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Romulus and Remus, Osiris and Moses: Are the Storytelling Similarities a Mere Coincidence?

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The stories of Romulus and Remus, Osiris and Moses all share a common element. Why is it that the overarching theme surrounding ancient people and the start of their legacy is a male floating down the river to escape harm from another threatening male?  Is it a coincidence that the leaders of these people were all sent down river to escape persecution; or are these stories all virtually the same?   This article examines the stories of the founding of ancient Rome, ancient Egypt and ancient Israel to see the similarities between all three stories.   

The Story of Romulus and Remus

In the Romulus and Remus story, the founders of ancient Rome, these twin brothers are sent down the Tiber river in a basket by their mother Princess Rhea to escape persecution from King Amulius, who had dethroned Princess Rhea’s father, Numitor.  They are found by a female wolf that raises them as her own.

Osiris and Isis held at the Louvre Museum. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Osiris and Isis held at the Louvre Museum. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The Story of Osiris

In the story of Osiris , he and his wife, Isis, are beloved leaders of the Egyptian people.  Osiris’s brother, Seth, is envious of him and devises a plan to get rid of his famous brother.  He builds a floating vessel and tricks his brother into getting into the vessel after which he locks him in it and sends him down the river Nile. His floating vessel is then found by the Queen.

The Story of Moses

In the story of Moses , his mother fears for his life because the current Pharaoh has put out an edict to kill all of the male babies within the kingdom by throwing them in the river to drown.  She sends him down the Nile River in a basket and ironically Pharaoh’s daughter discovers him and raises him as her own along with the help of Moses’ mother whom Moses’ sister Miriam introduces to the princess as a nurse.

Moses in the Bulrushes. (Image: Archivist / Fotolia)

Moses in the Bulrushes. (Image: Archivist / Fotolia)

Comparison of the Three Stories

Except for a few details, the beginnings of these stories are identical.  There is a villain that is a menacing threat to the male and, in some way, they are sent down the river.  Waiting at the banks of the river is female who retrieves them from the river.  However, this is where the similarities end.  Romulus and Remus eventually become men who then feud over the towns they should build.  Romulus kills Remus and then Rome is established by him.  Moses eventually becomes a man and he leads his people out of Egyptian slavery to freedom in their own homeland.  Osiris is found by Seth and cut into pieces and disbursed throughout Egypt.  Isis finds all of his body parts, resurrects him long enough to conceive a son named Horus, who avenges his uncle Seth.

Myth of Osiris and Isis – Seth’s Rage. (Zanten / Deviantart)

Myth of Osiris and Isis – Seth’s Rage. ( Zanten / Deviantart)

Despite the fact that each tale ends very differently, all have very similar details disbursed throughout all three of them.  Romulus and Remus tale is similar to Moses’ tale because a female rescues them and raises them.  However, the significant difference between the two tales is that one female is a wolf and the other is the daughter of the Pharaoh.  In the case of Osiris’s tale, he is rescued from the water by a woman also, but she doesn’t rear him; instead, she hands his body over to Isis.

Then there is the feuding brother aspect that is included in the Romulus and Remus tale and Osiris and Seth tale.  Romulus and Remus’ feud arises when they are adults deciding who should lead.  Osiris and Seth’s feud also occurs as they are adults because Seth is envious of his leadership.

One last but crucial similarity is how they all get down the river.  Romulus and Remus float in a basket; Moses floats in a basket-like ark; and Osiris floats in what is described as a tomb.  The unifying factor among the three stories is significant and there seems to be elements of all three that overlap in each.

Left; She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, detail (Public Domain) Right; Moses in the Bulrushes. (Image: Archivist / Fotolia)

Left; She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, detail ( Public Domain ) Right; Moses in the Bulrushes. (Image: Archivist / Fotolia)

Exploration of Possible Reasons for Similarities

Why are these seemingly different tales so strikingly similar? 

       1. These stories were authored by the same individual.

Could it be that these beloved stories were all written by the same person in ancient times?  The Roman scribes would have known this story because the Romans had a lot of contact with the Egyptians.  Likewise, the Children of Israel were enslaved by the Egyptians at one point in their history; therefore, this story would have been well-known by them passed down to them by their captors.  It is plausible that the person who originally created the Osiris story is who originally developed this tale.

       2. Each ancient nation had a version of this same story.

Just about every ancient nation has creation stories that share similarities.  The ancient scholars likely competed to create one more fascinating myth than predecessors in order to be more fabulous than other contemporaneous nations.

       3. The stories are lost in translation.

Another explanation could be that these stories could have begun as very different in ancient times.  However, these tales may have been lost in translation by the translators.  In an effort to make sure that the story was understood by readers, translators may have relied too heavily on myths within their own timeframe and understanding in order to relay the stories of the past.  As a result, these stories, although distinct, may have been corrupted by the translator. 

Are these stories unique or did they all come from the same source?  Perhaps this will remain an ancient mystery.

Top image: Romulus and Remus Nursed by the She-wolf by Peter Paul Rubens, 1614-1616           Source: Public Domain

By M. L. Childs

Resources

Theodore Ziolkowski.  Uses and Abuses of Moses. https://www3.nd.edu/~undpress/excerpts/P03235-ex.pdf

The Subversion of Myth.  https://forward.com/articles/9812/the-subversion-of-myth /

Brown, Nathan.  The Mythology of Supernatural: The Signs and Symbols Behind the Popular TV Show [Excerpt]  Google Books

Falcetta, Alessandro. The Daily Discoveries of a Bible Scholar and Manuscript Hunter. [Excerpt] Google Books .

Namm, Diane.  Roman Myths:  Retold from the Classic Originals . New York:  Sterling Children’s Books, 2014.

Baby Moses .  Moody Bible Story.  Youtube Video.

The Story of Isis and Osiris . Shemsuofisis. Youtube Video.

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