Richard Alpert (also known as Richardus and by his birth name Ricardo) was a long-time inhabitant of the Island, having arrived in 1867 as a slave on the Black Rock. Soon after he arrived, he asked Jacob to make him ageless, and in exchange held a leadership position with the Others as an advisor and the sole intermediary between Jacob and the people who were brought to the Island. Richard believed that even though he could not kill himself, others were capable of killing him. He perpetually appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s, whether on or off the Island.
Richard had on occasion left and returned to the Island. In the outside world, he monitored John Locke’s early life, having visited him as a baby and at age five. He also presented himself as a recruiter for Mittelos Bioscience, helping to bring Juliet to the Island in 2001.
After the crash of Ajira Flight 316 in 2007, Richard led the Man in Black, who he thought was a resurrected John Locke, to Jacob. This resulted in Jacob being murdered by Benjamin Linus, at the prompting of the Man in Black. After Jacob’s death, Richard tried to kill himself, believing all the years he had spent on the Island were meaningless, as Jacob had promised him he would tell him everything he knew. Through the mediumship of Hurley, Richard found out from his long-dead wife, Isabella, that he must prevent the Man in Black from leaving the Island. After spearheading a plan to destroy Ajira Airways Flight 316 with explosives, Richard attempted to negotiate with the Man in Black to buy Widmore and others time to hide, but was instead violently thrown through the air by the Monster. Richard survived the attack and realized he had begun aging normally. He helped Miles and Frank fix Ajira Flight 316 and left the Island with the two of them, along with Kate, Sawyer and Claire, to live in the outside world.
Before the Black Rock’s shipwreck (Early Life)
6×09 – Ab Aeterno
Very little is known about Richard’s past before 1867 except that he was once a Spaniard living near El Socorro on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He had a wife named Isabella and both lived in a small cottage in a rural area where they made a living out of farming. Ricardo and his wife were both hoping to travel to the New World in order to start a new life and begin a family. At that time, Richard had been trying his best to teach himself English to prepare for his travel to the new world. (“Ab Aeterno”)
6×09 – Ab Aeterno
Isabella, who had become very sick, died when Ricardo was unable to bring her medicine in time, though it was unclear if the medicine would have saved her life. In the course of trying to get her the medicine, he accidentally killed the doctor after forcefully taking the expensive medicine which he was unable to purchase.
Ricardo fled the doctor’s house but was eventually caught, and was sentenced to be hanged. However, before the sentence was carried out, he was sold into slavery by the prison’s priest, who had denied him absolution, to the first mate of the Black Rock, which was headed to the New World. (“Ab Aeterno”)
After the Black Rock’s shipwreck (1867)
6×09 – Ab Aeterno
Ricardo shipwrecked on the Island aboard the Black Rock in 1867. When Ricardo awakened, he narrowly avoided death when Jonas Whitfield began killing all the slaves aboard the ship. Before Ricardo could be killed, the Smoke Monster appeared and killed Whitfield, along with the rest of the crew. Ricardo was “scanned” by the monster and spared. Ricardo struggled to escape his shackles for a lengthy period of time, but ultimately failed. Not long after, a sudden storm brought rainwater cascading into the brig, but despite his struggles Ricardo was unable to catch even a drop.
A short time later, the Man in Black appeared to Ricardo in the form of his wife, Isabella, and later, in the form of a middle-aged black-haired man, who let Ricardo out of his chains in exchange for Ricardo’s agreement to serve the Man in Black in whatever way possible. (“Ab Aeterno”)
Ricardo left the wreckage of the Black Rock along with the Man in Black, never to return for 140 years. (“Dr. Linus”)
6×09 – Ab Aeterno
The Man in Black later tried to convince Ricardo to kill Jacob. The Man in Black enforced Ricardo’s belief that the Island was actually Hell, and that Jacob was the Devil, whom Richard needed to kill. The Man in Black did, however, admit that he was the Black Smoke, when Ricardo assumed that this was Jacob, but managed to persuade Ricardo to murder the so-called “Devil” anyway, despite his hesitations. He instructed him to use the special knife that he subsequently handed him and advised him not to let Jacob talk to him, because “he is very persuasive”.
Ricardo found the remains of the statue of Taweret on the beach and approached the statue’s pedestal, where Jacob assaulted him. Ricardo struggled and attempted to stab Jacob but was disarmed. Jacob demanded Ricardo tell him who gave him the knife. Ricardo in turn demanded to know where his wife was. Jacob did not know her by name and asked if she had come on the ship with him, but Ricardo replied that she was dead. This logic irritated Jacob, who asked Ricardo if he had met a man dressed in black. Ricardo said he had, and repeated what the Man in Black had told him: that the Island was Hell and Jacob was the Devil. Jacob responded by forcibly immersing Ricardo in the nearby surf repeatedly, forcing him to accept that he was still alive, until he declared that he wanted to live. Jacob then praised him for finally being sensible.
Later the two sat together drying off by a fire. Jacob explained the nature of the Island to Ricardo by comparing it to a cork that stoppers wine in a bottle. Jacob compared the wine metaphorically to “malevolence” which could spread to the world without the cork. After revealing that he has brought other people to the Island, Jacob added that he wanted people to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong without him having to explain it. Jacob subsequently offered Ricardo the job of representative or intermediary for him to the people whom he would bring to the Island. As compensation Ricardo demanded to have his wife back, but Jacob confessed he couldn’t do that. Ricardo then requested Jacob absolve him from his sins, but Jacob again said he couldn’t. Ricardo finally requested to live forever, which Jacob said he could make happen. He reached across and touched the Spaniard on the shoulder. With this, Ricardo became the first of the people who would later be known as “The Others.”
