A HISTORICAL NOVEL ON THE LIFE
OF HATSHEPSUT QUEEN OF EGYPT
THE MESSAGE OF HATSHEPSUT
Among the oldest of the tales handed down from the prehistoric days of ancient Egypt is the legend of Osiris, the god who was betrayed and torn into pieces by his jealous brother Set. The legend tells that Osiris’ sister-wife Isis searched the world over to find his scattered members, and with loving tenderness she brought them together in order to restore him to life.
The Egyptians loved this tale. For them it embodied a truth that seemed too immediate to be expressed in mere words, too profound to yield its meaning to mere logic. In one sense, the tale of Osiris is the story of Egypt, Egypt forever dying, being scattered, forever being reborn out of the fragments of the past. Egypt felt herself to be, in some deep sense, Osirian.
Today, in this our own age, that Egypt--the Egypt of the Pharaohs--lies dead, entirely a thing of the past. It has been almost two thousand years since any man has placed upon his head the white and the red crowns of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms, ornamented with the vulture and cobra, twin symbols of divine authority over the men of Keme. The Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, that "there shall be no more a prince of the land of Egypt."
Yet something of Egypt survives. A spirit of the past, Osiris-like, stirs in the modern age. It is the spirit of a truth first grasped in the morning of the human story, more than three thousand years ago. That truth was suppressed, its witnesses consigned to oblivion. But somehow it has endured to become revivified in our own day. The legend of Osiris has been proved true. Osiris is Truth, and Truth is Osiris. Truth alone is the true Osiris, for it alone can be fully resurrected and brought back to blooming life. No matter how mutilated, swaddled, entombed or dispersed in fragments, it has the power, given time and favorable circumstances, to pull itself together again, to take form, to blush with true life under the false flush of the embalmer's rouge, to burst its wrappings and rise up, to stride forth godlike again with eyes opened to the sun.
This is a story of the resurrection of truth after a slumber of ages. It is fitting that this story should be told in our age of desperate technologies, when men have no faith in Osiris and in resurrections. Men now build their lives on the hope that there are and can be no resurrections, that what is dead is dead and will stay dead. Only thus can they feel secure from their innumerable enemies, among whom they count the truths they have slain.
Thutmosis, the third of that name, the Good God on Earth, Lord of the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, was among the first, if not the first, of the moderns. True, he lived a long time ago, at least by our own standards of reckoning time, which seem to have shrunk and become more parochial even as our concepts of space have extended without limit to include the whole globe and beyond that the solar system and the universe. For us, ten years ago is hopelessly in the past. How, then, can we call modern a pharaoh who lived in the antiquity of Egypt, a ruler whom we would be more likely to refer to with contempt as a mud-king rather than a god-king, the ruler of a riverbank and a marsh?
Thutmosis III, he whose name encompasses the triple image of the beetle of self-begetting, the sun-disk of ultimate power, and the senet-board of established order, was by no means the first man to believe, as men believe today, that truth is what the strong man says it is. His position in this matter is for us not germinal but, rather, prototypic. He was modern in this--that he carried the idea out to its logical conclusion. And he was modern in having the means to carry it out on a large scale. Logic and means: rationality and power. These two attributes made Thutmosis a modern. Only today are we slowly learning that being modern is not enough, that rationality and power do not make men human.
Thutmosis was the first emperor of history: the first man to organize the entire resources of a nation for the purpose of systematically subjugating all other nations, even to the ends of the earth. In this he succeeded, thereby setting a bad example for his own people and for all who have come later and attempted to emulate him, down to our present day. In his enterprise he had the support and approbation of his own people. After all, he made them rich, and he set them up as lords and masters of the whole earth.
But strangely--and this is where our story gets its point--he had an adversary, an opponent at home who disagreed with his viewpoint that Egyptians were the natural masters of the world. Even more strange, that opponent was a woman, his own close relative, a Queen of Egypt and Pharaoh in her own right, the first woman in history to rule over a nation in the full exercise of royal power. So long as she ruled, Thutmosis had to sit on the sidelines, impatiently plotting the things he would do when he in his own turn became a god-king and the intermediary of the gods and men on earth.
