Monday, November 9, 2015

AKHENATEN: Pharaoh of Egypt

Cyril Aldred
Thames and Hudson
First Abacus Edition
Great Britain
ISBN-10: 0500276218

Egyptologists first stumbled upon his peculiar figure carved on the walls of abandoned rock tombs in Middle Egypt. Since that initial discovery, he has been the subject of much inquiry and speculation. He has been identified by one scholar as the Pharaoh of the Oppression, by another as the victim of Exodus. Freud claimed him as the mentor of Moses and the instigator of Jewish monotheism. Glanville's view of him was that as a king he deserved nothing but censure. Breasted hailed him as the first individual in history. To Gardiner, he wears a fanatical look and Pendlebury thought he was a religious maniac."

The book opens with the structure of ancient Egypt, and the role of the pharaoh as a divine entity upon which the well-being of Egypt and her peoples was dependent. The pharaoh interceded with the gods as an equal who placed offerings to the deities on behalf of his subjects. With the bringing on of empire, the Theban kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty owed their allegiances to Amun, god of Thebes, bestowing huge donations to the estates, and temples of Amun.

In reality, the kingly Dynasty formed at Thebes probably ruled from the old capital of Memphis in Lower Egypt much of the time. Cyril Aldred continues through the protocol of the royal family, particularly the concepts of brother-sister marriages, and the need for co-regency with two Horus's sitting on the throne at the same time. A series of black and white pictures depicting the king's family are a fine choice of images.

After a short reign of about nine years Thutmosis IV died young with as a result the new Horus, Amenhotep III, known as the magnificent, was still a small child of perhaps as young as a few months to six years of age. Unique to the reign of Amenhotep III are a series of large scarabs which were created within the first eleven years of his reign marking the king's marriage to Queen Tiye, a foreign princess, and the king's prowess.

The author places before the reader the known evidence for the reigns of the Amarna king's particularly the dates related in inscriptions of Akhenaten's reign. The iconography of Akhenaten is family oriented with the abandonment of the king as warrior and savior of the Egyptian population. Here now the king is represented with his wife Nefertiti and their six daughters in moments of idle luxury playing games.

     "One hymn, in particular, which appears in the tomb of the priest Ay is generally regarded as having been written be Akhenaten himself. In it, the universalism of the Egyptian empire finds full expression with the royal poet projecting a world faith to displace the nationalism that had preceded it for twenty centuries."

The author now looks more deeply into the members of the family including the in-laws, a family from Akhmim of which had been the parents of Queen Tiye. Her family held a number of the highest of posts with a possibility that Nefertiti was a member of this clan and a granddaughter of the priest and future Pharaoh Ay, has been suggested. A series of images occupy several pages mostly with family portraits, rarely seen artifacts, and inscriptions.

The question of co-regency has always bothered Egyptologist's as it represents chaos and uncertainty to both the sides for or against such an institution. Many inscriptions are free from naming the monarch, as a result, it takes corroborating texts, and the civil calendar to ferret out the truth. A number of sources such as stelae and fragmentary papyrus documents may point out the highlights, and bureaucratic functions, while wine labels can give the highest year of a king's reign.

The reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten are also blessed with the Amarna letters from rulers of subjugated states. The clay tablets written in cuneiform were found at Tell el Amarna at the end of the last century. These letters ask for protection from incursions to Egypt's northern possessions and for the pharaoh to send gold. Many of the documents covered give important dates for both king's which seem to indicate that at least a short co-regency existed between the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten.

     'May the Good God Live, who takes pleasure in Truth, Lord of all that the Sun-disk encompasses, Lord of Heaven, Lord of Earth, the Great Living Aten who illuminates the Two Lands! May the Father Live, Divine and Royal (Re-Herakhty, the Living, who rejoices on the horizon)| (in his manifestations of Light which is in the Aten) |, giving life forever and to all eternity, the Great Living Aten who is in Jubilee!'

We find ourselves back at the 1907 excavation of Valley of the Kings tomb no. 55, conducted by some of the most capable and learned archaeologists of their day. The result of which was one of the worst conducted excavations in the valley. Perhaps the group of men were mesmerized by the knowledge that they were in the presence of Akhenaten, that or Queen Tiye, and confronted by this knowledge were overwhelmed by the destroyed burial and their presences within it. A series of colored pictures that are not the usual fair now follow including the gold jewelry found outside the royal tomb at Amarna.

Akhenaten's religious reforms found within the Aten an all-encompassing universal spirit that possessed no equal, even nullifying Osiris and his cult. No longer was there need for the pantheism of gods each possessing individual aspects, Instead, the creation of all was the product of the rays of the Aten. The end of the Amarna heresy was not as abrupt as sometimes thought, certainly, the king, Tutankhamun and his court left Akhetaten early in his reign.

There is evidence of building work by Horemheb at the site, even as the temples of the Aten were being demolished, the blocks reused as fill in construction at Hermopolis. In Horemheb's usurpation of the monuments of his predecessors Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay, he did as many pharaohs before he had done. The greater persecution of Akhenaten's memory being the deeds of the Nineteenth Dynasty king's that followed, creating lists of king's that do not include the Amarna Ruler's.

In 'Akhenaten Pharaoh of Egypt' Cyril Aldred found and presented to the reader a man ahead of his time, in whose theology may have cocooned him from the politics of his dominions and the temples of the gods the king was supposed to serve on his peoples behalf.

The flood of differing opinions about Akhenaten expressed by the author at the start of the book often invites excited imaginations to run wild. It is however within this book that the author constructs through surviving records a tale and king that are both unforgettable!

     'The burial arrangements at Thebes should have been the direct responsibility of the Southern Vizier, perhaps Ay; and under the circumstances, it is probable that small tombs were hastily cut in the various burying grounds at Thebes designed to hold more than one occupant. In one of these in the Biban el-Moluk, Tiye, Akhenaten and Smenkh-ka-Re were interred with such equipment as Tut-ankh-Amun was prepared to supply or consider appropriate. In another cache, it is tempting to believe that Nefertiti and her daughters and perhaps grand-daughters were laid to rest. At the funerary ceremonies, Tut-ankh-Amun and his Queen would, of course, have had to officiate and there was no question of any mean and dishonorable burials, though they may have been less opulent than the deceased had planned for themselves.'

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