Afterward, Ricardo met the Man in Black again who realized that he had spoken with Jacob. Ricardo gave him a gift from Jacob, a little white rock, and the Man in Black reassured him that his offer to join his forces would always stand. Upon the Man in Black’s departure, Ricardo buried his wife’s pendant cross and said goodbye to his love before leaving to start his new job and help Jacob recruit people to the Island. (“Ab Aeterno”)
5×03 – Jughead
Ricardo’s next chronological appearance was 87 years later, at the Others’ camp in 1954, going by the anglicized name “Richard Alpert”. Although Richard appeared to be in charge of the Others, it is unclear (and unlikely) since it has been alluded that he serves as advisor to whoever is leader at the time. Later it was revealed that two of his subordinates from 1954, Ellie and Charles Widmore, eventually became leaders.
During this time period, the US government had sent military personnel to various Pacific islands to test hydrogen bombs. One such bomb, “Jughead”, was brought to the Island. Richard told the soldiers to leave the Island and when they refused, the Others attacked and killed them. After burying the bodies, the Others took over their camp, weapons, clothes, tents, and other equipment. Jughead was left on the Island, undetonated.
At the camp, Richard was presented with Daniel, Miles and Charlotte, who had been captured by Ellie after time traveling back to 1954. Accused of being with the military, Daniel decided that it was safer to follow the misconception and responded that they were in the military but were only scientists, which Ellie doubted. Richard questioned them and eventually believed that Daniel was a scientist. When Daniel offered to disarm the bomb, Richard asked how he could trust that they weren’t on a suicide mission in retaliation for killing the soldiers. Daniel’s response that he loved Charlotte and would not want any harm to come to her convinced Richard, and he allowed Ellie to escort Daniel at gunpoint to the bomb.
Before they left, a young Charles Widmore arrived at the camp, explaining that he was captured by people in the jungle. Widmore questioned Richard’s leadership in trusting one of “them” (the military). Soon afterward, a bald man in his late-forties arrived at the camp, calling for Richard, but Widmore stopped him at gun point. Richard approached the man who introduced himself as John Locke and said that he was sent by Jacob. At this, Richard ordered Widmore to stand down.
In a tent Locke showed Richard the compass Richard had given him, and explained that he knew Richard in the future, where Locke is leader of the Others. Richard was skeptical because the leader selection process which begins at a very young age and is very strict. To prove his claims, Locke said that in two years he would be born in Tustin, California, and that Richard should go visit him. Locke then asked how to leave the Island, but Richard told him this was privileged information. Locke, who heard a time flash starting, pleaded with Richard to tell him, but before a hesitant Richard could answer the time jump occurred and Locke disappeared. (“Jughead”)
Recruiting John Locke
4×11 – Cabin Fever
In June of 1956, per adult Locke’s suggestion, Richard Alpert visited the Tustin hospital where John Locke had been born prematurely a month earlier. Mrs. Locke was inquiring about putting the infant up for adoption when the nurse spotted Richard at the window. As he smiled at the confirmation that Locke had told him the truth, Mrs. Locke commented bemusedly that she did not know who he was.
Richard again entered Locke’s life in 1961, when he visited the five-year-old while he was in foster care. Richard told Florence (John’s foster mother) that he considered John special enough to join a school for “very special” children.
Richard noted a drawing on the wall of a black scribble, that is supposedly the smoke monster, attacking a person and he asked young John if he had drawn it, which he confirmed. He then tested Locke as part of the process of choosing the leader of the Others by presenting him with certain items: a baseball glove, a book of laws, a vial of sand, a compass, a comic book, and a knife. Locke was asked to identify which of these items were “already” his. Richard was pleased when Locke chose the compass and vial of sand, and smiled slightly as the child considered the book, but Locke ultimately chose the knife. At this, Richard turned cold and left, telling Florence that he was sorry to have wasted their time.
Years later, however, in 1972, Richard again contacted Locke through his high school science teacher, Gellert, offering Locke a chance to attend a summer science camp sponsored by Mittelos Laboratories. Locke refused to attend the camp since he is constantly bullied for geeky interest in science and wants to play sports. No further attempts to recruit him have been shown. (“Cabin Fever”)
5×16 – The Incident, Part 1
In 1977 Richard would state to Jack (who had time traveled from 2007) that these three visits led him to find nothing “particularly special” about Locke. Jack told Richard not to give up on Locke, further solidifying Jack’s faith. (“The Incident, Part 1”)
Confrontations with the DHARMA Initiative
3×20 – The Man Behind the Curtain
Richard was one of the “Hostiles” present on the Island alongside the DHARMA Initiative. In 1973, a young Benjamin Linus encountered him after taking off into the jungle, searching for an apparition of his dead mother. Richard, at this time sporting long hair, was dressed in primitive clothing but had a twentieth century holster on his right hip. Richard reassured Ben and asked why he was out in the jungle alone. When Ben explained what he had seen, and that she had died off the Island, Richard was visibly interested in this explanation – likely recalling the Man in Black’s earlier impersonation of Isabella. Richard then told Ben to return home, however, the boy pleaded with Richard to let him return to the “Hostiles” with him. Considering this, the older man told him that this might be possible, but that Ben would need to be “very, very patient.” (“The Man Behind the Curtain”)
5×08 – LaFleur
In 1974, Richard strode into the DHARMA barracks after dark, causing general panic. He placed a torch in the ground and waited, until Horace Goodspeed came to meet him. Richard accused DHARMA of breaking their truce by having killed two of his men. Sawyer told Horace that he would talk to Richard, describing him as “your buddy out there with the eyeliner”. Sawyer, having been stranded in that year after Locke turned the frozen wheel, emerged from a cabin and confronted Richard. Sawyer told Richard he was not a member of the DHARMA Initiative, as Richard originally assumed, citing his knowledge of the events in 1954 as proof.
