THE COSMOGONY OF MEMPHIS
Brian E. Colless
The Royal Titulary of Shabaka
1 The Living Horus, He Who Prospers the Two Lands;
the Two Ladies, He Who Prospers the Two Lands;
the Golden Horus, He Who Prospers the Two Lands ;
the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nefer-ka-Rey;
the Son of Rey, Shabaka;
who lives like Rey forever.
2 His Majesty copied this text out anew in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-His-Wall, having found it to be a work of the ancestors, which had become worm-eaten, so that it could not be understood from the beginning to the ending. His Majesty copied it out anew, so that it is now better than its former state, in order that his name might endure and his memorial continue in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-His-Wall throughout eternity; it is something done by the Son of Rey, Shabaka, for his father Ptah-Tatenen, so that he might be given life for ever. . . .
3 King of Upper and Lower Egypt is this Ptah, who is called by the great name Ta-tenen (land arising) South-of-His-Wall, Lord of Eternity, . . . the joiner of Upper and Lower Egypt is he, this unifier who arose as King of Upper Egypt and arose as King of Lower Egypt self-begotten, so says Atum, who created the Nine Gods (the Ennead) .
7 Geb, lord of the gods, commanded that the Nine Gods gather themselves to him. He judged between Horus and Seth; he ended their quarrel. He made Seth the King of Upper Egypt in the land of Upper Egypt, up to the place where he was born, namely Su. And Geb made Horus the King of Lower Egypt in the land of Lower Egypt, up to the place where his father was drowned, namely Pezshet-Tawi, Division-of-the-Two-Lands. Thus Horus stood over one region, and Seth stood over another region. They made peace over the Two Lands at Ayan. That was how the division of the Two Lands came about.
10a Geb's words to Seth: Go to the place in which you were born.
10b Seth: Upper Egypt.
11a Geb's words to Horus: Go to the place in which your father was drowned.
11b Horus: Lower Egypt.
12a Geb's words to Horus and Seth: I have judged between you. . . .
12b Lower and Upper Egypt.
10c But then it seemed wrong to the heart of Geb that the portion of Horus was equal to the portion of Seth. So Geb gave his inheritance to Horus, the son of his first born son.
13a Geb's words to the Nine Gods: I have appointed Horus, the first born.
14ab Him alone, Horus, the inheritance.
15ab To this heir, Horus, my inheritance.
16ab To the son of my son, Horus, the Jackal of Upper Egypt....
17ab The firstborn, Horus, the Opener-of-the-ways.
18ab The son who was born...., Horus, on the Birthday of the Opener-of-the-ways.
13c Thus Horus stood over the (whole) land.
He is the unifier of this land, proclaimed in the great name Ta-Tenen South-of-His-Wall, Lord of Eternity.
14c The two Great Sorceresses* sprouted upon his head. *(the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt)
He is Horus who arose as King of Upper and Lower Egypt,
who united the Two Lands in the Nome of the Wall*, *(province of the White Wall, Memphis)
the place where the Two Lands were united.
15c Reed and papyrus (intertwining) were set at the great double door of the House of Ptah. That means Horus and Seth, reconciled and united, so that they fraternized and ceased
16c their quarrelling in whatever place they might be, being united in the House of Ptah, the Balance of the Two Lands in which Upper and Lower Egypt had been weighed....
48 The gods who came into being in* Ptah: *(or: from)
49a Ptah-on-the-Great-Throne... [who created the gods]
50a Ptah-Nun, the father who made Atum
51a Ptah-Naunet, the mother who bore Atum
52a Ptah the Great, who is the heart and tongue of the Ennead
49b Ptah Horus?] who gave birth to the gods
50b [Ptah Thoth?] who gave birth to the gods
51b [Ptah] ....
52b [Ptah] .... Nefertem at the nose of Rey every day.
53 There came into being in the heart (of Ptah), there came into being in the tongue (of Ptah) the form of Atum. Ptah is the Great and Mighty One who has given [life] to all the gods and their essences (ka), through this heart and through this tongue, by whlch Horus became Ptah and by which Thoth became Ptah.
54 Thus the heart and the tongue rule over all the members of the body in accordance with the teaching that he (Ptah as the heart) is in every body and he (Ptah as the tongue) is in every mouth of all gods, all men, all cattle, all creeping things, and all living things, thinking whatever he (as the heart) wishes and commanding whatever he (as the tongue) wishes.
