Home Life Works Texts Gallery Literature Wish List
News Letters Bookshop Donations Links Mailing List Contact


Chapter II


ing Amenhotep had many wives: one, a Mitannian princess, one the sister of the king of Babylon, and a number of others, from different countries far and near. But his chief wife, Queen Tiy, was the one he loved the best.

He built a summer house for her, on the bank of the Nile, so that she might spend there long hours with him, amidst luxuriant flower beds and groves of rare trees. And he caused a lake to be dug out for her nearby, so that she might sail with him across its smooth waters, in a gilded boat with sails as delicate and beautiful as the wings of a butterfly. He gave her authority over his other wives, and put all his confidence in her.

She was clever and ambitious. She was not contented merely with her power in the palace, but helped her husband to rule Egypt and the Empire. She governed


them alone, when King Amenhotep had grown weary of his heavy duties.

Queen Tiy had been married for twenty six years. She had, several daughters, but yet no son; and as she was getting old — she was over thirty five, and perhaps not far from forty — her disappointment was great. She had prayed to many gods, and goddesses; she had worn charms, gone on pilgrimages, touched miraculous statues and drank from sacred tanks water that was said to give sons even to barren women. But it had been of no avail. Yet, she still kept on praying and hoping.

And she was right, for her prayers and hopes were not in vain; at last, her wish was fulfilled, and a son was born to her. There was great joy in the palace and merriment throughout the land. Food was distributed to the poor, and forgiveness granted to criminals on the occasion, so that the hearts even of the most wretched might greet in happiness the coming of the new born prince.

Astrologers were consulted about the child’s destiny, and they said that he would become the greatest of all the kings of Egypt. One of them — a man of profound wisdom — said that he would “show the world the true face of his Father.” But when asked to make his prophecy more clear, he kept silent. Queen Tiy kept the strange words in her heart, but years were to pass until she could grasp their full meaning


The little prince was named after his father, Amenhotep, which means “Amon is pleased.” He was a sickly baby who hardly had the strength to cry, and looked as if he would not live. His mother loved him all the more. She watched over him day and night, as one watches over a priceless treasure that one fears to lose. The child was brought up in all the luxury of the Egyptian court. He was given the best of food, the best of clothing, and the most marvellous toys that cunning workmanship could produce for his delight. He was given companions of his age to play with. But, though he loved them, he did not usually share their games for long. He was of a quiet and dreamy disposition, and sought the company of grown up people. He liked to sit with his mother and have her tell him stories of the times when there were giants and monsters, and animals who could speak, and men who had the power of making themselves invisible. Or else, he would remain lying on a cushion, smelling an open lotus as if he were slowly drinking its soul, or silently gazing at the sky. In the palace, as in all Egyptian houses, the windows were small and built high in the walls, on account of the glare and the heat. Seen from a low couch or from the floor, through the narrow opening above, the cloudless sky, so far away, seemed still more blue and still more distant. The little prince felt as if he were himself melting away into the shapeless glowing depth; and that feeling was


for him the greatest joy. But it was beyond words, and he could not express it even to his mother.

The prince was eager to learn, and like all intelligent children, he often asked questions that were not easy to answer, such as: “Why don’t animals speak nowadays?” or: “What is light made of?” or “Why doesn’t Gilu wear a wig?” (In Egypt, in those days, both men and women used to wear wigs, but Gilukhipa, the king’s Mitannian wife, did not follow that fashion).

“Now, I have told you already not to call her ‘Gilu’; she is your step mother,” said Queen Tiy, trying to avoid his question.

“But she has told me herself that I may,” retorted the child. He had a ready reply to everything.

One day, he was taken to a part of the palace where he had never been before, and there, in a hall all decorated with gold and lapis lazuli, was made to sit upon a dais, by the side of his mother. Many people were seated all around. They stood up and saluted him and the queen. The king was absent, on account of ill health. The child saw an old man in strange clothes — a foreigner — come up to a certain distance from the dais and make the customary bows. It was the Hittite ambassador, who was soon to return to his country with important messages from Egypt. “What will he bring for me, when he comes back?” said the boy, though he was not expected to speak.