The two made a deal that the truce between DHARMA and the Others would remain unbroken (Sawyer having killed two of his men, an act that, due to him being a third party reacting in self-defense, did not constitute violation of the truce) if the Initiative surrendered the body of Paul, the man killed in the confrontation between the two groups, as payment for the two deaths. (“LaFleur”)
5×11 – Whatever Happened, Happened
In 1977, Sawyer and Kate, carrying the seriously wounded young Ben, attempted to find the Others so they could help Ben. After they were captured by the Others, Sawyer demanded that they be taken to Richard, because Ben’s death would have repercussions on both the DHARMA Initiative and the Others. After telling them that Ben would remember none of this and would be “one of them” (an Other) for good after this, Richard carried Ben through the jungle and brought him into the Temple. (“Whatever Happened, Happened”)
5×12 – Dead Is Dead
After taking Ben back to the Others’ camp, Richard was met by Charles Widmore, who berated him for bringing the boy back to camp. Richard informed Charles that it was Jacob’s orders. (“Dead Is Dead”)
5×14 – The Variable
A short time later, Daniel Faraday infiltrated the Others’ camp with a gun and demanded to meet Ellie. Richard attempted to calm him down and told him that Ellie was not there at the moment. Upon hearing this, Daniel demanded to know where Richard had buried Jughead. Pointing his gun at Richard, Daniel said that he would count to three. Before he could do so he was shot from behind by Ellie. When Richard asked why she did it, Ellie replied that Daniel was threatening Richard. He then watched as Daniel revealed that he was Ellie’s son before dying from his wound. (“The Variable”)
5×15 – Follow the Leader
Charles Widmore then appeared with Jack and Kate as prisoners. After Ellie read Daniel’s journal and had a conversation with the two, she ordered that they be released despite Widmore’s protests. She then asked Richard to accompany them to the Jughead. Richard, Jack, Kate, Ellie, and Erik soon reached a lake, which hid the passage to the bomb underneath the water. Kate tried to escape, causing Erik to aim his gun at her. However, Erik was shot down by Sayid, who suddenly appeared out of the jungle. Sayid joined the group and they soon reached the tunnels, where the Jughead had been hidden. (“Follow the Leader”)
5×16 – The Incident, Part 1
While Sayid was working to remove the core of the Jughead to bring it to the Swan station, Richard asked Jack if he knew John Locke. He told him that Locke had marched into their camp twenty-three years ago saying he was their leader, and that he had been off the island three times now to visit Locke, but had no reason to believe that John was special. Jack told him that he knew who Locke was, and told Richard not to give up on him.
The group then traveled further down the tunnels, where Richard used a hammer to break down a wall leading to a house in the Barracks. Ellie then decided that she should go into the house first, but Richard knocked her out with his gun, telling Jack and Sayid that Ellie ordered him to help them get the bomb, which he did, and that he was just protecting their leader. (“The Incident, Part 1”)
When the survivors successfully triggered the bomb, Richard witnessed the explosion from afar, believing for the next thirty years that everyone there had died.
5×12 – Dead Is Dead
Richard was next seen in 1989 at the Others’ camp where Ben and Charles shared a heated argument over Danielle Rousseau and her daughter Alex. (“Dead Is Dead”)
3×20 – The Man Behind the Curtain
On December 19, 1992, Richard led the Hostiles in the Purge when they slaughtered the DHARMA Initiative population with gas from their own station, the Tempest. After the gas had dissipated, he emerged from the Barracks with the other Hostiles to meet Ben, then in his late twenties, who had just returned from personally killing his father in the same way. Richard offered to go out and bring Roger’s body back, but Ben coldly told him to leave the corpse where it was. The other dead members of the DHARMA Initiative were taken to a mass grave in the jungle. (“The Man Behind the Curtain”)
5×12 – Dead Is Dead
At some point, Ben became the leader of the group, succeeding Charles Widmore, which would evolve to become what Rousseau and the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 would call “the Others.” Sometime after the Purge, Richard was seen in the Barracks where the DHARMA Initiative used to reside. Richard approached Ben and informed him that the submarine was about to leave, telling Ben that he did not need to see its passenger off if he didn’t want to. Ben felt he needed to, however, and went to the dock, where he saw a handcuffed Charles Widmore being exiled from the island. (“Dead Is Dead”)
Recruiting Juliet Burke
3×07 – Not in Portland
In 2001, Richard approached Juliet Burke in Miami. This meek fertility doctor was still under the watchful eye of her ex-husband, Edmund, as she conducted experiments in the hopes of impregnating her barren sister, Rachel. Ben sent Richard to recruit Juliet in the name of Mittelos Bioscience in his attempts to find the reason and cure for pregnant women dying on the island. Alpert’s assistant referred to him as “Dr. Alpert.” However, Juliet addressed him as “Mr. Alpert,” suggesting that he might hold a Ph.D., but not be a doctor of medicine. Juliet declined after a cheerful slideshow about the Mittelos facility, supposedly located just outside Portland. She then joked bitterly that the only way she would be able to join Mittelos was if Edmund were hit by a bus.
