Serapis, or Sarapis (who also goes by the names Hades or Pluton) is a God of the afterlife, healing, miracles, fertility, destiny, and abundance, resurrection and through association with Zeus or Iuppiter, became associated with sovereignty over fate as well. He is often depicted Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings; bearded and crowned with a modius, a basket/grain-measure, on his head, which represents the allotting of fair share, the land of the dead, destiny, fertility and copiousness. In the “Nicocreon oracle” preserved by Macrobius, Serapis described himself in these words: “The starry heaven is my head, the sea my belly, my ears lie in the aether, and the bright light of the sun is my clear piercing eye.”
Discovery of Serapis
Serapis was already widely known as Hades, but usually worshiped as Pluton. As Serapis, however, it is said that before the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt adopted Serapis as its patron deity that He had already revealed himself and became known to the people of the city Sinopê. He was referenced by several natives to the city, such as the cynic Diogenes (404-323 BCE), who upon hearing that Athens had given Alexander the Great the title of Dionysus responded: “Well, you’d better make me Serapis.”
However, Serapis became much wider known when the first Ptolemaic Pharaoh of Egypt, Ptolemy Soter (r. 305-282 BCE), came into contact with the God. The historian Plutarch accounts the God’s appearance to the general world in his “On Isis and Osiris (28)”. It is said the God reached to the Pharaoh through a dream, where Ptolemy was approached by an enormous statue; one he hadn’t known of prior. The statue spoke to the Pharaoh and urged Ptolemy to have it brought to Alexandria. Without any information about the statue’s whereabouts, he began an investigation and described the form of the divinity that came before him to his friends. Soon, a traveler came forth and stated having seen such a statue and detailed its whereabouts. This statue sat in Sinopê, a city in northern Anatolia that lay on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Once the king received this intelligence, he sent forth two trusted men to retrieve it. Through whatever means, the statue was obtained and brought to Egyptian capital of Alexandria. Upon the arrival, religious experts of both Greek and Egyptian origins were brought in to give their judgment. The statue showed the deity accompanied by a serpent and a Cerberus dog, and therefore they identified as a statue of Pluto, however, “took to itself the name which Pluto bears among the Egyptians, that of Serapis.”
Serapis was a patron deity of Egypt during the Ptolemaic era, and after Egypt’s fall, His cult spread even further across the Roman Empire, usually in conjunction with the cult of the Maiden, Isis. By the Imperial Roman era, His worship stretched from Egypt all the way to places such as Britannia. Serapis is said to have performed numerous miracles, such as:
- The divine sanctioning of Emperor Vespasian (r. 1 July 69 ACE – 23 June 79 ACE) onto the Imperial throne through favorable omens and instances where Serapis granted the to-be-Emperor the ability to heal.
- Cases where He saved people at sea.
- The saving of a Roman Soldier from peril at sea.
- Allowing people caught in a sea storm to see port miraculously just as the ship was about to be destroyed.
In the 4th century ACE, Emperor Julian wrote himself as divinely sanctioned by Serapis for his right on the Imperial Throne in his letter to the people of Alexandria.
Role in the cosmos
The role of Serapis in the universe is that of the uplifter of souls who are granted henosis; to lift the souls of who have achieved a discarnate existence and are ready to ascend into the Intelligible World and thus free them from the Realm of Generation. He is also called Pluton, meaning “wealth,” because as lord chthonic deity He has control over the treasures of the earth.
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Plutarchus, and John Gwyn Griffiths. Plutarchs De Iside et Osiride. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1970.