Thursday, May 5, 2011

The scribe as ruler




New York City





If you have any doubt about the importance of writing in early civilizations, go see the special exhibit titled "Haremheb, The General Who Became King". Horemheb (to give the transcription of his name a more familiar form) has long fascinated me. He was a fighting general, especially skiled in chariot warfare, and as commander of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun's army, he led successful campaigns to defend Egypt's borders. When he took the throne as the last pharaoh of the XVIII dynasty (he ruled from a 1316-1302 BC) he instituted laws that secured the rights of civilians and curbed abuses perpetrated by powerful groups, including the army. He also restored the cult of the old gods that were briefly supplanted by Akhenaton's experiment with monotheism.


In the exhibit at the Met, we meet Horemheb as scribe and agent for Thoth, the god of writing and wisdom. The granite statue at the center of the displays shows Horemheb before he became king. While his face is beautiful and finely chiseled, his body is that of a man grown flabby and stooped through long hours of study. In his lap is a papyrus on which he has written a magnificent prayer to Thoth.



There are many other images of Thoth and his sacred animals, the ibis and the baboon, in the Horemheb exhibit. Excited by these testimonies to the place of Thoth and his magic words in the Egyptian mind, I noticed an extraordinary carving in another room, devoted to Egyptian art from late antiquity, on my way out of the Met. It shows Thoth baptising a pharaoh (who by this time was a Roman emperor) by pouring the water of life, streaming as a series of ankhs from what looks like a scribe's stylus-case.

8 comments:

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Thanks for posting the info and images. Thoth is highly regarded in my own personal pantheon. Words and names have magic power.

Wanda said...

I will try to plan a trip to see this exhibit. I watched a compilation of special HBO series on the Egyptian pharaohs and gods last week while visiting my son, who has always been fascinated with Egypt. Depicted in one of the scenes was a dream visit Horemheb made in a supposed conspiracy against Ephraim. The dream made a night visit to Ephraim, son of Joseph, warning Ephraim of Horemheb's intent to kill him, his wives and his children. Heeding the warning, he escaped and remained Pharaoh for 4 more years.



25. And it came to pass that Ephraim, being warned in a night dream that Horemheb was about to slay him, and his wives Ankhsenpaaten and Tey, and his children, fled from the palace with his family and from the land of Egypt.
26. And Ephraim ruled as Pharaoh for four years.
27. And it came to pass that Horemheb married Mutnedjemet, the sister of Nefertiti, and ruled with her.
28. A cloud of darkness fell upon the land of Egypt for Horemheb overturned all the statutes of Ephraim, and of Akhnaten, and of Joseph.
29. He slandered the name of Akhnaten, destroyed the monuments that he had built, and called him the Scoundrel of Amarna.
30. The names of Akhnaten and of Iouiya (Joseph) were forbidden throughout the whole of the land of Egypt, and it was he who altered the records, that their memory might be blotted out forever.
31. Now it came to pass that it was Pharaoh Horemheb who commenced the cruel oppression of the Israelites in the land of Egypt;
32. But it was Ramses who ruled at the time the Lord took Israel forth out of the land of Egypt by the hand of Moses.

Robert Moss said...

Wanda - What is the text you have excerpted here? As Far as I can trace, it seems to be from a dubious uncompleted text "given" to an evangelical in Oslo in 1991 - cf http://www.nccg.org/3Joseph.html. Perhaps there was something with more substance in that HBO series.

Robert Moss said...

Justin - Yes, Heka (personification of the magic words) travels in the great sun-boat and his services are required at the portals.

Wanda said...

The more I look the more spurious this appears to be. The dream was illuminated in white light in the series but no source was presented. I have found numerous weblinks but none of them give a source for the dream, so this is a Horemheb wanna-be story that looked good framed with high-tech special effects. So - with a smile from Horemheb, the pen moves on. :)

Patricia said...

Hello Robert,
I had a dream as part of a long epic dream. I was playing the role of mother as a father went to pick his son up out of a stroller. He threw him in the air,laughing and kissed kissed kissed his cheeks when he came back to his arms. I'm making my way to them, shaking my head. Oh the father doesn't need to throw this one so high with that kind of force. He's got so much energy as it is. Of course I find fathers don't always listen mothers. And I am sometimes thank ful for that balance. Up again, laughing laughing and the boy jumps into the sky now. I'm standing by the father, shaking my head again. Uh Oh, we say in unison. Now he is using his soothing voice and I am tracking what looks like a moving ink blot on the ceiling. I say, why that looks like an ink splot. He says an ink splot looking for a quill. We both say, oh this is how it starts. It's a curious dream for me.
Patty

Robert Moss said...

Patricia - As a writer, I would be delighted by the notion of an "ink blot on the ceiling" looking for a quill. I would take that to mean that what needs to be written is already composed - or at least available in essence - on a higher level, and just needs a moving hand with a writing instrument to bring it through.

Since this scene of creative potential seems to emerge from all that laughter and bouncing earlier on, I might check where in waking life I may need to put the cautious critic in me on one side to let that happy energy through...

Robert Moss said...

Wanda - It would be worth checking back to see whether the HBO series had a source other than the evangelical fiction. Of course, it's also possible that Horemheb was winking at us from across the centuries :-)