Later, Juliet discovered that her experiments had been successful, but as she told Edmund about it, he stepped off the curb and was hit by a bus bearing an Apollo Bar advertisement. After Juliet identified Edmund’s body, she was once again approached by Richard in the morgue, this time accompanied by Ethan. She was stunned as she remembered her dark joke to Richard, though he denied even remembering the comment. He once again offered Juliet a six-month job at Mittelos, carefully telling her that the facility wasn’t “quite in Portland.” (“Not in Portland”)
3×16 – One of Us
Later, as Juliet and Rachel said goodbye to each other at Herarat Aviation, Richard and Ethan came down to greet them, telling them that unfortunately, they had to say goodbye at the gate. After Juliet signed the appropriate paperwork, Richard added powder to a glass of orange juice for her. When she asked warily about it, he was very forthcoming about it being a strong sedative for the “intense” journey. After Juliet drank the contents of the glass, Alpert presumably traveled to the Island on the submarine Galaga with Ethan and Juliet. (“One of Us”)
After the crash
3×16 – One of Us
On September 22nd, 2004, moments after Flight 815 crashed onto the Island, Ben took Juliet to the Flame station, where Mikhail patched them through to a live broadcast of Richard filming in Miami. The broadcast showed Juliet’s sister and nephew having a happy moment at a playground, with the date illustrated by Richard filming a Miami Journal newspaper header. Though Richard was not visible in the footage, Ben referred to him by name and urged him to return quickly, mentioning the possibility of new “visitors”. (“One of Us”)
3×13 – The Man from Tallahassee
Eighty days after the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, Richard had returned to the Island in the interim. At Ben’s home in the Barracks, Ben instructed Richard to bring him “the man from Tallahassee.” The next day, after Locke blew up the Galaga, Richard helped Ben bring him to a room where that man was revealed to be Locke’s father, Anthony Cooper. (“The Man from Tallahassee”)
3×19 – The Brig
The Others, including Richard, soon abandoned the barracks and began heading for the Temple. That night while they made camp at the ruins along the way, Ben insisted that Locke kill his own father, but Locke refused. The next morning after the resulting public humiliation, Richard approached Locke, who was sitting on the hillside watching the camp. He introduced himself to Locke, who presumably did not remember his childhood encounter with him, and promptly took the conversation to a more serious level.
He said that Ben had known Locke wouldn’t kill his father. In fact, Ben wanted him to fail in front of the group. Richard mentioned that they were all there for reasons more important than the fertility issues Ben had been focusing on. He then presented Locke with a file on Sawyer, suggesting that he should kill Cooper instead. Locke, confused, asked why Sawyer would want to kill Cooper; Richard simply told him to read the file. Richard later followed Ben and the Others as they left the ruins (and Locke) in order to make camp elsewhere. (“The Brig”)
3×20 – The Man Behind the Curtain
Two days later, at the temporary camp, as Ben reminisced over a wooden doll he had received from Annie as a child, Richard entered and asked what it was. Ben explained that it was a birthday present and asked cryptically, “You do remember birthdays, don’t you, Richard?”, to which he received no response. Richard asked Ben if he wanted the tape recorder returned to The Staff for Juliet, prompting alarm in Ben, as he thought Richard had already done so. (In reality, Locke had delivered it to Sawyer.)
They were interrupted when Locke returned to camp with Cooper’s body over his shoulders. Richard looked on as Ben reluctantly agreed to take Locke to Jacob, a startling turn of events. (“The Man Behind the Curtain”)
3×21 – Greatest Hits
When Ben returned alone, Richard asked what had happened, but Ben didn’t reveal that he’d shot Locke, believing the latter had heard what was apparently Jacob plea for “help.” Tense and irritable, Ben ignored Richard’s protest against his plan to immediately raid the survivors’ camp and take all the women. (“Greatest Hits”)
Following the raid on the beach camp, Ben learned that the majority of the survivors had left the camp, leading him to take Alex and intercept them. Richard asked to join the father and daughter, but Ben refused, telling him to take charge and lead the Others to the Temple, as planned. He apparently then led the Others to this mysterious location. (“Through the Looking Glass, Part 1”)
Associated LOST Themes & DHARMA Stations
Decoded Family Members
Decoded Season 1 Characters
Decoded Season 2 Characters
Decoded Season 3 Characters
Decoded Season 4 Characters
Decoded Season 5 Characters
Decoded Season 6 Characters
Key Episode(s) to Decoding the Character
(Tehuti, Djehuty) Thoth is the God of learning and of wisdom, depicted as an ibis-headed man, as an ibis, or, less often, as a baboon (in this form generally with a lunar crescent on his head), and frequently holding the brush and palette of a scribe, since the wisdom of which he is the master is in particular that which is contained in sacred texts. Thoth has also strong lunar associations, to the extent of being often identified with the moon itself (for instance, CT spell 156 states that “what is small in the full month [i.e., the new moon] and great in the half-month [the full moon], that is Thoth”), but more systematically Thoth is the God responsible for healing the wedjat, the Eye of Horus, after it was injured by Seth, and since the wedjat‘s regeneration is embodied in the waxing lunar cycle, Thoth is the God who restores the light of the moon. The symbolism of the Eye of Horus extends well beyond the moon, however, and Thoth’s activities in relation to the Eye of Horus are virtually coextensive with his entire sphere of activity; in CT spell 249, Thoth states “I have come that I may seek out the Eye of Horus, I have brought and examined it, and I have found it complete, fully numbered and intact.” Thoth’s identification with the moon probably also involves an idea known to many cultures, namely that the moon, as the nocturnal sun, symbolizes the powers of the human intelligence to supplement that which nature provides and as an intermediary between the divine and mortal realms. Thoth is not only the embodiment of wisdom, but also its advocate in the world: “Content are all the Gods … with this great and mighty word which issued from the mouth of Thoth for Osiris,” (PT utterance 577). Thoth is also a peacemaker who reconciles Horus and Seth and who pacifies the wrathful Goddesses, especially Sekhmet. In this latter role, expressed in the epithet sehetep neseret, ‘the one who pacifies/propitiates the divine flame’, Thoth mediates again between the mortal and the divine, for the fiery blast of wrathful Goddesses, which is called neseret, forms a barrier of sorts between these realms. Thoth’s cult center is Khemennu (known as ‘Hermopolis’ by the Greeks); his consort is Nehmetaway or Seshat, although the latter is sometimes regarded as his daughter. Thoth’s association with Nehmetaway underscores that in addition to his role as lord of knowledge and of magic, he is also lord of justice and of truth, “whose abomination is falsehood … lord of laws, who makes writing speak … who witnesses truth to the Gods, who so judges that ma’et [truth] is upheld, who vindicates the loser, savior of the needy one and his possessions … who rescues the needy from the powerful,” (BD spell 182).
