The Silence of Akhenaten: Was the Pharaoh Mute, Blind or Cultic?

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Bust of Akhenaten

The Silence of Akhenaten: Was the Pharaoh Mute, Blind or Cultic?

The enigma of Pharaoh Akhenaten has captured the imagination of the world ever since Napoleon’s savants brought him to light. Today, every scholar holds steadfast to his or her theory about the monarch’s life, based on both extant and imaginary evidence.  The 18th Dynasty king’s motivations for heralding a new religion have been the foremost subject of studies over more than a century. Rarely does one Egyptologist concur with another in reasoning why exactly Amenhotep IV transformed into the hated Akhenaten. Was it merely the strong desire of a megalomaniac to glorify the age-old sun cult; stamp his authority on an apparently ambitious Amun priesthood; introduce a new art and philosophy to the milieu — or was the ruler just not interested in affairs of state, choosing instead to resort to poetry and silence to escape the madding crowd?

Colossal sandstone statue of Akhenaten discovered at Karnak in 1925 by Maurice Pillet, French architect and director of works for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Head with nemes and four plumes and upper torso, the distinguishing feature being the squared-off (instead of rounded) wig-like lappets and tail of the nemes headdress. Not only the philosophy of Atenism, but the ritualistic silence the king apparently maintained has for long baffled scholars. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

It gets rather difficult to address these questions conclusively, because almost all vestiges of the Amarna interlude were destroyed in later years. So much so, that the very idea of the monarch having been history’s first monotheist, is now called into question as the desert sands of Akhetaten yield more fragments of information. However, based on the details we have managed to glean, primarily through sustained archeological efforts, it appears that Akhenaten often chose to maintain a deliberate, studied silence, which meant he did not interact with either his courtiers or subjects often.

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