Season: 1-6, Episodes: 26, Faction: French Science Team/Survivors
Danielle Rousseau was a woman of French origin who arrived on the Island with a science team in 1988, seven months pregnant with her daughter Alex. It was during this time that her team rescued Jin, who, as a result of the Island’s move, was traveling through time. Shortly after Danielle gave birth, her daughter was taken away by Benjamin Linus, an Other. Rousseau lived alone for sixteen years, and over time became slightly disturbed due to her isolation. Following the crashing of their plane, Rousseau met and eventually joined the Flight 815 survivors and finally reunited with her daughter. On 27 December 2004, while she, Alex, and Karl were traveling to the Temple, they were ambushed by Keamy and his mercenary team. Both Rousseau and Karl were shot dead. Her body was discovered by Miles as he, Sawyer and Claire were going back to the beach.
Before the Island
Danielle Rousseau was implied to be born and raised in France. Whilst living in France, she had a relationship with a scientist named Robert. Together, they tried to have a family, and Danielle soon fell pregnant with her daughter, Alex. Along with five other scientists, she went on an expedition, which brought her to the island.
On the Island
5×04 – The Little Prince
Rousseau was a member of a six-person science expedition operating in the Pacific along with her lover Robert. The two were very much in love and Rousseau carried in her possession a music box he had once given to her. At this point in time, Danielle was seven months pregnant.
The ship was three days out of Tahiti when it picked up a transmission during the night. It was a voice repeating the Numbers; and they changed course to investigate. However, the instruments malfunctioned and a storm with strange sounds occurred. On the night of November 17, the ship slammed into rocks and ran aground – the hull breached beyond repair. As the crew headed to shore in an emergency raft, they saw a man floating on some debris in the water. They pulled the man into their raft and headed to shore where they made a shelter. There is some evidence from Rousseau’s map to suggest that the camp was actually the second camp made on the Island, with the first being closer to the point where the ship ran aground. (“The Little Prince”)
5×05 – This Place Is Death
The next day, the team set out to search for the transmission source, with Jin in tow. Not long after, Nadine was killed in a sudden attack by the Monster, which latched onto Montand and attempted to pull him into a hole in the ground under the ruins of the Temple. Jin and the others grabbed onto his arm to pull him out, but the smoke pulled with such force that his arm was ripped from its socket and Montand disappeared into the hole.
Immediately, his voice began emanating from the depths, causing Robert, Brennan, and Lacombe to enter in search of him. Jin’s last act before jumping to another time was to stop Danielle from following, reminding her of her pregnancy.
Two months later, Danielle had shot her colleagues Brennan and Lacombe, who apparently emerged from the hole “changed” in some way. Jin reemerged from the white light to witness her shoot Robert in a standoff, after Robert realized too late that she had removed the firing pin in his rifle. (“Solitary”) She recognized Jin from her first day on the Island; from her point of view he simply “disappeared” in front of her.
She took aim at him, pursuing him into the jungle, believing he too was infected and an “Other.” Jin was saved by another flash which took him to an unknown time period. (“This Place Is Death”)
5×12 – Dead Is Dead
By 1989, Alex was born and living in a tent on a beach with her mother. However, Benjamin Linus, under orders from Charles Widmore, arrived one night to kill Danielle. He raised his gun, but stopped upon seeing her daughter. Ben instead took the baby with him, deciding to spare Danielle’s life and told her that if she ever heard the whispers, she should run the other way. (“Dead Is Dead”)
5×05 – This Place Is Death | 1×24 – Exodus, Part 2
Rousseau’s later story, some sixteen years on, is sketchy as to exact details; understandably given the extreme trauma that occurred and the length of time she subsequently spent alone. According to her, on the way back from the Black Rock, there was an as yet unexplained encounter. Danielle mysteriously says “It was them. They were the carriers. The Others.” She believes that the other members of the team contracted the sickness from the Others. She later claimed that at least up to the time she had met Sayid, she had never seen one of the Others but only heard them as whispers in the jungle. Because of this, there is no way to know if what she calls the Others are the same as the people who DHARMA referred to as The Hostiles. She also may have believed Jin to be one of the Others. Given that he seemed to appear briefly and disappear again in front of her without any explanation, perhaps she later began to question if he had ever existed at all.