In the conflict between Horus and Seth, Thoth, although clearly Horus’s partisan in the quest for the sovereignty, nevertheless was understood to heal both Gods of their injuries, the eyes of Horus and the testicles of Seth. Thoth can be understood to express an actual, if conflictual, bond between Horus and Seth. In the wake of a homosexual encounter between Seth and Horus, which Seth subsequently tries to use before the divine tribunal in order to disparage Horus, Thoth himself becomes the recipient of the luminous disk which emerges from Seth’s head after Seth is tricked into ingesting lettuce contaminated with the semen of Horus, this disk apparently standing for the lunar disk which Thoth bears on his head. The allegorical value of such a tale, in which wisdom is born from the conflict of other principles, was likely not lost on Egyptians; we know that in the Late Period, at least, an extended allegory known as “The Blinding of Truth by Falsehood” was in circulation which bears certain analogies with the conflict myth, although it includes nothing like this episode. Another aspect of Thoth’s role as mediator between Horus and Seth can be seen from the terminology which is used for this act: Thoth “separates” the combatants, a term which has the sense both of separating physically but also of deciding or discerning. The same terminology of “separating” is used in oracle consultations, where the God being consulted is asked to “separate” two complementary petitions, that is, to choose the correct claim and discard the other. A hymn to Thoth generalizes this function, calling Thoth “the legislator in heaven and on earth, he who sees to it that the Gods remain within the limits of their competency, each guild fulfills its obligations and the countries know their frontiers and the fields their appurtenances” (Bleeker 1973, 137), while in PT utterance 570 Thoth is he “in whom is the peace of the Gods.”
Thoth facilitates the exchange across the border between the human and divine realms in his function as lord of sacred texts. In the Book of the Celestial Cow, when Re is about to withdraw from his role as immanent sovereign of humanity to take his place on the heavenly plane, he says to Thoth, “I am here in heaven, in my place … be a scribe here, have power over those who are here … thou shalt be in my place, my deputy,” (Piankoff, 32). Re empowers Thoth by a series of formulae linked to Thoth’s diverse forms—the ibis, the moon, and the baboon. First, Re grants him the authority to send forth the other Gods through spells and invocations and to check their actions in turn, this power corresponding to the ibis. Next Re bids him to “encompass the two heavens with thy beauty and thy light,” this corresponding to the moon. Finally, Re charges him with traversing the lands of the Ha-nebu, the ‘Northern Lords’, a vague term for the islands of the Aegean (cf. CT spell 785: “O mighty of magic … the Gods, the lords of all things, circulate about you in your name of Him who goes round about the Isles,” that is, the islands of the Ha-nebu), perhaps implying a circuit around the Mediterranean and thus through many foreign lands—a hymn to Thoth states that he “made different the tongue of one country from another,” (Bleeker 1973, 140); this last power corresponds to the baboon.
A large body of speculative literature in ancient Egypt was attributed to the authorship of Thoth. In the hands of bilingual Egyptian priests, these texts were surely to some degree the inspiration for the Greek literature known as the ‘Hermetica’, which date from the first through the third centuries CE. To make more substantial claims about doctrines common to the Egyptian speculative literature and the Hermetica, however, is hazardous because only fragments of this genre of Egyptian literature survive. The most significant surviving work of this kind, although it too is a tissue of fragments, is a Demotic text which has been dubbed the ‘Book of Thoth’ although its actual title does not survive (see Jasnow and Zauzich 2005). Much of the text is hopelessly enigmatic, but it takes the form of an initiatory dialogue between Thoth, called ‘He who praises knowledge’, and a disciple, ‘The one who loves knowledge’ or ‘who wishes to learn’. Occasionally joining the dialogue is Osiris, named by an epithet which could variously be translated as ‘He who has judged upon his back’ (i.e., lying upon his bier), ‘He who is upon his mound’, or ‘He who wears the atef‘ (the distinctive Osirian crown). Prominent roles are also accorded to Seshat and to Imhotep, the latter as an initiator into the mysteries of Thoth. The dialogue is wide-ranging, including discussions of the tools and craft of the scribe, the nature of language and its origins, the art of interpreting sacred texts, cosmogony, the netherworld, and animals, both sacred and mundane. Symbols and concepts from the afterlife literature are deployed throughout the text, although the ‘Book of Thoth’ is clearly not itself funerary. Unfortunately, the state of the text is such that it is far easier to say what subjects are discussed than just what is said about them. One theme coming through strongly is the idea that wisdom is continuous through the whole of nature; thus the text says at one point, “Is a learned one he who instructs? The sacred beasts and the birds, teaching comes about for them, but what is the book chapter which they have read? The four-footed beasts which are upon the mountains, do they not have guidance?” (B01, 1/6-7).
