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"However much one may cavil on this detail or that, Velikovsky has succeeded in identifying Oedipus as the Greek reflex of the historical Akhnaton."
Oedipus and Akhnaton
Dr. Cyrus Gordon is chairman of the department of Mediterranean studies, Brandeis University. His most recent book is Before Columbus.
Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky's Oedipus and Akhnaton (Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1960) is a tour de force that merits several rereadings. While it is written with clarity as well as verve, it involves material from different disciplines. In an age of specialization not many authors are conversant with classics, Egyptology, history, drama, mythology, archeology and psychoanalysis. An expert in any one of those fields is likely to be disturbed when a polymath like Velikovsky brings other fields to bear on his specialty.
Velikovsky sees the order of things as a unit, rather than as a mass of disjecta membra. While the detailed knowledge of narrow specialists in the component fields is necessary, seeing the human story as a whole is the only mature way of viewing history. This is so not merely because the human mind works much the same with all races, in all times and everywhere, but because man the wanderer has welded the world into one ecumene since the Stone Age. In Neolithic times, men were in touch with their kind across the greatest distances of land and water. No one should look askance at Velikovsky's bridging the gap between the hundred-gated Thebes of Egypt and the seven-gated Thebes in Boeotia during one of the most international periods of history (the Amarna Age), when the Aegean and Egypt were in close touch with each other. At that time Egyptian wares appear in Greece, and Mycenean wares in Egypt--as we know from archeological discoveries. To round out the record, we have rich written documentation from Egypt (including the international correspondence from Amarna) and from Greece where the recently deciphered Linear A and B tablets supplement Homer's reference to Oedipus and the later dramatic forms of the story in Aeschylus and Sophocles.
As Velikovsky points out, the wonder is that Freud, who gave the world an awareness of the "Oedipus complex" and whose last book Moses and Monotheism highlights the role of Akhnaton, completely missed the connection between the two ancient kings. However much one may cavil on this detail or that, Velikovsky has succeeded in identifying Oedipus as the Greek reflex of the historical Akhnaton. The differences between the Egyptian and Greek versions are due to two factors. First, the Egyptian sources are historical records and archeological finds, whereas the Greek accounts are legendary memories recast in literary form. Second, no cultural elements are ever transmitted from one people to another without transformation, and the Egyptian Akhnaton transformed into the Greek Oedipus is no exception.
In addition to the link between the two Thebes, Velikovsky calls attention to the female Sphinx, whose riddle Oedipus solved. The varieties of sphinxes are virtually infinite, but Velikovsky makes a good case for its specifically Egyptian origin in the Oedipus legend. Velikovsky shows that the female sphinx makes its first appearance in Egypt of the Amarna Age, specifically (with breasts) to personify Tiy, the mother of Akhnaton.
The name "Oedipus" means "he of the swollen feet" in Greek. The revolution crystallized by Akhnaton embraced what we would call realism in art. Instead of idealizing the portrayals of the Pharaoh and his family, the artists were instructed not only to tell the truth but to exaggerate it. Akhnaton is portrayed in ways that approach caricature, with his deformities exposed mercilessly. We need for present purposes single out only his swollen thighs, depicted grotesquely, in a manner out of keeping with over 3000 years of Pharaonic Egyptian art. Words for "foot" are often used to include legs and even thighs. Greeks in the Mycenaean-Amarna period seeing representations of the deformed Pharaoh--whose dynasty was Theban--transformed him into King He-of-the Swollen-Feet and relocated him in sevengated Thebes.
Laius was killed by his son Oedipus. Velikovsky sees in Laius a transformation of Amenhotep III, whose son Akhnaton tried to eradicate his name. Akhnaton came to the throne as Amenhotep IV, but soon changed his name to Akhn-Aton, marking a break with the old and entrenched Amen cult of Thebes to embark upon a religious revolution whereby the one and only true god of life was the sun-disc Aton. Accordingly, he organized a systematic campaign to eradicate the name of "Amen" from every cartouche bearing the name of his father "Amen-hotep". To eradicate somebody's name was tantamount to destroying his memory and hence to annihilating him. The Greeks, understanding less than we do about the conflict between Amenism and Atonism during the reign of Akhnaton, transformed the defacing of the father's name by the son, into patricide.
