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TE´NTYRA or TE´NTYRIS (τὰ Τέντυρα, Strab. xvii. p.814; Ptol. 4.5. § § 6, 8; Steph. B. sub voce: Eth. Τεντυρίτης,), the Coptic Tentoré and the modern Denderah, was the capital of the Tentyrite Nome in Upper Aegypt (Agatharch. ap. Phot. p. 447, ed. Bekker). It was situated in lat. 26° 9′ N., on the western bank of the Nile, about 38 miles N. of Thebes. The name of the city was probably derived from the principal object of worship there--the goddess Atlor (Aphrodite), being a contracted form of Tly-n-Athor or abode of Athor. The hieroglyphic legend of the genius of the place contains [p. 2.1128]the name of the town, and is generally attached to the head-dress of Athor, accompanied by the sign Kali or “the land.” The Tentyrite Athor has a human face with the ears of a cow (Rosellini, Monum. del. Culto, pl. 29. 3), and her attributes so closely resemble those of Isis, that it was long doubtful to which of the two goddesses the great temple at Tentyra was dedicated. Like Isis, Atlor is delineated nursing a young child named Ehôou, said, in hieroglyphics, to be her son. He is the third member of the Tentyrite triad of deities.

The principal fabrics and produce of Tentyra were flax and linen. (Plin. Nat. 19.1.) Its inhabitants held the crocodile in abhorrence, and engaged in sanguinary conflicts with its worshippers, especially with those of the Ombite Nome [OMBOS]. Juvenal appears to have witnessed one of these combats, in which the Ombites had the worst of it, and one of them, falling in his flight, was torn to pieces and devoured by the Tentyrites. Juvenal, indeed, describes this fight as between the inhabitants of contiguous nomes ( “inter finitimos” ); but this is incorrect, since Ombos and Tentyra are more than 50 miles apart. As, however, Coptos and Tentyra were nearly opposite to each other, and the crocodile was worshipped by the Coptites also, we should probably read Coptos for Ombos in Juvenal. (Sat. xv.) The latter were so expert in the chase of this animal in its native element, that they were wont to follow it into tihe Nile, and drag it to shore. (Aelian, Ael. NA 10.24; Plin. Nat. 8.25. s. 38.) Seneca (Nat. Quaest. 2.2) says that it was their presence of mind that gave the Tentyrites the advantage over the crocodile, for the men themselves were small sinewy fellows. Strabo (xvii. pp. 814, 815) saw at Rome he exhibition of a combat between the crocodile and en purposely imported from Tentyra. They plunged bldly into the tanks, and, entangling the crocodiles in nets, haled them backwards and forwards in and out of the water, to the great amazement of the beolders.

So long as Aegypt was comparatively unexplored, no ruins attracted more admiration from travellers than those of Tentyra. They are the first in tolerable preservation and of conspicuous magnitude that meet the eyes of those who ascend the Nile. They are remote from the highways and habitations of men, standing at the foot of the Libyan hills, amid the sands of the western desert. But though long regarded as works of a remote era, Aegyptian art was already on the decline when the temples of Tentyra were erected. The architecture, indeed, reflects the grandeur of earlier periods; but the sculptures are ungraceful, and the hieroglyphics unskilfully crowded upon its monuments. The most ancient of the inscriptions do not go farther back than the reigns of the later Ptolemies; but the names of the Caesars, from Tiberius to Antoninus Pius (A.D. 14--161), are of frequent occurrence. Tentyra, in common with Upper Aegypt generally, appears to have profited by the peace and security it enjoyed under the imperial government to enlarge or restore its monuments, which, since the Persian occupation of the country, had mostly fallen into decay. The principal structures at Tentyra are the great temple dedicated to Atlor; a temple of Isis; a Typhonium; and an isolated building without a roof, of which the object has not been discovered. With the exception of the latter, these structures are inclosed by a crude brick wall, forming a square, each side of which occupies 1000 feet, and which is in some parts 35 feet high and 15 feet thick. Full descriptions of the remains of Tentyra may be found in the following works; Belzoni's Travels in Nubia; Hamilton's Aegyptiaca; and Richardson's Travels along the Mediterranean and Parts adjacent, in 1816--1817. Here it must suffice to notice briefly the three principal edifices:--

