Akhenaten, Alvin Toffler, Amarna, Amon, Aten, Auguste Mariette, Cyril Aldred, Demography, Detroit, Egyptology, Eric Newby, Evelyn Waugh, Futurology, J.H. Plumb, James Henry Breasted, John A. Wilson, Joseph Campbell, Kaiser Friedrich III, Lionel Casson, Nefertiti, Otto von Bismarck, Ra, Saul Steinberg, Shirley Tomkievicz, Victoria Princess Royal, Vladimir Lenin
This issue’s cover shows an unfinished portrait bust believed to be of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten’s queen Nefertiti. It illustrates ‘The Maverick Pharaoh’ by Lionel Casson, which chronicles how Akhenaten created a religious revolution by introducing monotheistic worship of the sun god Aten.
Imagine a museum wall lined with royal portraits in the formal, traditional manner of Vandyke or Velázquez – and right in the center, a portrait that looks as if it had been done by Picasso or Rouault. Imagine a wall lined with old-fashioned, ceremonious court scenes, a king in full regalia seated in majesty on his throne, graciously receiving courtiers, or solemnly leading a procession – and right in the center, a picture of them munching on a chop or cooing over a baby. This is the effect of the portraits and court scenes of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, to use the name he preferred, who ruled Egypt from about 1378 to 1362 B.C. None of his predecessors had ever commissioned their like, no successor ever would.
The problem has intrigued and baffled historians. For over a century they have juggled the bits and pieces of Egyptian history in an effort to arrive at an answer. The discoverers of the first examples of these outré portrayals were convinced they were dealing with representations of a woman. When the deciphering of the inscriptions revealed beyond any doubt that the subject was a pharaoh, Auguste Mariette, the great French Egyptologist, suggested that perhaps the poor fellow had been captured while campaigning in the Sudan and castrated, with the effects visible in his portraits – a suggestion that, as a recent historian put it, shows all ‘the vivid imagination one would expect of one of the librettists of Aida.’ As more scraps of information were collected, they began to add up to something far more significant, a bizarre chapter in Egyptian history. Akhenaten, it seems, alone among twenty-six dynasties of pharaohs whose rule spanned two and a half millenniums, was an iconoclastic religious reformer.
Early in his reign…he began to evince a marked disinterest in the dynasty’s favorite, Amon, and marked interest in the sun god, Re, particularly in the deity’s visible manifestation, the radiant disk, or Aten, to give its Egyptian name. In doing so he was on well-trodden ground, venturing into nothing unorthodox: the cult of Re had started a thousand years before the young king was born, and his father and grandfather had even transformed the Aten itself into a divinity and offered worship to it. But his attachment obviously went a good deal further. After some six years on the throne, he took the dramatic step of changing his name from Amenhotep, ‘Amon is Satisfied’, to Akhenaten, ‘The Effective Spirit of Aten,’ and took an even more dramatic step by moving away from Thebes and out of the shadow of the awesome temples of Amon. About 250 miles farther down the Nile, at a place now called Tell el Amarna, he built a whole new city for his particular divine favorite, dubbing it Akhetaten , ‘The Horizon of Aten.’
…[B]arring a phenomenal piece of luck and any stray bits of information that archaeology may produce, we very likely will never know much more about Akhenaten than we do now. The answer to the seductive question of what made him a maverick will remain forever unknown. Was he an inspired visionary? convinced but misguided reformer? megalomaniac? madman? Take your pick – or, if you prefer, wait for further choices. That these will be forthcoming is the one sure thing.
Also in this issue:
In a special section, ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’, seven writers examine ‘the future’ as a concept: ‘Where did the idea come from anyway? What did an ancient Sumerian think about the future? When did it become something to do something about? How silly can it get? What do historians think about it?’ The letter from Managing Editor Shirley Tomkievicz quotes Alvin Toffler ‘a founder and nurturer of the modern futurist movement, and – readers will recall – twice a contributor to HORIZON’:
If we do not learn from history, we shall be compelled to relive it. True. But if we do not change the future, we shall be condemned to endure it. And that could be worse.
