Theatre Review: The Rover

 


Photo credit: Zabowski via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

The Rover by Aphra Behn; Directed by Eamon Flack

Cast: Gareth Davies, Andre de Vanny, Taylor Ferguson, Leon Ford, Nathan Lovejoy, Elizabeth Nabben, Toby Schmitz, Nikki Shiels, Kiruna Stamell, Megan Wilding

Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, until August 6

I was so looking forward to seeing this play, to seeing Aphra Behn psyche on stage. I’d never seen her work brought to life. This was going to be my first time.

The show was fun, funny, exhuberent, raunchy and altogether, very, very big! It was set in a Naples carnivale-mardi gras and the look and tempo of the performance was of a circus side-show – excitement and otherness was paraded and celebrated. There was lots of physical stage business, lots of sight gags and buffoonery. Their comic timing was impeccable. It seems like every comic device was employed to get a laugh – and received it. The cast played it up to the audience on every opportunity. The way that the sight gags were unravelled- or in the case of Gareth Davies, disrobed – was luxiourously allowed to develop and grow and build mirth with each prolonging gesture. In their silence and indulgence in each mime-like, clownish nuance (or drunken slip and crawl – in the case of Toby Schmitz’s beleaguered attempt to climb his courtesan’s window) there was no holding back – no skimping on the possibility to draw out the laughter. Megan Wilding, as Lucetta and Moretta was masterful in the way she played the audience – cajoling them with unencumbered silence, coyly approaching her lover, pulling faces, hammering obscenity or drawing out laughs with each puff of her cigarette. Beholdng such a spectacle was marvelling at their talents. Yet where was Aphra Behn in all of this business?

But she was there, you may point out. Just there, at the beginning of the play, an entr’acte all her own – her own soliliquy – her defence of her playwrighting and female playwrights. You may want to point out that Aphra Behn’s work is not so well known as Shakespeare’s and that the english used is obscure at times, so that following a verbose 350 year old play is aided by horsing around and bucking off the words. The problem is that in telling a story on the stage the physical metaphor that’s presented by the actors has to be felt to be understood. This metaphor was too often laid aside to keep its momentum as an emotional thread.

So, the first act was a joy ride, perhaps too much of one, as the second act paid the price for frittering away the opportunity to build the emotional connections between the lusty and the love-lorn. The first act down-played the script and up-played the physicality. There wasn’t enough attention to the script to build the empathy needed to allow the second act to reach its denouement plausibly. Toby Schmitz’s Willmore is more a larrikin than a cad who actually needs to fall in love to presumeably mend his roving ways and marry Helena (Taylor Ferguson).

Where the playwright makes her voice heard directly – via Angellica Bianca (Nikki Shiels) the noise and colour of the carnivale is muted by the veracity of Nikki Shiels’ performance driving home her point. Exotic, sensual, pitiable, garboesque, Nikki Shiels’ gave the story heart and intellect. We can feel for Bianca but in the convolutions of the storyline involving Don Pedro, Don Antonio, Belvile, Florinda, Willmore and Hellena, the suspense and subsequent release is missing.

With the number of jaunts into carnivale mode there was always the danger of big acting becoming ham acting. Big and ham are two differnt kinds of deliveries that look identical in performace photos but deliver different results in the auditorium. Foreign accents can blur the distinction too. Clowning and miming require big acting. Interject a steady stream of laughter and minimise the script, and big could devolve into ham. Ham doesn’t matter in the style of jokes being built – it probably aided them –  but it didn’t aid empathy to be drawn on in the second act.

The use of asides to explain obscure terms was a brilliant stroke and worked well with the carnivale atmosphere and the use of the whole auditorium as a performance space. The audience connected with the show. It was a lot of fun, a really good night out. The academic in me was left a little cheated but nothing too serious.

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Aphra Behn at the Belvoir!