Although he stands apart from the familial organization of the ‘Children of Nut‘, due to his extensive involvement on behalf of Osiris and Horus Thoth is sometimes regarded as being among their number. Thus in BD spell 1, Thoth states, “I am one of these Gods, the children of Nut, who slay the enemies of Osiris and keep the rebels away from him. I belong to thy people, Horus. I fought on thy behalf; I intercede in behalf of thy name.” In BD spell 175, however, in a dialogue with Atum, Thoth shows that he transcends an exclusive identification with this divine family circle. In this spell, Atum complains to Thoth, “O Thoth, what is to be done with the Children of Nut? They have made war, they have stirred up turmoil, they have committed wrongs, they have started rebellions, they have made carnage, they have put under guard … Give thou effective help, O Thoth.” Atum, as representing the most primordial order of Gods, laments the disorder generated by all sides in the conflicts associated with the children of Nut, without preference. Thoth responds to Atum, “Thou shalt not experience wrongs … Their years have been shortened, their months have been brought near, since they have made a mockery of secrecy in all that thou hast done.” The operator of the spell proceeds to affirm, “I am thy palette, O Thoth; I have brought thee thy water-bowl. I am not among these who betray their secrets.” In this fashion, the operator, with the help of Thoth, identifies himself with a principle transcending the cosmic principles themselves, which are conceived here as betraying the ‘secrecy’ or latency of the precosmic state. Elsewhere, Thoth is called “the one with whose word Atum is content,” (Bleeker 1973, 119). Thoth is also distanced somewhat from the drama of the Children of Nut in PT utterance 218, in which Seth and Thoth are called “brothers who did not mourn” Osiris.
In PT utterance 534, in a series of formulae which are designed to repel ordinarily beneficent deities in case they come with evil intentions for the deceased, the formula to be used against Thoth is that he is “motherless”. To some extent this surely foreshadows Thoth’s frequent designation in later texts as the “heart [i.e., mind] of Re” (see Boylan 1922, 114f). In a text from Esna (Sauneron, Esna V, 226, text 206, 11; III, p. 33; Sauneron in Mél. Mariette, p. 234-5) it is said that Thoth comes forth from Re’s heart “in a moment of grief.” Sometimes Thoth’s origins are too primeval to speak of his having parents; thus in BD spell 134, Thoth is referred to as “son of the stone, who came forth from the twin eggshells [lit., ‘female stones’].” A tradition of local importance at Armant, however, identifies the Goddess Raettawy as Thoth’s mother. In this capacity Raettawy bears the epithet Snk(t)-Nt, or “Nurse of Neith,” (el-Sayed 1969, 73ff). Thoth is sometimes called “son of Neith” and Neith “divine mother of Thoth,” probably in a more symbolic than mythical sense. Some texts add that Raettawy created Thoth “for Horakhty,” the solar form of Horus closely associated with Re, or refer to her as “Raettawy, the wet-nurse who nurses her heir, she is Snk(t)-Nt beside Re.” It is also stated that she brought Thoth forth “in the sha’ê,” the great pool at the beginning of the universe, and that she “shines in the Nun [i.e., the precosmic abyss] with Shu,” all of which serves to convey that Thoth’s origins lie in the earliest discernible moments of the cosmogenesis.
A mythic incident involving an injury to Thoth’s shoulder is alluded to in Ramesseum Papyrus XI, which places it alongside the more well-known injuries to the eye of Horus and to the testicles of Seth. An ambiguous passage from the Papyrus Jumilhac may recount this incident (Vandier pp. 106-108 on 17, 3-6/570-573). The text is extremely problematic, but according to one possible reconstruction, it tells of Seth attacking Thoth and cutting off his arm after having stolen Thoth’s sacred books and thrown them into the river. Thoth magically reattaches his arm, painting with his brush over the spot where the arm fastens in order to fix it securely in place. The text says that “the qniw exist on account of this,” the qni being a kind of ceremonial cape worn over the shoulder by sem priests (p. 107 n. 3). CT spell 156, for “knowing the souls of Khemennu,” by way of comparison, refers to a plume which is fastened to the shoulder of Osiris and grows, perhaps as a symbol for wings.
Patron of: knowledge, secrets, writing, and scribes
Appearance: A man with the head of an ibis holding a scribe’s palette and stylus. He was also shown as a full ibis, or sometimes as baboon.
Description: Thoth is an unusual god. Though some stories place him as a son of Ra, others say that Thoth created himself through the power of language. He is the creator of magic, the inventor of writing, teacher of man, the messenger of the gods (and thus identified by the Greeks with Hermes) and the divine record-keeper and mediator.
Thoth’s role as mediator is well-documented. It is he who questions the souls of the dead about their deeds in life before their heart is weighed against the feather of Maat. He was even sent by Ra to speak with Tefnut and ask her to return when she abdicated her position and went to Nubia. He is also the great counselor and the other gods frequently went to him for advice.