“What would the prince like me to bring?” asked the foreign envoy with a smile.

The prince had heard that in the land of the Hittites, something white, cold and beautiful, as light as feathers — snow — used to fall from heaven. It covered the hills and meadows, and made them look like silver as the Sun shone upon them. But he had not heard any more about it, and he was not more than four years old. He answered quite seriously “Bring me some snow,” and this time everybody smiled. “You silly boy,” his mother whispered into his ear, “how can one bring you snow? It would melt on the way.” And turning to the ambassador she said: “You can bring him some pet to play with; he loves animals.” But the child kept on asking, louder and louder: “Why does snow melt? Do tell me, mother, why does it melt?”

“The prince has an inquisitive mind; he will seek the cause of everything as he does now of melting snow and will be a philosopher,” said an official of the palace to the one seated next to him. “I would prefer him to be a soldier,” answered the man, “the Empire needs a strong hand to keep it whole.”

Prince Amenhotep was growing in loveliness. He had a slender body, a long and graceful neck, and delicate hands like those of a girl; he had a light bronze


complexion, and large jet black eyes with long lashes. Sometimes one would see in those eyes a sadness that was not of his age. He was handsome and affectionate, and everybody loved him. Gilukhipa and the other ladies of the royal harem used to take him to their rooms, give him sweets, and tell him tales of their native lands; the courtiers spoke of his precocious intelligence; and the people, though they never saw him — for it was not the custom that royalty should appear in front of commoners — adored him as a young god, their future king.

When he was six, he was given learned masters to teach him all that a king should know. At first, he learnt how to draw upon clay tablets the picture signs of the Egyptian alphabet — what we now call “hieroglyphics,” and to read aloud, with rhythm, and recite by heart verses of the ancient poets, and maxims and proverbs of the wise men of old. Then, as he grew older, he was taught something of the noble sciences: arithmetic and geometry, the history of the birth of the gods and of the creation of the world, the names of the stars and the list of the kings of Egypt. He was told of the excellence of certain numbers which, cannot be divided or which, when combined, express the measurement of a perfect figure, such as a triangle with a right angle. He was taught how his ancestors had freed Egypt from the yoke of the Shepherd Kings, and how his


great great grandfather, Thotmose the Conqueror, had slain her enemies before Amon, his god, and made her the most powerful of nations. Not only would he grasp at once all what they taught him, but he would try to discuss with his teachers, and the remarks he made and the questions he put were disquieting, sometimes. His teachers marvelled at his intelligence and at the same time were a little anxious. “His mind is not that of a child,” they used to say.

Once, one of his preceptors was telling him how under Queen Hatshepsut, during a solemn procession, the sacred image of Amon suddenly stopped in front of the young prince Thotmose — the one who was to become the Conqueror — and nodded to him, thus showing that it was the god’s will that he and none other should wear the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. “And this miracle is true,” he added, “for there were hundreds of people present, who saw it happen; and it was recorded upon stone. . .” But the child did not let him finish. “I don’t believe a word of it,” he said with as much assurance as if he had himself witnessed the whole scene, “there was no miracle; it was the priests who did it.” It was not proper, of course, to contradict a teacher; but he simply could not conceal what he knew to be true.

The teacher tried to find out who had influenced his royal pupil. He suspected one of the other preceptors of the prince, a man who had been a priest of the Sun in the


sacred city of On; for there was rivalry between the Priests of On and those of Thebes. But the child refused to say who had told him the story of the faked miracle. He had heard it from his mother.

Another day, he was being, told about the deeds of his warrior like great grandfather and namesake, King Amenhotep the Second. “As there was unrest in Syria in his days,” the teacher was saying, “he set out with a great army and numberless war-chariots. He crossed the desert like an angry lion, rushed through Syria, defeated the rebels, and captured their seven chiefs alive. He had them hung, head downwards, in front of his royal boat, as he sailed back in triumph down the Nile. And he slew them with his own axe, before Amon, the king of the gods, so that he might rejoice at the sight; for it was Amon alone who had given him victory over his enemies.”