55 His Ennead, is before him as teeth and lips, which are the same as the semen and hands of Atum. The Ennead of Atum certainly came into being through his semen and his fingers, but the Ennead (of Ptah) is the teeth and lips in his mouth, which pronounced the names of all things, and from which Shu and Tefnut emanated, and which created the Ennead.
56 The senses of sight, hearing, and smell report to the heart; it then makes every perception come forth; and the tongue declares the thought of the heart.
Thus all the gods were born and his Ennead was completed, for every word of the god came about through what the heart thought and the tongue declared.
57 Thus all the essences (ka) were made and all the qualities (hemsut) appointed, those that furnish all foods and all provisions, through this word.
Thus, as regards the person who does what is loved and the person who does what is hated, life is given to the peaceful, death is given to the criminal.
58 Thus all work and all crafts were made, the action of the arms, the motion of the legs, the movements of all the members of the body, according to this command which the heart devised and which came forth on the tongue, and which creates the performance of every thing.
59 Thus it came to be said of Ptah: He who made all and brought the gods into being. He is indeed Ta-tenen, who gave birth to the gods, and from whom every thing came forth, foods, provisions, offerings for the gods, and all good things. Thus it was recognized and understood that he is the most powerful of the gods. Thus Ptah was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine words.
60 He had given birth to the gods, fashioned the cities, founded the nomes (provinces), placed the gods in their shrines, established their offerings, founded their shrines, and made their bodies according to their wishes.
Thus the gods entered into their bodies of every sort of wood, stone, and clay, or any thing that grows upon him (as the land risen from the waters) in which they had taken form.
61 Thus were gathered to him all the gods and their essences (ka), contented and united with the Lord of the Two Lands.
62 The Great Throne that gives joy to the heart of the Gods in the house of Ptah (at Memphis) is the granary of Ta-tenen, the mistress of all life, through which the sustenance of the Two Lands is provided, because of the fact that Osiris (the grain-god) was sinking in his water, when Isis and Nephthys looked out, saw him, and attended to him, for Horus quickly commanded Isis and Nephthys to grasp Osiris and prevent him from submerging.
63 Their action was timely, and they brought him to land. He entered the hidden portals in the glory of the lords of eternity, in the steps of him who rises on the horizon, on the ways of Rey at the Great Throne.
64 He entered the palace and joined the gods of Ta-tenen Ptah, the lord of years.
Thus Osiris came into the earth at the Royal Fortress, north of the land to which he had come. His son Horus arose as King of Upper Egypt and arose as King of Lower Egypt, in the embrace of his father Osiris and of the gods before him and behind him.
For a drawing of the Shabaka Stone, see
The text of this cosmogony from Memphis is found on a rectangular slab of black granite preserved in the British Museum. It is commonly called the Memphite Theology. As indicated in its introduction, the text was copied onto the stone by order of Pharaoh Shabaka, an Ethiopian who reigned over Egypt around 700 B.C.E. (25th Dynasty). It seems clear, from its archaic language, that the document was not composed at that time; rather it belongs to the Old Kingdom period, the third millennium B.C.E. (but some sceptics place its composition in the time of Shabaka himself). Shabaka states that the manuscript in his possession (either papyrus or leather) was worm-eaten and barely legible, and so he had it inscribed afresh on more durable material. His admirable work has thus given this text another three millennia of life, but unfortunately it has not survived complete. Of the sixty-two columns of writing on the stone, the middle ones (24-47) have been almost entirely obliterated because of a large hole and numerous grooves radiating from it. This damage is explained by its use as a nether millstone by untold generations of Egyptians. Perhaps this circumstance ensured its survival but it also obliterated a large portion of the message.
The text is theological in character, but it contains dialogues between gods (accompanied by phrases which possibly indicate stage directions) and this suggests that it was to be performed as a sacred play.
Whether the work is a treatise or a drama, or both, its object is to glorify the god Ptah above other gods as Supreme King and Creator, and at the same time to support the claim of Memphis as the capital of Egypt.
Ptah was the god of craftsmanship and was always represented as a man, unlike the usual animal-headed deities of Egypt.
In this text he is presented as being identical with the old Memphite earth-god Tatenen. He is the self-begotten creator of all the other gods, and so his creative work is prior to that of Atum (as described in the cosmology of Heliopolis); and his creating is by thought and word, not by physical means.
Other doctrines which make their appearance are the division of the kingdom between Horus and Seth, the slaying of Osiris (father of Horus and son of Geb) by Seth, and the rescue of the body of Osiris from the Nile at Memphis.
