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Chapter V

Setting Sun

ears passed. In King Akhnaton’s sacred City, the new capital of Egypt, everything was so beautiful and serene that time seemed not to exist.

Once Queen Tiy came all the way from Thebes to see her son; and there were great rejoicings on the occasion of her visit.

When the king and court had departed from the old capital, she had for a while wished to follow them. But she had not been able to bring herself to do so; she loved the old palace, the lake over which she had sailed with King Amenhotep, the groves he had planted for her delight and the splendid city — the first in the world — I where she had spent all the years of her happy life.

She was glad to meet King Akhnaton again. He was still the handsome youth he had been at the threshold of manhood, with the same graceful body and delicate features. Only she could detect, at times, a stamp of


strenuous determination upon his serene face and more sadness than ever in his large jet-black eyes. She was glad to see her beautiful daughter-in-law and her grandchildren, whom she loved. When the king had left Thebes, he had only one child; now, he had six. “All daughters, unfortunately,” the young queen said with a sigh, when alone with Tiy.

“An heiress can be as good as an heir; Egypt has had great queens in the past” answered the king’s mother, by way of consoling her. But she remembered how much she had herself longed to have a son. “Of course,” she added, “our times are hard; men have never been so unmanageable as they are now.”

She spoke thus, for she had heard rumours of growing unrest in Syria and Canaan, and she knew more than the king did himself about the secret intrigues of the dispossessed priests of Amon in Thebes. She knew, for instance, that the former high-priest of Amon who was supposed to be dead, was in reality living in a hidden place and keeping constantly in touch with all sorts of conspirators, trying to overthrow the king and destroy his work.

She told her son all what she knew, and warned him against the increasing discontent not only of the priests but of many rich and powerful people who had sided with them.

“And what do you wish me to do?” asked the king.


“Well, either nip rebellion in the bud by having the evil-doers arrested at once, or else come to terms with them and gain time. The cult of Aton will triumph in the end only if you are tactful about it. If not . . .” She did not finish, but he understood: “If not, it will perish for ever.”

A shadow passed over his face, for her words were painful to him. Her anxious zeal was that of the men of the world for whom tangible achievements mean everything. He felt that with all her love she would never understand him. And his heart was grieved.

“Mother,” he said, “why do you speak to me like they all do?”

And he continued, after a pause “It is easy to nip rebellion in the bud. But would men become any the wiser if I did so? Those who now love me would fear me, and those who hate me would hate me all the more, and they would hate the name of Aton along with mine. Aton, my Father, is the Lord of all life; He is love and harmony; I cannot preach His glory through means of violence. Nor shall I compromise and hide that Truth which He Himself has revealed unto me, repent of what I have done and allow superstition and black magic to govern the hearts of the people once more, instead of the knowledge of God. I have done no harm. Why should I repent and come to terms? To silence the intriguers and gain time, so that my work may take roots in the land and be


lasting? But my work is established in Truth which endures forever. Am I to shake its very basis? Am I to dishonour the pure cult of Aton in order to that it may get the support of crafty men and thrive among the superstitious mob throughout Egypt and the Empire? It would be better then, ten-thousand times better, for my work to die at once and leave no trace; for what is the cult without the spirit of Aton? And what is the Teaching, without its soul?

“All men seek success,” said Queen Tiy; “don’t you?”

“I do too,” said Akhnaton, with a smile of happiness. “How many times have I not delighted in the dream of God’s Teaching spreading to the limits of the earth! How many times have I not craved for the advent of a new order in which knowledge and inspiration, reason and love, will go hand in hand; in which man will worship truth with even more fervour than he has worshipped fiction! I do not think it impossible, even if it takes thousands of years. But if, to assure myself that immense success among men, I must hide something of God’s truth, then I would rather fail, for Truth is worth more than success.”

Tiy admired the new City, the marvellous gardens, the palace and above all the temples. And she heard


her son explain his Teaching to those in whom he had placed his confidence and his hope. Her thoughts went back to the far-gone days when she had first spoken to him about-Aton, her favourite god. “How far his mind has evolved, since then!” she remarked within herself. She could hardly recognise the old solar deity whom she cherished in that immaterial Essence of all things which he taught men to worship as the only God.

She was happy to see that he had built several shrines to his ancestors within the sacred City. “It is good to honour the memory of the dead,” said the king; we know not what death is, but we know that it is our forefathers who have made us what we are; it is they who have given us our body.” He treated his mother with great deference and would have liked her to remain with him for good. But she wished to see Thebes once more, and died a short time after returning there. And when the king came to know that she was no more, he wept, for he loved her dearly; and all the court mourned for her.

The eldest of the king’s children was about ten; the youngest was yet an infant. Though they were all daughters, Akhnaton loved them none the less. He often used to play with them or fondle them in his arms. At dawn, as he went out to greet the rising of the Sun he often stopped for a moment and watched the youngest one asleep by her mother’s side. At the sight of the


delicate body, softly breathing, of the tiny mouth half open like a flower-bud, his heart overflowed with tenderness. “My little treasure,” he whispered, as he put a kiss on the baby’s head.

