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Akhnaton: A Geneticist's View
C. D. Darlington

The following is taken from C D. Darlington, The Evolution of Man and Society (Simon and Shuster, New York, 1969), 118-20.  It is reprinted here with the author's permission.

What was the cause of Akhenaten's failure?  An important factor, perhaps the decisive factor, was the disastrous results of his marriages.  His incestuous marriages gave only daughters; his other marriages gave sons who died young...

Politically and indeed genetically the obsessive incest of Akhenaten seems to have destroyed the Eighteenth Dynasty.  The history of the dynasty thus shows us certain properties that we have to watch in the study of all royal and governing families.  The political privileges which they enjoy, no less than the political pressures to which they are subject, lead them to flout the breeding rules that are popularly acceptable.  By doing so they sometimes produce disastrous, and at other times splendid, results in ways that we shall try to understand.  These results at the same time demonstrate the role of the individual and the family in history.  For we can now see that, before the inevitable subjection of Egypt by the Aryan empires equipped with horses and steel some 600 years later, the imperial enterprise and administrative skill of men of the Eighteenth Dynasty were responsible for bringing the influence of Egypt to bear for a few generations on the whole of the Ancient East: probably from the Pillars of Hercules to the valley of the Indus.

There is one respect in which this influence, reflecting the character of Akhenaten himself, stretches across the seas and across the ages.  The life and death of the king have been held to make him the prototype of Oedipus.  The detailed comparison of Velikovsky shows us, first the Sphinx-oracle of Amon predicting his early death, secondly, his youth spent in hiding, thirdly, his swollen legs, due to a genetic abnormality, progressive lipodystrophy, fourthly, the sphinx destroyed, fifthly, the returned prince erasing his father's name and taking his mother as his Great Wife, sixthly, his deposition by his son (Smenkh-Ka-Re), the burial of this son without honour, his brother (Tutankhamen) supplanting him, dying, and being buried in splendour.

These similarities indicate that it was a true Egyptian story which was taken to Greece.  The transfer is itself in turn confirmed by its later history.  It was attached by the Greeks to their city which was founded, they said, by an immigrant prince who gave it the same name the Greeks gave to the Egyptian capital, the name of Thebes.  This story, passed on by word of mouth like other Greek myths, became after five centuries the most tragic of them all.  The process as a whole demonstrates the concealed influence of Egyptian emigrants on the awakening countries of the west.

Cyril D. Darlington is Sherardian Professor of Botany, University of Oxford.  A renowned geneticist, he is a polymath who has written on many subjects.

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