November 4, 2012

Rival Cults and The Old Kingdom’s Influence in Ancient Egypt

Rival Cults
Strangely enough it is from the verbal tradition that survived until the classical author Herodotus came to Egypt that we find considerable support for the hypothesis of rival cults. According to tradition the three pharaohs Khufu (Cheops), Dedefre and Khafre (Chephren), who ruled a stable and unified country, were all tyrants who ‘plunged into all kinds of wickedness’. Khufu king was described as a megalomaniac; he reputedly sent his daughter to procure money for him, charging visitors a sum equivalent to a finished limestone block for her favours.

Why did these ancient Egyptian pharaohs, revered during their lifetime, suffer so slanderous an attack after their deaths? Were the allegations of years of tyranny so much political backbiting? Was Khufu the prototype of the political scapegoat, and his closing of a few temples exaggerated into the closing of ‘all the temples of the land’ ? Was the recruiting of labour during the months of the inundation when work was at a standstill anyway, and when the Great House housed and fed the otherwise idle farmers in pyramid towns, reinterpreted as tyranny? Or was it a partisan exercise by the Memphites to blacken the image of their rivals ? If so, it seems they took credit for the good their rivals accomplished: in the mortuary temple of the 5th-dynasty pharaoh Sahure, the second of the divine sons of Reddedet, there is a mural showing Libyan nobility being brought as prisoners. The text specifies the names of the Libyan princes and the number of cattle taken as booty. This scene is repeated in the mortuary temple of Pepi II of the 6th dynasty, the twelfth pharaoh after Sahure, when Memphite influence was re-established. The Libyan princes bear exactly the same names, and exactly the same number of cattle are recorded!

Menkaure king (Mycerinius), according to Herodotus, reopened the temples and allowed the people to return to their shrines. He was said to be ‘fair and just’ and compensated the poor. But calamity fell upon him. First his daughter, an only child, died and ‘the gods decided’ that he would only reign for six years upon the earth and that in the seventh ‘thou shalt end thy days’. The angered Menkaure asked why it was that his father and uncle ‘though they shut the temples, took no thought of the gods and destroyed multitudes of men, nevertheless enjoyed a long life [while] ... I, who am pious, am to be doomed?’ Why indeed? Could it have been because Menkaure, despite the influence of Ptah-shepses, was nevertheless of pure Heliopolitan descent ?

The Egyptian Old Kingdom’s Influence
Egypt’s youth was also the peak of its maturity. The rules that governed the Old Kingdom were never to govern again. The conditions that gave rise to the centralised state no longer existed. In a changed society, new concepts took shape and gave rise to new ideals. So deeply rooted, however, were the traditions established during the period from the unification of the Two Lands by Narmer until the first social revolution after the fall of the 6th Egyptian dynasty that even when the masses attacked the institutions of Egypt they could not destroy their essential character. The Old Kingdom continued to influence political and social patterns, philosophy and artistic processes for another 2,100 years, until the Greek conquest.

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