The little girl inherited from their father and mother, refined, features and a graceful countenance. I second one, Makitaton, was the prettiest and the cleverest. She used to take part in the daily service to Aton, in the great temple, rattling the sistrum with her sisters while the king stretched out his hand over the altar and consecrated the offerings. She was of a quiet nature. And while her sisters ran after each other around the flowerbeds, she often used to come and sit down near her father and ask him to tell her a story. She liked to put questions to him, and would talk to him for hours. She adored him.

Her health had always been very delicate. She suddenly fell sick. She had high fever for a few days and then seemed getting a little better. Queen Nefertiti, her mother, as usual watched over her day and night. One evening, she called the king and tried to put her arms around his neck, but was so weak that she hardly could do so. “I am going away,” she said in a whisper, so gently that he alone could hear her; “you must not cry; I am happy. There was a heavenly smile upon her lips and a heavenly light in her eyes, as though she could see, through the vanishing daylight, the glory


of an eternal morning. And she softly died in her father’s arms.

She was embalmed, as it was the custom, and put to rest in a side-chamber of the king’s own tomb in the white cliffs of the desert. All the court was in sorrow for her; her sisters wept over her and missed her for a long time; but her father and mother never got over their grief entirely. An irresistible sadness filled the king’s heart, each time he thought of his lost child. And though the same deep peace as before, did abide within him, there was some change: he had experienced how complete is man’s helplessness, and the memory of it persisted him.

Akhnaton believed in the eternal life of the soul; though I he laid no special stress in his Teaching upon the problem of the hereafter.

“You know not what is life; why do you seek to learn what is death?” he often said to those of his disciples who questioned him about the survival of the soul; “you first learn how to live in accordance with the true laws of life.” And at other times, he used to say, “If men spent as much time and energy in helping the living as they waste over vain mummeries supposed to better the fate of the dead, there would be less wretchedness in the world.”


He spoke thus, for the idea of death and of service to the dead occupied an enormous place in the life of the Egyptians. And there was a great deal of magic connected with it. It was believed, for instance, that certain formulas, inscribed upon rolls of papyrus and placed in the tombs had the power of helping the dead in their progress in the next world, or even of altering divine justice in their favour, whatever be their sins.

King Akhnaton allowed none of these practices and strongly condemned the idea behind them. “It is foolishness and impiety on the part of men,” he said, “to try to change the immutable laws of action and reaction with a view to further their petty interests.” He forbade also the inscription, in tombs, of the time-honoured prayers to the gods of the netherworld, and the representation of those gods or of any others. But he changed nothing of that which he considered to be merely harmless customs. And under him, in Egypt, the dead continued to be embalmed as they had been for time immemorial. “Nothing is so futile as change for the sheer sake of change,” the king had once told a courtier who talked at length against the popular faith in the old national gods, without much understanding the spirit of the new religion; “there is no need of destroying ancient beliefs unless one knows them to be false, or of abolishing ancient practices unless one replaces them by new ones more rational or more beautiful.”


As time went on, disquieting news from Syria reached the king in his peaceful capital. Messengers brought letters from loyal vassals and from governors of cities complaining of rebellion right and left. A growing disaffection towards Egyptian rule was sweeping over the land. A crafty local princeling, secretly aided by the king of the Hittites, was leading the movement “Behold, this man is seeking to capture all the cities of the king,” wrote the most devoted of all the king’s vassals, Ribaddi of Byblos.

Akhnaton’s mind was troubled, for he loved peace and he had done what he thought the best to establish forever goodwill among men.

He had suppressed the corrupt priesthood that exploited the people; he had fought against the superstitions that divided them and taught them all to worship the Sun’s life-giving radiance and to love one another, and all living things. He had built in Syria a City of peace — a second Akhetaton — that his Teaching might spread from there and conquer the world. And now Syria was rising in arms against his gentle rule. And those who were loyal to him were in peril. “As a bird in the fowler’s snare, so is the city of Simyra; night and day the enemies are against it, both from land and, from the sea,” ran one of the letters recently brought to him in all haste. And in another message the elders of another Syrian town appealed: “Let not the breath of the king depart


from us, for mighty is the enmity against us, mighty indeed.”

The help that the king’s servants asked for was slight, and easy to give. “May it seem good to the king, the Sun of the lands, to send me three hundred soldiers and forty war-chariots,” begged the faithful Ribaddi, “and I will be able to hold the city.” Akhnaton had but a word to utter, but an order to give, and the Syrian rebellion would have been crushed forever and the Empire saved. But he did not utter that word.

He remembered the horrors of war during the days of his fathers, the punitive expeditions that the former Pharaohs led regularly against periodical outbreaks of what we would call, today, “Syrian nationalism” — the seven chiefs captured by King Amenhotep the Second, tortured and then slain before the image of Amon as a thanksgiving sacrifice for the victory of Egypt.

