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Monday, 22 August 2011

Pharoah Akhenaten (c.1350 BCE) and his lover, General Smenkhkare

After the discovery in 1922 of the tomb of Tutankhamen (a child of unknown relationship to Akhenaten),54 Percy Newberry noted that objects had been taken from Smenkhkare’s burial chamber to increase the treasure in Tutankhamen’s tomb; and among these was a box inscribed on its knobs with “Ankheprure beloved of Neferkheprure” and “Neferneferuaten beloved of Waenra.” Decoding these titles, the text would read, “Smenkhkare beloved of Akhenaten” and “Akhenaten beloved of Smenkhkare.”55 Even more unusual, “Neferneferuaten” had formerly been a title borne by Queen Nefertiti, suggesting that in some sense Smenkhkare came to fulfill her role.56 Newberry in his article (1928) also drew attention to a small private stele (upright stone slab) in the Berlin Museum, originally made for a military officer, which showed two kings (identified by their crowns, one the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and the other a war crown), nude and sitting side by side. Although the piece is unfinished, with its cartouches blank (ovals which usually contained names), the figures seemed easily identified as Akhenaten and Smenkhkare, the former caressing the youth’s chin while Smenkhkare rests his arm around the older king’s shoulder.57 Two other pieces then also came to mind, a relief of a similar youth pouring wine into Akhenaten’s cup (Berlin Museum) and a sculptor’s trial piece of Akhenaten kissing a child seated on his lap (Egyptian Museum, Cairo) – and some scholars pondered whether these pairs might also include Smenkhkare.58 (Actually the former conveys no sexual meaning, and the child in the latter seems very young.) Subsequently, Egyptologists battled over Akhenaten’s sexual biology and orientation.59 For example, Donald Redford, a Canadian archaeologist, wrote (1984) that he personally disliked “this effete monarch, who could never hunt or do battle,” while Cyril Aldred, Keeper of Art and Archaeology at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, saw (1968) “homosexual relations between the elder and the younger monarch” pictured on the Berlin stele, taking into account also the same-sex “beloved” titles, the disappearance of Nefertiti’s name from all records near the end of Akhenaten’s reign, and the king’s physical deformity (although how this latter might be a cause of homosexuality is unclear). Still he warned, the evidence is “slender” and not conclusive.60

Then in 1973 John Harris, studying the seven blank cartouches on the Berlin stele, argued that the four cartouches flanking the sun disk would have contained the name of Aten, while the other three could only have contained the name of a king and a queen, since the name of a king always required two cartouches, but a queen only one. Therefore he concluded that the figure being petted on the chin was Queen Nefertiti, not Ahkenaten’s boyfriend Smenkhkare.61 Nicholas Reeves (2001) details this and other research which has led Egyptologists, on the whole, to believe that Queen Neferititi did not disappear or die but was elevated to co-regent by Akhenaten. She changed her name to “Smenkhkare” and then even succeeded him on the throne for a few years as an independent ruler, similar to the remarkable Queen Hapshetsut (1478-1458 B.C.), who a century earlier had also presented herself as pharaoh, with male attributes and names. So, Smenkhkare may not have been a youth at all, but the great queen in a new disguise!62 Dominic Montserrat, who has written elsewhere in a perceptive way about sex in ancient Egypt, reviews this subject also (2000), takes the gay community to task for claiming that Akhenaten was “the first historical gay person” and a free spirit in some modern sense, and says that “almost nothing reliable is known about Smenkhkare’, not even his or her sex.” He notes how important it is both for historical writing to include a homosexual presence and also not to do violence to the past by reading in things which are not really documented. At the end of his book, he offers no conclusions on who the real Akhenaten and Smenkhkare were;63 and perhaps that’s where the matter must be left. Still, there remains “fierce resistance” on the part of some Egyptologists to the theory that Nefertiti became Smenkhkare, nd questions remain.

Source:  Homosexuality in Ancient Egypt

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