Behn, Behn, Behn, Behn,  Behn . . .BeeeeeeeehhhN! I’m so excited! Aphra Behn! Aphra Behn! Aphra Behn at the Belvoir St Theatre! What a treat! Oohhh  . . . Behn! Behn! Behn! Behn! Aphra Behn . . . aaah!

What? What was that? Who/what is Aphra Behn? You don’t know? Okay, so if you’re a feminist, litterati you probably could fill me in, but if you’re not there’s a big possibility that you have no idea what or who I’m going on about. No, Aphra Behn is not an anti-frizz hair care product. She was a highly successful playwright of the English Restoration period – late 17th century. Touted as the first female playwright she claimed that her scandalous plays wouldn’t bat an eyelid if their writer were a man.

The Rover

Poet, prisoner, debtor, spy, wife, novelist, lesbian, feminist, playwright – she wore all of these hats. She was a successful female playwright who owned her works as a female at a time when writing for the professional theatre was new and old in London and definitely not a career choice for polite women. Why new and old? Obviously formal theatre productions in professional playhouses had been performed in London from the mid-late 1500s. Shakespeare’s most productive period was in the 1590s. But with the advent of the civil war the playhouses were closed down in 1642 and remained so during the Interegnum. Playacting was restricted to private performances. With the restoration of the monarchy came the restoration of the theatres in the 1660s.

This was perhaps a unique time when incumbent playwrights didn’t have an exclusive attraction to playing companies. A time where London had two professioanl theatres and, as old, a populace with a voracious appetite for plays – new plays. Plays that spoke to a people who had been violently divided and reunited. It was a time of peace and a time of renewel. Women graced the professional stage for the first time, replacing the boy actors of old. The Revenge tragedies so popular before the war would no longer dominate the programmes. Comedy of manners reigned and Aphra Behn wore the crown.

Aphra Behn’s works were very popular. She thinly veiled commentary on her times with allegory. Audiences saw through it, as was her intent, and loved it. Her Rover is playing at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre from July 1. Set in Naples at a time of carnivale, the Rover pits a player-cavalier against the woman who may serve him his comeuppance, a nun. Sounds Like fun? Director Eamon Flack promises a wild and high energy interpretation. He did a sparkling job on Twelfth Night last year. I can’t wait to see Behn’s battle of the sexes through his vision. The production stars Toby Schmitz and Nikki Shiels. I’m sure its going to be a treat.

Visit the Belvoir St website page for The Rover here.

 

Further Reading

Aphra Behn – Poet

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/aphra-behn

Aphra Behn on Project Gutenberg

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21339

Hartnol, Phyllis, The Theatre: A Concise History, Revised Edition, Thames and Hudson, 1968, 1985, Chapter 6:The English Restoration Theatre.

 

Photo Credit – The Rover

Photo credit: Zabowski via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Interview: Dominic Perry, History of Egypt podcast 

Temple of Rameses II
Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 90M Views via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

I feel thoroughly spoilt. Dominic Perry of the History of Egypt podcast has allowed me to interview him. Dominic took on the herculean task of presenting the history of Ancient Egypt, reign by reign beginning with the Old Kingdom. I love his podcast. Wonderous but never onerous he delves into religion, mythology, politics, daily life, literature. . .  Literature! I particularly enjoy his readings of translations of ancient texts (Hatshepsut – very dramatic). He includes archaeological updates from the field and gives his take on it all. And then there are accompanying visuals on his website! For my recent series of posts where I have attempted to recreate a cloth Nemes crown, I have leant heavily on his podcasts to get a handle on who the ancient Egyptians were and how they would approach things. Here he answers my questions on Egypt, digs, rituals, theatre, Oedipus and Akhenaten. Enjoy.

 

  1. What first fascinated you about Ancient Egypt?

I got into it as a child, and at first I have to admit it was mostly the gold and the treasure. Over time I became more and more fascinated by the idea of the pharaohs – what they represented, how they lived, what they wore etc. Then finally I became absorbed in finding the little details of their lives – particularly the economic aspect; how people lived and organised themselves, what they had to do to make sure their community functioned properly. It’s been an evolving series of interests!