After returning to the shelter, some of the team continued to search for the meaning of the numbers while they waited for rescue. This is likely the partial source for what is known as Rousseau’s map. But then she says the sickness came. She says the sickness took them one after the other. She eventually killed Robert (who she claimed was sick) by removing the firing pin from his gun, then engaging him in a confrontation where she shot him dead.
Rousseau explained her motivations for killing the other members of the team as follows: “I had no choice. They were already lost. What would have happened if we were rescued? I couldn’t let that happen. I won’t.”
She claims that after her team was all dead, she went back to the radio tower and changed the transmission. Three days later, she gave birth. The message left at the radio tower is not totally consistent with her story. The radio tower message suggests that another person (Brennan) was alive and had taken some keys. She also says that “it [or he] killed them all” and that “it [or he] was outside her location when she was recording her message.” The message could refer to the Monster, as she seemed to believe it was responsible for making her team sick.
Rousseau claims that three days later she delivered her baby alone, which she named Alexandra. She says that she was together with the baby for a week before she saw a pillar of black smoke about five kilometers inland and on that night, her child was taken from her. She says the baby was taken by the Others, but she also has said that she had never seen one of them at that time and only knew them as whispers.
Rousseau continued living on the Island for over 16 years, before meeting Sayid after he was caught in a trap. At some point during their stay on the island, either Rousseau or other members of the French team attempted to map parts of the island. Rousseau is familiar with the “Monster”, but calls it the security system, because that is what Robert called it, after he experienced time underneath the Temple. (“This Place Is Death”) (“Exodus, Part 2”)
3×11 – Enter 77
Danielle claims that she has survived so long because of her policy of avoiding dangerous encounters with the various inhabitants of the island. (“Enter 77”)
1×09 – Solitary
For the next sixteen years, Danielle survived alone in the jungle, in her dug-out shelter. She hunted and killed animals with traps that she had set around the island, such as boar, for her food source. (“Solitary”)
1×09 – Solitary
Following the cable from the beach, Sayid stumbled into a snare trap set by Danielle, who subsequently takes him hostage. Initially suspecting he is an Other, Rousseau brings Sayid back to her camp. She ties him up and asks “Where is Alex!” in a variety of languages. When he denies knowing anything about this, she uses electricity to torture him.
After some time, Danielle begins to talk to Sayid, and tells him a number of things about her time on the Island. For instance, she tells him that the distress signal broadcasts from the radio tower, and that it is under the control of the Others (a strange thing to know, considering she also says she has never actually seen “them” only heard their whispers but another time says her team encountered them right before they became ill). When Sayid offers to repair her broken music box, Rousseau sedates him and moves him to a chair. After fixing the box, much to Rousseau’s delight, animal noises can be heard from outside Rousseau’s self-made bunker. As she goes to investigate, Sayid steals her maps and notes about the Island and escapes her capture. (“Solitary”)
2×15 – Maternity Leave
Also around this time, Danielle finds Claire delirious in the jungle. As Claire shouts for “Ethan,” Rousseau realizes it is the Others, and pleads for Claire to be quiet. A struggle then begins and Claire badly scratches Danielle’s arms. Knocking her unconscious, Danielle carries her back near the main survivors’ camp, leaving her where she rightly believes she’ll be easily found. (“Maternity Leave”)
1×18 – Numbers
Back at the camp, Rousseau’s notes attract Hurley’s attention. He notices that written on them are the Numbers, and he treks into the jungle with the rest of the group who are after the batteries Rousseau has. Meeting up with each other, Rousseau agrees with Hurley’s idea that the Numbers are cursed, as they are what brought her to the Island in the first place. Hurley then gives her a big hug. (“Numbers”)
1×23 – Exodus, Part 1
Rousseau later went to the Losties main camp, warning them about the pillar of black smoke and told them that it meant that Aaron would be kidnapped by the others. She then led a number of the survivors to the Black Rock in the hope they could use the dynamite within it to blow open the Hatch and hide inside. (“Exodus, Part 1”)
Jack, Kate and Locke found a crate of old and very unstable dynamite inside the vessel and brought it to Arzt, who, ironically, triggered one of the sticks and blew himself up while lecturing the others on how to handle it.