The section features illustrations by Saul Steinberg:
In ‘The Hindsight Saga: A Sampling of Historic Surprises’, J.H. Plumb writes:
It was one of Lenin’s more inspired insights that history always has the capacity to surprise…
For the historian, who never, or very rarely, experiences the events about which he writes, there is no initial shock, no immediate sense of surprise. By his very training a hunter of causes, he prefers not only to reduce chance to a minimum, but to plot the tides that sweep men and societies to their destined ends, forgetting that tides can suddenly break old barriers in a matter of hours and sweep through to new channels. And yet, unless we grasp that the historical processes can always take men and their societies by surprise, we shall fail to understand our own immediate dangers, or – indeed – our opportunities.
He gives examples of historical surprises: the French Revolution, the rise of Christianity and Islam, the rise of science, and the abolition of slavery, and concludes:
Indeed, for a historian who can establish himself in the past and not the future, the world’s development is full of surprises: in religion, in politics, in social attitudes, there are sudden, almost electrifying, shifts and changes that would, were they grasped, make historically-minded commentators more wary of their confident prognostications. One particular instance is the doom-laden voice of the modern demographer forecasting standing room only on this planet in another hundred years or so – a fashion, too, among scientists ignorant of history. They thoughtlessly expected population to grow in a straight line, as it were, ever upward. The slightest knowledge of the history of population would have taught them that population growth and population decline occur very oddly.
…To a perceptive historian, there would be nothing remarkable in the idea of Detroit buried under a mountain of rubble, not through natural disaster, but because it ceased to be. Nor should the automobile going the way of the coach-and-six raise a historical eyebrow.
In ‘On Mythic Shapes of Things to Come – Circular and Linear’ Joseph Campbell contrasts two ways of seeing the future:
…[The] first, the older, sees an unending series of irreversibly declining cycles ever and again renewed; and the second, a singular world-creation, once perfect but corrupted and to be restored – both views prophesying final disaster.
He conjectures that
…perhaps the search of our own scientists into a world more wondrous than the merely visible one will awaken within us latent dreams of a new destiny-image – a myth equivalent to the hundreds of thousands, even hundreds of millions, of years that may lie ahead of this ‘Spaceship Earth’ before the miracle of its star expires and the rapture of its cycling ends.
If so, those two mythic models of destiny that in the bounded past controlled our thoughts and lives have already been left behind.
The blame for the crown prince and princess’s unhappy position, however, was not all Bismarck’s. At least some of the fault was theirs. Prince Friedrich, despite the soldierly magnificence of his appearance, was a weak man – fretful, irresolute, easily depressed. Nor was he quite the dedicated liberal Albert had assumed. ‘He is not born a free Englishman,’ explained Vicky to her mother, ‘and all Prussians have not the feeling of independence and love of justice and constitutional liberty they ought to have…’ A dutiful son, he hated opposing his father. A patriot, he could not help delighting in Bismarck’s aggrandizement of Prussia. A proud Hohenzollern, he looked forward to becoming Kaiser of the triumphant new Reich.
Vicky was very different. No-one could doubt the strength of her character or beliefs. Short, plump, and high-colored now, her hair neatly braided into a coronet, her clothes simple, she could have been mistaken for a sensible, middle-class Prussian Hausfrau. But Vicky read widely and had a keen mind. And, in the Berlin of her day, when women were expected to confine themselves to Küche, Kinderstube, Krankenstube und Kirche – kitchen, nursery, sickroom, and church – she was remarkably emancipated. Her diverse passions – not only for painting, poetry and architecture, but also for politics, economics, and social reform – and her unorthodox tastes – for open windows, modern plumbing, and long walks – repeatedly astonished her hidebound contemporaries.
More annoying to the Prussians, however, was her persistent Englishness…To her, England was always ‘home’, superior in every way to Prussia… ‘To be friends with the present regime is impossible,’ Vicky complained to Queen Victoria, ‘and yet to be in opposition is a thing as impossible. I always feel like a fly struggling in a very tangled web, and a feeling of weariness and depression, often of disgust and hopelessness, takes possession of me…’
Eric Newby writes about his non-encounters with Evelyn Waugh: