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There can be little doubt that, as time passed on, and as hard facts forced themselves upon him, Akhnaton became more and more aware of the difficulty of the task he had chosen. The strongly organised opposition of the priests that he never succeeded in breaking,1 and above all the indifference which he detected, under a show of courteous sympathy or even of praise, in the greater number of those upon whom he had relied, taught him that there was nothing to expect from persuasion. And it seems impossible for him not to have understood, with his keen intelligence, that the only way to lasting religious domination left to him was that of immediate violence.

The common people of Egypt — like the common people of all countries in all times — were to be led like a flock of sheep. They would listen to the priests as long as there were priests to be listened to. Akhnaton knew it. The one and only way to put an end to the influence of Amon’s servants upon the ignorant folk was to have them exterminated. But, as we have already seen, the king did nothing of the kind. He was content to confiscate the scandalous wealth of the priests; and he let their persons go uninjured. As for the educated and well-to-do Egyptians, who knew what the greatness of Egypt and her empire meant to them in riches and prestige, their permanent adherence to the new Teaching depended largely upon its value as a national creed. There are reasons to believe that even such a man as Merira, the High-priest of Aton, on whom the king had founded great hopes, failed to stand by his Master when he realised that the Religion of the Disk was costing Egypt her empire. Akhnaton knew that also. And a time must have come when he beheld, with desperate lucidity, the choice set before him:

1 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 126.


either to wage war upon Aziru and his allies, to re-assert the right of Egypt to be the leading nation, and to win for himself, in return, the triumph of the cult of Aton; or else, to continue following the path he had taken, and to end in disaster, in anathema, and finally in oblivion.

* * *

The religious success that the Pharaoh could contemplate as the reward of a compromise would surely seem small to us, compared with that staggering domination of more than half the globe that we have tried to describe in the preceding chapter. It was, however, no less impressing to him who considered its possibility. To Akhnaton, the country that contained the unknown sources of the Nile, and the mysterious lands that lay beyond the pale of Hatti, of barbaric Assyria and of distant Elam, may have seemed to be the limits of the earth. But knowing, as he certainly did, what a force Egypt represented in the midst of the surrounding nations, he must have clearly realised that, if successful at home, his religion would have spread even to the farthermost regions that he could imagine. And the triumph which he thus anticipated must have appeared to him as universal. It was the triumph of reason, the triumph of truth; the beginning of a kindlier and more beautiful world. It was the fulfilment of his lifelong struggle, which had so far seemed fruitless; the magnificent reward that would outweigh for all times to come the bitterness of the few years in which he had stood alone, misunderstood or hated — it was his triumph.

If we recall the foundation of Akhetaton, the new capital of Egypt, in the midst of solemn festivities, it cannot but strike us that, once at least in his short career, Akhnaton had desired success. An inscription, carved out on one of the boundary-stones of the City, and relating to the king’s burial, reflects his joyous hopes. “And there shall be made for me a sepulchre in the Eastern hills,” runs the writing; “my burial shall be made there in the multitude of jubilees that Aton, my Father, hath ordained for me, and the burial


of the queen shall be made there in that multitude of years.” Obviously, he then visualised the life that spread before him, as a long succession of radiant years in which the truth that he felt so deeply would triumph through him. He had the self-confidence of youth, the unhesitating optimism of intense desire allied to boundless power. It was his will to change the face of things; he had no doubt that he would do so. And he was too human not to feel the thrill of coming glory.

And now, that glory was at hand, if he so wished. The words inscribed upon stone at his command, ten years before, could still be true. At the cost of a slight compromise — so slight that nobody would ever find it out — his name, otherwise destined to be cursed and to perish, could still be honoured “in a multitude of jubilees,” not during his lifetime (his health was ruined, and he knew his end was near), but during the countless centuries the world had yet to live. If he so wished, the future of mankind could still be brightened by his light, and marked with his sign.

The few sincere disciples he still retained at court — with probably the admirable exception of his consort — were impatient to hear him utter the word that implied compromise and success; to hear him give the order to save the empire.

Why then did Akhnaton remain silent?

* * *

Surely the young Pharaoh did not thrust aside the responsibilities of his position out of sheer carelessness, as some of his malevolent modern detractors have tried to insinuate. To suppose such a thing would be to ignore the unquestionable seriousness of his whole life.