Thoth is considered a lunar deity and is often depicted wearing the lunar crescent on his head. There is a story told of how Thoth won a portion of Khonsu‘s light, and this may be the reason. As a lunar deity his totem animal is the baboon, a nocturnal animal that goes to sleep only after greeting the new day.
Worship: Worshipped widely throughout all of Egypt, his cult center was Hermopolis.
Thoth was considered one of the more important deities of the Egyptian pantheon. In art, he was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon; these animals were sacred to him. His feminine counterpart was Seshat. His chief shrine was located in the city of Khmun, later renamed Hermopolis Magna during the Greco-Roman era (in reference to him through the Greeks’ interpretation that he was the same as their god Hermes) and Eshmûnên in the Coptic rendering. In that city, he led the local pantheon of the region known as the Ogdoad, and its eight principal deities. He also had numerous shrines within the cities of Abydos, Hesert, Urit, Per-Ab, Rekhui, Ta-ur, Sep, Hat, Pselket, Talmsis, Antcha-Mutet, Bah, Amen-heri-ab, and Ta-kens.
He was often considered as the heart, which, according to the ancient Egyptians, is the seat of intelligence or the mind, and tongue of the sun god Ra; as well as the means by which Ra’s will was translated into speech. He had also been related to the Logos of Plato and the mind of God (see The All). In the Egyptian mythology, he has played many vital and prominent roles in maintaining the universe, including being one of the two deities (the other being Ma’at, who was also his wife) who stood on either side of Ra’s boat. Later in ancient Egyptian history, Thoth became heavily associated with the arbitration of godly disputes, the arts of magic, the system of writing, the development of science, and the judgment of the dead.
The Egyptian pronunciation of ḏḥwty is not fully known, but may be reconstructed as *ḏiḥautī, based on the Ancient Greek borrowing Θωθ Thōth or Theut and the fact that it evolved into Sahidic Coptic variously as Thoout, Thōth, Thoot, Thaut as well as Bohairic Coptic Thōout. The final -y may even have been pronounced as a consonant, not a vowel. However, many write “Djehuty”, inserting the letter ‘e’ automatically between consonants in Egyptian words, and writing ‘w’ as ‘u’, as a convention of convenience for English speakers, not the transliteration employed by Egyptologists. In modern Egypt, tour guides pronounce the name as “Thote” or “Tote” with an aspirated initial consonant.
According to Theodor Hopfner, Thoth’s Egyptian name written as ḏḥwty originated from ḏḥw, claimed to be the oldest known name for the ibis although normally written as hbj. The addition of -ty denotes that he possessed the attributes of the ibis. Hence his name means “He who is like the ibis”.
Djehuty is sometimes alternatively rendered as Jehuti, Tahuti, Tehuti, Zehuti, Techu, or Tetu. Thoth (also Thot or Thout) is the Greek version derived from the letters ḏḥwty. Not counting differences in spelling, Thoth had many names and titles or names, like other goddesses and gods. Similarly, each Pharaoh, considered a god himself, had five different names used in public. Among his alternate names are A, Sheps, Lord of Khemennu, Asten, Khenti, Mehi, Hab, and A’an. In addition, Thoth was also known by specific aspects of himself, for instance the moon god Iah-Djehuty, representing the moon for the entire month, or as jt-nṯr “god father”. Further, the Greeks related Thoth to their god Hermes due to his similar attributes and functions. One of Thoth ‘s titles, “Three times great, great” (see Titles) was translated to the Greek τρισμεγιστος (Trismegistos) making Hermes Trismegistus.
Thoth has been depicted in many ways depending on the era and on the aspect the artist wished to convey. Usually, he is depicted in his human form with the head of an ibis. In this form, he can be represented as the reckoner of times and seasons by a headdress of the lunar disk sitting on top of a crescent moon resting on his head. When depicted as a form of Shu or Ankher, he was depicted to be wearing the respective god’s headdress. Sometimes was also seen in art to be wearing the Atef crown or the United Crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. When not depicted in this common form, he sometimes takes the form of the ibis directly. He also appears as a dog faced baboon or a man with the head of a baboon when he is A’an, the god of equilibrium. In the form of A’ah-Djehuty he took a more human-looking form. These forms are all symbolic and are metaphors for Thoth’s attributes. The Egyptians did not believe these gods actually looked like humans with animal heads. For example, Ma’at is often depicted with an ostrich feather, “the feather of truth,” on her head, or with a feather for a head.
Egyptologists disagree on Thoth’s nature depending upon their view of the Egyptian pantheon. Most Egyptologists today side with Sir Flinders Petrie that Egyptian religion was strictly polytheistic, in which Thoth would be a separate god. His contemporary adversary, E. A. Wallis Budge, however, thought Egyptian religion to be primarily henotheistic where all the gods and goddesses were aspects of the God Ra, similar to the devas in Hinduism. In this view, Thoth would be the aspect of Ra which the Egyptian mind would relate to the heart and tongue.
His roles in Egyptian mythology were many. Thoth served as a mediating power, especially between good and evil, making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other. He also served as scribe of the gods, credited with the invention of writing and alphabets (i.e. hieroglyphs) themselves. In the underworld, Duat, he appeared as an ape, A’an, the god of equilibrium, who reported when the scales weighing the deceased’s heart against the feather, representing the principle of Ma’at, was exactly even.