“Are all the gods cruel?” he had once asked his mother, nearly twenty years before, after hearing of those past atrocities.

“Not all of them; not He,” she had answered, pointing to the life-giving Disk — Aton — the visible face of the invisible God of gods. And ever since then, Aton had been linked, within his heart, with peace and love towards all creatures, including rebels.

Was he now to forget the gentle Teaching he preached all his life and hearken to the call of battle?


Was he to march into the disloyal lands and come back dragging behind him hordes of captives in chains, like the other kings of Egypt had done? He recalled the famous Hymn of Victory of his great-great-grandfather, Thotmose the Conqueror — the words of the god Amon to the triumphant king:

I have come; I have granted thee to trample over the great ones of Syria;
I have hurled them beneath thy sandals in their lands
. . .

But his God was not that one. His God was not the god of Egypt alone, but of Syria too, and of the whole world; not a magnified tribal chieftain rejoicing in the blast of trumpets and cries of war, but the unknown Power that radiates in the Sun and keeps the universe together.

Akhnaton lifted his eyes to the sky. The Sun was there, high above the world and its turmoil, unreachable in the blue immensity — the fathomless depth of eternal peace. Its radiance pervaded the world.

Thou fillest every land with Thy beauty;
Thou bindest them by Thy love
, . . .
. . .
Breath of life is to see Thy beams . . .

The king recalled the words of his own hymn to the One and only Lord of Life, Aton.


“If only they knew Him, there would be peace,” he said to himself as the practical exigencies of war thrust themselves once more upon his mind. He remembered the intrigues of the king of the Hittites to encroach upon his territories, the ambitions of his many disloyal vassals, the appeals for help of the few loyal ones, their mutual accusations of treason, their base flatteries, their conflicting lies, and all what he knew of the whole Syrian tangle.

“Greed, the source of war, has no place in the heart which He fills with His light,” he thought; “and even as smoke vanishes in the sunlit heaven and there is no trace of it, so do hatred and strife disappear in the love of Him. Indeed, if they knew Him, there would be peace on earth as there is in the pure blue sky.”

But they knew Him not, and there was endless conflict, as there had always been. The Pharaoh’s Teaching might have reached foreign lands. But nobody seemed to have grasped the spirit of it. And the king was sad. For the first time, he doubted the future of his mission. “What if I have come in vain,” he thought, “and men reject the Truth?” Yet, there was peace in his heart in spite of sadness. And he decided to abide by the law of love, which is the law of God, and not to wage war.

The head of the Syrian rebellion was killed in a


skirmish with local troops loyal to Egypt. But his sons succeeded him. One of them, named Aziru, surpassed his father in duplicity and intrigue no less than in military skill and in hatred of foreign rule. He aimed at unifying all Syria under the rule of his own people, the Amorites, one of the many races that dwelt in that land. He wrote to Akhnaton in the flattering style his father had used: “To the King, the Sun, my Lord, thy servant, the dust of thy feet. Beneath the feet of the King, my Lord, seven times and seven times I fall. Lo, I am a servant of the King and his house-dog and the whole land I guard for the King, my Lord.” And at the same time, he promised his friendship to the king of the Hittites, if only he would help him to shake off the Pharaoh’s domination. He intrigued with the king of Sidon and other princes, vassals of Egypt, and persuaded them to break their old bonds of allegiance and become his allies. And he took the cities that remained loyal to Akhnaton one after the other, slaying the Egyptian garrisons and driving the inhabitants into slavery.

News from Syria became more scarce, and even more disquieting. Rebellion now broke out in Palestine also, where the king’s enemies were seeking to overthrow Egyptian rule with the help of the Habiru, the wild plundering tribes of the desert. From the Upper Euphrates down to Sinai, one by one the king’s strongholds were stormed or forced to surrender, and his vassals


became the allies of his enemies. The tribute in gold and silver was no longer sent to Egypt. Only messengers came to announce each time the fall of some other fortress, and to hand over to the king more distressed appeals for help on behalf of Ribaddi of Byb1os, or of the loyal governor of Jerusalem, the only two men who had not gone over to the rebels.

“The enemy does not depart from the gates of Byblos. Who will defend me?” wrote Ribaddi, in a pathetic letter. “If the king, my Lord, would only defend his servants, and send men and horses from Egypt speedily, then surely I would be delivered . . .” And the faithful governor of Jerusalem appealed in the same strain: “All the lands of the king, my Lord, are going to ruin. If no troops come this year, all the land of the king, my Lord, will be lost.” The caravan carrying the royal mail was robbed only some ten or fifteen miles from Jerusalem, and such was the fear of the Habiru and the lawlessness of the land that the governor could do nothing either to prevent it or to trace and punish the robbers.

