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The Origins Of Akhenaten

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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: "Ð'...he who rejoices in the horizon n his name Ð''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 celebrate its building, he sailed it with a boat named Aten-neferu

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