Akhenaten and Akhetaten
October 4, 2008 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Akhetaten (a.k.a. Amarna) was the city built by Pharaoh Akhenaten, famous for his monotheistic beliefs and his queen, Nefertiti and son, Tutankhamun. The Amarna Letters has translations of correspondence sent to the Akhenaten, but a trove of it was found at the Amarna site. During his reign a distinctive style of art rose to prominence, only to vanish after his death. The Boston MFA has 40 objects from the era in its collection. Perhaps the most famous of the cultural artifacts of Akhenaten is the Great Hymn to Aten (hieroglyphics, four different English translations: 1, 2, 3, 4). This poem was set to music by Philip Glass for his opera Akhnaten (information about the opera). Some see direct parallels between The Great Hymn to Aten and Psalm 104. Though it was billed as a new beginning, like many utopias, Amarna was no haven for the regular folk who lived there.
posted by Kattullus (23 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
My interest for Akhenaten was sparked by me somewhat randomly purchasing Glass's Akhnaten one day and loving it. It remains my favorite of his works.
posted by Kattullus at 4:57 PM on October 4, 2008

Fascinating stuff! The late-reign art styles are really amazing. We don't typically imagine 3500-year old art as being that naturalistic.
posted by barnacles at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2008

Have always gotten a uncanny valley feel from Akhenaten busts. He really does seem otherworldly, and in not the friendliest of ways. Vampiric, almost.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:45 PM on October 4, 2008

This is a great post. Thank you.
posted by Mephisto at 7:21 PM on October 4, 2008

Awesome, Kattullus. Favorited so I can come back for more.

I've been interested in Akhetaten for the longest time - not only because of his visage, heritage, marriage to Nefertiti and disappearance from Egyptian chronology, but for the intriguing possibility that he was one of the sources for the Biblical persona of Moses: a man of royal blood (or the inheritor of royal title), an introducer of monotheism, scourge of idolatry (including the imposition of a ban on graven images); strongly associated with building temples, treasure houses and granaries in Egypt; the sole intercessor between the one god and his people; reined during a terrible outbreak of plague and pestilence; and ritually banished from his kingdom.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:06 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Chicago Art Institute had an exhibition of this and it was absolutely stunning.
posted by ao4047 at 8:16 PM on October 4, 2008

Excellent stuff!

See also Naguib Mahfouz's short novel Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2008

See also Akhenaton the French rapper.
posted by BinGregory at 8:52 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's just something about Egyptian pharaohs--especially Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Tutankhamen--that fires the imagination.

Their lives were unique, and their deaths have provided fodder for the creative for centuries.

Nice to see, also, that there has been work investigating the lives of ordinary people during the time period.
posted by librarylis at 11:21 PM on October 4, 2008

The Lost City of the Pharaohs.
posted by empath at 12:43 AM on October 5, 2008

I love Glass, never even heard of the opera, and look forward to checking it out.

I have always been curious about Akhenaten's determination to shift Egypt to a monotheistic-ish system of belief. What is the cultural context that led to the event? Is monotheism natively Egyptian, or did Akhenaten's new faith grow from the ideas developed outside the Nile's watershed? What do we know about this, and what can we know?

Pharonic Egypt's history is so incredibly much longer than all of our other historic periods. I have found it very difficult to find any information about questions like this from general-interest publications, as there is sooo much Egyptian history to cover that exploring or even acknowledging the imperial economic and military interactions of the Pharonic states with the rest of the fertile crescent and beyond generally gets short shrift.

Help us, MeFite Egyptologists!
posted by mwhybark at 1:24 AM on October 5, 2008

and, of course, julian cope also has a song about akhenaten.
posted by snofoam at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2008

I'm always a sucker for bisexual, androgynous, religiously CRAZY pharoahs.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:34 AM on October 5, 2008

i recommend some fluffy bedtime reading for egyptology aficionados, Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody mysteries set in late nineteenth and early twentieth century egypt

Agatha Christie did a very nice one set in ancient egypt as well

i could go on and on but i'm just happy this post has been posted :)
posted by infini at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2008

Oh hey, on further actual *reading* of the links: the Armarna Letters are totally awesome.

As a gift, I send you three mines of beautiful lapis lazuli and five teams of horses for five wooden chariots.

I wanted five teams of horses for Chrismukkwannzaah, and all I got was a stick with a bell on it.

Also: The Boston MFA collection of Egyptian artifacts is pretty swell, but really, the Met in NY is really the best. I can tell you right now from looking at the site that most of the mentioned artifacts are currently in storage while parts of the museum are under construction. So, don't go rushing over here to try and see a dwarf holding a jar because he's holding that jar in a closet somewhere.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:56 AM on October 5, 2008

Agatha Christie also wrote a play specifically about Akhnaton.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:06 AM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great post, and I was especially struck by the last link, which reminded me of the terrible toll the construction of St. Petersburg took on the poor devils who were shanghaied to work on it.
posted by languagehat at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2008

posted by turgid dahlia at 3:09 PM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have loved this period since I was a child and came across a copy of a rather overheated novel about it -- well-researched, though. Sometimes I still sit and think about Ankhesenamun. Whatever happened to her?

I tried to get into Philip Glass's opera, but I just kept hearing the same four notes over and over.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:07 PM on October 5, 2008

Great post! I think my interest started with Moses and Monotheism, but I also love the opera. I think it's the best Glass opera by a long shot.
posted by alexwoods at 7:19 AM on October 6, 2008

He was probably insane, certainly as defined by his own culture. A megalomaniac at the least. I personally find the Old Kingdom more interesting, historically (especially the IIIrd Dynasty, when it all really started happening for Egypt), but there is no denying the fascination that Akhenaten holds on historians and history buffs. He was probably assassinated by the old-school priesthood disenfranchised by his single-handed creation of the Sun God. Those fuckers weren't tolerant, and they were powerful. He should have known better, but hey -- he was a God King.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:23 AM on October 6, 2008

(Insert obligatory “look upon my works ye mighty” here)

Nifty post.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:14 PM on October 6, 2008

Check out Dorothy Porter's poetic novel "Akhenaten". It's an interesting journal style book of poetry from the pharoah's point of view.
posted by robotot at 9:41 PM on October 7, 2008

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