views updated Jun 27 2018


PTAH was the creator god of Memphis who conceived a thought in his mind (heart) and brought it forth by speaking it with his tongue. Because the founding of Memphis and the erection of a temple to Ptah at that site were accomplishments of the first king of a united Egypt, Menes, the cult of Ptah must date at least to the beginning of Egyptian history. The text that best describes the Memphite theology, however, is preserved in a very late copy dating from the twenty-fifth dynasty (c. 700 bce). The original text may not have been much older, but it is a very interesting document, not only for its description of the creation, but also for its handling of the other two major creation myths. In this text Ptah is identified with the last pair of the Hermopolitan ogdoadthat is, Nun and Naunet, who represent the watery abyss from which the creator god comes forth. The creator god who is thus created by Ptah is Atum, who proceeds to create the other gods of the Heliopolitan ennead and all else. In this way the theologies are all connected, and Ptah as an anthropomorphic creator god is given precedence by being placed between the chthonic, precreation cosmic aspects known as the ogdoad and the old creator god, Atum.

Almost nothing remains of the temple of Ptah at Memphis, even though it was one of the three largest and best endowed of ancient Egypt. Smaller temples (such as those at Gerf Hussein and Karnak) were dedicated to Ptah in many locations, and statues of him are plentiful. His image is that of a tightly cloaked man holding a composite scepter before him. Ptah became identified, at least to some extent, with the local mortuary god of Memphis, Sokar, and also with Osiris. His consort was Sekhmet, the powerful lioness, who was the mother of his son, Nefertem, the lotus god.


The most extensive study available is The God Ptah (Lund, 1946) by Maj Sandman-Holmberg.

Leonard H. Lesko (1987)


views updated May 21 2018


In Egyptian mythology, Ptah was the chief deity of the ancient city of Memphis. He was worshiped as the creator of all things and the patron of various crafts, such as sculpting and metalworking. At Memphis, Ptah belonged to a group of three deities that included the goddess Sekhmet and the young god Nefertum. However, legends about Ptah spread throughout Egypt and beyond, and he was sometimes combined with the gods Seker and Osiris to form a new god.

Egyptian creation stories say that Ptah made the other gods by first imagining them in his heart and then using his voice to breathe life into them. He went on to produce other creatures from metal, stone, and wood. He also brought forth towns and religious shrines, and he established ceremonies for worship.

deity god or goddess

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

incarnation appearance of a god, spirit, or soul in earthly form

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

In Memphis, Ptah's temple housed a sacred bull known as Apis. Considered an incarnation of the god, the bull served as Ptah's oracle. In works of art and temple decorations, Ptah is shown wearing a skullcap, close-fitting garments, and a short beard and carrying a staff that symbolizes his authority.

See also Egyptian Mythology; Osiris.


views updated May 21 2018

Ptah in Egyptian mythology, an ancient deity of Memphis, creator of the universe, god of artisans, and husband of Sekhmet. He became one of the chief deities of Egypt, and was identified by the Greeks with Hephaestus.