Meanwhile, numbers of Egyptian and Syrian refugees — men, women and children — kept pouring into Egypt across the desert of Sinai, ragged and starving, having lost all what they possessed. They spoke of their plundered cities, of their fields and vineyards set on fire, of their dear ones slaughtered before their eyes or dragged into captivity, and of all the scenes of murder and outrage


that haunted their memory. Their story was but one long tale of horror. The people who heard it became indignant. And the dispossessed priests of Amon, always seeking after some new means of causing harm to the king whom they hated, seized this opportunity. They told the new-comers: “The king has betrayed

Amon, the great, god; no wonder he has betrayed you also, and let the enemies overrun Syria.” And they told the dwellers in Egypt: “The wrath of Amon is upon this land because of the king’s impiety. Soon the Amorites and the Habiru will be crossing the desert, and they will treat Egypt worse than they have treated Syria, for the gods have waged war on him who rose against them.” And the people were in great fear, and they believed the priests.

The Pharaoh was deeply distressed when he heard of the plight of his subjects, for nobody loved the people more than he did. He ordered the governors of the bordering provinces to feed the hungry crowd and to accommodate each family the best they could. Physicians were appointed to attend to the sick. From the confiscated estates of the priests, land was given to all those who wished to settle. Many received even more than they had lost; but they still kept on murmuring. “The king has pity upon us now,” they said, “but had he defended us, we would not have deserted our happy homes.”


And as the rumours of disaster travelled down the Nile from mouth to mouth, a general disaffection towards the king and his God was felt in the country. Even in new capital consecrated to Aton, many of the court dignitaries lost their former fervour. Others continued to pay a verbal homage to the king’s Teaching, but no longer loved it. “The Pharaohs of old,” they whispered among themselves, “slew prisoners of war before the image of Amon, but they made Egypt the head of all nations. The present king does not worship idols; but he sacrifices the Empire to his one God — an unusual sacrifice indeed!”

When Ribaddi saw that his letters were of no avail, he sent his son to Egypt to beg for help. But the king hesitated to see him. “For years you have been hearing from me that Aton is the God of all life and that His law is love,” he said to his courtiers; “and yet, you know Him not and desire war. How shall I get this young man to understand why I cannot send troops to his father or to anyone?” And when, after waiting three months, Ribaddi’s son was at last granted an audience, he was actually amazed at the king’s strange utterances about Aton being the God of all peoples as well as of Egypt. He left the capital in despair, thinking that the Pharaoh had lost his good sense. Some of the courtiers were not far from thinking the same, though they were silent about it. Others believed that an evil spirit, hostile to Egypt,


had entered the king and was leading him astray. “When the king was still a child, I was already told he would one day lose the Empire,” said an old official, recalling the statement of a priest who had been one of Akhnaton’s preceptors during his boyhood; “now, the prediction has come true and ruin is drawing nigh.”

Then came the news of the fall of Byblos and of the death of Ribaddi. The king’s faithful vassal had been captured alive; he had begged his victor to send him to Egypt, that he might spend there the rest of his days in peace. But the fierce Aziru, the head of the rebel forces, instead of complying with his request, handed him over to the Amorite princes, his enemies, who put him to death.

The king was profoundly grieved. If he had not helped his faithful servant, it was only because he looked upon war as a crime and did not wish to keep Syria under his sway by means of violence. But he loved Ribaddi. The idea that this man had suffered and died with the bitter feeling of being abandoned was intolerable to him. Moreover, he bore no enmity towards Aziru; he did not take his demonstrations of loyalty too seriously, but he could not blame him for fighting for his people’s independence, and he trusted him when he promised to rebuild the towns he had destroyed during the struggle.


He could not imagine Aziru handing over a helpless captive to his deadly enemies.

He sent the traitor a. long indignant letter; “Dost not thou write to the king, thy lord: ‘I am thy servant’? Yet hast thou committed this crime . . . Didst thou not know the hatred of these men for Ribaddi? . . . Why hast thou not arranged for sending him to Egypt, as he had begged thee to do?”

To send Ribaddi to Egypt so that his accusing voice might be heard there was the last thing which Aziru would have done. But Akhnaton was too good even to suspect such an amount of deceit, meanness and cruelty as that of his unworthy vassal. The darkest side of human nature, suddenly thrust before him by hard facts, was to him an object of painful disappointment.

The news of the fall of Byblos shattered the whole country, for not only was Byblos a great city, but its connection with Egypt was very old; there were temples built there in honour of Egyptian gods fifteen hundred years before the conquests of King Thotmose.

The generals of the army, brought up in the warrior-like tradition of the past, could hardly hide their anger. “Now, Syria is lost for ever,” they said, “though it could have been saved.” How they would have rushed to save it and punish the rebels, if only the king had let them


do so! And at the thought of the triumphs of which he had deprived them their anger increased. They hated the king and his universal God.

