Tutu, or Tithoes, in the Hellenized form of the name, is sometimes depicted anthropomorphically but generally as a type of sphinx, with a human head, the body of a lion, a tail in the form of a snake, and often wings. His name possibly means ‘the imaged one’, from tut, ‘image’, and iconographic variation and embellishment is typical for him. As “master of the demons” (Kaper 1991, 64), Tutu is shown standing on, accompanied by or even wearing diverse demons or genii in the form of supplementary crocodile, lion, ram, ibis and/or hawk heads emerging from his chest, neck and/or back; an array of seven such supplementary animal heads is standard. The paws of the sphinx may also be embellished with tiny serpents or scorpions as claws, or may wield knives and/or axes. Sometimes Tutu is escorted by two large cobras. He is frequently depicted facing the viewer, like a small number of other Gods (notably Bes, Bat and Hathor), which may indicate his accessibility. Tutu is considered the son of Neith, but is also associated with Sekhmet, as the leader of her army of genii, “chief of the emissaries of Sekhmet,” (Sauneron 1960, 271f). Tutu was invoked in the defense of Re against Apophis, and generally in any situation in which mastery over demonic forces would be useful (e.g., healing, fertility, physical or psychic protection). Tutu is also master of the agencies of retribution, a concept sometimes personified in late Egyptian thought as Petbe. At the temple of Shenhur near Coptos, Tutu apparently delivered voice oracles. Tutu’s consort is Tapshay.
There is a myth concerning Isis of Koptos in which Isis cuts a lock of her hair in mourning for Osiris. Some scholars have argued, in a rather exotic hypothesis, that Tutu/Tithoês personifies that lock of hair, comparing his name to Coptic jijiôi, “lock of hair” (Yoyotte, BIFAO 55 (1955), pp. 135-8).
A particularly interesting aspect of Tutu is his adoption of many traits of ancient pharaonic royal imagery, even sometimes being designated straightforwardly as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt.” In earlier times, a sphinx looking very much like Tutu had symbolized the royal ka, that is, the spirit of the reigning king (see Barguet 1951). When temples were remodeled during the imperial period, the reigning Roman emperor was depicted performing the standard ritual functions of a pharaoh, but the position of pharaoh was in any genuine sense vacated. Tutu’s popularity dates to this time after Egypt no longer had pharaohs in anything but a purely formal sense. That Tutu stepped into some of the functions of the pharaoh offers insight into how the Egyptian people accorded a spiritual role in their lives to the pharaoh.
Barguet, Paul. 1951. “Au Sujet d’une Représentation du Ka Royal.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 51: 205-215.
Kaper, Olaf. 1991. “The God Tutu (Tithoes) and His Temple in the Dakhleh Oasis.” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 2:59-67.
Sauneron, Serge. 1960. “Le nouveau sphinx composite du Brooklyn Museum et le rôle du dieu Toutou-Tithoès.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19:269-287.