Akhenaten is known as the Heretic King or a false prophet but he is my favourite Pharaoh. The reasons why he is will become apparent.
Some other people say positive things about him, including the historian James Henry Breasted. He labelled Akhenaten as the first individual in history and the first monotheist.
To summarise his story very briefly, he was a Pharaoh during Egypt’s I8th Dynasty and is known mainly for enforcing a massive change to Egypt’s religious system from the worship of multiple gods to the worship of only one, the Aten, the Sun Disc.
Akhenaten’s father was Amenophis 111 who ruled at a time when Egypt was at the peak of her glory. This Pharaoh lived a life of pleasure, building huge temples and statues. He was unusual among Pharaohs in that he married Tiyi, who was a non-royal as she was descended from a Hebrew tribe. One of Amenophis’s achievements is the Temple of Luxor on the east bank of the river.
His son, who was to become known as Akhenaten, was outcast from his family as a child because he suffered from a disease which meant that his body was misshapen. This is shown from his depictions in art and sculpture. He had an exaggerated female appearance, big breasts and swollen stomach region, an elongated head, long hands and fingers. Various scholars and Egyptologists have studied him from his depictions and various theories have been put forward. One such person, Doctor Redford (www.umm.edu/news/releases/akhenaten_deformities.html) notes that bizarre depictions of Akhenaten’s body emerge after the third year of the king’s reign, when he began to worship the Sun God, Aten.
After his father died, Akhenaten ascended to the throne and tried to make dramatic changes in the society and religious practice in Egypt. He was known as Amenhotep IV or Amenophis IV until the 5th year of his reign.He then changed his name to Akhenaton “The Aten is pleased” and promoted the monotheistic worship of the “aten (aton),” the physical disk of the sun.
In this 5th year, Akhenaton relocated the Egyptian capital from its historic location in Thebes to a totally new city constructed in honour of Aton, which he called Akhetaton, meaning “the horizon of Aton.” The location corresponds with the present day village of El Amarna. There he ruled until his death in 1336 B.C
Amenhotep IV no longer embraced what his father had brought into power. For him, there was to be one god, and the other gods would only hold back, and anger the one true god. Amenhotep IV had the sun-god’s name changed to Aton, and it was represented by the sun disk. The God’s new name Aton, meant sun disk, and Amenhotep IV altered his own name as well. His new name was Akhenaten which meant “Aton is satisfied.”
Akhenaten changed Egyptian art. Among the surviving works of this period are the huge statues of Akhenaten, the paintings from his private residence, the bust of his wife, Nefertiti and his mother Queen Tiyi. These works are unique in Egyptian art as they do not flatter the king and his family but reveal the real people in all their beauty and decay, warts and all. This type was art was extremely revolutionary.
Sigmund Freud took an interest in Akhenaten for two reasons. In his book” Moses and Monotheism” he argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest forced to leave Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten’s death. He said that Akhenaten was striving to promote monotheism, something that the biblical Moses was able to achieve. This is why I first heard of Akhenaten and I was, well kind of spellbound for reasons that will be given.
Akhenaton ordered that all traces of the old world to be destroyed including his father’s name, and Amon. His plan was to wipe Amon from the memory of man so all traces of the old world were to be go. Then he disowned his father and claimed decent from Ra, who was to him the same as the Aton. He no longer saw himself as simply a King or a Pharaoh, but part of the religion that he had brought into power over Egypt. Akhenaton was the human embodiment of Aton.
Freud and one of his colleagues, Abraham, linked Akhenaten to their theories of the the idea of the Oedipus complex. The Aten was seen as an ideal fantasy father, and the fact that Akhenaton had destroyed all aspects of his father fitted the theory. Amenophis IV changed his name to Akhenaten, moved the temple to El Armarna and created political turmoil by declaring that no other Gods could be worshipped and he removed his father’s name from monuments etc which Freud argued was his unconscious desire to kill his father.
I first came across Akhenaten when I attendeda lecture for my MA Psychoanalysis studies. I was thrilled that Ancient Egypt was coming into it which I certainly had not expected.
I wanted to know all about this wayward Pharaoh so I wrote an essay on him, just really relaying Freud’s ideas so that I could grasp what this man was about. But it was Akhenaten himself who grabbed my attention. Once again my imagination was fired up.
The Moses link was a definite catalyst for my interest. When I was a child we went to see “The Ten Commandments” and my mother told me that they had to watch the film twice because I screamed the place down as I wanted to see “that Egyptian man” again and the river turn to blood. She had no choice but to let me sit through the film again. It was the only time that I dared to defy my mother and this shows how adamant I must have been to see that egyptian man again.
Years later, here was such an Egyptian and Freud said he linked to Moses. It was like all of my childhood sweets had been stored in secret and given to me at once.
I continued to look into Akhenaten and what interested me about him was that he had been rejected by the family, had not been taken to social functions and that he sat there gazing at the sun and founded a religion on it, based on the source, one God, the Aten, the idea behind the rays of the sun.