As we have said, there seems to have been, at the back of Akhnaton’s attitude towards the Syrian events, an innate repulsion for bloodshed. The idea of war, like that of persecution, was repugnant to his sensitive nature. The brutalities inherent to any punitive expedition seemed to him too irredeemably ugly even to be tolerated as a necessary evil.


But it would not be doing full justice to his memory to look upon the king of Egypt as the Bronze Age equivalent of our modern pacifists. Akhnaton was neither a Christian nor a democrat. His religion was, as we have seen, before all, an aesthetic one. His morality sprang from his all-pervading sense of beauty. His conscientious objection to war was not the product of any narrow, uncritical love confined to the human species, but the logical consequence of his serene understanding of universal harmony. He desired to see the behaviour of intelligent beings (and especially his own) reflect, as far as possible, the beautiful inner order of the Cosmos. And he hated all forms of cruelty — the worst conceivable expressions of moral ugliness.

And the instance of history would tend to point out that, among these, there were some that shocked him more than war did. For it may be remembered that, in his new City consecrated to Aton, he built shrines to the memory of his ancestors, Amenhotep the Second and Thotmose the Third, who were among the foremost warriors of the ancient world, and that he did, at least once — after the fall of Simyra — allow an Egyptian officer to go to Ribaddi’s rescue, with a small force of mercenaries. And, a little later, in the long indignant letter which he addressed to Aziru after Ribaddi’s tragic death, he threatened his treacherous vassal in words that show clearly enough that he was perfectly conscious of his rights as an imperial sovereign and that, whatever his distaste for violence, he was the last man to consider it sinful to chastise a scoundrel and reaffirm the dictates of justice. “If thou, for any cause, wishest to do evil,” says he to the Amorite, “or if thou even settest words of evil in thy heart, then wilt thou die, together with thy family, by the axe of the king thy Lord.”1

On the other hand, in glowing contrast with the annals of other Pharaohs and of kings of various countries, before and after him, there has not yet been found, among all the documents of Akhnaton’s reign, a single record of chase, as we remarked in a previous chapter. And it may be inferred

1 Letter K. 162, quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), pp. 371-372.


that he condemned that cruel sport far more uncompromisingly than he did the more gallant fighting of man against man — an assumption which fits well with all that we know of the king through his hymns.

We therefore think it would be a mistake to suppose that the sole cause of his inaction in the Syrian affair was Akhnaton’s belief in a creed condemning war indiscriminately. Had it been so, such a consistent man as he was would never have allowed Pakhura to go north with his soldiers; nor would he, in the only letter of his which we possess, have spoken as a monarch instead of speaking as a preacher. It is much more probable that Akhnaton’s attitude to war was a negative one; an attitude of non-interest, rather than one of systematic opposition.

The Founder of the Religion of the Disk seems to have seen both sides of the problem of violence. All atrocities disgusted him, whatever were the “higher motives” that urged men to commit them. And he was aware — as the most intelligent among our modern “conscientious objectors” — that war leads nowhere in the long run. He saw things, not from a national point of view, not even from a human point of view, but from that of Cosmic reality. And therefore it mattered little to him whether Egypt had an empire or not. He was not prepared to encourage the brutalities which he repudiated in his heart, just for the sake of securing for his people the undisturbed possession of Syria’s resources. It was his concern for Ribaddi, whom he personally loved, not the lust for territorial greatness, that urged him once to permit help to be sent to him, and another time to write to his murderer with the sternness of a judge. But he knew all the time that the horrors of war were unavoidable as long as man did not change his heart. And his life-long struggle against superstition, greed and deceit had made him aware that such a change is not easy, perhaps even not possible on a broad scale — a thing which our modern pacifists too often forget. He knew that, with all the power inherited from generations of king-gods, he could do nothing to stop the fighting going on within his realm. The only reasonable course left to him was indeed to keep himself aloof from it,


serene and alone as he had always been. And that is precisely what he did.

* * *

But what astonishes the modern man perhaps more than Akhnaton’s total absence of “imperialism” is his apparent indifference to the success of his religion, which largely depended, as he knew, upon his own prestige as a “strong” monarch, in the worldly sense. If he so loved his faithful servant, Ribaddi, as to allow, at least once, some troops to be sent to his rescue (and that, in spite of his personal distaste for war) then, how did he not consider it worth while despatching more substantial help to all his loyal vassals, including Ribaddi, and, if necessary, marching into Syria himself, if not to defend the interests of Egypt, at least to secure, through the glamour of victory, the adherence of Egypt to his Teaching?