Freud has told us many truths we would have preferred never to have heard. The most shocking of all is what he has termed "the Oedipus complex" whereby men have a desire to possess their mothers and kill their fathers. This combination of latent urges is fortunately buried so deeply in the case of normal people, that few of us would have been aware of it had it not been for Freud.
Velikovsky, a profound psychoanalyst, has discovered the Egyptian prototype of Jocasta, who gave birth to Oedipus and later shared his marriage bed. It is Queen Tiy, who had borne Akhnaton to Amenhotep III. Velikovsky makes a strong case for a conjugal relationship between Tiy and her son Akhnaton that resulted in progeny in the person of their daughter Beketaten.
Pharaohs often married their sisters, but a sexual relation between mother and son was just as abhorrent to the Egyptians as it was to the Hebrews and Greeks. Indeed to make the story comprehensible, the Greeks had to render the marriage of Jocasta and Oedipus a horrible tragedy of which both parties were innocent when they wed. Oedipus was unaware that he was killing his own father when he slew Laius, and that he was taking to wife his own mother, when he married Jocasta.
For the ancients, crime could be unforgivable regardless of intent or even awareness. Siring children from the womb that had borne the father, was a heinous act that could only bring dire retribution. The whole tragedy of Oedipus is that there was no wise course or redemptive option; everything was foredoomed, and the gods themselves were subject to fate. With the Hebrews it was different: God could make mistakes and change his mind. Nineveh could be doomed to destruction and God could announce his decree through his Prophet Jonah; but the same God could be moved to compassion by the repentance of the Ninevites and rescind his decree. For the Hebrews, there was always hope; for the Greeks, there could be none once a fate was sealed.
Velikovsky (p. 195) makes the perceptive remark that Christian feelings toward "innocent martyrs crucified, immured, or made a target for arrows" perpetuates a basic attitude in Greek tragedy, for "the innocence of the victims made the Hellenes feel more strongly the growing terror of an impending doom". "Modern man, however, derives much more pleasure from the story of an innocent person who first suffers under suspicion of being the perpetrator of a crime and then is absolved when the real evildoer is tracked down and killed or otherwise punished, and it is on this formula that the entire literature of crime and its detection has grown."
We might add this modern attitude is the continuation of the ancient Egypto-Semitic tradition that has reached us through the Hebrews. A good Egyptian example is The Eloquent Peasant who is maligned and abused by the villainous Jehuti-Nakht, but virtue prevails so that the innocent and guilty get their just deserts. A Hebrew example is the Book of Daniel, where the villains calumniate the virtuous Daniel and his friends. But the latter's goodness triumphs and God slays the wicked but looks after his own. The Book of Esther is another example in the Hebrew Bible. This tradition is continued in the Apocrypha, as in the story of Susanna and the Elders. The optimism of the Hebrews inspired a hope which made it possible for man to go on; that is one of the main reasons why the Judeo-Christian tradition superseded the pagan Greek values which offered no alternative to despair in the face of predestined doom.
One of Velikovsky's most important contributions to the unprecedented developments in Akhnaton's history is his explanation of horrid aberration with no justification in the Egyptian system. Unlike Oedipus, Akhnaton wittingly mated with his mother. Velikovsky's explanation is fraught with meaning for the world scene today. The Amarna Age was highly international. Hitherto Egypt had been relatively isolationistic with a distinctive Nile Valley culture sealed off from the rest of the world by deserts except for the narrow southern frontier with Black Africa, and the, Delta which recurrently absorbed Semitic, Libyan and various other Mediterranean immigrants. No famous culture in all history was more distinctive than the ancient Egyptian.
With the New Kingdom or Empire Period, fateful changes took place. Thutmose III conquered to the banks of the Euphrates and came into contact with the Mitanni, who were destined to become a great Near East power in the Amarna Age. Internationalism grew apace, coming to a crescendo under Amenhotep III and Akhnaton: the two Pharaohs of the Amarna Age. Intermarriage between the Pharaohs and the princesses of Mitanni characterized the times. All this is documented in the Amarna Letters. The breakdown in traditional Egyptianism went hand in hand with the impact of outside influences. The Mitanni had strong Indo-Iranian components; they were chariot warriors in the Indic tradition, and worshipped Indic gods such as Indra and Varuna.
Now what we call incest was cultivated by Iranians (who are closely affiliated with the Indo-Europeans of India) and Velikovsky points out that what appeared to Egyptians and Greeks as the heinous crime of incest was not only thinkable, but even praiseworthy in certain Iranian contexts.
