August 31, 2013

Akhenaten’s celebrated hymn

Akhenaten’s celebrated hymn
The much celebrated hymn that is inscribed in the Tomb of Aye (page 123) has been ascribed to Akhenaten himself:

'. . . . living Aten, beginner of life when thou didst shine forth in the eastern horizon, and didst fill every land with thy beauty. . . . Being afar off, yet thy rays are upon the earth. Thou art in men’s faces, yet thy movements are unseen .... The earth grows bright, when thou hast arisen in the horizon . ... The Two Lands are in festival. ... The entire land does its work. All cattle are at peace upon their pastures. Trees and pastures grow green. Birds taking flight from their nest, their wings give praise to thy spirit. All animals frisk upon their feet... .the fish in the river leap before thy face. Who causest the male fluid to flow in women and who maketh the water in mankind; bringing to life the son in the body of the mother; soothing him by the cessation of his tears .... The chick in the egg speaketh in the shell; thou givest him air in it to make him live .... How manifold are thy works. They are mysterious in men’s sight. Thou sole god, like to whom there is no other. Thou didst create the earth after thy heart, being alone, even all men, herds and flocks, whatever is upon earth, creatures that walk upon feet, which soar aloft flying with their wings, the countries of Khor [Palestine and Syria] and of Cush [Sudan], and the land of Egypt '

In about the fourteenth year of Akhenaten’s reign, Nefertiti took up residence in her northern palace, and shortly afterwards Akhenaten appointed Smenkhare, his half-brother, as co-regent  Akhenaten died, as did Smenkhare almost immediately, and Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamon) came to the throne. This boy- king, probably another half-brother of Akhenaten, restored the worship of Amon and transferred the capital back to Thebes.

The city of Akhet-Aten, still under construction, was totally razed. All that was left were a few walls and columns of no more than a metre high. It is from these ruins and from the ground-plans that archaeologists have been able to study city-planning in ancient Egypt. Elsewhere the palaces, temples and dwelling-places, which were built of sun-dried brick in the Nile valley, perished. The city at Tel el Amarna, however, which was constructed on a plain above the flood and occupied for little more than a decade, provides one of the best opportunities to study how the people in an ancient Egyptian city actually lived.

Little wonder that Tel el Amarna can claim to be one of the most thoroughly explored sites in Egypt. Work was started there in 1911 and continues to the present day.
The Art of the ‘Amarna Period’

For thousands of years the pharaoh had ruled as a god and was portrayed as great, powerful and majestic. Whether sculpted massively for temple entrance, or shown being crowned, honoured and adored in temple relief, he was symbolically depicted as a giant. He clasped captives by their long hair as a hum er holds his game; he raised his club above his prisoners as a champion above his fallen opponent. The cult of divine kingship was based on the understanding that the God-king was more than a man.

During the so-called Amarna Period, Akhenaten was depicted quite naturalistically. The movement apparent in the surviving reliefs contrasts with the chiselled outlines of earlier works. Naturalism broke with the overpowering formality of the past. The pharaoh was often shown the same size as his people. He was a mortal; flesh of human flesh, bone of human bone. He was not aloof and alone but one who moved in their very midst. He was an ordinary man, a family man, who could delight in his daughters, eat a hearty meal, and demonstrate tender affection.

Akhenaten’s chief sculptor Bak, who set the style of the Amarna art, claimed to have been an apprentice to the king himself. It seems that Akhenaten wished to exaggerate his physical imperfections in order to emphasise a pharaoh who was a mortal; just as representations of earlier pharaohs portrayed the physically perfect god.

Akhenaten’s brooding eyes were exaggerated into heavy-lidded slits. His shapely, sensitive lips were magnified. His lean face, receding forehead and thin neck became an elongated skull, drawn- in cheeks and an arching neck. Akhenaten’s soft belly was made pendulous, his thighs and buttocks overly thick, and his arms and legs spindly. Humanizing the pharaoh, with all his imperfections, appears to have been the main issue in the Amarna art.

There are two dozen enormous so-called ‘sexless’ statues of Akhenaten that were unearthed from Karnak and are dated to the earlv years of his rule. They are of obscure, symbolic meaning. On some, not all, Akhenaten is shown wearing no robe or kilt; yet, apart from the heavy breasts, there is an absence of sex organs. No pharaoh had ever before been sculpted this way. The only deity similarly represented was Hapi, the Nile-god, whose bulbous breasts symbolised fertility, but who always wore a kilt.

One plausable explanation may be that the tradition of kingship was so closely associated with the fertility of the land that Akhenaten could not ignore it. However, instead of being associated with such fertility gods as the ithyphallic god Min or the ram-god Khnum, he chose to be portrayed similar to Hapi, the one god associated with water and fertility who was not a member of a triad.

Be that as it may, the state artists worked on themes approved by the pharaoh and were free at last to portray him as realistically as they themselves had been portrayed in tomb reliefs — in a wide variety of activities and shown in free, relaxed poses. Here was a leader with a great love of nature, who could weep at the death of his daughter and be shown in tender, personal relationships with his family. He rode around the state capital in an open chariot, with streamers fly ing, and happily waving his hand. He was the teacher of the new faith. In many a nobleman’s tomb we see statements such as . . how prosperous is he who listens to thy teaching . . .’ or ‘. . . great is a servant who hears thy teaching . . .’

Fragments of slabs carved in relief were found in many homes at Tel el Amarna. They show the figures of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children making offerings to the Aten. They were the blessed family who served as an example, and the message is clear: adore the one whom Akhenaten adores and make offerings directly to the one to whom Akhenaten makes offerings. In a stele, which had been reused in Cairo, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, together with their sick daughter Meket-Aten, are shown prostrating themselves on the ground before the Aten in a unique gesture of humility (or perhaps pleading for her recovery). The people were shown, by simple example, to appeal directly to the source and the preserver of life - the sun, the Aten.

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