  1. Do you ever get nervous going on Egyptian digs?

Sure! I’m not a natural traveller – I like home and my creature comforts. But it’s important to overcome that internal desire, in order to do something special. It’s a rare opportunity to get paid to dig up a long-dead civilization, so I just sort of “suck it up” and get stuck in to the work. In terms of safety there’s never been a problem – Egypt and Sudan are a lot safer and friendlier than people realise.

  1. What has been the most surprising thing that you’ve seen come out of the ground?

When I was excavating a Roman-era wall that had been built over an old Egyptian temple we unexpectedly found a pharaonic-era statue that had been used as part of the masonry. This whole torso of an ancient pharaoh suddenly showed up among the bricks. That was definitely a surreal moment.

  1. The Festival of Drunkenness seems like a showy event. Do you think that ancient Egyptian rituals ever crossed over the boundary of ritual into theatre?

Yes. Egyptian festivals and rituals seem to have had pseudo-theatrical “re-enactments” of legendary events. Osiris’ death became a big one; the battle between Horus and Seth; the rampage of Hathor and her slaughter of mankind. These were important stories in the heritage of the ancients, and they were constantly reviving and renewing them to keep the memory alive. I often think of Japanese Noh-theatre as an analogy – legendary figures and supernatural beings interacting with the human world, and making a grand show of it. The Egyptians may have done something similar, but in a more religiously formal context. Over time that probably developed into something we would recognise as a theatre-esque “performance piece.”

  1. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was a King of Thebes (Greece) who killed his father and married his mother. Do you think that this story may have had Egyptian origins?

Anything is possible, especially when Greek writers like Herodotos were fascinated by Egyptian history and culture

Of course you’re thinking of the pharaohs’ habit of marrying sisters or cousins. That certainly happened, but we’re still not certain of the role these sister-wives played – were they symbolic unions (platonic marriages)? Or did they consummate them? Our moral sensitivity would have us lean to the platonic end; but there must have been some incest going on occasionally. It’s a big question, and it can have a big impact on how you view their morality.

  1. It was accepted for Egyptian kings to marry their daughters. Was there ever a case where the succession passed down via an Egyptian Sister/Daughter of the king marrying her son? Do you think that would that be considered taboo?

Not taboo, but it would be unnecessary. The legitimacy of the line appears to have been carried by the females (though there is debate on that). If a King died without heir, but his sister or daughter had a son, that son would be a perfectly acceptable heir. Queen Khenty-kaus I (about 2450 BCE) was the sister of King Menkaure, and when he died without heir she seems to have put her son Shepseskaf on the throne, ruling as a regent on his behalf.

  1. With your current podcasts set in the New Kingdom, I am eagerly awaiting your take on Akhenaten. Was he a perspicacious, pious profit or more of a profiteering, propagandising politician?

Tough question! He was certainly a megalomaniac, but he doesn’t seem to have been a particularly adept politician – he alienated a great many of his subjects, and built an unsustainable legacy that was expunged after his death. As for his faith…I think he was a true believer in his religion – the kicker is determining exactly what his religion represented? Was Akhenaten worshipping a separate, all-powerful god, or was he worshipping a deified form of his father (the incredibly vain and grandiose Amunhotep III)? A lot hinges on how you interpret the god Aten, and what he represents.

If I can give a (spoiler!) glimpse at my take on Akhenaten I would describe him as a visionary, but a visionary unable to compromise enough to make his dream a reality. I think his religious beliefs became more extreme the more he felt he was being challenged. Akhenaten was not necessarily fit to be a king; he was either unprepared or unsuited to the role, which required a lot more compromise than we might expect. He was a remarkable man, but not always for the right reasons.

Thanks for having me!