The confrontation of alien cultures is always fraught with danger. It can spark those affected to produce new and creative combinations, but it can also break down great societies by corroding the basic values that hold them together. Egypt never really recovered from the impact of the Amarna Age. Pharaonic Egypt lingered on until Cleopatra's death in 30 B.C., but with a few interludes of revival, it was a downhill course on which a nation with a glorious past could not regain any lasting equilibrium.
We are going through a similar period today. Ever since World War II our youth has been exposed to alien lands with alien ways. Our tradition has, to be sure, its vices as well as virtues. For example, pitted against the ethic of hard work, was the evil of alcohol. But that vice was our vice and it could be kept under reasonable control within the framework of our traditional way of life. This is not the case with drug addiction which we are unable to cope with as part of our life-style. A stable society must operate more or less within the matrix of its own virtues and vices. The hypocrisy of our Victorian ancestors in sexual irregularities may not be admirable per se, but it certainly acted as a brake on open licentiousness and the dissolution of the family. Today the very foundations of our society are being shaken at the family level by the introduction of lifestyles alien to our history until a short time ago.
Velikovsky has illuminated the very essence of the most interesting period of Egyptian history. In doing so he has forged a firm link between the Nile and Greece, making a basic contribution to Mediterranean Studies. At the same time he has thrown welcome light on Freud's thought and influence. But most of all he opens-the eyes of his readers to a deeper understanding of the world and of themselves.
Since Velikovsky's Oedipus and Akhnaton (Doubleday, New York, 1960) appeared, additional evidences bearing on its thesis have come to light. Velikovsky held that the Pharaohs Smenkhare and Tutankhamen--Polyneices and Eteocles of the Oedipus legend--were brothers, sons of Akhnaton. R.G. Harrison and R.C. Connolly (department of anatomy, Liverpool University) and A. Abdalla (department of anatomy, University of Cairo), using a microserological method, demonstrated that both pharaohs belong to the same rare blood groups, A2 and MN. (Nature, 224 [October 25, 1969], 325.)
The three investigators concluded that, while their findings do not "prove" a relationship between Tutankhamen and Smenkhare, they do "increase the probabilities."
More recently Harrison and Abdalla have given a preliminary report on their reexamination in 1968 of Tutankhamen's mummy. Using X-rays, they confirmed the close conformity of Tutankhamen's skull with that of Smenkhare:
"The diameters of the skull are almost identical; in fact, on placing an X-ray of one skull on that of the other, there is virtually complete conformity. The cephalic index also demonstrates that the type of skull (i.e. brachycephalic) is the same in each case. Only in the measurements of the facial skeleton is there some discrepancy, indicating that Tutankhamun had a slightly narrower face than Smenkhare. Even the measurements of other bones of the skeleton show fairly close conformity." (Antiquity, 46 [February, 1972], 10.)
Writing in the same issue of Antiquity, H.W. Fairman observes that,
" . . . when one couples the rarity of the blood groups with the fact that both Smenkhare and Tutankhamun were members of the royal family of the 18th Dynasty, that they were alive at the same time, that they were successive pharaohs and were remarkably alike, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to deny that they were related. In fact the evidence suggests that they were brothers, full brothers with the same mother and father." (Page 15).
Dr. D.E. Derry, in his earlier anatomical studies (see Oedipus and Akhnaton, pp 143-47), concluded that Smenkhare died at the age of 24, and Tutankhamen died at 18.
In Oedipus and Akhnaton (page 149) Velikovsky writes: "The unknown war in which, according to the paintings in his tomb, Tutankhamen took part was apparently the war against his brother and the allied host he brought against Thebes. Both died young, killed in that war."--the same war described in the Greek play, The Seven Against Thebes.
Harrison and Abdalla single out as the "most prominent feature" of Tutankhamen's skull X-ray "two dense shadows, the first along the vertex of the skull and the second occupying the back (posterior) region of the skull." (Antiquity, 46 [February, 1972], 11). They promise a discussion of this feature in a future publication.
However, an Associated Press release in October, 1969, dealing with the X-ray analysis of Tutankhamen, quoted Professor Harrison: "If I were to hazard a guess as to how Tutankhamen died, I would presume death might have been caused by a subdural haetoma"--a collection of blood forming under the membrane covering the brain. Referring to what appeared to be a small gaping wound at the side of the skull, Harrison commented that either a sharp or blunt instrument might have been used."