The dispossessed priests went about cursing the one whom they already called “the apostate” and “the criminal” in their secret councils. It happened that the floods of the Nile had been insufficient, so that crops were meagre and famine threatened the land. The priests attributed both defeat and drought to the displeasure of the gods, especially of Amon, and they blamed the Pharaoh for the “bad Niles” as well as for the loss of the Empire, and stirred up the people’s minds against him on every occasion. But they hated him so much, that they welcomed even disaster, provided it hastened his downfall, and while their lips uttered words of patriotic despair a devilish glee coarsened their faces. “Now the apostate’s days are numbered,” they thought, “and we will soon rule Egypt once more and get back, our treasures — this time for ever.”

The people, ignorant and fickle as in all times, and frightened by what they were told to be signs of divine anger, ceased to love the best of kings. His beautiful cult was too simple and too rational to appeal to them; they had never taken to it. And the good he had done to them was quickly forgotten.

The courtiers grew more and more indifferent to the Pharaoh’s Teaching while keeping up an appearance of


loyalty to it as a state-religion. There was a very brilliant and learned disciple to whom the king had once said, some years before, on making him the high-priest of Aton, “No one has understood my Teaching as you have . . .” Now even that man began to doubt the value of a religion that was costing Egypt so much.

And Akhnaton was alone. He felt the rejection of those who had once loved him, the hostility of an entire nation, the disapproval of the whole world. Waves of hatred were swelling against him from all sides as a roaring sea; and there was no help for him, and no hope! He knew now that his work would perish. And his heart was filled with overwhelming sadness.

He raised his eyes to the sky and sought communion with his Father. The west was crimson. The Nile was a stripe of liquid gold between the dark palm-groves, and in the east, the white cliffs of the: desert — the hills of rest — shone with opalescent shades of pink, deep blue and purple, against the transparent background of a violet-coloured sky. He watched the fiery Disk sinking behind the remote western hills. A serene glow rested upon his face. A sweet-scented breeze, soft like a caress brought to him now and then the simple music of a flute far away. A restful splendour pervaded heaven and earth and soothed the king’s soul. “O Lord,” he thought, “Thou art peace; Thou art love. May I never fail to proclaim Thy truth!”


And as he was absorbed in prayer, a messenger was announced to him. It was not the proper time to speak to the Pharaoh, but the man had insisted on seeing him at once because his errand was of great importance. He came from distant Tunip, a place in north-eastern Syria, and had already lost a lot of time in his journey, avoiding the highways that were infested with robbers and enemy soldiers. He handed over to the king a letter from the elders of Tunip — a desperate appeal for help.

Akhnaton took the clay tablet and read: “Who would formerly have plundered Tunip without being plundered by King Thotmose? The gods of Egypt dwell in Tunip, but we no more belong to Egypt. . . . And now, Tunip, thy city, weeps and her tears are running and there is no help for us. For years we have been sending messengers to our Lord, the king of Egypt, but there has not come to us one word of encouragement, not one.”

He spoke, and his voice slightly trembled. “I would like to be alone,” he said. The messenger left the room.

The king read the letter over again. The Sun had set. The cuneiform writing, cut deep in the clay, showed darker in the scarlet afterglow. Akhnaton could dimly see the last words of his pitiable subjects: “Tunip, thy city; weeps, and her tears are running and, there is no help for us . . .” Then, it all vanished, and night came. The air grew fresh. Soon millions of stars appeared out of the blue infinity and there was silence


on earth — such silence that it seemed as though life had ceased for ever.

Thou settest in the western horizon,
And the land is in darkness, like the dead

the king had written in one of his hymns;

The night shines with all its lights,
And the land lies in silence
For He who made them resteth in His horizon
. . .

Now, he tried to think of his God, but he could not. He looked up to the stars, but in their cold brilliance there was no answer to the agony of his soul. The cry of his far-away people was a torture to him. “Tunip, thy city, weeps, . . .” He could not forget it. And suddenly his spirits broke down, and he wept.

But he did not betray his heavenly Father. The next morning, when he stretched out his hands in praise to the Sun and greeted His rising, there was a strange fervour in his voice.


Thou didst create the world according to Thy will:
The foreign countries, Syria, Nubia, the land of Egypt;
Thou settest every one in his Place,
Thou suppliest their needs. . .
Their languages are different,
And different are their features, and the colour of their skin;
For Thou hast made each people distinguishable from the other,

. . .
Thou Lord of them all, even in their weakness
Thou Lord of the world, Who risest for them,
Thou Aton of the day, revered in every distant land; Thou maker of life

It was the hymn to the God of the foreigners as well as of Egypt, to the One Who shines over all lands and wishes none to perish.

The king continued:

Thou placest a Nile in heaven, that it may rain upon them,
Watering their hills and their fields abundantly
. . .


How excellent are Thy ways, O Lord of Eternity!
The Nile in heaven is for the foreign People,

. . .
The Nile that cometh from below the earth is for
the land of Egypt,
That it may nourish every field

It is difficult for us to realise, now, how novel was all this to the men of these far-gone times. Nobody knew, then, where the sources of the Nile were. They had only seen its mighty cataracts, and they believed the great river came leaping down from heaven in successive falls, as over a gigantic stair-case. Their fathers had always worshipped it as a god. But Akhnaton, rationalist as he was, told them that all rivers come from underground, the venerable Nile included. He told them that the rain that fertilises other countries, as the floods of the Nile do Egypt, is equally a gift of God — “a Nile in heaven” — drawn up from the rivers and from the sea by the power of the Sun’s rays and released in showers upon the thirsty earth. He taught them that there is no privileged nation, no “chosen people” in the eyes of the One God, and that those who, in their pride, say the contrary, conceive divinity in their own image and deny the real Lord — radiant Energy, the impersonal Essence of all being.


He had told them those things over and over again. They once used to listen to him with pious reverence. But with the news of the Empire being lost, the aggressively national spirit of old was growing strong again.

Some of the courtiers, while sitting in council with him, urged the king for the last time to wage war and re-establish the prestige of Egypt from the desert of Sinai to the Upper Euphrates. “It is time yet,” they said. They were the descendants of those who had fought under his ancestors: Thotmose the Conqueror and Amenhotep, the Second — the terror of the Syrian rebels.

But gentle Akhnaton refused. He had not forgotten the desperate cry of Tunip, his loyal city; but even to save it, he could not renounce the Truth. “My fathers have conquered the Empire by the sword,” he said; “I do not wish to keep it by the sword. It was the first time in history that such unusual words were uttered. There was a deep silence. “I know my generals are skilled in warfare and my soldiers ready,” the king continued, looking towards those court dignitaries who insisted on fighting. “I know my chariots greatly outnumber those of the Syrians and that war, even now, would mean victory. But I have not any desire to shed blood in order to keep conquered land under my sway. The land does not belong to me, but to Aton, my Father.


And His law is not the law of the sword, but that of love and reason.”

Somebody asked him if he felt no sympathy for those who were still loyal to him in Syria.

“I certainly do,” he answered; and as he remembered the pathetic letter of the elders of Tunip and the death of faithful Ribaddi a shadow passed over his face. “I certainly do, but I cannot forsake the Teaching which Aton Himself has sent me to uphold in His name. They call me the “One-who-liveth-in-Truth”; I shall live up to that motto till the end . . .”

He paused, as though pursuing in his heart the vision of a lost dream, and then spoke again. “I wanted to rebuild the world according to God’s Truth,” he said; “my fathers have subdued many nations by force of arms; I desired to unite them in one brotherhood, through the love of the real God; nay, I wished the dwellers in the lands beyond the limits of the Empire — the men of all the world, over whom the same Sun sheds his rays — would one day hearken to the Teaching of reason and love, give up their false gods and their false boundaries, and with all their diversities, become one people under the one true Lord, Aton, my Father — their Father.

“But now, I see it has all been an empty dream, perhaps never to be realised among men, in any age. Let it be, if it cannot be helped. Even if one day the Teaching and the very name of Aton be forgotten, it will


still remain a fact that the beautiful dream has once been dreamt and Truth valued higher than vain glory.”

There was such inexpressible sadness in his voice and in his large black eyes that many could not withdraw a meed of sympathy for him. For a minute they set aside their patriotic grievances and only remembered how good their Pharaoh was and how he loved them.

Among them was Pnahesi the Ethiopian, a man upon whom the king had bestowed great honours for his devotion to his Teaching; he had given him in the hills of the desert a tomb more magnificent than that of any other courtier and he called him his friend. Pnahesi was now one of the few who still remained sincerely attached to Akhnaton. He wanted men to venerate his name all over the earth, and the loss of Syria was to him a matter of sorrow not for the sake of Egyptian prestige, but because he had nourished the hope that the king’s Teaching would spread from there to remoter countries. As the Pharaoh was leaving the hall, he followed him and begged to speak to him “Is not the Empire necessary if the name of Aton is to be glorified?” he said. “Temples have been built to Him, and cities consecrated in His honour in the North and in the South. If the land be lost, then what will come of it all?”

But Akhnaton gazed at him with a weary smile. “You too, Pnahesi, have not understood me, though you love me,” he said; “Aton dwells neither in temples nor


in consecrated cities, but in the hearts of those who know Him. You do not know Him, Pnahesi — not even you.” And his face was more sad than ever.

Sorrow was undermining the Pharaoh’s health. His arms and legs and whole body had grown so thin that it was painful to look at him: his bones could be seen through the transparent linen of his garment. His face was so marred that one could hardly recognise him if not for the serene expression of his eyes. His cheek-bones were jutting out. Two deep wrinkles were visible on each side of his mouth. There was so great a change in all his appearance that those who were still attached to him began to fear for his life. Some suspected that his enemies had been trying to kill him by slow poison; others believed his pitiable thinness was the result of a wasting disease.

There was a change in his ways, too, as if he had ceased to belong to this world. His entire attention seemed to be concentrated on something within himself. He hardly spoke, even when urged to do so. To those who asked him why he no longer sat among them and explained his Teaching as he did before, he answered simply: “I have nothing more to say.” Sometimes, he would add with a penetrating look full of infinite sadness — as if his eyes, staring searchingly into his courtiers’


souls, could read there nothing but an idle curiosity.