I loved his fascination with the Sun. As long as I can remember I had gazed at the sun, bowed to it and called it Ra. I also empathised with his lonely childhood as I had felt like an outsider at home. I even thought about writing his story of his early years. I seemed to know that he worked out that though his father’s gaze did not shine on him, the Sun did. It treated him like everyone else and gave him the same attention. There have been criticisms that in his drawings, the Sun only shone on him and his family as though they were the only recipients of the Aten’s rays. Well, the Pharaoh was the representative of the living God, the Divine so the Sun would work through him. I think that he may have been showing how the Sun did not discriminate as he had a beautiful wife Nefertiti and the Sun’s rays caressed both of them. But then I am biased to think positively of him. Just an alternative view.
Will the Real Akhenaten please stand up ! Ahh he did and that is something else I admire him for, given the context of his life.
He insisted on changing the style of art to show him as he was though he was not of normal proportions. Imagine if he lived in the 21st Century and declared that all photography was to depict people as they really are. Airbrushing is forbidden. He assumed the Credo: Ankhemmaat which meant “Living In Truth”
Years later, on no particular morning he just popped into my head and I retrieved the old essay out and read it then put it back in the file. I went downstairs and switched the TV on and lo and behold there was a programme on one of the Sky Channels about Akhenaten. I watched it,t amazed by the coincidence and when it had ended I looked out of the window. The sun was shining, I was at a loose end and I got the urge to go to Southend immediately.
I grabbed what was necessary and went and caught a train. On arrival I walked towards the town and took a little detour on a whim and found myself in a little shop selling candles and spiritual items. To my astonishment there was a figure on the shelf with a label Akhenaten on it. I grabbed him and was so happy that I told the shop owner about my interest in him and how the morning’s events had unfolded as though they had conspired to bring me to this point, here today. She was incredulous as she had just put him on the shelf as she felt sure that someone was coming in who would like him. If someone had stopped me in the street and offered me the genuine Crown Jewels in exchange for him, I would have responded “On your Boris bike” if they had been available then. You get my drift.
I coined a phrase AA which to me means “Activate Akhenaten” or in other words, set a chain of linked events in motion. Make my day.
That day did amaze me and I could not quite believe the sequence of events but I had to believe as that is what happened.
Years later, on one occasion, I took out a picture of Akhenaten receiving the rays of the sun with Nefertiti and for some unknown reason to me then, put it in my bag. I went to the Theosophical Society as I had been to see some of their esoteric talks. That night Dr Douglas Baker(www.douglasbaker.com) was going to talk on what he called “The Permanent Atom” I always took a notebook to those talks as I liked to think about what was discussed at my own leisure. The talk itself enthralled me from the start but my interest jumped up a few notches when he started talking about Akhenaten and at this point, I had to reassure myself that I had been to Specsavers and had the correct prescription, he produced the exact picture that I had in my bag. He described the image as a scene showing of an initiate aware of and communing with the source of his initiation. He said that he was very interested in this Pharaoh. (He also said that he knew someone who felt that he was Akhenaten reincarnated and that he and Douglas had some interesting discussions. He even said the name, which I scribbled down but I couldn’t read it later and I cannot recall the name) I did say to Dr Douglas Baker that I had a great interest in Akhenaten and that I had some curious synchronicities related to him and showed him the picture. He just looked at me, shrugged and said very casually “You were probably in Ancient Egypt during his times” in a tone which one might have adopted to tell me that I had probably been in Woolworths at some time. I quite liked that cool approach.
All seemed quiet on the Akhenaten effect front although I still read about him, think about him at times. He is a constant in my life. By what my boss called “serendipity” I ended up working in a school as a Control Clerk doing very mundane things with invoices. When I went to the interview, I was led to a room which had a painting of Arcadia on the wall outside and I felt instantly at home in the place because of the Pan connection. The interview went well and I started the job a couple of weeks later.
So I walked into the new office and the first sight to greet me was a screensaver with the face of Akhenaten looking at me. I turned to the lady who used that pc and said “Nice screensaver. Akhenaten” She looked round and seemed surprised that I knew who he was as no one else had remarked upon him. It turned out that she had a fascination with him and that he was the only Pharaoh that she was interested in and that she had just bought a house in Egypt…
I felt instantly at home and thought that this place will be interesting and it was…
Akhenaten was Amenophis IV, father of Tutankhamen. His father was Amenophis 111 who interestingly was very into Sekhmet. He had lots of statues of her erected in his mortuary temple in Western Thebes. There may have originally been 730 statues of Sekhmet so that there was one seated and one standing for each day of the year. The inscriptions indicated that,the theological designers of the temple erected them to be part of a ritual to pacify the goddess’s fury on a regular basis. The British Museum has fragments of over 20. In an earlier post about big cats “Is it a Plain Cat, Is it a Maine Coon…Er not it Might Be a Lion” I explored my fascination with lions and that I had been instantly attracted to a book on Sekhmet. I had not felt compelled to find out which Pharaoh had links with her but it made sense to me when I learned that it was Akhenaten’s father.