1. The Temple of Athor.

The approach to this temple is through a dromos, commencing at a solitary stone pylon, inscribed with the names of Domitian and Trajan, and extending to the portico, a distance of about 110 paces. The portico is open at the top, and supported by twenty-four columns, ranged in four rows with quadrangular capitals, having on each side a colossal head of Athor, surmounted by a quadrangular block, on each side of which is carved a temple doorway with two winged globes above it. These heads of the goddess, looking down upon the dromos, were doubtless the most imposing decorations of the temple. To the portico succeeds a hall supported by six columns, and flanked by three chambers on either side of it. Next comes a central chamber, opening on one side upon a staircase, on the other into two small chambers. This is followed by a similar chamber, also with lateral rooms; and, lastly, comes the naos or sanctuary, which is small, surrounded by a corridor, and flanked on either side by three chambers. The hieroglyphics and picturesque decorations are so numerous, that nowhere on the walls, columns, architraves, or ceiling of the temple, is there a space of two feet unoccupied by them. They represent mell and women engaged in various religious or secular employments; animals, plants, public ceremonies and processions, and the emblems of agriculture or manufactures. Occasionally, also, occur historical portraits of great interest, such as those of Cleopatra and her son Caesarion. The effect of this wilderness of highly-coloured basso-relievos was greatly enhanced by the mode by which the temple itself was lighted. The sanctuary itself is quite dark: the light is admitted into the chambers through small perforations in their walls. Yet the entire structure displays wealth and labour rather than skill or good taste, and, although so elaborately ornamented, was never completed. The emperor Tiberius finished the naos, erected the portico, and added much to the decoration of the exterior walls; but some of the cartouches designed for royal or imperial names have never been filled up.

On the ceiling of the portico is the famous zodiac of Tentyra, long imagined to be a work of the Pharaonic times, but now ascertained to have been executed within the Christian era. Though denominated a zodiac, however by the French savans, it is doubtful whether this drawing be not merely mythological, or at most astrological, in its olject. In the first place the number of the supposed signs is incomplete. The crab is wanting, and the order of the. other zodiacal signs is not strictly observed. Indeed if any astral signification at all be intended in the picture, it refers to astrology, the zodiac, as we know it, being unknown to the Aegyptians. Archaeologists are now pretty well agreed that a panegyris or procession of the Tentyrite triad with their cognate deities is here represented. The Greek inscription, which, long overlooked, determines the recent date of this portion of the temple, runs along the projecting summit of the cornice of the portico. It was engraved in the twenty-first year of Tiberius, A.D. 35 (Letronne, Inscript. p. 97). Upon the [p. 2.1129]ceiling of one of the lateral chambers, behind the portico, and on the right side of the temple, was a smaller group of mythological figures, which has also been styled a planisphere or zodiac. This being sculptured on a kind of sandstone, was removeable, and by the permission of Mehemet Ali, in 1821, was cut out of the ceiling by M. Lelorrain, and brought to Paris. It was purchased by the French government, and is now in the Imperial Museum. It is probably a few years older than the larger zodiac.

2. The Iseium.

“The chapel of Isis is behind the temple of Athor.” (Strab. xvii. p.814.) It stands, indeed, immediately behind its SW. angle. It consists of one central and two lateral chambers, with a corridor in front. Among its hieroglyphics appear the names of Augustus, Claudius, and Nero. About 170 paces E. of this chapel stands a pylon, with a Greek inscription, importing that in the thirty-first year of Caesar (Augustus) it was dedicated to Isis. (Letronne, Ib. pp. 82, 84.)

3. The Typhonium.

The Typhonium as it is denominated from the emblems of Typhon on its walls, stands about 90 paces N. of the great temple. It comprises two outer passage-chambers and a central and lateral adytum. A peristyle of twenty-two columns surrounds the sides and the rear of the building. On its walls are inscribed the names of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius. But although the symbols of the principle of destruction are found on its walls, Typhon can hardly have been the presiding deity of this temple. From the circumstance that all the other sculptures refer to the birth of Ehôou, Champollion (Lettres sur l'Egypte, vol. ii. p. 67) suggests that this was one of the chapels styled “Mammeisi,” or “lying--in places,” and that it commemorated the accouchment of Athor, mother of Ehôou. Typhon is here accordingly in a subordinate character, and symbolises not destruction, but darkness, chaos, or the “night primeval,” which precedes creation and birth.

For the monuments of Tentyra, besides the works already enumerated, Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians and Modern Egypt and Thebes, and the volumes in the Library of Entertaining Knowledge, entitled British Museum, Egyptian Antiquities, may be consulted; and for the zodiacs, Visconti, Oeuvres tom. iv.; Letronne, Observations sur l'Objet des Représentations Zodiacales de l'Antiquité, 8vo. Paris, 1824; or Halmha, Examen et Explications des Zodiaques Egyptiennes, 8vo. 1822. [W.B.D]

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 19.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.25
    • Aelian, De Natura Animalium, 10.24
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 4.5
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