The only answer is that he probably cared less for the success of his Teaching than for its purity. And he knew that success and purity seldom go together. He was not over-impressed by numbers, as lesser men often are. He knew their futility in the long run. What he wanted was that those who would “hearken to his Teaching” should mould their lives upon it — “live in truth,” as he did. And experience had made him aware that very few were able to do so.

When, followed by more than eighty thousand people,1 he had left Thebes and laid the foundations of his new capital, he may have for a time rejoiced at the idea of his Teaching spreading to the limits of his dominions and beyond. If not, one could hardly explain why he took the trouble of founding at least two other centres of rational Sun-worship, one at each end of his vast empire. But at the time the Syrian rebellion had reached its climax, Akhnaton had probably become conscious of the uselessness of all efforts to make his religion a success among men, if it was to remain as beautiful and as rational as he had conceived it. He knew that, in spite of all the care he had taken to make it accessible

1 Arthur Weigall: Short History of Ancient Egypt (Edit. 1934), pp. 149-150.


to the most intelligent of his courtiers, he had no true disciple, except perhaps his loving consort. And there is a note of pessimism in the well-known verse of the hymn to Aton: “There is none who knoweth Thee, save Thy Son, Nefer-kheperu-ra Ua-en-ra. . . .” It expresses, no doubt, as we have said before, the certitude that God, or the Supreme Reality, has no meaning but for the individual soul who feels itself identical with Him, in its essence. But it may equally well be taken as Akhnaton’s sad admission, after years of fruitless efforts, that truth of the nature of that which he possessed is uncommunicable, and that those who abide in it shall always remain alone.

In that case, what was the value of worldly success? Of name? Of fame? Even of the recognised spiritual leadership of half the globe or more? It was as nothing.

Akhnaton knew that by keeping his empire whole he could soon propagate his religion as far as the remotest countries he could think of. But he could also foresee that the cult that would perhaps, one day, unite those distant lands in the glorification of his name would no longer be the religion of Life in truth as he had conceived it, and taught it, and lived it — pure, rational, unstained by fear or cruelty, daily drawing its inspiration from the joy of the rising Sun. No. It would perhaps be something better than what men had called “religion” until then; it would perhaps even be something better than what the majority of mankind would ever accept, in the future, as a guide to a higher life. But it would never be, on a broad scale, that glorious worship he had dreamt of in his days of youthful hopes — the true Religion of the Disk.

It was certainly no use silencing his personal disgust for bloodshed, and compromising with his principles, merely to magnify, in space and time, the disappointing triumph he had already experienced during his short career. If the elite of Egypt had not really accepted his Teaching, what would the empire at large and the nations beyond the empire make of it, even if one day they could be brought to pay an outward homage to it? What would most men of the future ages make of it, when in their hearts they probably would not feel its


truth; when they would not understand it, not love it, not want it? Akhnaton saw clearly that his religious leadership, when extended to millions, would amount to nothing but the gradual reinstalment of superstition, under the cover of his name — the degradation of his dearest dreams. And he refused to give his sanction to it. We have seen already that he had never tried to spread his lofty cult among the commoners of Egypt, knowing that it would doubtless have been wasted upon them. And one may safely believe that, even if he could have imagined, as we do now, the possibility of the Religion of the Disk becoming one day the official faith of such faraway continents as America and Australia, at the cost of a compromise that could seem trifling, he still would not have stirred his little finger to promote such a success. The disappointment of triumph on a small scale and for a few brief years was enough.

* * *

We should say more. A compromise with what appeared to him as ugly or irrational was, in Akhnaton’s estimation, nothing but a lie in disguise, and could therefore never be overlooked as a trifle. The young Pharaoh understood more vividly than any man the joy of all creatures to live and see the beauty of the Sun. If he could do nothing to stop the bloodshed in Syria, at least he would do nothing to encourage it. (Perhaps even the threat he formulated in his letter to Aziru was but a verbal intimidation, destined to make the Amorite give up his treacherous intrigues.)

