This page will provide some information about my personal favorite Egyptian deity, and links to other sites and documents with more information about her.
Nephthys is the sister of Isis, Osiris, and Seth, and is also described as married to Osiris and possibly Set in Egyptian texts. She is often considered a goddess of death, but she is seen as a friend and protector of the dead, aiding them in their journey toward eternal life.
Nephthys is the younger sister (born one day later) of the most famous of Egyptian goddesses, Isis. They are often described as twins. Actually, they are two of a set of quadruplets or quintuplets, depending on the text you read, along with Osiris, Seth, and (if there’s five) Horus the Elder.
Although Nephthys is often referred to as the wife of Seth (who is the fourth of the siblings, and the one who murdered Osiris), there are also Egyptian texts which explicitly name her as Osiris’s wife, just as Isis is. The Greek and Roman writers on the subject seem to have had cultural biases against this, and so they called Nephthys just Osiris’s sister, or even labeled her as his adulterous mistress.
There are also texts which say that she is the mother of Anubis, as well as Horus (who is more frequently said to have Isis for a mother). The Egyptians had much more fluid and complicated ideas of the relationships between their deities, which also evolved over millenia, so such apparent contradictions should not trouble you.
Nephthys’s name is written with the hieroglyph 𓉠 (transcribed nbt-ḥwt by Egyptologists) or with variations breaking it down into its components (the nb basket, t loaf, and ḥwt enclosure).
Nbt can be translated as “Lady” or “Mistress” (in the sense of a noble woman or a woman who is in authority, not in the adulterous sense). Ḥwt is a little more complicated. Translations include “mansion”, “palace”, “estate”, “large structure”, and “temple”. The thing these all have in common, to my mind, is “an area that is set aside from the surrounding area because of its value”.
You will sometimes see ḥwt translated as “house”, which could even lead to Nephthys’s name being interpreted as “housewife”. But Egyptian has a different word for house: pr, which is even used for some fairly important traditional shrines and temples, not just hovels. So such interpretations can be rejected.
As for pronunciation: It’s ancient Egyptian. Reconstructions of the vowels vary, not just with the scholar who’s talking about it, but with the period in question.
Nephthys is generally seen as co-mourner of Osiris with Isis. She also has roles (often with her sister) as a goddess of childbirth, protection, magic, and healing. But unlike her sister, Nephthys is usually associated with the night and darkness. In the tomb of Ay (KV 23), there is an image of Ra in his boat with other gods, setting forth in the morning, with Nephthys staying behind as the boat departs, having performed her function of presiding over the night.
She is also sometimes associated (as Hathor more commonly is) with drunkenness and beer.
Good luck; there weren’t many, and they were usually in space shared with other deities:
- Komir, Upper Egypt nome 3, not far from Esna. Shared with Anuket, goddess of the Cataracts. The Roman emperor Antoninus Pius is depicted as pharaoh, here, making offerings and speaking the hymns to the two goddesses.
- Tjebu, Upper Egypt nome 10 (classical Antaeopolis, modern Qaw el-Kebir, El Etmanniyeh). A temple to Antaios (the Egyptian deity of that name, who is not well understood) was documented in Description de l’Égypte, but was swept away in an 1821 flood (before the decipherment of hieroglyphs or the invention of photography). Images of Nephthys as Antaios’s companion, in a nearby quarry, were documented by Wladimir Golenischeff. It’s possible, though we will almost certainly never know, that there was a chapel and/or hymns to Nephthys at Antaios’s temple.
- Sepermeru, Upper Egypt nome 19 (just south of the Fayyum, near Herakleopolis), where a temple to her was near or within the enclosure of Seth’s temple; this was built or refurbished by Rameses II. The foundations were identified in the 1980s.
- Herakleopolis, Upper Egypt nome 19, may have held a temple to her; a statue of her in the Louvre (link below) was re-inscribed “Nephthys, foremost of Herakleopolis”, and a priest of both Isis and Nephthys is attested there in Dynasty 30. She may have been involved in the location of the Heb-Sed festival there.
- Punodjem (location unknown to me; please let me know if you find a source for it) had a temple of Nephthys, because pBologna 1094 has a prophet of Seth complaining about his responsibilities also including “the House of Nephthys” as well as a “heap” of other temples.
Articles and papers
- Nephthys at Wikipedia
- “Aspects of the goddess Nephthys, especially during the Graeco-Roman period in Egypt” by Jessica Lévai, Ph.D. (purchasable PDF). The only monograph which focuses entirely on Nephthys, treating of other gods only as they relate to her.
- “Komir. I.-The Discovery of Komir Temple. Preliminary Report. II.-Deux hymnes aux divinités de Komir: Anoukis et Nephthys” by Mohamed es-Saghir and Dominique Valbelle, about excavation and the texts at Komir.
- “A Case of Divine Adultery Investigated”, by Amr Gaber (JSTOR link). A look at the question of Nephthys’s relationship with Osiris.
- The gesso-gilt wooden statue of Nephthys from Tutankhamun’s canopic equipment, Tomb KV62, part of Carter item number 266. Harry Burton’s photograph number 1147 is of her and can be seen at the Griffith Institute website, both as part of an answer to a question and as part of the Institute’s database of Burton’s photos. I am not aware of any “official” photos of the statue from the Cairo Museum or the Grand Egyptian Museum, but if I encounter them, I will put links here.
- I promise I would never steal an artifact from Egypt, but if the Egyptian government told me I could have any one artifact in their collection, it would be this. Yes, more than Tutankhamun’s gold mask. (If my options included collections outside Egypt, the Rosetta Stone might give me pause, but nothing else.)
- A basalt statue of Nephthys, from Herakleopolis, where she is “the foremost”, now in the Louvre
- A theophoric statue displaying Osiris paired with Nephthys from Deir el-Medina, now in the Louvre
- A statuette of Nephthys in mourning, Ptolemaic period, now in the British Museum.
- This statuette can be seen in the Google Arts & Culture street view of Gallery 62 in the museum.
- A statuette of Isis in mourning, now in the Louvre, may be the “sister statuette” to the British Museum Nephthys, having very similar decoration and size. The Louvre website gives TT414 as a possible findspot.
- Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, featuring “The Songs of Isis and Nephthys”, in which they mourn their husband Osiris; now in the British Museum
- Translation of “The Songs of Isis and Nephthys” at attalus.org