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By Dominic Montserrat

The pharaoh Akhenaten, who governed Egypt within the mid-fourteenth century BCE, has been the topic of extra hypothesis than the other personality in Egyptian historical past. This provocative new biography examines either the true Akhenaten and the myths which were created round him. It scrutinises the background of the pharaoh and his reign, which has been constantly written in Eurocentric phrases inapplicable to historical Egypt, and the archaeology of Akhenaten's capital urban, Amarna. It is going directly to discover the pharaoh's remarkable cultural afterlife, and how he has been invoked to validate every little thing from psychoanalysis to racial equality to Fascism.

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Sample text

New Kingdom burials of severely disabled children show that great care had been taken of them during life, even by relatively poor parents. In death they were given the full ritual attentions which would enable them to be reborn. 38 Also, people whose bodies did not conform to conventional categories, such as dwarves and perhaps twins, could be regarded positively because they were believed to have solar or divine associations. 39 So even if Akhenaten had been physically different - and there is absolutely no evidence that he was - the Egyptians may not a priori have seen this as something bad.

To describe the royal eulogies to the Aten as 'hymns' immediately superimposes fields of meaning which confuse understanding of the texts and their purpose. 'Hymns' seems an unsuitable word, because it suggests a congregation of ordinary people singing 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' or 'Salve Regina'. Nothing whatever is known about how (if at all) these poetic compositions were performed: communal singing is improbable, as the 'hymn' is said to be an adoration (dw3) of the Aten spoken in Akhenaten's words.

They are a traditional type of text, even carved in the usual place in the tomb, but completely re-emphasised to intensify the traditional supports of royal power. 5\ Akhenaten, then, certainly redefined the relationship of king and god to his own advantage. Whether this was an innovation of his own has been much debated. Current orthodoxy, which owes much to the work of Jan Assmann, tends to regard Akhenaten as having refined and extended ideas that had been around in Egypt for some time. 52 Some aspects of this can be traced back as far as the Twelfth Dynasty, c.

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