Tutankhamen: Damnatio Memoriae

egyptian damnatio memoriae

Excised: Damnatio Memoriae – Neither Osirus nor Thoth could protect the forgotten one

Damnatio Memoriae, the erasing of one’s name, reputation, memory, for earthly eternity. In the case of Ancient Egypt, erasing one’s name was akin to black magic. You see, the Ancient Egyptians practised performative magic. By braking the ankles of a stone depiction of a person they crippled him in his afterlife. By erasing the cartouche, the written name of the king, the now-dead king also ceased to exist in the afterlife. The King had to have done something controversial, horrific, blasphemous for this to have been resorted to. At least that is how my 21st Century CE brain works. I can think of 20th Century despots that are worthy of this sort of treatment rather than the infamy they are accorded on their pedestals, celebrated for their excellence in despicability.

What could the boy king, Tutankhamen have done to have deserved this treatment? He, his immediate predecessors, Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten, and his father/uncle(1) Akhenaten were all purposefully forgotten from an Ancient Egyptian list of kings composed 100 years or so after their deaths. Even Akhenaten’s beloved primary wife, Nefertiti didn’t escape this abomination of her memory. Why?

Nefertiti and her daughter

Nefertiti and her daughter

 

Akhenaten was a heretic king who flouted the central cosmic order and balance of Egyptian society, maat, by throwing out the traditional anthropomorphic gods and enforcing the worship of an unknownable solar power, the Aten. Damnatio memoriae in his case was the monster that ate him when his heart was measured against his duty to maat and was found wanting. But Tutankhamun restored the old gods, restored maat, restored the cosmic order. Surely he didn’t deserve to be written out of history.

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten – Not only his face but possibly his cartouche has been excised.

 

When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb lots of questions arose. Was it Tutankhamen’s tomb?  Why was it unfinished? Was it originally meant for a mere nobleman and was swapped? Was the Chariot Tomb (KV58) originally intended for Tutankhamen but was unfinished due to his early death? (2) What was the pink sediment that draped the tomb’s walls? Was Tutankhamen a cripple? What caused his death? Was he murdered? What was his relationship to his successor Ay like? Was Ay his grandfather? Was he the son of Akhenaten? Who was his mother? If he was Akhenaten’s son, why didn’t he succeed Smenkhare as king? Why did his general, Horemheb begin the campaign of Damnatio Memoriae against his family after he succeeded Ay as king? Why was his widow, Ankhesenamen so threated by the Egyptian court that she wrote to the traditional enemy, the Hittite king, to send her a son to marry, who would then rule Egypt? Why was control of Egypt passed from an upper Egyptian family to a Lower one after Horemheb’s death? And. .. what happened to his crown?

 

Earlier this year my son was set the task of making an iMovie about the life of Tutankhamen. A reluctant learner, nothing I said could inspire him to begin. Tutankhamen was just your age when he reigned. He renounced his parent’s religion about the time you did. He changed his name too. You look so much like him …what if we dressed you up as Tut to narrate your movie? Well, the last one worked. I found myself making a Nemes Crown. By looking at Tutankhamen’s death mask closely some possible answers to the questions above arose. One possibility haunts me.

Could Tutankhamen’s crown be hiding in plain sight?

End Notes

(1) Eric Wells of the wonderful, thought provoking podcast Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt, makes a convincing argument for Akhenaten the uncle.

(2)KV58 is discussed by Joyce Tydesley’s Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing history of an Egyptian King, Profile Books, London, 2013, a wonderful, informative read

 

Photo Credits

Excised – Damnatio Memoriae

Photo credit: Allison Mickel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Nefertiti and her Daughter

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

Akhenaten and his daughter offering to the Aten

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

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If the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, where is his paper trail? He had to have let the cat out of the bag to someone. He liked to brag. He talked over-the-top – especially in Europe – Duke of Oxford. He dressed over-the-top, an Italianate fop, apparently. He lived over-the-top, over-the-top of his income. His was an expansive personality. Why wouldn’t he have written letters speaking of his literary output? Not to have seems contrary to the vanity of his ego. So where is it? Where is the letter regarding his background reading? The personal response to the reception of his plays and poetry? The whine over his enforced anonymity?

Has history overlooked him? Has something more sinister been enacted? Was it a case of damnatio memoriae in the New Rome, London? A government conspiracy to silence him? Was it compounded by the involvement of acrimonious in-laws (the Cecils)? It wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a white-wash was enacted – think of Ancient Egypt, of King Tut.

King Tut, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

King Tut, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

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

 Or is the lack of evidence due to something a little more mundane? Could it be that his history is mouldering away in a provincial attic because his name and signature are obscure? When the family tree is being drawn up, the document with his signature may be put aside as his name doesn’t belong on the family branches.

He signed his name ‘Edward Oxenford’ or ‘Oxenforde’, or used his title, the Earl of Oxford, but doesn’t seem to have used his family name, Vere, outside of his acrostic poems or perhaps to thinly veil his identity. ‘De Vere’in signature form doesn’t seem to figure at all during his lifetime. Yet today, he is most commonly referred to as ‘Edward de Vere’.

Does a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? In this case it may wreak of damp or be riddled by bookworms (literally). You see, if he wrote about his creative output in letters they may have been addressed to any part of the English, French, Italian, German, Latin or Greek speaking world of his day. Potentially these letters are not restricted to Great Britain but an extensive part of Europe as well. Perhaps they have been thumbed through and pushed aside as a curiosity because his signed name, Edward Oxenford, is not recognizable. A mild curiosity may persist – what was he to the family? the local school teacher, curate, scribe? Eventually the weight of constructing that family tree relegates his name to obscurity once more.

If the name, Edward Oxenford, were to be promoted in the same way that Edward De Vere is, could more of his story come to light? Could that irrefutable piece of elusive evidence finally emerge to elucidate Edward’s enigma?

Happy 466th Birthday, Edward Oxenford(e)!