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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 61

Mut —— Ptah


Ptah was the greatest of the gods of Memphis. He personified the rising sun, or, rather, a phase of it—that is, he represented the orb at the time when it begins to rise above the horizon, or immediately after it has risen. The name is said to mean 'opener,' from the circumstance that Ptah was thought to open the day; but this derivation has been combated. Dr. Brugsch suggests 'sculptor' or 'engraver' as the true translation, and as Ptah was the god of all handicrafts it seems most probable that this is correct. Ptah seems to have retained the same characteristics from the period of the Second Dynasty down to the latest times. In early days he seems to have been regarded as a creator, or perhaps he was confounded with one of the first Egyptian creative deities. We find him alluded to in the Pyramid Text of Teta as the owner of a 'workshop,' and the passage seems to imply that it was Ptah who fashioned new boats in which the souls of the dead were to live in the Duat. From the Book of the Dead we learn that he was a great worker in metals, a master architect, and framer of everything in the universe; and the fact that the Romans identified him with Vulcan greatly assists our understanding of his attributes.

It was Ptah who, in company with Khnemu, carried out the commands of Thoth concerning the creation of the universe. To Khnemu was given the fashioning of animals, while Ptah was employed in making the heavens and the earth. The great metal plate which was supposed to form the floor of heaven and the roof of the sky was made by Ptah, who also framed the[Pg 145] supports which upheld it. We find him constantly associated with other gods—that is, he takes on the attributes or characteristics of other deities for certain fixed purposes. For example, as architect of the universe he partakes of the nature of Thoth, and as the god who beat out the metal floor of heaven he resembles Shu.

Ptah is usually represented as a bearded man having a bald head, and dressed in habiliments which fit as closely as a shroud. From the back of his neck hangs a Menat, the symbol of happiness, and along with the usual insignia of royalty and godhead he holds the symbol of stability. As Ptah-Seker he represents the union of the creative power with that of chaos or darkness:[4] Ptah-Seker is, indeed, a form of Osiris in his guise of the Night-sun, or dead Sun-god. Seker is figured as a hawk-headed man in the form of a mummy, his body resembling that of Ptah. Originally Seker represented darkness alone, but in later times came to be identified with the Night-sun. Seker is, indeed, confounded in places with Sept, and even with Geb. He appears to have ruled that portion of the underworld where dwelt the souls of the inhabitants of Memphis and its neighbourhood.

The Seker-boat

In the great ceremonies connected with this god, and especially on the day of his festival, a boat called the Seker-boat was placed upon a sledge at sunrise, at the time when the rays of the sun were slowly beginning to diffuse themselves over the earth. It was then drawn round the sanctuary, which act typified the revolution of the sun. This boat was known as Henu, and is mentioned several times in the Book of the Dead.[Pg 146] It did not resemble an ordinary boat, but one end of it was much higher than the other, and was fashioned in the shape of the head of an animal resembling a gazelle. In the centre of the vessel was a coffer surmounted by a hawk with outspread wings, which was supposed to contain the body of Osiris, or of the dead Sun-god. The Seker- or Henu-boat was probably a form of the Mesektet-boat, in which the sun sailed over the sky during the second half of his daily journey, and in which he entered the underworld in the evening. Although Seker was fairly popular as a deity in ancient Egypt, his attributes seem to have been entirely usurped by Ptah. We also find the triple-named deity Ptah-Seker-Asar or Ptah-Seker-Osiris, who is often represented as a hawk on coffers and sarcophagi. About the Twenty-second Dynasty this triad had practically become one with Osiris, and he had even variants which took the attributes of Min, Amsu, and Khepera. He has been described as the 'triune god of the resurrection.' There is very little doubt that the amalgamation of these gods was brought about by priestly influence.


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