As we have already remarked, Akhnaton does not seem to have shared the contempt affected by some of our contemporaries for all conquerors. But he knew how different the implications of his own Teaching were from those of the creed of his ancestors, who worshipped national gods. For them, to glory in their conquests had been natural. But for him, to be responsible for a war would have been to lie to himself. And neither the repeated warnings of his governors that his empire was going to ruin if he did not intervene speedily, nor the tears of the men of faraway Tunip, who


still blessed his name in their distress, nor the more lofty consideration that victory would extend far and wide the sway of his religion of love and reason, could move him to subscribe to such a lie. Akhnaton was not one of those who justify the use of any effective means provided they forward a “higher end.” In his eyes, the mere fact of introducing falsehood into his own life would have killed for ever the spirit of the Religion of the Disk. It was better to sacrifice, then and there, its chances of worldly domination. In consequence, no answer came to the call of the loyal vassals of Egypt in Syria and Canaan. And, in the words of Abdikhipa, governor of Jerusalem, “all the lands of the king” were actually lost.

* * *

From the moment Akhnaton refused to bend his uncompromising logic to the exigencies of ordinary colonial policy, the fate of his beautiful Sun-worship, at least as a State-religion, was sealed. No later compromise could henceforth be introduced, by subtle casuistry, to make it “fit in” with the accepted conceptions of national grandeur, or with the accepted opinion that any course of action is good which leads to the attainment of a “higher goal.” The Founder of the Religion of the Disk — unlike that of more than one other religion — had once and for all barred the possibility of such convenient adjustments, by the bold example of his own solution of the problem of religion and State. He had made it clear that, to him, there was no higher goal than that of “life in truth,” which is another word for individual perfection.

It is to the ideal of individual perfection that he sacrificed both his existing empire and his possible spiritual domination over a still much greater area of the globe.

There are portraits of him which show us a thin, sickly face, with deep wrinkles each side of the mouth, and bones jutting out: the face of a young man worn out by sorrow and possibly also by some wasting disease. These portraits bear little resemblance to those of his early youth, except for the


unbending determination that can be read in the king’s features. Given every allowance for the exaggerations and distortions that seem to have been part of the “style” of several artists of the court, there can be no doubt that they reveal to us something of the appearance of their royal model at some stage of his life, probably at the last stage. If so, they help us to some extent to visualise, so as to say, Akhnaton’s heroic stand to the bitter end.

He was still very young — at an age when most great men have not yet begun to do the work for which they are born; but he was a physical wreck, and conscious that his end was drawing nigh. He had no son to succeed him; no disciple capable of continuing his work. He had married his eldest daughter, the heiress to the kingdom, aged twelve, to a young man of royal blood, Smenkhkara, who was devoted to him and to his cause, and whom he was soon to associate to the throne. Out of reverence and gratitude, Smenkhkara had taken, in official documents, the title of “beloved of Akhnaton.” But the king knew that, with all his good intentions, that prince would not for long be able to postpone the fierce reaction that was to break out. He knew that the dispossessed priests of Amon were gathering more and more strength as news of national disaster rapidly spread throughout Egypt. He knew that, in the very near future, the Religion of the Disk would be swept out of the land, perhaps never to be revived again anywhere in any age. He knew that the uncommunicable truth he had cherished all his life would never again be made to inspire the conduct of a State. And he had no grounds to imagine that the scientific principles that underlay his Teaching — and that he had grasped intuitively — would receive, in three thousand three hundred years to come, an illuminating demonstration, and become the basis of what is to us modern science. To him it must have seemed as if his whole mission had been a complete failure.

Yet he knew that his Teaching was true, and that truth cannot be destroyed. His name might be forgotten, but the fundamentals of the religion of order and love which he had discovered within the Sun and within himself would endure


for ever. Sooner or later, the human mind would have to rediscover them. And if one day some accident should bring his Teaching to light again, then, at least, it would be unmarred by any practical compromise. And the most enlightened and the best of men would be able to love it without reservation. One day, perhaps, in many, many years to come, a few among the wise, truthful, and strong would revere him precisely for his refusal to tamper with truth. The unknown devotion of one of those few would be enough to outweigh the loss of an empire, the failure of a life of struggle, and millenniums of oblivion.

And even if those one or two obscure disciples were never to be born; if the Teaching for the sake of which he had lost everything were never to bear fruit, even in the heart of a single man; if the world to come would always listen to the priests of its national gods and never to him, the Priest of the universal Sun — the One real God — if he, Akhnaton, were to remain for ever a useless dreamer, not even dangerous enough to provoke the wrath of more than a few fanatics, then what of it all?