1×24 – Exodus, Part 2
Rousseau then returned to the beach camp, and kidnapped Aaron. She then headed across the Island. Both Charlie and Sayid find her, and she admits she thought she might be able to exchange Aaron for Alex, after hearing the whispers say they wanted “the boy” (though they in fact meant Walt all along). (“Exodus, Part 2”)
2×14 – One of Them
Rousseau then disappeared for a while without meeting the survivors, and her actions between the forty-fourth day and the fifty-eighth day are unknown, however it’s assumed she roamed the jungle searching for a new camp and checking her traps. On the fifty-eighth day, she contacted the survivors again after she caught an Other in one of these traps, Benjamin Linus (aka Henry Gale).
She warned Sayid that Henry was one of them, and that he would lie for a long time. When Henry tried to escape, Danielle shot him in the back with a crossbow, and left him in Sayid’s charge but not without warning him that this man will constantly lie. (“One of Them”)
2×15 – Maternity Leave
Only a couple of days later, Rousseau is sought out once more, this time by Claire, who is beginning to remember what happened to her while she was kidnapped. Believing Rousseau knows more than she actually does about the events, she tells Rousseau to take her back to “that place.”
Danielle believes she means the location where she found her, and takes her back there, along with Kate. Claire then manages to find the Staff station, where she had been held, and the three go inside. Neither Claire nor Danielle find what they were searching for, and Danielle is upset that she is still no closer to ever seeing her daughter. As Claire realized what actually happened, and how Danielle had actually saved her life, she reveals that the female Other who also helped her was probably the Alex Danielle lost 16 years ago. Danielle thanks Claire for telling her this, and returns to her home in the jungle. (“Maternity Leave”)
Associated LOST Themes & DHARMA Stations
Associated DHARMA Stations
Decoded Family Members & Lovers
Decoded Season 1 Characters
Decoded Season 2 Characters
Decoded Season 3 Characters
Decoded Season 5 Characters
Decoded Season 6 Characters
Key Episode(s) to Decoding the Character
Sister of Isis and her constant companion, Nephthys’ name, Nbt H[w]t, means ‘Mistress of the House’. Nephthys is depicted anthropomorphically, identifiable by a headdress composed of the two hieroglyphs which make up her name, or, along with Isis, as a small bird of prey, a kestrel or kite. A paradigmatic depiction of the two sisters shows them at either end of the bier upon which lays Osiris, with Isis at the foot and Nephthys at the head – hence PT utterance 505, in which the deceased affirms, “Isis is before me and Nephthys is behind me.” In this icon the sisters are at once mourning their brother and also preparing his resurrection, which takes the form of the conception by Isis of Horus as successor and avenger of his father; and just as Nephthys assisted Isis in the search for Osiris, so she assists Isis in rearing Horus and protecting from the many dangers which threaten him as an infant. There is something in the disposition of Isis and Nephthys before and behind Osiris which transcends the funerary sphere: Isis and Nephthys assume the same positions before and behind lady Ruddedet when they assist at the delivery of the royal children (Lichtheim vol. 1, 220). Nephthys has Seth for consort as Isis has Osiris, and the pair is representative of Upper Egypt as Isis and Osiris are of Lower Egypt (e.g., PT utterance 217). A close attention to the sources is required to discern those qualities appertaining to Nephthys alone rather than to Nephthys and Isis together.
Myths tend to make somewhat more of Seth’s connection to foreign Goddesses like Anat and Astarte, but Nephthys seems to share some of Seth’s qualities. Combat prowess, for instance, is implied by PT utterance 222, the deceased king affirming, “Nephthys has favored me and I have captured my opponent,” and CT spell 44 asks on behalf of the deceased that Nephthys “put the terror of you into the spirits as when Re rises from the Double Gates.” In a non-funerary spell to bring protection, the operator affirms “I am among Gods – Seth is on my right, Horus on my left, Nephthys is in my embrace,” (Borghouts, no. 115). On the other hand, Nephthys is said to act against Seth. In a hieratic text (MMA 35.9.21), Nephthys speaks of having kept Seth away from Horus, of having “refused to recognize the face of Seth” on Horus’ behalf, as well as of having lied to Seth and walled up his cavern (Goyon, Pap. Imouthès), while another text speaks of Nephthys returning to Heliopolis certain divine relics that had been in Bê’s (Seth’s) power (Meeks, Mythes et Légendes du Delta, §7). A fragmentary text concerning a lamp-lighting festival celebrated in Letopolis (Ibid., §18) relates an incident in which Nephthys hides herself from Seth in the water at night, but is discovered by him when he lights a lamp with the oil of the abdu fish, whose characteristic function is to swim before the solar vessel and warn Re of the approach of Apophis; note that this fish is said to have been born on the last of the epagomenal days, which is also the day of the ‘birth’ of Nephthys (Meeks, p. 230).