“Why do you lie to me and say ‘We want to know about the Teaching’? I have given you whatever truth I could express. But you did not want it.”

The troubles in Syria were coming to an end; there was no territory left to be lost. With resignation, Akhnaton heard the last messenger announce to him the fall of his last fortress. It was not the loss of the Empire that saddened him but the world’s indifference to his beautiful Teaching — the negation of all his dreams.

His treacherous vassal, Aziru the Amorite, whom he had summoned to Egypt years ago, appeared at last before him. He was now the master of the whole of Syria. He sailed up the Nile in gaudy apparel and arrived in the sacred City with a large number of retainers. He expected to impress the courtiers. But he was himself dazzled by the splendour of Akhnaton’s palace and amazed at the unearthly detachment with which the king spoke of state affairs as though they no longer concerned him. He wondered how, with such incredible wealth at his disposal, the king of Egypt had done nothing to defend his dominions in Asia. “With so much gold,” he said to himself, “one could have bought the world. And this monarch did not even send a battalion of mercenaries to protect his land.”


Akhnaton bore no grudge against him and recognised his domination in Syria. “Rule over them, since it is your desire and theirs,” be told him, remembering how readily most of the Syrian princes had responded to Aziru’s call and sought his alliance. But as he recalled in his mind the death of Ribaddi, he could not help mentioning it. “You have committed a crime,” he said calmly to the Amorite, controlling his feelings; “I do not desire your death in return; vengeance is the delight of the weak. Yet remember that, as long as I live, the memory of my devoted servant whom you gave away to be tortured and killed will remain painfully vivid, as a wound in my heart.”

But Aziru could not perceive what an amount of suffering there was in the Pharaoh’s words, or if he did, it made no difference to him. He was only glad to go back to Syria as a practically independent ruler, and thought nothing more of his brief interview with the noblest of kings.

As his health was growing feebler day by day, Akhnaton married his eldest daughter, then aged twelve, to a young man of royal blood named Smenkhkara, and proclaimed him co-regent. In ancient Egypt, the eldest daughter of the king was the heiress to the kingdom and the prince whom she wedded ruled by her right.


Smenkhkara, wishing to show his dependence upon his father-in-law and his obligation to him, took, in official documents, the title of “beloved of Akhnaton.”

As for the Pharaoh himself, he left his palace in the City for his summer residence in the southern gardens, and remained practically confined there. He knew that his end was not far away. He spent his last days peacefully. Queen Nefertiti waited upon him. She was perhaps the only one who loved him as much as and even more than before. She had never questioned the divine inspiration of his Teaching, never discussed his actions. She loved him and admired him and to her all what he did or said was perfect. Even after the tragic disappointments through which he had gone, she could not believe that the Truth he had given to the world would be lost for ever. She knew the tenacious hatred of the priests, the cowardice of most of the courtiers, the forgetfulness of the people, and could foresee something of the terrible reaction that was to sweep over Egypt after the king’s death. Still, in her love, she imagined for him, after temporary oblivion, endless centuries of glory in the memory of men.

Akhnaton was too weak to speak much, but he watched her come and go and was happy. As in the early days of their marriage, when they were children, she brought him roses from the flower-beds and fresh lotuses from the ponds, that he might smell them. She


poured out to him a cup of good old wine, to strengthen his spirits. She disposed his cushions nicely, that he might sit up on his couch, and see from the terrace adjoining his room the whole expanse of the gardens, the desert, reddish-yellow like a lion’s mane, and the eastern hills behind which the Sun was rising. She fanned him herself, while he slept, during the hot hours of the day.

The king was not well enough to go and carry on the daily service in the lake-temple, as he once used to do. But an altar was erected to Aton upon one of the terraces of the summer palace and there, as long as he could stand, he offered incense and flowers and prayed in presence of the queen and of one or two intimates, at sunrise and sunset.

But that also he could not do indefinitely. A time came when his ill-health forced him to remain lying in bed. Then, the queen would draw the curtain that hung before the door of his room and let him see the open sky. He did not speak, but his large dark eyes looked at her intently, and he gave her a faint smile that meant: “How well you know all what my heart desires!”

He gazed at the sky for hours, as though forgetting all that was around him. The Sun slowly rose higher and higher and then declined, following his eternal course. Occasionally, a flight of birds with silvery wings sailed through the boundless blue abyss. From the couch where he lay, the king could see neither the gardens


nor the desert, nor the Nile, nor the hills in the distance. His eyes could embrace nothing but the deep blue sky that the Sun filled with his glory. He felt as though his very soul were melting away in the dazzling abyss, becoming one with that infinite expanse of nothingness and light, which was all he could see. Years before, while yet a child, he had felt a similar thrill at the sight of the sky. Perhaps there was nothing more to feel in a man’s life. The dazzling abyss was the visible reflection of that invisible and unnamable Reality which he knew to exist and had striven in vain to express, all his years.