Find the History of Egypt Podcast on iTunes, your favourite podcast platform, and at http://egyptianhistorypodcast.com/

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Status

Aliens , Ghosts and Vanushings is a wonderful book by the talented and fun-loving tweens author, Stella Tarakson. She looks at creepy, spooky, reality-pushed stories that have passed into Australian folklore. She presents these stories that are so beloved you just want them to be true in a manner that suggests they are and then gives the other-hand, scientific-historic explanation as well. It’s up to the reader to decide what they will accept.


There’s the Westall High School UFO sighting where 200 witnesses saw a UFO land and take off in a field near the school; the apparent discovery of a massive vein of gold outside Alice Springs in Lassester’s Reef and the location’s subsequent loss; bunyips and drop bears and many, many more curiosities.

The UFO story I find most convincing was caught on radar in 1954 and remains unexplained -the Sea Fury Incident. The disappearance of Harold Holt and Azaria Chamberlain are in there too.


My favourite story by far is the Princess Theatre ghost. She tells the nice side of the story. The story that won’t frighten away theatre-goers from attending the theatre nor actors and crew from working there. It’s a little scarier than that I found out when I was a prop girl on the Phantom of the Opera many years ago.

Stella Tarakson will be doing a book signing at the Berkelouw in Cronulla Mall this Saturday at 1 pm. A great time to pick up a copy, meet the author and get your copy signed.

Gold Rods Low on Lappets, Lapis Locks and Lapidary Allusions . . . King Khafre!

khafre

King Khafre – Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty c.2570BC

Who said nothing ever changed in Ancient Egypt? The Nemes Crown did, or so a comparison of these two images suggest.

king tut

Death Mask- New Kingdom 18th Dynasty c.1345BCE

I love King Khafre’s Nemes Crown, it seems to answer my question of bald pate or milliners form? It is very different to Tutankhamun’s. Tutankhamun’s crown looks like it should be made in gold, Khafre’s courts linen. Why? Well it appears that the milliner’s form is exposed to view, above his pate, scaffolding the linen. Then low down,exposed metal rods of likely gold weigh down and set the linen lappets in stiff perpendicular lines against his face.

“Appears” to support my idea of using a form to give the iconic shape to the crown. I would so love this to be the case. The problem is that I haven’t seen the statue in real life nor have I read an art historian’s appraisal of it. Are the four vertical lines ascending from the crown over Khafre’s head the exposed form holding the linen on or are they the remains of a uraeus that hasn’t stood the test of time? The missing portions of his left leg and arm have added a deflating overtone to my hypothesis – quite possibly the uraeus has broken off. But if so, did it really break off so cleanly, with no swirls of its serpentine stance?

If you humour me my hypothesis I’d like to suggest that perhaps this early version of the Nemes Crown was made of linen dyed the blue of lapis. It was then hooked onto a metal form that descended over his forehead. The linen would represent his hair in a very stylised manner. The king would then live up to traditional propaganda that he had hair of lapis lazuli. 

Where would the Ancient Egyptians have gotten dye that colour? Pulverised lapis lazuli perhaps? Could the sanded down grains be pulverised and mixed with a medium that would adhere to linen? Could they? Just a suggestion – an uneducated guess.

If those early Nemes crowns were of linen then perhaps the king didn’t have a bald head but wore his crown over his long locks as in this earlier statue of King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty. His pointy lappets cover his hair. In the Old Kingdom there was an office in the royal household for the Royal Hairdresser. Has my impression that Egyptain pharaohs were bald descended on me via the bald Yul Brynner playing Rameses? If later kings of Egypt had hair it doesn’t seem to have been depicted in their extant art. 

Djoser’s Nemes crown is interesting in that it doesn’t sport a uraeus but does have a striped pattern over his forehead. Feint horizontal lines can be discerned moving across the lower lappets. Both Djoser and Khafre’s crowns appear bereft of the uraeus. Did they not wear them with this crown in the Old Kingdom? Could they not attach such heavy ornaments to the linen body of the crown?

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab

Statue of Djoser in the Serdab, 3rd Dynasty, c.2575 BCE

I believe that the Nemes Crown kept evolving – almost as slowly as evolution. By the time of the New Kingdom, not only were the Nemes Crowns gold but the monarch wore a gold mask to have skin of gold as the folklore of the time led the people to believe.

