Here in the UK the last week has seen one scorching day follow upon another, and the cry has gone up, 'it's too hot'. We Brits like things in moderation it seems, and although there's a mad rush for the sunshine and warmer climes the moment we're allowed to travel, we don't like to be frazzled or too distressed. Our worship of the sun is taken only so far, and just every now and then...
However, as can be seen in this rather poor photograph, thousands of years ago there was another form of worship paid to the sun. Here the 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaten is shown with his arms outstretched, bathed in the light of the sun, the rays terminating in a caressing hand. Akhenaten radically changed religion in ancient Egypt by abandoning the panoply of the old gods, replacing them with the single all embracing deity, the Aten, originating arguably, the first monotheistic religion. After his death the monuments of his regime were destroyed, his cartouches defaced, statues smashed, the Aten abandoned and the old gods returned. The upheavals of these cataclysmic times made a deeply profound effect upon Egypt, somewhat more so than the past febrile week has made upon us. Perhaps if Akhenaten had been more moderate and less extreme the Aten would still be the only god we look to.
Egyptian talatat fragment depicting Akhenaten
New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, 1352-1336 BC
Van de Kar Collection, the Netherlands; acquired in 1963
Sold by us to a Japanese museum in 2005.
The pharaoh Akhenaten is shown making an offering before the sun god Aten. He wears the red crown, a streamer falling behind: his arms are upraised and in his left hand he proffers a bowl of burning incense. The solar rays, terminating in human hands, shine down on him. Above the king are two sets of cartouches. Those to the left, have the epithets 'Lord of the Two Lands' and 'Lord of Diadems' The two to the right are cartouches of the Aten. A further column and a half of inscription to the left of the sun disc read 'The living great Aten, who is in jubilee, lord of heaven and earth, who is in the middle of the Aten-disk in the House of Aten'.