Was that Reality to remain for ever unexpressed? Would the mysterious oneness of heat and light be forgotten, when he passed away? Would the law of love and reason, that he read in heaven, be also forgotten? he thought sometimes, after his long meditations. It seemed as if the clearer his intuition of the supreme truth grew, the more he became aware of the impossibility of expressing it.

One day, as his strength was rapidly declining, he called the queen before dawn.

“I am here,” she said softly, “Do you need anything? Why don’t you sleep? It is night still.” From the open door one could see the dark starry sky, rent in two by the Milky Way.

Akhnaton smiled at his wife. He stretched out his


hand — so thin that it looked already like the hand of a skeleton — and took hers. He knew his end had come.

“To-day, I shall greet His rising for the last time,” he said calmly. “I wish to praise Him standing up. It is night still, but dawn will soon come. I must get ready.” And before she had time to overcome her emotion and give him an answer, he added in a voice in which there was no sadness and no weakness: “My time has come. I shall soon be forgotten. It does not matter. The Sun will continue shining, as beautiful as ever. Through him I have had a glimpse of the Only One.”

Nefertiti’s eyes were full of tears. “You must not think they will forget you,” she said tenderly, as with a loving gesture she helped him to sit up; “how can anybody forget you?”

“But they will,” the king answered, in a tone of gentle detachment. “And what difference does it make? Truth is independent of persons.”

The queen gazed at him, and then at the starry sky. His face and body were so frightfully thin that she shuddered. But there was a happy smile upon the pale lips, and in the eyes that had seen God there was the same peace as in the deep glowing heavens.

“May be, you are right,” she said at last, thoughtfully; “They will curse you and force the world to forget your name. But never, never shall they destroy


the light that you brought from heaven. For centuries the world may live in ignorance, and strife may spread from sea to sea, all the more terrible as time goes on. But one day will come when the Truth you proclaimed will be known once more; and men of unknown countries will look upon you as more than a man.”

She spoke as though a sudden inspiration had possessed her. “You have lost an empire for the sake of Truth,” she continued; “And one day Truth will triumph. As surely as the Sun will rise, I tell you : your Teaching will never die; it is eternal. Even if they did forget you, they would have one day to rediscover it.”

The sky grew paler in the East. “It is time,” the king said; and gathering, in a supreme effort, all the strength and youth he had left, he got up, bathed and dressed. Then he decked the altar with flowers and waited for the Lord of Rays.

The Sun rose in majesty behind the white cliffs of the desert, the barren hills where the king was soon to rest. The warm beams, falling straight upon Akhnaton’s face, poured a new life into him. His eyes drank the divine light. His lips smiled to the Sun as a child to its father. He threw incense into the fire that burnt upon the altar, and as the sweet-scented coils of smoke rose to heaven, he stretched out his hands and intoned the hymn:


Glorious is Thy rising in the East,
Living Aton, Lord and beginning of Life
. . .

He sang the beauty of the Sun, the joy of life in every man, beast and bird, the miracle of fertility . . . For months he had not shown such youthful enthusiasm. Then, in a flash, he remembered the agony he had suffered; the ruin of his body; the indifference of men to his message. But what of it all? He knew his God and that was enough. And one person at least had put in him all her confidence and made his knowledge hers through love of him.

With joy, as though he could already behold the invisible Soul of the Sun beyond the gates of eternity, he said, raising his hands to the East for the last time:

Thou, Lord, art in my heart,
And no one knoweth Thee save I, Thy Son,
To whom Thou hast given understanding of Thy Power.

. . .
When Thou laidest the foundations of the earth,
Thou didst reveal Thy will to Thy Son, who came forth from Thy substance,
And to Thy beloved daughter, Nefertiti,
Living and young for ever
. . .

And, having spent his strength, he sat, exhausted,


upon the steps of the altar. The queen rushed to him. Lifting his eyes, he saw her once more dimly, as through a veil. Then he let his head drop upon her lap, and expired peacefully. The Sun embraced him for the last time. And the queen softly closed his eyes. He was only twenty-nine years old.

The Pharaoh’s body, once embalmed, was wrapped in double sheets of pure gold and buried in the sepulchre prepared for him in the hills of the desert. At the foot of the coffin, inlaid with precious stones, was inscribed a prayer he had composed himself in adoration of the God for Whom he had lost everything:

I breathe the sweet breath which comes forth from Thy mouth. I behold Thy beauty every day. It is my desire that I may hear Thy sweet voice, even in the north wind, that my limbs may be rejuvenated with life through love of Thee. Give me Thy hands, holding Thy spirit, that I may receive it and live by it. Call Thou upon my name unto eternity, and it shall never fail.

On the top of the coffin, the name and titles of the king shone in bright hieroglyphics:

The beautiful Prince, the Chosen-one of the Sun, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands, Akhnaton, the beautiful Child of the living Aton, whose name shall live for ever and ever.