Next up – my second attempt at making the Nemes Crown and why I believe the king wore a gold metal crown and face mask

Photo Credit: King Khafre

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Photo Credit: King Tutenkhamun’s Death Mask

Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Photo credit: King Djoser

Photo credit: HannahPethen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

5. Making the Nemes Crown cont… Lappets

A question of gravity, currency, and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

Once the cloth covering of the nemes crown and its ponytail was complete I encountered my next obstacle. Under the added weight of fabric, cords and the hollow numchuck form, the crown kept falling back. It wouldn’t sit straight or actually stay on. I had to balance the weight of the front of the crown with that of the back.

The uraeus and vulture on the forehead alone didn’t solve the problem.I decided to attach the beard to the front of the form with hat elastic. This was the trick.

I wondered whether the ancient Egyptians had the same problem? Did Pseusennes I (1047-1001 BCE, 21st Dynasty) have the same problem?

golden-mask-of-psusennes-i-front-view

Death Mask of Pseusennes I

Are those pencil-line side burns sported by Pseusennes, stylized beard straps meant to balance the weight of the crown?

Now that my crown was sitting squarely in place it should have looked right, but it didn’t. There was something about the lappets – the long flappy bits that hang by the side of the pharaoh’s face. Flappy, they shouldn’t have been. Stiff, triangular – pyramidal, in histoy they appear to rigidly frame the face before reaching down over the shoulders from the chin. There is no movement – no flow of diaphanous fabric (okay, I realise this is Ancient Egypt, not Ancient Greece, but was everything as stiff as their statues would indicate?)

img_0162

The lappets of my crown didn’t unerringly frame my son’s face. They didn’t necessarily sit obediently, implacably on his shoulders – they twisted and curled. They needed the disciplinary action of a hard rod. Several actually. I set to work adding rods through the shoulder section of the lappet. I did the lower portion only, wanting to make sure the weight of the crown stayed forward and believing this was the minimum required to solve my dilemma. Time poor, I added a coin to help weigh them down –  something that is done in costuming now and again.

Coins are so convenient, smooth and readily available to use as clothing weights. Would the Ancient Egyptians have used their currency as such a cheat? We are told they didn’t have coins – it was a barter economy. Dominic Perry of the Ancient Egypt History Podcast has suggested that linen may have been used instead of coins. Now I couldn’t cheat with linen but what about a few heavy beads? Beads have been used for bartering in Africa for centuries. Could the Ancient Egyptians also have used them as money? Would Ancient Egyptian seamstresses weighed down their clothing with beads?

Now that I had weighed down my flapping lappets, they towed the line. Did the Ancient Egyptian crown makers need rods for their lappets? Is that why the nemes crown was stripped?

Something started niggling at me. Gold rods low on lappets, lapis locks and lapidary allusions . . . King Khafre! my next post.

khafre

 

Photo Credits

Pseusennes I

Death Mask of Pseusennes I, the Silver Pharoah (1047-1001 BCE 21st Dynasty)

Photo credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/ddenisen/7364438180/

D.Denisen CC BY-SA

 

King Khafre Statue

Photo credit: pyramidtextsonline via Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

4. Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont…)

Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?

Did the Ancient Egyptians shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form  required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?

Translucent

Lid from canopic vase of Tutankhamun

Photo credit: dnak via Foter.com / CC BY

 Because I was not going to use a golden tiara to anchor the crown on my child’s head, it suited me to conclude it had a definite form, like a modern-day milliner would use and that it was dressed in fabric. A three-quarter view of the crown, like the one above, seemed to confirm this. Assuming a golden tiara fit around his forehead, metal or papyrus supports holding the fabric up and stretching it around the back of his ears may have been soldered or riveted in place. The fabric would form around his bald pate then fall behind his head.