Editions and Translations
J.A. Wilson, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ed. J.B. Pritchard), 4-6.
J. Kaster, The Literature and Mythology of Ancient Egypt (1968), 57-59.
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (1973), 51-57 (rendering follows Sethe and Junker).
R.B. Finnestad, Ptah, Creator of the Gods, Numen, 23 (1976), 81-113, (a theogony not a cosmogony).
Marshall Clagett, Ancient Egyptian Science (1989) Vol. 1, 599-602.
O you Sem-priests, high priests, dignitaries of the temple of Ptah, . . .
and every scribe proficient in knowledge, who shall enter this temple,
which I have made for the living Hapi*, *Greek Apis (bull of Ptah)
you shall see the things that I have done,
engraved on the stone walls,
great and efficacious benefactions.
Never before has the like been done, as set down in writing
in the great festival court in front of this temple.
The gods who are in the temple*...*of Hapi (Apis bull)
their images were wrought in the mansions of gold,
with all kinds of splendid precious stone.
I have endowed divine offerings for him:
regular daily offerings,
monthly feasts whose days come at their appointed times,
and annual calendar-feasts throughout the year,
as also the food-offerings brought into the divine presence
at the head of the offerings for Ptah.
I have assigned to him lay priests,
lectors who recite the glorifications, . . .
temple personnel. . . .
I have built for him a great stone shrine before his temple,
in which to rest during the day when preparations are being made for his burial.
I have have made for him a great offering-table opposite his great shrine,
of fine white Tura limestone, engraved . . . ,
the divine offerings,
every good thing that is provided at the opening of the mouth ceremony....
It will indeed be seen by you as a benefaction,
when you compare what the ancestors have done, poor and ignorant works.
No one should act against what is made for the peace of another....
he is rewarded, he prospers.
Remember my name, when decreeing*; *similar works in future?
reward a deed with its like, and make yourselves likewise.
O Hapi-Sokar-Wasir*, great god, lord of the Shetayet shrine, *Apis (Ptah), Sokaris, Osiris
I am the Sem-priest, Prince Khaemwaset.
This inscription records work undertaken by Prince Khaemwaset, a son of Ramesses II, in the thirteenth century B.C.E. Khaemwaset was a priest in the service of the god Ptah in Memphis.
The bull was a potent symbol of creativity in the ancient world, and a bull sacred to Ptah was constantly kept in a court beside the temple of Ptah. Each successive bull was black and had twenty-nine characteristic markings (such as a triangular white patch on the forehead and a scarab on the tongue). The flesh of each dead bull was removed and its skin, bones, and other residue were embalmed; the resultant mummy was buried with ceremony at Saqqara, where the early step-pyramids are also found. The remains of sixty of these bulls are buried there, either in separate tombs or in the complex of underground vaults that came to be known in Greek and Roman times as the Serapeum.
Each bull was given the name Hapi (Greek form Apis), which was also the name of the Nile deity; he was regarded as a fertility god, and was also considered to have oracular powers. Apis was also connected with Osiris in the divine triad Ptah-Sokaris-Osiris (representing creation, death, resurrection); in the text translated here, the triad appears as Hapi-Sokar-Wasir (that is, in Greek, Apis-Sokaris-Osiris). The dyad Osiris-Apis produced a god known to the Greeks as Serapis; hence the name Serapeum for the burial place of the Apis bulls.
The inscription of Prince Khaemwaset, Sem-priest of Ptah, informs future generations of priests about the temple he had built for 'the living Hapi', that is, the deceased Apis bull, now identified with Osiris and living eternally.
The temple would be used as a place for performing the last rites over each bull on the day of his burial. Previously every bull had been given his own tomb and mortuary chapel at Saqqara. Now all the bulls would be buried in the same underground cemetery.
While alive, the bull Hapi was the centre of numerous festivals at the temple of Ptah in Memphis; and in death he was given regular offerings and rites at his shrine, as stated by Khaemwaset.
Note that Heliopolis (On) also had a bull, named Mnevis (Nemur), representing the sun-god Atum-Rey; and Hermonthis (Armant) had the bull Bukhis (Bkha), an incarnation of the war-god Mont.
Edition and Translations
K.A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, I-VII (1968-), II/22, 878-879.
K.A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II (1982) 105-106.
F. Gomaa, Chaemwese, Sohn Ramses' II und Hoherpriester von Memphis (1973) 44.