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February 19, 2006

Akhenaton, Tut, and Amarna - [writing egypt]

There are no weekends anymore for yours truly, and I am awake at 04:00 or 05:00 and working. I am not complaining, not a bit. When you love what you do, then why wouldn't you spend most waking moments upon it? In fact, that's one of the few things I've always been excellent at: pouring lots and lots of time and energy into those things I loved to do. Additionally, if I get tired and need to take a nap at two pm or whatnot, I do so. And if I need to talk a walk to let the wind sort out my thoughts, I do so.

I worked about 12 or 13 hours yesterday, and I got a lot done. Some days I do mostly reading. I'll think I'm set to write another chapter/section, and I'll bump into a fact I want (need) to know more about. So I'll open one or more of the 14 books I have open and spread around me, or I'll start checking my notes. Sometimes that fact-searching will lead to hours of reading and cross-checking books and notes! And with Ancient Egypt you have to be prepared for the constant flow of uncertainty that comes from the fact that the Egyptians weren't particularly concerned with History, or leaving texts anyone could learn from! They were primarily concerned with staving off the dark uncertainty of the Void; of the West side of the Nile, where the Dead lived and watched the sunlit homes of the living every night, from their tombs. The art and text we have from them is, for the most part, inscriptions and scrolls to guard against what might go wrong in the Spirit world, or on the way! So there is so much—even common matters for them—of which they have left no trace. And sometimes I wonder if they would even appear as magical and mythical and mighty as they do without that constant mystery that dogs so much of the records they have left behind.

But I imagine they would. They were just grand people. Grand in vision, grand in fear, grand in self-satisfaction, and imagination. Grand in their ambition, and grand in their power grabs. I know, now, that I will have to travel, one day, to the Great Pyramid at Giza; to the Sphinx, to the Nile, and her black delta. I am wholly entranced and have become quite emotional about my study. I have been bit by the bug that I imagine Egyptologists suffer. In love with a dead and mystical race who lived thousands of years ago; an urge to run to them and lose myself in the black, gritty tomb tunnels, to run my hands over carvings men made so long ago, to see with my own eyes their Book of the Dead, and to breathe into my own nostrils their musty, dusty essence, to become one with their time and race and glory and power. It's all rather enchanting, and I wonder if anyone could read as much as I have so far and not feel the way I do. I suppose so. Sad.

Mostly I have been taken, as of late, with Akhenaton (néé Amenhotep IV and also spelled Akhenaten, Akhnaton, etc) and his dramatic and deliberate decision to upset everything with his distilled vision of "Ma'at" and what became called the "Amarna period." He is called "the first individual" by some Egyptologists, and is looked upon as a visionary for his aesthetic of Truth that he preached to his disciples, that the sculptors took into their eye and hands as they made some of the most evocative (and "ugly") work seen in all of the Egyptians' collection that survives. He was, perhaps, the first to propose a monotheistic God, and changed names, moved everyone out of Thebes (Amun's city), and abandoned all the old gods of Egypt. Because of all this, he was (is?) also vilified, cursed, and hated by many. He is called heretic, pervert, and worse; his name was scratched out and his cause abandoned. His stepson (you may have heard of him, and probably as "Tutankhamun" instead of the name "Tutankhaton," as he was known for much of his life) moved the city and all his people back to Thebes, and reinstated the old gods.

You can begin to see why Akhenaton is such a controversial figure. The aesthetic of Amarna broke away from the rigid, stylized Egyptian art we know so well, and those pieces are now known, in turns, as ugly, and beautiful. Myself, I find them beautiful, and not only for their fluid arcs and long, distorted, proportion, but for the ideal that drove Akhenaton's philosophies. Truth, candor, real expression.

And I love the duality/ambiguity that surrounds Akhenaton's character (and incidentally, much of Egyptian thought and symbolism). Just as I loved the duality that composes Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant when I read it in my teen years, and was riveted by Q. Tarantino's penchant for portraying the anti-hero's point of view in so many of his films. For I feel that this mixture is a certainty and bedrock reality of life and of character, one far more known to the Eastern world. I have never been at peace with the intense polarization of Western Thought, the whole Black vs. White, Good Must Destroy (and "Destory!") all Evil dichotomy that Alan Watts deconstructs and refutes in so much of his writing. And in studying the gods of the Ancient Egyptians (Set, for one, who represented war, confusion, invasion, and disorder; who was a foe of Horus——a revered and wholly "good" god——yet who was prayed to by the armies and troops to help them win battles) shows us that they understood that nothing was so clearly delineated.

I feel a deep admiration for what I know of Akhenaton, who dared so much, who loved his six daughters famously, and yet, never had a male heir to pass down his vision to. Thus, his vision died. Nobody understood it, and in his wake, they condemned Amarna, and Akhenaton, and Tutankhaton became Tutankhamun, and back to Thebes everyone went, cursing Akhenaton at every step. Back to the traditional, back to the rigid, back to the predictable.

Do you not feel the deep sorrow that history can etch into a heart? The words of power and clarity that can be etched away by wind, sand, or man's intent to obfuscate and forget. Horror, I feel, at the loss of truth, but in a way it is all so heartening, should be uplifting to read of these battles of the heart and mind thousands of years ago.

For do such grand energies really ever die? Do the clothes and the symbols of our gods matter? Do the battles we fight today differ so much from those fought in Ancient Egypt?

No, they do not. Evil rises again, greed hides the machinations of the few, Power intoxicates man, and he falls to his belly like a snake in a sandpit. Fear dances with the sunset to this day, and Truth still weaves among men, ever her insubordinates, who whirl blind, sniffing at the unguent and incense of her hem.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

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