The tradition reported by Plutarch according to which Nephthys is the mother of Anubis by Osiris seems to find little support in indigenous Egyptian sources, although it was probably not unknown. Anubis is also regarded sometimes as the son of Nephthys and Re. Nephthys seems sometimes to have been regarded as the wife of Osiris in the netherworld as Isis is on earth, however; Osiris and Nephthys can thus be depicted as a couple (as in the statue of Ramose from the Louvre, E 16378). Nephthys is sometimes given the title Onnophret, the feminine form of the Osirian epithet Onnophris or wn.nfr, “the beautiful existent”. Nephthys can thus on rare occasions represent the deceased as Osiris normally does, or the wife of a male deceased (Meeks, Mythes et Légendes, p. 227f).
Independent of her sister, Nephthys seems to exercise the function of recording or administering destiny, invoked as she who “makes firm the commands of the Gods,” (Kom Ombo, 413) or as “reckoner of lifespan, mistress of years, mistress of destiny and providence, atenet [feminine form of the name of the solar disk, the aten] who ordains that which comes to be,” (Dendara II, 149). She is sometimes said to offer Ma’et (truth, order, justice) to Atum, a role resembling that of the pharaoh, such that it has been suggested that Nephthys is the guardian of the divine succession as Isis is of the royal succession (Kom Ombo, 414).
PT utterance 222 juxtaposes Isis and Nephthys, urging the deceased king to “descend with Nephthys, sink into darkness with the Night-bark,” and to “ascend with Isis, rise with the Day-bark.” This association of Nephthys with the sun’s nocturnal journey is possibly underscored by utterance 359, in which at the left side of the deceased are Nephthys, Seth and Khenty-irty, a God depicted in hawk form whose name means ‘Foremost in eyesight’. In utterance 532, a passage describing the recovery of the body of Osiris by the sisters, it is said that “Isis comes and Nephthys comes, one of them from the west and one of them from the east, one of them as a ‘screecher’ [a raptor of some kind], one of them as a kite.” It becomes common later for Isis and Nephthys both to be depicted as black kites; hence CT spell 24 says that “the Two Kites, who are Isis and Nephthys, scream for you, striking for you on two gongs in the presence of the Gods.” Here, however, it seems that Isis is the ‘screecher’ from the east and Nephthys the kite from the west, for in utterance 720 it is said to the deceased that “the West calls to you as Nephthys.”
Another form of complementarity between Isis and Nephthys is to cast the former as mother and Nephthys as wetnurse; hence in PT utterance 553, the deceased is “a spirit whom Nephthys suckled with her left breast,” and in 555 he affirms “My mother is Isis, my nurse is Nephthys.” Something else is implied when both Goddesses are identified as the mother: “Isis conceives me, Nephthys begets me,” (utterance 511). In the latter case, it is perhaps a matter of a special role for Nephthys in the resurrection, the second birth, as it were. In utterance 364, Nephthys, identified with Seshat, “Lady of Builders,” has collected the limbs of Osiris/the deceased, while in 365, the deceased is “a spirit whom Nut bore, whom Nephthys suckled, and they put you together.” The reference to Nut here is meant to evoke, not only the sky, but also the coffin. That Nephthys plays a leading role in the resurrection is clear from PT utterances 628-630, in which Nephthys addresses the deceased king in the first person, promising to restore his heart – awareness – to him. In CT spell 53, it is said that “Nephthys has favored you, you being renewed daily in the night-time,” combining the association of Nephthys with the sun’s nocturnal journey with her resurrection function. This seems to be underscored by CT spell 373, for “breathing air among the waters,” in which Nephthys addresses someone called “the Outcast”, apparently Seth, of whom it is said that “He-whose-hand-is-extended is upon the Outcast … the Outcast, the son of Nut, has fallen on his side and his breath has been taken away.” Nephthys says, “Hidden are the ways for those who pass by; light is perished and darkness comes into being.” Nephthys seems here to perform a nocturnal resurrection upon Seth, which is transmitted by him to the deceased, who affirms that “It