The Happiest Pharaoh
by Jimmy Dunn
Today, I have a vision of a sort of Pharaoh reunion. Everyone is hanging about, many of whom are very much alive, while others are somewhat weaker, struggling for breath at times. Indeed, not all of them are here. Many from the intermediate periods did not make it and apparently, even a few from other more prominent times have left the world of the living for good.
Some of them, while strong and healthy, are not altogether pleased about the presence of some of their companions. Clearly, Tuthmosis III really did not expect to see Hatshepsut so strong and alive, and no one particularly wanted or expected to see Akhenaten, as healthy as ever.
Among the strongest and most healthy we find Ramesses II (he worked very hard for this), Djoser and Khufu. Tuthmosis III, perhaps the greatest empire builder in Egyptian history is strong enough, and Cleopatra (VII), though most of her Alexandria is now gone, survives very well.
But among their midst is an irony. He was a child king, hardly living into adulthood, with probably nothing to show for his own efforts. Even though his reign was pivotal in the 3,000 year reign of ancient Egyptian religion, most if not all of this was not his doing. He had not the time to establish himself, and some of his successors even tried to eliminate any possibility of his eternal life. Yet here he is, his chest heaving with pure air, his heart beating with the steady confidence of a top athlete, stronger and healthier than even the most elite among the Pharaohs, for his name is on everyone's tongues, and this is what matters most to all of the Pharaohs. Tutankhamun.
To the ancient Egyptians, an individual consisted of a number of different parts, which is not altogether different than those of religion view individuals today. Even now, we think of a person as having a body and a soul, or spirit. The ancient Egyptians thought the same thing, but added to this mix was a persons name, his shadow and other elements (though this is a slightly simplified explanation of the ancient Egyptian's idea of a soul). All of these elements were important, but perhaps most important of all, at least for eternal life, was the name. If one's name was not remembered, there was little hope for the soul to live on after the physical death of the body. As long as the pharaoh's name was remembered, the king would live on through eternity, and none of their names are remembered better than that of King Tut. Of this group of great men, he must be the happiest of all, not to mention very fond of Howard Carter, even though he did rob his tomb one last time.
In ancient Egypt, kings played the Pharaoh's game, though we should probably not call it a game, because they were dead serious about the outcome. They imagined that they could control their own fate, and the fate of their predecessors by usurping their names on statues, or sometimes by completely obliterating a foe's name from the historic record.
Hatshepsut more or less, mostly more, usurped the throne from her stepson, Tuthmosis III. It may have been good for him, allowing him to mature and become the great commander that he was, but it didn't please him. After her death, he went about methodically removing her name, and so he thought her chances for eternal life as well, from the monuments that she built while king (in ancient Egypt, a king was a king, female or male). What he couldn't remove, he built walls around, such as her Obelisk at Karnak. However, that act only helped to preserve her monument, and her name lives on today and so, according to the ancient Egyptian religion, so does she.
Everyone tried to kill off Akhenaten's hopes for an eternal life. He was the heretic king who, while attempting to radically alter ancient Egyptian religion, abandoned the priests of Amun and the other age old deities of Egypt. His successors tried to remove his name from every source, including the lists of Kings that were kept in holy places. But the city he built at modern el-Amarna was left to the desert sands which, in many ways, protected it for prosperity, and his radical beliefs found for him not oblivion but posterity. He may live on, healthy and viral, but perhaps not a favorite of the gods.
And then there's King Tut. After the death of his presumed father, Akhenaten, the old religion was restored, making his reign pivotal in Egyptian history, but this was almost certainly not his work. Personally, he may not be able to claim a single building project of his own, and much of the wealth even in his tomb was not his, but gifts from others. It was surely Ay and Horemheb who held the reigns of power during Tutankhamun's kingship, and after the young king's death, Horemheb took back much of the work performed in the young king's name, by usurping inscriptions with his own name. Like his father, Tut's name was also omitted from the various Kings' lists. In fact, were it not for Howard Carter, he might not have made the reunion of Pharaohs at all. But fate plays strange tricks. What little he had, compared to some of the greater kings of ancient Egypt, was discovered mostly intact in his tomb. Even the grave robbers played into this divine poker hand, not plundering his tomb completely like so many others.
Today marks the opening of the King Tut exhibit in Los Angeles, and not since Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered has he been better known to the world. And since an attribute of ancient Egyptian religion was that, indeed, fame lead to eternal life for the pharaoh, today King Tut must be one of the happiest pharaohs who ever lived, and lived on.