The Origins of Akhenaten Essay

This essay has a total of 1808 words and 8 pages.

The Origins of Akhenaten

The Origins of Akhenaten

There is much that is known about Akhenaten the heretic pharaoh. More lies in speculation.
Since his time, the Amarna period is one the ancient Egyptians themselves wished to forget
much about Akhenaten remains unknown. What we do know is often confusing, different
hypothesis piled upon each other make it difficult to distinguish what is fact and what
speculation.

We do know that Akhenaten, or Amenhotep IV, was the second son of Amenhotep III, an 18th
Dynasty pharaoh and his Queen Tiye. Although we know he had an older brother Thutmose and
several sisters, he was never shown in family portraits or records, the only documented
proof we have linking him to Amenhotep III is a wine seal with his name and the
inscription "estate of the true king's son Amenhotep" . One of the theories why Akhenaten
was never shown with his family is that he suffered from some sort of disease such as
Froehlich syndrome (tumor of the pituitary gland) or Marfan syndrome. His elder brother
the original heir to the throne died early and this could support the theory that there
was a genetic defect running in the family. If this was the case however, why would the
royal family hide Akhenaten from public view, if both sons suffered from the same disease?

Both Froehlich syndrome and Marfan's syndrome correspond with some of the physical
characteristics Akhenaten is portrayed as having , the full lips, elongated ear lobes,
long arms and fingers, misshapen head, high cheekbones, slanted eyes, paunch belly,
breasts and full hips and thighs. The first to offer the hypothesis that Akhenaten
suffered from Froehlich syndrome was Dr. G. E. Smith, however, some facts do not fit this
hypothesis. Victims of Froehlich syndrome are usually attributed with endocrinal mutation
resulting in impotency. This seems unlikely, even though Akhenaten is in some images
portrayed without his sexual organs, we know he fathered six daughters and possibly a son
Tutankhamen.

It can be argued both that Akhenaten really looked like this or that his portrayal is
simply a result of the changing art forms during the Amarna period. The evidence on hand
could point either way, for example Egyptologists have argued that the fact that Akhenaten
is sometimes portrayed as more or less normal looking points to his other portraits as
being the result of the changing art form. The counter argument is of course that
Akhenaten may only look normal because the artist fashioned the portrait after the
Egyptian beauty ideal of the pharaoh as you muscular and healthy, or because the artist
himself changed. Again, in some portraits of Akhenaten and his family usually during the
early period of his reign, his daughters and sometimes his wife Nefertiti are shown as
sharing some of his deformities, his daughters certainly are usually shown as having
highly unusual head shapes . Since the shapes of the heads of the princesses correspond
with that of Tutankhamen's, it is possible that they really were result of a genetic
defect on Akhenaten part, though they were no doubt exaggerated.

Another factor supporting the theory that Akhenaten suffered from Marfan syndrome is the
unusually informal settings in which both Akhenaten's and Tutankhamen's families are
portrayed. The royal family is shown as always touching, images of Tutankhamen and his
wife Ankhesenamen also show the couple as always touching each other. This could quite
possibly suggest that besides being a close family, Akhenaten and Tutankhamen may have
been blind to some degree, due to ailments such as cataracts, iridodensis, detached
retinas or glaucoma; all symptoms of Marfan's .

On the other hand, there may have been nothing wrong with Akhenaten, Tutankhamen, his
supposed son does have an irregularly shaped skull but it is not enough to be called
abnormal. It is indeed possible that the stylization of the pharaoh in this way was an
artistic expression of the religious changes taking place during the Amarna period.

Akhenaten became heir to the throne after his brother's death that much is clear. There is
a discussion as to whether Akhenaten was Amenhotep III's co-regent during the last five or
so years of the old kings life. One point in favor of this theory is that the distinct art
style associated with the Amarna period appeared several years before the death of
Amenhotep III and is generally thought to have been introduced by Akhenaten. On the other
hand there is no evidence to support the assumption that both art forms could not have
existed at the same time.

When Amenhotep III died, he left his temple to Amun at Karnak partially finished,
structurally it was complete but it lacked its decoration. Akhenaten finished his fathers
work decorating the pylons on flanking the great temple with mostly traditional scenes.
The only thing that was new about these decorations was on the southern pylon, which was
graced with a new inscription: "…he who rejoices in the horizon n his name ‘Sunlight
that is in the Disc'" . Akhenaten thus signed his fathers work with his own name.

This according to Donald Redford marked the beginning of Akhenaten's strive for change.
When he decided to celebrated a jubilee, he apparently ordered his artists to portray him
as he differentiated from his subjects. This supports the theory that artistic expression
may have been an explanation for the many differences in the ways Akhenaten is portrayed
in the early years of his reign; the way his physical attributes fluctuate so heavily
between two extremes may be the artist's responsibility, trying to flatter the pharaoh and
be life like in turn.

Even though Akhenaten is credited with being the first monotheist of history, he did not
come up with the idea of the Aten all by himself. The Aten had not always been a god in
itself but more part of the personification of Re as the sun disc. Amenhotep I claimed
that after his death he would join the Aten and pharaohs after him were believed to join
the sun after their death. Under Amenhotep III it gained more significance, after his
first jubilee, we find more and more relief's featuring him as the sun god Re in his solar
boat. Further, he is said to have built a temple near that of Amun's in Thebes and have
dug an artificial lake in his wife's home city of Tcharu and on the day of the festival to
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