is the Outcast who speaks to me and informs me that life is provided and that air is breathed among the waters.” That Nephthys specializes in reconstituting the body is apparent in CT spell 778, which states that “Horus has protected you [the deceased]; he has caused Nephthys to put you together … she will mould you in her name of Seshat, Mistress of potters, for such is this great lady, a possessor of life in the Night-bark, who raises up Horus.” Nephthys is perhaps identified in this role with Seshat, the patron Goddess of scribes, because the latter presides over the construction of sacred buildings, which are themselves living bodies of a sort. Nephthys bears the epithet “protector of the statues and guardian of the idols,” which Gutbub has compared to the description of the pharaoh as one who “protects the temples, guards the sanctuaries, and restores the statues,” (Kom Ombo, 413f). That her role in this respect transcends the Osirian context is indicated by a text concerning the “divine relics of the Place of the Wedjat” at Heliopolis, namely “the two eyes of Horus, the thumb of Atum, the hand of Haroeris, and the ear of Horakhty,” none of which are fragments of the Osirian body, but which have been damaged by Seth and which Nephthys heals in a ritual that involves fashioning simulacra of these divine members out of clay mixed with fat (Meeks, Mythes et Légendes, §7). Nephthys is also involved with Horus in the preparation of sacred unguents and perfumes, with the title “mistress of the laboratory” (Dendara IX, 158, 9).
Nephthys is the unfailing companion of Isis in her mourning for Osiris, her search for him, his resurrection, and the rearing of Horus. Therefore it is not surprising that the two of them are proverbial for friendship. A state of paradise is thus described in BD spell 182 (21st dyn.): “Every man is friendly to his fellow, without wrath or strife, as Isis and Nephthys have been friendly each to the other.” A late spell in Coptic to cause sexual attraction, however, uses as a trope the need of Isis to win back the desire of Osiris, whom she has learned to be having sex with Nephthys (PGM IV. 94ff). This text also provides some support for Plutarch’s account of the conception of Anubis by Osiris and Nephthys. Another spell (PDM lxi. 100-105) is for something called “the red cloth of Nephthys,” but its use is unclear; it seeks to bring someone to the operator, perhaps for sex. The red cloth might refer to the menstrual blood of Nephthys. A vessel divination spell calls for using an amulet of Nephthys and ass’s dung on the brazier in order to speak to the spirit of a dead person (PDM xiv. 84). Nephthys has also been discerned in a Greek-language spell (PGM XI.a 1-40), the goal of which is to acquire a magical servant. The spell refers to Nephthys by translating her name into Greek as Oikouros, literally ‘Mistress of the House’. In this spell, Nephthys appears, upon invocation, as a woman “of extraordinary loveliness, possessing a heavenly beauty, indescribably fair and youthful,” riding upon a donkey (an animal associated with Seth). The Goddess transforms herself into an old woman – the servant – then back into her own form, leaving the old woman behind when she leaves. A spell to assist in childbirth (Ramesseum Papyri IV, plate 18) refers to Nephthys bearing a daughter by Hemen: “Hemen … made pregnant his mother Nephthys with a daughter.” It seems, however, that the purpose of this formula is to identify the woman in labor as a daughter of Nephthys and Hemen, rather than to allude to a Goddess born of Nephthys and Hemen.
Patron of: the dead, funerals, the house, and women.
Appearance: A woman with the symbols for “basket” and “house” on her head.
Description: Nephthys is the sister of Osiris and Isis and the wife of Set. She is a very ancient goddess, first found in Old Kingdom writings. She is often depicted riding in the funeral boat accompanying the dead into the Blessed Land. She is not exactly the personification of death, but she is the closest thing to it in Egyptian belief. Though the wife of Set, she did not support him in his bid for power in the Osiris Legend. In fact, she does the opposite, aiding her sister Isis in finding the pieces of Osiris’ body. She is believed to be the mother of Anubis, and thus stands at the head of an entire family of funerary deities.
