Friday, 7 March 2008
Walk like an Egyptian
You’ve perhaps read a great deal about Shakespeare’s collected works being reduced to a mere 20 minutes, or Charles Dickens getting the minimalist treatment.
Well now is the time to brace yourselves for another modern-day Brodies notes version of “everything you wanted to know, but were too idle to find out about” in yet another astonishing tale from the 30 dynasties of Pharaoh history.
Children and adults beware. This is a tale, which combines pre-feminist feminism with the immaculate conception, donkeys years before Christianity first hit the tabernacle headlines.
Or in other words it’s a case of the world’s first women’s libber rewriting history and inventing her own virgin birth.
Hatshepsut was the only female pharaoh to have broken into the male-only dominated club and earn her place in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings on the outskirts of Luxor. Now this is where the whistle-stop history lesson kicks in. And don’t be confused by the more than incestuous relationships involved. In Pharaoh-world it was pretty much par for the course.
Born to Thutmose I and his wife Aahmes, Hatshepsut had the purest of pure blood to be the next Pharaoh. The only problem being, she was a woman. So instead she was passed over for her half brother Thutmose II – same father but different mother, whose royal lineage was less than top notch.
This being ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut was not to be thwarted and married her half brother. But they only managed to produce daughters so he cast his net wider to take another wife – also of dubious royal lineage – and into the world finally popped a son, later to be crowned Thutmose III.
T II popped his clogs when T III was just eight years old. Clearly he was too young to seize the reigns of power and that gave his aunt/step-mother (yep remember this is ancient Egypt) the chance to step in as regent and appoint herself Commander in Chief.
But Hatshepsut had her sights set on her own place in history. After all why shouldn’t she be the first female Pharaoh?
Now this is where the rewriting of history sets in as she had to convince those around her and of course the common folk, that not only was she up to the job, but she also had the right blood qualifications – especially as she self-evidently lacked the one essential to become a Pharaoh. She wasn’t a man.
So she carved out a story whereby her father was not only T I, but simultaneously the Sun God Amon Re who had somehow managed to impregnate her mother Aahmes without the usual sexual shenanigans. Sound familiar?
Well the long and the short of it is that she did indeed manage to convince everyone that her version of herstory was in fact the truth and settled down to 22 years of rule.
Mind you, in the process she apparently donned a false beard when the occasion suited and deleted all references to her gender from the record books. So perhaps it wasn’t the “all encompassing” blow for feminism that it appears at first sight.
When she died, her stepson/nephew TIII of course set about discrediting her reputation and vandalising the temple she had built in honour of herself Al Deir Al Balhari.
But that hasn’t, and didn’t stop Hatshepsut from claiming her rightful place in history. She proved herself more than capable of outmanoeuvring the men during her reign and making sure she kept the power where she wanted.
In perhaps one of the most tragic modern twists on ancient Egyptian history, her temple is perhaps just as well known nowadays for the appalling events of November 17, 1997.
For it was the site of the massacre by Islamic terrorists of 62 people – most of them foreign tourists. In an early morning attack, six members of the Jihad Talaat al-Fath (Holy War of the Vanguard of the Conquest) descended on the temple disguised as security officials. The horrific accounts of the survivors not only shook the world because of the brutality, savagery and extent of the attack, but also persuaded Egyptian authorities to step up security at all tourist sites throughout the country.