Friday, December 2, 2011

Ruminations on Egypt

I couldn't tell you why, but I've always been interested in Ancient Egypt. And let me tell you, there are a lot of wacky theories out there about that civilization. For one thing, it's so old (dating back at least to 3000-5000 BCE, and maybe even further than that), and there were so many dynasties and periods that the civilization went through numerous transformations. So most people choose favorite periods, such as the Middle Kingdom when the pyramids of Giza went up, or the very end when Cleopatra and the Ptolemies were reigning. Or, they'll be fascinated by particular individuals, like Tut or Rameses the Great or Hatshepsut or the beautifully mysterious Nefertiti. Or, perhaps, it's the various gods and goddesses that will appeal, like Isis or Osiris, Thoth, Bastet, Ma'at, or Ra.

There's a lot to know, and I don't pretend to be anything close to an expert, but the most interesting hypothesis I've read lately involves the Sphinx. Now, it's always been assumed that the Sphinx was constructed about the same time as the pyramids of Giza. (The silliest theory about the pyramids is that they were built by ancient aliens.) But there's a problem with that dating. The problem is that there is clear evidence of water erosion on the Sphinx, the kind that comes after decades of steady rainfall. And, when the pyramids went up, that area was (and still is) a desert.

So, the Sphinx has to be considerably older--and I've seen it surmised that it could be as old as 10,000BCE, that the water damage occurred after the last Ice Age was ending. This brings us to theories about the fabled Great Flood or whatever cataclysm it was that appears in Gilgamesh and the Bible (Noah) and that, possibly, also sank Atlantis (stories about which Plato gathered from his grandfather, who'd visited Egypt, where he was told by priests of the mystery schools that they held ancient wisdom handed down from the Atlanteans). And the speculation goes on.

I love all this stuff, and, lately since I've become a student of Rosicrucianism, I've turned my attention to the "heretic king," Akhenaten (who was married to Nefertiti). The Rosicrucians trace their earliest wisdom back to this pharoah, who was the world's first monotheist. He simply tossed out all the traditional Egyptian gods and worshiped only one: the Aten, or the Sun God. Why, no one can say--and there are some speculations about this too, such as he was rejected by his family early on because he was deformed, so did not take part in the usual religious celebrations growing up (so he grew up thinking the pantheon of gods and goddesses was all stuff and nonsense)--or, perhaps, he was just more "concrete minded" and could only believe in a god that he could see and was a part of nature and the world's natural laws. Art in Egypt changed under his reign and at first was highly stylized, but later on became much more realistic compared to most Egyptian art. For instance, there's a painting of Nefertiti in later life, standing stooped, with a belly and sagging breasts. Akhenaten himself was depicted as an odd-looking fellow with characteristics reminiscent of Marfan's Syndrome. And much of the art breaks with tradition in showing the pharoah at home with his wife and children in domestic scenes--nothing at all like the portrayals of, say, Rameses the Great, who was always depicted slaying enemies.

But after Akhenaton died, his son (King Tut, the boy king)--probably influenced by the old high priests and former powers-that-were--restored the capitol city to Thebes and returned the land to the old polytheistic religion.

Thus, I was pleased when visiting the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum today (in San Jose) that an entire room was devoted to Akhenaton. Here he is:

That's the Aten sun disk behind him, with its rays beaming down. Akhenaton composed a Great Hymn to the Aten, which I'll close with exerpts from (and with a sly suggestion to compare it to Psalm 104 of the Bible).

How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
They are hidden from the face (of man).
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,
Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet,
And what is on high, flying with its wings.

The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,
Thou settest every man in his place,
Thou suppliest their necessities:
Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
Their tongues are separate in speech,
And their natures as well;
Their skins are distinguished,
As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.
Thou makest a Nile in the underworld,
Thou bringest forth as thou desirest
To maintain the people (of Egypt)
According as thou madest them for thyself,
The lord of all of them, wearying (himself) with them,
The lord of every land, rising for them,
The Aton of the day, great of majesty.

The whole hymn, along with other information, can be found here.

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