Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The First Feminist?

Nefertiti:Queen of Egypt, Daughter of Eternity
by Michelle Moran

One problem with historical novels - particularly the ones that go so far back as this one - the lack of written records makes the historical accuracy dubious at best. This novel is set roughly 1350 - 1330 BCE, so there is lots of conjecture. The author acknowledges this in her afterword, and says that she chose the scenarios that seemed the most likely given the information that is available. I'm kind of funny about historical novels - especially when they are about real people - I want some way to know what is factually true and what stuff the author made up to fill in the gaps.

Nevertheless, this is a fun read with quite a bit of good information thrown in as well. The writing is not as elegant and the detail work not as meticulous as, say, a Diana Gabaldon novel (in my mind the queen of historical fiction), but I would certainly read Michelle Moran again. She brings ancient Egypt to life, with all its political intrigue and skewed relationships. It's a colorful story. One of the hinges on which the story turns is religious strife in Egypt - the conflict between followers of the god Amun and those who followed the Pharaoh Amunhotep IV to worship Aten (the sun god). This part is historically accurate - I looked it up. It was interesting to me how even that far back there were bloody battles over who god is and how we should relate to him/her. Something else that jumps out is the shameless manipulation of religion for political power. Amunhotep IV (later known as Akhenaten) claimed to follow Aten because of religious conviction, but as he descended into madness it became clear that changing the nation's god was a way to test his subjects' loyalty and frighten them into submission. Yuck.

Nefertiti is a character that we love to hate. She colludes with her husband's (Amunhotep's) reforms so that she can stay in his good graces and increase her own security. Even when she realizes that her husband has gone crazy, she continues to enable his diplomatic disasters and self-glorification because he is her ticket (and her family's) to power and immortality. To be fair, though, this is the way things were for women. We all know they had next to zero power in their own right, and were seen as pawns by their fathers and brothers. Nefertiti is selfish and manipulative, but she also plays the hand that she is dealt, and really has no other choice. Chattel covered in jewels and gold is still chattel.

It is probable that Nefertiti ruled Egypt on her own for at least a brief time after her husband's death. So, we have to give her some credit for her shrewdness and courage. You go, girl.

Reverent Reader


At 10/21/08, 9:44 PM , Blogger jbl said...

Leslie, I believe Akhenaten was the first Pharoh to believe in one god, perhaps the one we believe in, and he paid for it with his life, madness notwithstnding. Nefertiti, as I understand it, supported him while he was alive, but then capitalized on his unpopularity to rule after his death, renouncing his beliefs, to no avail. Could it be that A was the first martyr who believed in the God with whom we identify? Believing in one God doesn't necessarily make it ours does it?

Confused in Brookeville.

At 10/22/08, 7:11 AM , Blogger Reverent Reader said...

Hey Jim - that is one way to look at it. You are correct, as far as I know, that Aten was the only god that Akhenaten worshipped. He had people smash all their idols and other little godlets. However, Aten was basically just the sun. The artwork from that time period shows people raising their hands and faces to the sun in supplication. So no, I would not call Aten and our God the same thing.

I did a little bit of historical digging because the novel had gotten me curious, as I mentioned in my post. Of course nothing is known for sure, but there is a strong likelihood that Nefertiti ruled on her own after her husband's death. Whether it was her or not, whoever was in power did return to Amun.

Interesting stuff - I may move beyond encyclopedias and see what there is to read out there about her in the nonfiction realm.

Thanks for weighing in.


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