When the House of Akhnaton
Stormy and unsettled was the period of the eighth and
seventh centuries before the present era. The world was uneasy and in
a tumultuous state. Terrifying portents were seen in the sky and were
accompanied by great perturbations of natureamong them earthquakes
and changes of climate. The nations of the ancient East were in turmoil.
Peoples of the steppes of the north crossed mountain barriers and transgressed
the boundaries of states. Civilian unrest flared up in many places and
armies marched along military roads, engaging one another in strife
A few decades before this uproar, in the second part
of the ninth century, the glorious Theban (Eighteenth) Dynasty of Egypt
came to an end and the house of Akhnaton degenerated and was extirpated.
For only a short time did Akhnatons residence city,
Akhet-Aton, enjoy the sounds of agitated life, with messengers and ambassadors
coming and going. Soon the place was abandoned by men and desert sands
swept over it and buried it, to make place at last for the few poor
settlements of el-Amarna. With Akhet-Aton left to decay, Thebes, the
old southern residence, once more was made the capital of the land.
Two heirs of Akhnaton in quick succession occupied the throne, each
reigning for a short while, before dying young. The younger was Tutankhamen,
whose tomb was discovered in 1922. Never before had such riches in gold,
jewels and furniture been found in the vault of a dead person. He was
buried by the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the old Ay, the granduncle
of the last two reigning youths.
This much is known: the religious reform of Akhnaton
was abolished, his line died out, and his palace and his city were abandoned;
but history professes not to know the personal fate of Akhnaton and
of the epigoni that followed on the throne of Egypt, nor what happened
during the anarchy which followed or which may also have preceded the
end of this glorious dynasty.
In Oedipus and Akhnaton I undertook the
task of reviving the pageant of this era and of illuminating the personal
fate of its heroes. I showed also how the tragic fate of the house of
Akhnaton gave rise to a legendary cycle that reached to the shores of
Greece, took hold of the imagination of generations of poets, and survived
in its legendary form till our own days.(1)
Paintings on a wooden chest found in the tomb of Tutankhamen
show the young king in war against the Ethiopians and Syrians. It appears
that in the fraternal war his elder brother Smenkhkare, deprived of
his throne, called to his assistance foreign troops; in this war both
young princes died. Smenkhkare was buried clandestinely by his sister-spouse,
who also placed a song of love, cut into gold foil, at the feet of the
dead. His burial was violated by the emissaries of Ay, brother of Queen
Tiy, mother of Akhnaton. Ay, assuming the royal power, officiated at
the splendid funeral of his protege Tutankhamen. Having reached the
throne in his old age, Ay did not occupy it for long. The exact order
of events that ended with Ays elaborate and beautiful sarcophagus
being smashed to smithereens, we do not know; but the Eighteenth Dynasty
was terminated by invasion. Ay was not followed on the throne by any
kin of histhe House of Akhnaton was followed by foreign rule.
Oedipus and Akhnaton: Myth and History
(New York, 1960).