The Sun would nevertheless continue to follow, day after day, His glorious course, and it would still be true that “breath of life is to see His beams.” Light and heat, and the spark that produces life, would still be the manifestations of the One Energy — the Soul of the Sun; rhythm would still remain the principle of the Universe, whether man cared to know it or not. Akhnaton’s Teaching would still be true, and his life a thing of beauty for ever. Had the king of Egypt, in a moment of weakness, sacrificed the logic of his being to the lure of success, the future of mankind would perhaps have been, as we have seen, less gloomy, on the whole, than it actually was. But Akhnaton’s personal history — an indestructible fact in the infinity of time, whether remembered or not — would not have been that flash of beauty which it is. The world would have been poorer of one perfect Individual.

And that was enough to make any loss worth while. His contemporary Egyptians — even many of those who professed to be his disciples — seem to have preferred his empire


to himself. But we prefer him to all the empires of the earth. And provided they be sufficiently sensitive to the real value of man, which lies in the individual, the men of ages to come will feel as we do.

* * *

Akhnaton died in the twenty-ninth year of his age which was the eighteenth year of his reign. We know nothing of his last days or of the circumstances of his death. We can only try to imagine them. We can think of him gradually thrusting aside the burden of government after the elevation of Smenkhkara to the rank of co-regent, and living in retirement in his summer-house, in the midst of the beautiful gardens that lay to the south of his City. Nefertiti, who was to survive him, waited upon him till the end. From his sickbed, Akhnaton gazed at the deep blue sky — light and peace — and his heart was happy. We like to imagine his dying in beauty, as he had lived, in a last effort to lift his enfeebled hands in praise to the rising Sun.1

* * *

His lofty religion was swept out of Egypt.

After the ephemeral reign of Smenkhkara, the priests of Amon regained great power. Akhnaton’s second daughter, Makitaton, had died while yet a child, during her father’s lifetime. The priests now forced his third daughter to change her name from Ankhsenpaton to Ankhsenpamon and to marry an insignificant young noble, Tutankhaton, renamed

1 Profane history does not disclose whether Akhnaton had a natural death, or a violent one at the hands of the Amon priesthood. Rosicrucian (AMORC) tradition, however, does relate the incident of his transition. We quote in part from the archives of the Order in this regard: “. . . The untimely departure of . . . Beloved Past Master Amenhotep IV (Akhnaton) whose transition occurred on July 24, 1350, B.C. (based on the current calendar) . . . on the memorable day of his transition he forsook all earthly things and found joy in the Holy Sanctum adjoining his bed chamber in his palace. Here in the midst of meditation he was inspired to evoke the law of. . . . Raising both his hands in meditation to . . . he pronounced the lost word. Then as peace and quietness came to his hungry soul, he knelt in prayer. . . . In this position he finally vowed his obligations to God and to all his fellow men who preceded him for the knowledge they had given to the world, and then raised both arms to the Cosmic that it might reach down and raise him to heights sublime.”


Tutankhamen, whom they placed upon the throne and used as a puppet. In the name of Tutankhamen, the local gods were definitely restored. The court returned to Thebes. . . .

Akhnaton’s City was pulled down stone by stone, and ruined so completely that men forgot where it had once stood. His body, torn from the tomb in the Eastern hills where he had desired to rest, was reburied in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings, near Thebes. His name was effaced from the monuments, from his own coffin — even from the ribbons of gold foil that encircled his mummy, so that his soul, henceforth anonymous and deprived of the customary prayers and offerings, might wander for ever in hunger and agony.

In the pride of their recent triumph, the priests composed the exultant hymn of hate now preserved upon an ostrakon in the British Museum:

“Thou findest him who transgresses against thee;
Woe to him who assails thee!
Thy city endures,
but he who assailed thee falls.
The sun of him who knows thee not goes down, O Amon!
But as for him who knows thee, he shines.
The abode of him who assailed thee is in darkness;
but the rest of the earth is in light.
Whoever puts thee in his heart, O Amon,
Lo, his sun dawns.”1

And the world was once more, apparently at least, as though Akhnaton had never been born.

1 “. . . Little more than a howl of savage joy at the downfall of Akhnaton and all his works.” — J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 398.