As god of the Earth, Geb plays a crucial role in the Egyptian cosmogony; he is the planet personified. On his back, which forms the globe, vegetation is cultivated. He has been likened to the god Chronus in classical mythology.

Geb is the product of the divine alliance of Shu, the god of the air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture; both were created by the sun god Atum-Re. Geb has been referred to as the “father of the gods”; his union with his twin sister, Nut, goddess of the sky, spawned some of the most prominent deities in Egyptian mythology—Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. He is a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis, a group composed of the nine most important divinities venerated by the priests of the city. The others are his four sons, as well as Nut, Tefnut, Shu, and AtumRe. This cult was closely connected to the religious interests of the pharaoh.

Geb's father, Shu, disapproved of Geb's relationship with Nut. He set out to split the two. Geb was deeply saddened by this loss and his many tears formed the oceans. Above the earth, there was the sky, and below, the underworld. This is represented by a figural composition in which Shu (the air, the void) is supported by the goddess Nut (the sky) and beneath her lies Geb, the earth.

Geb's two sons Osiris, the god of order, and Seth, the god of chaos—are involved in the greatest Egyptian mythological conflict: the power-hungry Seth brutally murders Osiris. Their father judges the case when it is tried before the Heliopolitan gods. Geb's mythological rule was fraught with other problems. A tale involving the god Re illustrates these troubles. Geb finds a gilded chest containing the uraeus of Re, which has been placed with Re's hair and staff at the country's border to ward off evil forces. When the case is opened, a snake lunges out. Its breath kills all Geb's friends. Although Geb survives, he is seriously harmed. His injuries can only be repaired by the magic strands of Re's hair—so powerful that they cure him on contact. Upon recovery, the god of the earth is again a prudent ruler and administrator.

Geb is involved in the cult of the dead. He is said to travel through the sky with Atum-Re as a member of the crew in his solar boat. In representations, Geb wears the crown of Lower Egypt. He is also seen with a goose on his head. He is sometimes referred to as “the Great Cackler”; according to myth, he laid the egg that hatched into the Sun. As a “divine pharaoh,” Geb was succeeded by his son, Osiris, and then by Horus. All the mortal rulers of dynastic Egypt viewed him as their noble ancestor. His image appears on the walls of the third dynasty temple of the pharaoh Djoser in Heliopolis, among others.


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Catherine Simon