The little prince had a vivid imagination and a kind heart; he shuddered while he pictured to himself the torture of the seven Syrians hanging, head downwards, under the burning sun: their faces all blue, their features distorted with pain, their groans. He felt suddenly as if there were a lump in his throat; his eyes were filled with tears and his mouth quivered. But the teacher was so thrilled by the remembrance of Egypt’s victories, and by his own eloquence, that he paid no attention, and went on with his narration. “Then,” said he, “the king caused


the bodies of six among the captives to be hung on the walls of Thebes; and he caused the seventh one to be sent to the South, and hung upon the walls of Napata, the capital of Nubia, so that the dwellers in the South might also see the great works accomplished by Amon, the mighty god, through the king, his son, and be filled with fear.”

But the child could not put up with it any longer. “The horrible man and the horrible god!” he burst out at last, as tears of indignation, disgust and shame rolled down his cheeks. “And they call me, too, ‘son of Amon’! But I don’t want to be! And I shall not be I . . .” Histeacher tried to soothe him. He was dumbfounded with amazement at the prince’s impious words, and perhaps still more so at the tone of his voice: a tone of passionate determination that he had never assumed before. But he remembered that the prince was only a child. He explained to him that the Syrian chiefs had waged war against their lawful ruler, the king of Egypt, which was surely a great crime. He told him that it is right to put down: rebellion, for “rebellion displeases the gods and weakens the Empire.”

“How can it be right, to cause suffering?” answered, the little prince.

He loved all living things and had never remained indifferent to a cry of distress. Only a few days before, while wandering by himself in the gardens around the


palace, as he often did, he had found a poor little bird at the foot of a tree, where it had fallen from its nest. He had picked it up with infinite care, and carried it home, and fed it until it was strong enough to fly away. He remembered how he had felt the tiny heart beating in his hand. And, then, he thought again about the unfortunate Syrian chiefs. “Rebels” he was told; but what were rebels, after all? Suddenly, an incredible truth struck the mind of the prince — something so simple and so strange that nobody seemed to have thought of it before (and milleniums were to pass before some men would think once more in the same light). “And what harm had the Syrians done?” he said, without waiting for the teacher to answer his first question, “They fought against us just as we fought against the Shepherd Kings, for their freedom.”

The old teacher was stupefied. How could anyone compare the Syrian agitators with the great kings who had brought about, the liberation of the land of Egypt? Was there any common measure between Egypt and the peoples she had conquered? Between her gods and their gods? He tried to explain this to the child, but in vain. The child did not understand where the difference lay. Such obvious distinctions that were familiar to everybody seemed alien to his mind, as if he were the child of a different world.


On that very day, the prince was sitting with his mother on one of the terraces of the palace. He was telling her about his history lesson. He could not overcome the impression that the story of the captives’ torture had produced on him. “Do all the gods want us to be cruel?” he asked at last. The Sun was setting. The queen pointed to the glorious orb above the western hills. “No,” she answered, “not all of them; not He. See how beautiful He is.” And she spoke to him of Aton — the Sun disk — the oldest god of Egypt, the god she loved. “He is kind,” she said in a tender voice, “He causes the corn to ripen and the lilies to come forth; He is the Father of all life whom they worship in the sacred city of On from the beginning of the world.”

“Then, why do the priests say that Amon is the same as the Sun?” asked the prince.

“Priests talk a lot of nonsense, when it suits their purpose,” said Queen Tiy, as if speaking to herself. And she added in a louder voice, with a smile: “Don’t listen to the priests, my son, listen to your own heart.”

The child was happy. A fiery glow rested upon his innocent face as he followed the Disk going down and down, until it disappeared behind: the dark hills in the distance. It seemed to him as if the kind god were smiling at him, as his mother did.

Meanwhile, in a room where nobody else could hear him, the prince’s teacher was saying to an intimate friend


of his: “May Amon and all the gods prove my words false! But my mind is troubled. I fear that one day of our Lord the King will lose the Empire.”