregnant with the semen of Horus. So Seth went to tell Horus: “Come, let’s go and I may contend with you in the tribunal.”
Horus told him: “I’ll do so, surely, I’ll do so, I’ll do so.”
They both went to the tribunal and stood in the presence of the Great Ennead. They were told: “Speak concerning yourselves.”
Said Seth: “Let me be awarded the office of Ruler, l.p.h., for as to Horus, the one who is standing (trial), I have performed the labor of a male against him.”
The Ennead let out a loud cry. They spewed and spat at Horus’s face. Horus laughed at them. Horus then took an oath by god as follows: “All that Seth has said is false. Let Seth’s semen be summoned that we may see from where it answers, and my own be summoned that we may see from where it answers.”
Then Thoth, lord of script and scribe of truth for the Ennead, put his hand on Horus’s shoulder and said: “Come out, you semen of Seth.”
And it answered him from the water in the interior of the marsh. Thoth put his hand on Seth’s shoulder and said: “Come out, you semen of Horus.”
Then it said to him: “Where shall I come from?”
Thoth said to it: “Come out from his ear.”
Thereupon it said to him: “Is it from his ear that I should issue forth, seeing that I am divine seed?”
Then Thoth said to it:”Come out from the top of his head.”
And it emerged as a golden solar disk upon Seth’s head. Seth became exceeding furious and extended his hand(s) to seize the golden solar disk. Thoth took it away from him and placed it as a crown upon his (own) head. Then the Ennead said: “Horus is right, and Seth is wrong.
(It’s this part of the Contendings that has me growing lettuces for Neb.y in my AeroGarden. When I eat them, I use a creamy dressing. He finds it amusing.)
Even before I was handed the light bulb about continuous stories, the story of the lettuces didn’t ring as part of a continuing story. It seems, to me, more of a manipulation of an ongoing relationship. My relationship with Neb.y Set draws me in this direction; knowing His virility and power He could only have been overcome by a trick.
Try this on for size: Heru and Set have a consensual sexual relationship spanning many centuries. As part of the ongoing debate over who should take the place of Ausir, His son Heru decides to use the relationship to His own advantage. Rather than accepting the seed of Set as usual, He instead catches it to save and use later to “prove” that Set is not the dominant <insert your preferred word here> partner in the relationship. Heru puts it on the lettuces that Set eats, causing Neb.y to ingest His own seed. With Set’s known and proclaimed virility, it would be thought of as out of the norm for Set to submit to anyone…but Heru’s “proof” demonstrates how powerful He is to cause Set to submit…thereby making Heru the logical choice to take His father’s place. It’s an ingenious ploy when one thinks about it.