The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. He was the master of both physical and moral (i.e. Divine) law, making proper use of Ma’at. He is credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth,and everything in them.Compare this to how his feminine counterpart, Ma’at was the force which maintained the Universe. He is said to direct the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, the gods would not exist. His power was unlimited in the Underworld and rivaled that of Ra and Osiris.
The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared him the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.
Thoth has played a prominent role in many of the Egyptian myths. Displaying his role as arbitrator, he had overseen the three epic battles between good and evil. All three battles are fundamentally the same and belong to different periods. The first battle took place between Ra and Apep, the second between Heru-Bekhutet and Set, and the third between Horus, the son of Osiris, and Set. In each instance, the former god represented order while the latter represented chaos. If one god was seriously injured, Thoth would heal them to prevent either from overtaking the other.
Thoth was also prominent in the Osiris myth, being of great aid to Isis. After Isis gathered together the pieces of Osiris’ dismembered body, he gave her the words to resurrect him so she could be impregnated and bring forth Horus. When Horus was slain, Thoth gave the magic to resurrect him as well. Similar to God speaking the words to create the heavens and Earth in Judeo-Christian beliefs, Thoth, being the god who always speaks the words that fulfill the wishes of Ra, spoke the words that created the heavens and Earth in Egyptian mythology.
This mythology also credits him with the creation of the 365 day calendar. Originally, according to the myth, the year was only 360 days long and Nut was sterile during these days, unable to bear children. Thoth gambled with Khonsu, the moon, for 1/72nd of its light (360/72 = 5), or 5 days, and won. During these 5 days, Nut gave birth to Kheru-ur (Horus the Elder, Face of Heaven), Osiris, Set, Isis, and Nepthys.
He was originally the deification of the moon in the Ogdoad belief system. Initially, in that system, the moon had been seen to be the eye of Horus, the sky god, which had been semi-blinded (thus darker) in a fight against Set, the other eye being the sun. However, over time it began to be considered separately, becoming a lunar deity in its own right, and was said to have been another son of Ra. As the crescent moon strongly resembles the curved beak of the ibis, this separate deity was named Djehuty (i.e. Thoth), meaning ibis.
Thoth became associated with the Moon, due to the Ancient Egyptians observation that Baboons (sacred to Thoth) ‘sang’ to the moon at night.
The Moon not only provides light at night, allowing the time to still be measured without the sun, but its phases and prominence gave it a significant importance in early astrology/astronomy. The cycles of the moon also organized much of Egyptian society’s civil, and religious, rituals, and events. Consequently, Thoth gradually became seen as a god of wisdom, magic, and the measurement, and regulation, of events, and of time. He was thus said to be the secretary and counselor of Ra, and with Ma’at (truth/order) stood next to Ra on the nightly voyage across the sky, Ra being a sun god.
Thoth became credited by the ancient Egyptians as the inventor of writing, and was also considered to have been the scribe of the underworld, and the moon became occasionally considered a separate entity, now that Thoth had less association with it, and more with wisdom. For this reason Thoth was universally worshipped by ancient Egyptian Scribes. Many scribes had a painting or a picture of Thoth in their “office”. Likewise, one of the symbols for scribes was that of the ibis.
In art, Thoth was usually depicted with the head of an ibis, deriving from his name, and the curve of the ibis’ beak, which resembles the crescent moon. Sometimes, he was depicted as a baboon holding up a crescent moon, as the baboon was seen as a nocturnal, and intelligent, creature. The association with baboons led to him occasionally being said to have as a consort Astennu, one of the (male) baboons at the place of judgment in the underworld, and on other occasions, Astennu was said to be Thoth himself.
During the late period of Egyptian history a cult of Thoth gained prominence, due to its main centre, Khnum (Hermopolis Magna), also becoming the capital, and millions of dead ibis were mummified and buried in his honour. The rise of his cult also led to his cult seeking to adjust mythology to give Thoth a greater role.
Thoth was inserted in many tales as the wise counsel and persuader, and his association with learning, and measurement, led him to be connected with Seshat, the earlier deification of wisdom, who was said to be his daughter, or variably his wife. Thoth’s qualities also led to him being identified by the Greeks with their closest matching god Hermes, with whom Thoth was eventually combined, as Hermes Trismegistus, also leading to the Greeks naming Thoth’s cult centre as Hermopolis, meaning city of Hermes.
It is also viewed that Thoth was the God of Scribe and not a messenger. Anubis was viewed as the messenger of the gods, as he travelled in and out of the Underworld, to the presence of the gods, and to humans, as well. Some call this fusion Hermanubis. It is in more favor that Thoth was a record keeper, and not the messenger. In the Papyrus of Ani copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead the scribe proclaims “I am thy writing palette, O Thoth, and I have brought unto thee thine ink-jar. I am not of those who work iniquity in their secret places; let not evil happen unto me.” Chapter XXXb (Budge) of the Book of the Dead is by the oldest tradition said to be the work of Thoth himself.
There is also an Egyptian pharaoh of the Sixteenth dynasty of Egypt named Djehuty (Thoth) after him, and who reigned for three years.
Thoth, like many Egyptian gods and nobility, held many titles. Among these were “Scribe of Ma’at in the Company of the Gods,” “Lord of Ma’at,” “Lord of Divine Words,” “Judge of the Two Combatant Gods,”Judge of the Rekhekhui, the pacifier of the Gods, who Dwelleth in Unnu, the Great God in the Temple of Abtiti,” “Twice Great,” “Thrice Great,” ” and “Three Times Great.