She is also revered as the head of the household of the gods, and her protection is given to the head woman of any house. In fact her name is given as a title to such women (literally translated it means “head of the house”). She also stands at the head of the bed to comfort women in childbirth while Bes dances.
Worship: Worshipped widely throughout all of Egypt, though she had no formal temple or cult.
In Egyptian mythology, Nephthys is a member of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis, a daughter of Nut and Geb. Nephthys was typically paired with her sister Isis in funerary rites because of their role as protectors of the mummy and the god Osiris and as the sister-wife of Set. Nephthys is occasionally regarded as the mother of the funerary-deity Anubis.
Nephthys was known in some ancient Egyptian temple theologies and cosmologies as the “Useful Goddess” or the “Excellent Goddess”. These late Ancient Egyptian temple texts describe a goddess who represented divine assistance and protective guardianship.
Less well understood than her sister Isis, Nephthys was no less important in Egyptian Religion as confirmed by the work of E. Hornung, along with the work of several noted scholars.
As the primary “nursing mother” of the incarnate Pharaonic-god, Horus, Nephthys also was considered to be the nurse of the reigning Pharaoh himself. Though other goddesses could assume this role, Nephthys was most usually portrayed in this function. In contrast Nephthys is sometimes featured as a rather ferocious and dangerous divinity, capable of incinerating the enemies of the Pharaoh with her fiery breath.
New Kingdom Ramesside Pharaohs, in particular, were enamored of Mother Nephthys, as is attested in various stelae and a wealth of inscriptions at Karnak and Luxor, where Nephthys was a member of that great city’s Ennead and her altars were present in the massive complex.
Nephthys was one of the few national goddesses to serve as tutelary divinity of her own district, or nome, in Ancient Egyptian history. Upper Egyptian Nome VII and its city, Hwt-Sekhem, were considered (at least by Greco-Roman times) to be the domain of Nephthys.
Nephthys is the Greek form of an epithet (transliterated as Nebet-het, and Nebt-het, from Egyptian hieroglyphs). The origin of the goddess Nephthys is unclear but the literal translation of her name is usually given as “Lady of the House,” which has caused some to mistakenly identify her with the notion of a “housewife,” or as the primary lady who ruled a domestic household. This is a pervasive error repeated in many commentaries concerning this deity. Her name means quite specifically, Lady of the [Temple] Enclosure which associates her with the role of priestess.
This title which may be more of an epithet describing her function than a given name probably indicates the association of Nephthys with one particular temple or some specific aspect of the Egyptian temple ritual. Along with her sister Isis, Nephthys represented the temple pylon or trapezoidal tower gateway entrance to the temple which also displayed the flagstaff. This entrance way symbolised the horizon or akhet.
At the time of the Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts, Nephthys appears as a goddess of the Heliopolitan Ennead. She is the sister of Isis and companion of the war-like deity, Set. As sister of Isis and especially Osiris, Nephthys is a protective goddess who symbolizes the death experience, just as Isis represented the (re-)birth experience.
“Ascend and descend; descend with Nephthys, sink into darkness with the Night-bark. Ascend and descend; ascend with Isis, rise with the Day-bark.”
– Pyramid Text Utterance 222 line 210.
In the funerary role, Nephthys often was depicted as a bird of prey called a kite, or as a woman with falcon wings, usually outstretched as a symbol of protection. Nephthys’s association with the kite or the Egyptian hawk (and its piercing, mournful cries) evidently reminded the ancients of the lamentations usually offered for the dead by wailing women. In this capacity, it is easy to see how Nephthys could be associated with death and putrefaction in the Pyramid Texts. She was, almost without fail, depicted as crowned by the hieroglyphics signifying her name, which were a combination of signs for the sacred temple enclosure (hwt), along with the sign for neb, or mistress (Lady), on top of the enclosure sign.
Nephthys was clearly viewed as a morbid-but-crucial force of heavenly transition, i.e., the Pharaoh becomes strong for his journey to the afterlife through the intervention of Isis and Nephthys. The same divine power could be applied later to all of the dead, who were advised to consider Nephthys a necessary companion. According to the Pyramid Texts, Nephthys, along with Isis, was a force before whom demons trembled in fear, and whose magical spells were necessary for navigating the various levels of Duat, as the region of the afterlife was termed.