It was a long wait--twenty-two years--and the longer he waited the more desperate and bitter he became. He came to hate the woman who kept him from the throne--to hate her and all she stood for. Especially what she stood for, since it was diametrically opposed to his own beliefs. Even worse, events occurred--tragic events--that tended to prove his aunt was right; and we all know how upset we become when events suggest that we may have been wrong!
During those bitter years, then, Thutmosis conceived a plan, simple and appealing in its basic concept, one that could be grasped by any child, yet admired by the wisest. Hatshepsut had caused him pain, therefore he would make Hatshepsut cease to exist.
We are not speaking of simple murder, though that, of course, was one aspect of the plan. No, murder is both too simple and too simple-minded. A murdered slave might cease to exist, but a murdered Queen--that is a different matter. She would continue to live on in the minds of the people. Everywhere one turned, one saw the name and image of the She-Hawk, beloved of the people. In a hundred magnificent temples throughout the length of Egypt, in ten thousand statues of the benevolent female Pharaoh, on every palace gate and every public building--none was reminded of Hatshepsut.
It was in contemplation of this painful fact that Thutmosis had his malignant inspiration. He would reshape the world so that it would be as if she had never existed. He would erase her from history. It was an inspiration appropriate to one who would soon be a god-king, vested with the power of life and death over all souls and with absolute sway over all things of the earth in the two lands. For only one with absolute power could hope to do what Thutmosis planned to do.
And he did succeed. Ten thousand stonemasons, armed with chisel and maul and guided by detailed diagrams--those records, so typical of Egypt, of everything done in former times--went forth on Thutmosis' bidding to find and expunge every trace of the hated Queen. Within a few years the name of Hatshepsut was only dimly recalled. A generation later she had become a legend of the past. Her memory slept the ages away--until time and circumstance at last worked their slow change; until Truth, like Osiris, awoke in its grave and, putting forth its strength, burst its swaddling bonds.
In our age, after a sleep of centuries, Queen Hatshepsut has come to life again in a very real sense--namely, in the minds and hearts of the living. The brilliant light of historical insight, based on painstaking synthesis of the myriad fragments of ruined temples, monuments, and memorial stelae, has illuminated for us the salient acts of the first great Queen of history. The erasures of Thutmosis have been undone. We see her as child bride of her step-brother, the unlucky Thutmosis II, whose premature disappearance from history remains a mystery; we see her ruling as coregent for her nephew--or more accurately, her step-son--the young Thutmosis III, then unexpectedly assuming for herself the royal power and ascending the ancient Throne of Horus. We see her surrounded by "new men" of her own choosing: the Chancellor Hapu-seneb, the Viceroy Nehesi (herein called Khudr), the Treasurer Thutiy. Above all, we see her in the constant company of her closest confidant and counselor, the great architect and Steward of Amun, Senmut, whose dazzling achievement in the conception and construction of Hatshepsut's funerary temple in the great bay in the cliffs on the western side of the river, opposite Karnak at Thebes, appears to us now to have been as much the inspiration of passionate love for his Queen as it was the most perfect expression in stone of the Egyptian religious ethos.
The resurrection of Hatshepsut and of her great Steward Senmut is now a reality. We know who they were and when they lived and, in some detail, what they achieved. We have the facts, so to speak. But knowledge of this type is of a rather low order. What is still lacking is of a different realm, orders of magnitude in importance above the brute facts of time and place.
Hatshepsut was opposed to her stepson Thutmosis III. That is the bare fact. But what was the substance, the content, the meaning, of her opposition? That titanic struggle at the dawn of history was not a meaningless fight for the throne, of that we may be sure. No. Thutmosis stood for something, and in opposition to that stand Hatshepsut put forth her own message. The message of Hatshepsut: that is what is missing from the story.
How shall we dare to reconstruct the message of Hatshepsut? It is one thing to reconstruct a temple, dilapidated, crumbling, and buried in the sand. It is quite another thing to reconstruct a message, a thought, a wish, a breath of air given meaning by the magic of language. For such evanescences, a day, an hour, even a moment is too long. Their lifespan is short, they die in their borning. To bring an unwritten message to life after the passage of weary millennia would seem audacious indeed. But there is a way--through the act of creative imagination, which can guess the outline of the missing thing by the shape of the emptiness it leaves behind.
