(Tatjenen, Tathenen, Tjenen, Tenen) Tatenen’s name means ‘the land (ta) which has risen/become distinct (thenen or tjenen)’, that is, the primordial mound which emerged at the inception of the cosmos from the waters of the abyss and hence distinguished itself (theni) from the abyss, in which all is indeterminate. It is perhaps this specific association with the primordial earth that principally distinguishes Tatenen from other Gods associated with the Earth such as Geb and Aker. Tatenen is depicted anthropomorphically wearing a crown with horizontal twisting ram’s horns (like those, e.g., of Khnum) and two ostrich feathers; sometimes the crown is augmented with solar disk and/or uraei. Tatenen was perhaps originally associated with Thinis (Tjeny, modern Ghirga), in the eighth nome (or district) of Upper Egypt, since his name appears related to the name of the town and the symbol of the eighth nome incorporates the two feathers of his crown. In later times, however, Tatenen is worshiped primarily at Memphis and is often fused with the Memphite God Ptah in the form Ptah-Tatenen. An early presence of Tatenen at Memphis is possible, however, on account of references in Old Kingdom texts to a God called Khenty-Tjenenet, ‘foremost one of Tjenenet’. It is sometimes speculated that Tatenen’s original consort was Tjenenet, on account of the similarity in their names.
In the Amduat, the book of ‘What is in the Netherworld’, in the eighth hour of the nocturnal journey, Tatenen is depicted in the form of four rams (labeled as ‘form (kheper) one’, ‘form two’, etc.) wearing four different crowns: the solar disk, the white crown of Upper Egypt, the red crown of Lower Egypt, and the two plumes respectively. In accord with the function of this division of the netherworld, the four forms of Tatenen are accompanied by the sign for ‘cloth’ (i.e., clothing). In the Book of Caverns, fifth section (Hornung 1999, 88) Tatenen is shown standing, his legs propped up by figures who, though evidently alive, are labeled as the ‘corpse of Atum‘ and the ‘corpse of Khepri‘. In the Book of Aker, part D (Hornung, 99f), two ram-headed deities are depicted seizing the Apophis serpent, under which stands Osiris in a shrine framed by the ‘corpse of Geb’ and the ‘corpse of Tatenen’, again evidently alive, but with their feet sunken into the ground. In the Litany of Re, Tatenen is mentioned twice, first at 3, in which the ‘power’ of Re identified with Tatenen is “he who begets his Gods, he who protects what is in him, he who transforms himself into the one at the head of his cavern,” in reference to the journey of the sun through the caverns of the netherworld; and then again at 66, in which the ‘power’ corresponding to Tatenen is “begetter who annihilates the offspring … Thou art the bodies of the exalted [or ‘risen’] Earth [or, ‘of Tatenen’].” The references to begetting in these two passages may derive phallic symbolism from the symbol of the ‘risen’ land.
Tatenen often embodies the earth, especially as beneficently receiving the setting sun, as in BD spell 15, in which a passage “adoring Re-Harakhty as he sets in the region of life,” says of Re-Harakhty “Thy father Tatenen lifts thee; he wraps his arms about thee, while thou art become divine in the earth.” In BD spell 64, the deceased, identifying with Re, affirms that “Tatenen’s friendliness exceeds that of Ruty, so that I am preserved. I am one who has escaped through a crack of the door. The light created at his will abides.” Ruty, which means ‘the two lions’, refers to the gates of the netherworld. The references here to a crack in the door and light penetrating a dark place seem to play upon an analogy between the resurrection made available to the deceased and the emergence of determinacy and thus, for Egyptian thought, of life from the entropy and formlessness of the abyss at the inception of the cosmos. The light which abides may also be taken as alluding to the generation within the earth of precious minerals. Another text states that “Geb is glorious owing to what thou [Tatenen] hast hidden, it being unknown what has arisen in thine body,” (Holmberg, 58) again alluding to minerals. Tatenen’s role in the afterlife literature is dependent largely upon the analogy between death and the precosmic abyss, on the one hand, and between the deceased and the sun, on the other. In BD spell 84, for “assuming the form of a heron,” the deceased is affirmed to be “the Sunlight,” and when s/he picks up the recitation in the first person, affirms, “the breadth of the earth was created for my journeys to cities and settlements … Do I not know the Deep [the Nun, the Abyss]? Do I not know Tatenen?” In a version of the divinization of the parts of the body, a common formula in the afterlife literature, the vulva of the deceased is identified with Tatenen (BD spell 181). In “The Songs of Isis and Nephthys,” Osiris is hailed as “Sacred image of thy father Tatenen,” (“The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus—I,” p. 123 [1, 16]), and is told that “Thy father Tatenen lifts up the sky that thou mayest tread over its four quarters; thy soul flies in the east; thou art the likeness of Re, and they who dwell in the Netherworld receive thee with joy, Geb breaks open for thee what is in him, and they come to thee in peace,” (ibid., p. 132 [16, 24]).
It is often unclear whether to take ‘Ptah-Tatenen’ as a combination of the two deities or whether ‘Tatenen’ functions rather as an epithet of Ptah. The logic of the combination is provided in the so-called ‘Memphite Theology’, in which it is said of Ptah, “He is Tatenen, who gave birth to the Gods, and from whom every thing came forth, foods, provisions, divine offerings, all good things,” (Lichtheim vol. 1, 55). Here Ptah is called Tatenen insofar as the preceding philosophical argument of the text has established that Tatenen’s cosmic function of determinacy can be identified, through a shift in perspective, with Ptah’s function of, as it were, articulation. The resulting affirmation comes about, then, as the result of the philosophical inquiry concerning their functions. Ptah and Tatenen also relate to each other more concretely through Tatenen’s association with minerals and Ptah’s association with metalworking.
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Faulkner, R. O. 1936-1938. “The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 22-24.
Holmberg, M. S. 1946. The God Ptah. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Piankoff, Alexandre. 1964. The Litany of Re. New York: Bollingen.