It should here be noted that Nephthys was not necessarily viewed as the polar opposite of Isis, but rather as a different reflection of the same reality: eternal life in transition. Thus, Nephthys was also seen in the Pyramid Texts as a supportive cosmic force occupying the night-bark on the journey of Ra, the majestic sun god, particularly when he entered Duat at the transitional time of dusk, or twilight. Isis was Ra’s companion at the coming of dawn.
Nephthys and Set
Though it commonly has been assumed that Nepthys was married to Set, recent Egyptological research has called this into question. Levai notes that while Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride mentions the deity’s marriage, there is very little specifically linking Nephthys and Set in the original early Egyptian sources. She argues that the later evidence suggests that:
While Nephthys’s marriage to Set was a part of Egyptian mythology, it was not a part of the myth of the murder and resurrection of Osiris. She was not paired with Seth the villain, but with Seth’s other aspect, the benevolent figure who was the killer of Apophis. This was the aspect of Set worshiped in the western oases during the Roman period, where he is depicted with Nephthys as co-ruler.
The Saving Sister of Osiris
Nephthys plays an important role in the Osirian myth-cycle.
It is Nephthys who assists Isis in gathering and mourning the dismembered portions of the body of Osiris, after his murder by the envious Set. Nephthys also serves as the nursemaid and watchful guardian of the infant Horus. The Pyramid Texts refer to Isis as the “birth-mother” and to Nephthys as the “nursing-mother” of Horus. Nephthys was attested as one of the four “Great Chiefs” ruling in the Osirian cult-center of Busiris, in the Delta (cf. The Book of the Dead, Theban Recension) and she appears to have occupied an honorary position at the holy city of Abydos. No cult is attested for her there, though she certainly figured as a goddess of great importance in the annual rites conducted, wherein two chosen females or priestesses played the roles of Isis and Nephthys and performed the elaborate ‘Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys’. There, at Abydos, Nephthys joined Isis as a mourner in the shrine known as the Osireion (cf.Byron Esely Shafer, Dieter Arnold, Temples in Ancient Egypt, p. 112, 2005). These “Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys” were ritual elements of many such Osirian rites in major ancient Egyptian cult-centers.
As a mortuary goddess (along with Isis, Neith, and Serqet), Nephthys was one of the protectresses of the Canopic jars of the Hapi. Hapi, one of the Sons of Horus, guarded the embalmed lungs. Thus we find Nephthys endowed with the epithet, “Nephthys of the Bed of Life,” ( cf. tomb of Tuthmosis III, Dynasty XVIII) in direct reference to her regenerative priorities on the embalming table. In the city of Memphis, Nephthys was duly honored with the title “Queen of the Embalmer’s Shop,” and there associated with the jackal-headed god Anubis as patron.
Nephthys was also considered a festive deity whose rites could mandate the liberal consumption of beer. In various reliefs at Edfu, Dendera, and Behbeit, Nephthys is depicted receiving lavish beer-offerings from the Pharaoh, which she would “return”, using her power as a beer-goddess “that [the pharaoh] may have joy with no hangover.” Elsewhere at Edfu, for example, Nephthys is a goddess who gives the Pharaoh power to see “that which is hidden by moonlight.” This fits well with more general textual themes that consider Nephthys to be a goddess whose unique domain was darkness, or the perilous edges of the desert.
Nephthys could also appear as one of the goddesses who assists at childbirth. One ancient Egyptian myth preserved in the Papyrus Westcar recounts the story of Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet, and Heqet as traveling dancers in disguise, assisting the wife of a priest of Amun-Re as she prepares to bring forth sons who are destined for fame and fortune.
Nephthys’s healing skills and status as direct counterpart of Isis, steeped, as her sister in “words of power,” are evidenced by the abundance of faience amulets carved in her likeness, and by her presence in a variety of magical papyri that sought to summon her famously altruistic qualities to the aid of mortals.