Problem 1 The snake and vulture protrude out from above the tiara, where the cloth is supposed to drape over the head. Fabric alone would not support the weight of these jewelled creatures. Something hard and durable had to support them – like gold.

Problem 2 – The  tiara doesn’t seem to disappear behind the ears but seems to form the side burns, cupping the head. As a consequence the tiara doesn’t appear to be holding the crown in place. The crown appears to be cupping the head, like a helmet.

Is this visible across other representations of the crown?

Photo Credits – Canopic Coffinette –  Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Shabti – Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Death mask – https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA

It seems so.

What would the Ancient Egyptians have used to make the royal helmet? Annealed gold? Papyrus reeds? Papyrus reeds could help create the stripes as a form of texture but they don’t go far in explaining away what colour the gold lines of the death mask are meant to represent and could have posed a problem in lining up with the dyed blue stripes of the cloth. However heartily they were manipulated, it’s questionable whether papyrus reeds could hold the weight of the uraeus and vulture. But gold as an alternative couldn’t have been comfortable or practicable for everyday wear.

Regardless, gold or papyrus, neither was an option for me. Nonetheless, I knew exactly what I was going to use.

A perforated plastic colander previously purposed for producing ricotta cheese!

I was able to sew the fabric on, attach the uraeus and vulture – mine are plastic and rubber –  and then solve a problem of gravity and balance by attaching the beard to it.

Answer: Bald pate or milliner’s form? Definitely a form – in my mind anyway.

 

Next: A question of gravity, currency and gay flappers or majestic lappets?

 

3. Making the Nemes Crown – Cloth or Gold!

In going through the motions of creating two Nemes crowns, the idea that the crown worn by Tutankhamun was probably the one he was buried with solidified in my mind. More and more I rejected the idea that it was made out of linen attached to a golden tiara. There were several problems to contend with that required metal weights and supports to eliminate. Something cloth, needle and thread alone couldn’t eliminate. With the amount of metal needed to get the look right, it seemed easier to recreate the look  out of gold, faience, electrum and ornamental stones – just as it was found attached to the death mask by Howard Carter. With this blogpost I will go through each major challenge I faced in recreating the cloth crown and the logic for my conclusion against it.

My First Attempt

Question 1: What does the cloth represent – hair or a pyramid?

I began with the accepted wisdom that the Nemes crown was made out of linen. Because gold thread was not the technology of the time, but dying was, I assumed that the linen cloth was woven with dyed thread and alternated with undyed linen to give it stripes. But what did the stripes represent? When a prince/king of Egypt is described he is said to have hair of lapis lazuli, a brittle, electic blue stone. That would indicate that the headpiece was representative of hair the colour of this highly prized stone.The gold could represent any colour. But what of its shape?

The Nemes crown flays out at the temples in a subtle pyramid form. Or so I imagined with my preconceived notions of what I thought I was seeing. The term adopted by later kings of Egypt, Pharoah, described themselves as the Great House. It seemed fitting that the look of the crown would reflect a pyramid shape. To this end I created a pattern for my faux-linen which allowed for the lapets to fall on the pharoah’s shoulders but the bulk of the cloth to be pulled loosely into a ponytail at the back.

The sewn panels would then dress a form, as in a millinery style form. I would attach the uraeus to the form and so would give the snake and vulture stability. Here I moved away from the logical circlet of gold with animals rivetted on as is seen on the death mask crown. This was a decision born of necessity – expense, time and weight. I knew what I was going to use for the form but did the Ancient Egyptians use one?

Question 2: Bald pate or bowl-like form?

Did the Ancients shave their heads and place their crown atop it – no form  required? Or did the nemes crown sit over a stiff papyrus form giving it its distinctive shape?

Shabti of Tutankhamen

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Having a hard time finding the cloth that I wanted I resorted to using two old aprons – ravaged by use. I didn’t line the cloth and so I encountered another issue …

To be continued.

2. Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture

Arch, poised to stike, the deadly cobra sits in the middle of the Pharoah’s forehead. Which Pharoah? Each and every pharoah and king of Egypt it seems from Narmer in the Old Kingdom all the way down to Cleopatra, a couple of thousand years later. So what is King Tut doing putting a bird next to it? Even his heretic father, Akenaten didn’t do that. It seems that this combination of snake and bird is idiosyncratic to Tutankhamun and perhaps his wife, Ankhesenamun. If I was to recreate Tutankhamun’s look accurately then I had to figure out what the bird was and to satisfy my curiosity, why he broke with tradition to wear it.

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Shabti of Tutankhamen- with the two animals on his crown

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Not all images of his crown gave clear enough visuals. Was it a hawk – a representation of Horus?

egypt - falcon

Horus, the Hawk/Falcon god of Egypt

Photo credit: Xuan Che via Foter.com / CC BY

Or was it a vulture, the deadly nemesis of a snake? Royal women wore vultures on their crowns. Sometimes they wore the cobra (uraeus) in assuming the role of King e.g., Hatshepsut or sometimes not, e.g., the Primary Wife of the King Amenhotep III, Queen Tiy, wore 2 cobras. Cleopatra VII wore three.

statue-of-cleopatra-vii

Cleopatra VII, wearing three Uraeus’.

Photo credit: Tiffany Silva via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Why a cobra? The cobra was a symbol of Lower Egypt, the Nile Delta where it could be found. It was a protective motif that was known as the uraeus. Interestingly enough, when Kings referred to themselves they associated their identity with their “uraeus”. Some crucial part of their personality, spirit or soul they considered to be a cobra, a uraeus.

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Canopic Container of Tutankhamun – a vulture and cobra it seems

Photo credit: Tjflex2 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tutankhamun coupled his uraeus uniquely with a vulture. Why? The vulture was a symbol of Upper Egypt. It was also the incarnation of the Goddess Nekbet, she who was the protectoress of royal children.(1) Was Tutankhamun ill? In need of protection? As a royal child was he sickly? Many, many walking canes were found in his tomb. It is said that he had a club foot and a partial cleft palate. Also very decayed teeth. If he was Akhenaten’s son, was he not considered fit enough for rule? He didn’t succeed Akhenaten but was relegated a third in line after a possible daughter, Neferneferuaten, and  then a son-in-law, Smenkhare?

But images of Tutankhamun before his funeral depict only the uraeus. Did he put the vulture there? Or did his successor responsible for his burial? And why would he?

Did the uraeus sit beside the vulture goddess Nekbet as a representation of another goddess, Wadjet? Together did the two affirm a united Egypt?

After Tutankhamun’s death, he was succeeded by the vizier Ay, Nefertiti’s possible father and so possibly his grandfather. Ay’s short reign was succeeded by Tutankhamun’s general, Horemheb. Then Egypt left the hands of two successive dynasties (17th and 18th) from Thebes in the south and fell into the hands of a military family from the north. Was there tension between the north and the south at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Horemheb was the man Tutankhamun wanted to suceed him but he was pushed aside by the elderly Ay. When Horemheb eventually got the throne, he left it to Rameses I, of that northern military family. Was Ay trying to send out a plea for unity among Horemheb’s supporters at a time when Egypt was at war and the rightful heir was away fighting that war in the  Middle-East?

Assuming it was Ay who chose to depict Tutankhamun wearing the cobra and vulture for his funerary rites, was the adoption of the symbol of the united Egypt a necessary political trapping of Tutankhamun’s well attended funeral? Egyptian funeral processions were quite an event – nobility, priests and professional mourners were all in attendance.(2) A clever place to make a political point to a targeted audience? How united was Egypt at the time of Tutankhamun’s death? Was Egypt in danger of succumbing to a succession crisis?

For the health of the king or for the health of the kingdom, I was satisfied that the creatures are snake and vulture. So I tried to recreate them thus:

Next … 3.Making the Nems Crown – Cloth or Gold?