We here assert that the message of Hatshepsut is knowable--that she left us clues to its resurrection, and that it is nothing less than the true voice of Egypt, the one deep insight which, if grasped and acted upon, could have led Egypt forward into an indefinite future of increasing strength and creativity, sparing her the long-drawn-out misery of her thousand-year decline and decay, which ended at long last in total extinction and disappearance from history. To call it a message of love would be an oversimplification unworthy alike of Hatshepsut and of our conception of it. It would be more accurate, perhaps, to call it a message of light, if by that one word we understand a metaphorical light in the human spirit, neither the pitiless blinding light of Atum the Sun-god, nor the cold and jejune light of reason, the spurious Sun-god of our modern age.
But one must not suppose that the light appeared to Hatshepsut as a sudden religious revelation. Nothing that we know of her life and times would lend the slightest support to such a theory. The light of which we speak began to glow from within and only gradually. It was recognized by Hatshepsut and Senmut jointly only after the passage of years of struggle and mutual dedication to the building of Hatshepsut's temple. And it is in the temple, and through the temple, that single most marvelous conception of Egyptian civilization, that the message of Hatshepsut took concrete form and was conveyed to us after having survived the vicissitudes of millennia, the wreckage of history, the forces of nature herself.
Egypt-of-the-Pharaohs has paid the full measure for her failure to recognize the right path. Her fate has been painful in the extreme. Yet if Egypt, in dying, has been able to transmit that message, that insight, to the world of the living, then Egypt, again Osiris-like in sending forth life out of the dead body of the past, will have justified herself and made good the debt of suffering incurred by the oldest and weariest of earth's civilizations.
Three thousand years later, scholars discuss the policies of Thutmosis and praise him for his political sense, comparing him to Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon, and failing to see how Thutmosis, like those others, led not only his own nation but also an entire civilization down the path to destruction. The successive invasions and humiliations of Egypt in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C:--from the invasion of the Delta by Esarhaddon the Assyrian, the sacking of Memphis by Ashurbanipal in 663 B.C, and the sack of Thebes in 571 B.C, to the final surrender to the Persians in 525 B.C.--these were the consequences of the policies of Thutmosis, begun almost a thousand years earlier. And worse, much worse, was in store through another millennium until the final extinction of Thebes in 500 A.D.: the city dead, the people gone, the temples quarried for their limestone, the very language of the Pharaohs forgotten. So much for the scholars.
But the people, now as then, have no time for Thutmosis. Hatshepsut is the one they love. Their instinct tells them Hatshepsut was for them, and their instinct is right, today as then. There is no lack of tyrants à la Thutmosis, even today. Pharaoh today is not dead. He has merely changed his outward appearance and lives in discreet luxury in many a capital city of the modern world. But the world still waits for a new generation of leaders and builders cast in the mold of Hatshepsut, who will lead through the power of love. And the world listens as it strains to catch, behind the turmoil and violence of modern life, the elusive music of the message of Hapshepsut.
The impluse to write the life of Hatshepsut and Senmut arose from a trip John Gall made to Egypt in 1969. A year later, he awoke from a dream-in-a-dream experience in which he dreamed a dream of Queen Hatshepsut that related directly to her vision for herself and for Egypt. At that moment he knew it was his task to write the story using whatever historical materials he could find to provide a factual basis for what would be an amalgamation of known fact and informed speculation. First Queen is the result of more than thirty years of scanning the literature relating to ancient Egypt, gleaning bits and pieces of relevant information. The result is a work of fiction that incorporates (or attempts to remain compatible with) the available undisputed facts.
About the Author:
John Gall, M.D., was educated at St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Yale College. After receiving his medical training at George Washington University School of Medicine, he trained in Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics since 1958. He retired from private practice in 2001 after more than forty years of experience in behavioral and developmental problems of children.
John Gall's website, General Systemantics™ Press, has information on First Queen, as well as his other books. http://generalsystemantics.com/
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