New Kingdom Cults of Nephthys
The Ramesside Pharaohs were particularly devoted to Set’s prerogatives and, in the 19th Dynasty , a temple of Nephthys called the “House of Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun” was built or refurbished in the town of Sepermeru, midway between Oxyrhynchos and Herakleopolis, on the outskirts of the Fayyum and quite near to the modern site of Deshasheh. Here, as Papyrus Wilbour notes in its wealth of taxation records and land assessments, the temple of Nephthys was a specific foundation by Ramesses II, located in close proximity to (or within) the precinct of the enclosure of Set. To be certain, the House of Nephthys was one of fifty individual, land-owning temples delineated for this portion of the Middle Egyptian district in Papyrus Wilbour. The fields and other holdings belonging to Nephthys’s temple were under the authority of two Nephthys-prophets (named Penpmer and Merybarse) and one (mentioned) wa’ab priest of the goddess.
While certainly affiliated with the “House of Set,” the Nephthys temple at Sepermeru and its apportioned lands (several acres) clearly were under administration distinct from the Set institution. The Nephthys temple was a unique establishment in its own right, an independent entity. According to Papyrus Wilbour, another “House of Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun” seems to have existed to the north, in the town of Su, closer to the Fayyum region.
Another temple of Nephthys seems to have existed in the town of Punodjem. The Papyrus Bologna records a complaint lodged by a prophet of the temple of Set in that town regarding undue taxation in his regard. After making an introductory appeal to “Re-Horakhte, Set, and Nephthys” for the ultimate resolution of this issue by the royal Vizier, the prophet (named Pra’emhab) laments his workload. He notes his obvious administration of the “House of Set” and adds: “I am also responsible for the ship, and I am responsible likewise for the House of Nephthys, along with a heap of other temples.”
As “Nephthys of Ramesses-Meriamun,” the goddess and her shrines were under the particular endorsement of Ramesses II. The foundations of the Set and Nephthys temples at Sepermeru finally were discovered and identified in the 1980s, and the Nephthys temple was a self-sustaining temple complex within the Set enclosure.
There can be little doubt that a cult of Nephthys existed in the temple and great town of Herakleopolis, north of Sepermeru. A near life-sized statue of Nephthys (currently housed in the Louvre) boasts a curiously altered inscription. The basalt image originally was stationed at Medinet-Habu, as part of the cultic celebration of the Pharaonic “Sed-Festival,” but was transferred at some point to Herakleopolis and the temple of Herishef. The cult-image’s inscription originally pertained to “Nephthys, Foremost of the Sed [Festival] in the Booth of Annals” (at Medinet-Habu), but was re-inscribed or re-dedicated to “Nephthys, Foremost of the [Booths of] Herakleopolis.” A “prophet of Nephthys” is indeed attested for the town of Herakleopolis in the 30th Dynasty.
Chief Goddess of Nome VII
Nephthys was considered the unique protectress of the Sacred Phoenix, or the Bennu Bird. This role may have stemmed from an early association in her native Heliopolis, which was renowned for its “House of the Bennu” temple. In this role, Nephthys was given the name “Nephthys-Kheresket,” and a wealth of temple texts from Edfu, Dendara, Philae, Kom Ombo, El Qa’la, Esna, and others corroborate the late identification of Nephthys as the supreme goddess of Upper Egyptian Nome VII, where another shrine existed in honor of the Bennu. Nephthys also was the goddess of the “Mansion of the Sistrum” in Hwt-Sekhem (Gr. Diospolis Parva), the chief city of Nome VII. There, Nephthys was the primary protectress of the resident Osirian relic, of the Bennu Bird, and of the local Horus/Osiris manifestation, the god Neferhotep.
Nephthys was most widely and usually worshipped in ancient Egypt as part of a consortium of temple deities. Therefore, it should not surprise us that her cult images could likely be found as part of the divine entourage in temples at Kharga, Kellis, Deir el-Hagar, Koptos, Dendereh, Philae, Sebennytos, Busiris, Shenhur, El Qa’la, Letopolis, Heliopolis, Abydos, Thebes, Dakleh Oasis, and indeed throughout Egypt. In most cases, Nephthys found her typical place as part of a triad alongside Osiris and Isis, or Isis and Horus, or Isis and Min, or as part of a quartet of deities. It is perhaps, in this way that Nephthys best fulfilled her role as an important national deity whose ideal function was to provide powerful assistance to her associates in a great variety of temple cults—a truly “Useful” and “Excellent” goddess, as her primary epithets reflect.