References

(1) http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/nekhbet.htm

(2) Dominic Perry’s wonderful Egyptian History Podcast describes a funeral not too long before Tutankhamun’s in the 17th Dynasty in Episode 56c: A Royal Funeral, here.

Tyldesley, Joyce, Tutankhamun’s Curse:The Developing Historyof an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013.

1. Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown

“He had grown old: his bones became silver; his flesh, gold; his hair of lapis lazuli . . .” (1)

king tut

The Death Mask and Crown of Tutankhamun(2)

When I look at the death mask of Tutankhamun with the view to recreate it, the first question I have to ask myself is how much is it artistic representation? The Ancient Egyptians were notorious for using art as propaganda. How much of it was gold or lapis lazuli? How much was cloth? donkey or goat hair? faience (an ancient mouldable glass with properties apparently similar to clay)?

Egyptologists tell us that Nemes crowns were made of linen, a fabric the ancient Egyptians were adept at spinning coarsely and diaphanously finely. But not all of it could have been made of this material. Notice the two creatures in the centre of the young king’s forehead? They at least must have been fashioned of something more pliable than cloth. And what were they attached to – a tiara of gold?

What about the ponytail that gathers the cloth at the nape of the king’s neck? Is it supposed to represent cloth cords? papyrus ones? a metal sprung coil?

King Tut's Mask

Rear view of Tutankhamun’s Death Mask and Crown (3)

Before I go any further I must disclose my bias: I have worked and trained as a lapidary jeweller. This colours my first thoughts on how this crown and mask were made – how I want for it to have been made. This experience has also  influenced the steps that I took in recreating it as a theatrical costume.

When I look at Tutankhamun’s crown and mask, I see three sections: the crown and its lappets fanning out from his face; his face as a mask behind it; and an enormous inlaid necklace draped around his chest which I believe is a representation of another bib-style necklace that he wore in life, a beaded one. Inlaid jewellery is stiff and so impractical for movement. Strung beads however allow fluidity of movement.

This then invites me to question the beard of this young man, one very similar to another worn by his famous predecessor Hatshepsut. Surely neither Tutankhamun nor Hatshepsut grew their own beards! Did they wear fake ones of goat hair? Wouldn’t one of inlaid Lapis Lazuli or moulded faience have had greater impact and durability?

And then there is that ponytail. Is it bound together with cords of linen, wrapped over and over? Or could it have been a simple copper, silver or gold coil that the fabric was easily pulled through and held securely in place?

Finally, the look of a Nemes Crown made of linen would not have been gold and blue; gold thread hadn’t been invented yet and it would be another 1500 years or so before it was used in Roman era appliques. Of all of the crowns of Egypt, this style is the least ostentatious. Was this part of his everyday wear?

If we could play at being archaeologists on a hunt for the missing crown what would we be looking for? Striped linen cloth attached to a tiara with a couple of token sized totems protruding from the forehead? A coil of cord or wire for a ponytail and a fancy hair beard or an ornate one of faience encased in gold or silver?

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The Crafty Theatre Nemes Crown is posted on the Crafty Theatre facebook page(4)

How much is this famous image propaganda – the “would be god” with his hair shining with the rays of Ra and lapis lazuli, and his skin with the flesh of gold? This is just a taste of Ancient Egyptian propaganda, used even on a coffin and death mask. What about those animal figurines that protrude from the forehead? What are they ? What do they symbolise? Why did Tutankhamun wear two of them and only at the time of his death? What can they tell us of the state of his reign at the time of his death?

Next time : 2.Making the Nemes Crown:Snake and Vulture

Photos and References

(1) As read by Eric Wells on his Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt Podcast, 28th December, 2015, The Festival of Drunkenness and the Destruction of Mankind

(2) Photo Credit, King Tut’s Mask, Photo credit: Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/  Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/  CC BY-SA

(3)Photo Credit King Tut’s Death Mask and Crown, back view:

Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/24060770906/”>Mark Fischer via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

(4 )https://www.facebook.com/CraftyTheatre/