Egyptian queens: art that combines eroticism and power

DIn our imagination, the ancient queens of Egypt, like Nefertiti or Cleopatra, associated charm and power with rulers who were as attractive as they were powerful. But what exactly was it?

The first known Egyptian queen, Neithotep, was the wife of Pharaoh Narmer, who ruled around 3100 BC. AD and himself was the first pharaoh, the founder of the first dynasty. Thus, from the beginning of the pharaonic institution, the ruler had a wife who played an official role. After Neythotep, several sovereigns distinguished themselves in Egyptian history. This was the case of Hetep-Heres (c. 2600-2550 BC), the great queen of the time of the pyramids, wife of Snefru and mother of the famous Cheops.

Between incest and power

In order to strengthen their power, several pharaohs practiced very strict endogamy. Therefore, the queen was often from the royal family. So Mykerinos, IVe dynasty (2500 BC) married his sister Khamerernebty II. A few centuries later, at the beginning of the 18th century, we find the same kind of kinship associations.e dynasty, its founder Ahmose united with his sister Ahmes-Nefertari. Incest went hand in hand with a very strong and centralized government.

READ ALSOThe last secrets of ancient EgyptDid the queen have real power, or was her role limited to a mere figure next to her husband? During Pharaoh’s lifetime, his powers were probably recognized, but limited. On the other hand, by remaining a widow, the ruler could actually rule. This was in the fifteenth yeare century BC, Queen Hatshepsut, who survived her half-brother and husband Thutmose II. He reigned in Egypt for twenty years. Officially the regent of his nephew Thutmose III, he has experience of power and almost absolute authority as the new king is only an infant.

Hatshepsut is the first woman in human history that we are sure of exercising political power. However, her iconography and titulary show us that she felt it necessary to display herself as possessing male titles and attributes in the absence of a spouse. Femininity alone could not fully justify the exercise of pharaonic power. Hatshepsut therefore represented herself with symbols of power that had hitherto been reserved for men, such as a striped headdress. germanfalse beard and short loincloth.

Tiyi is huge

A few decades later, Pharaoh Amenhotep III (XIVe century BC. J.-C.) was succeeded by his wife, Tiyi, who was undoubtedly his cousin. The mention of the queen’s name on clay tablets from the royal archives at the Amarna site in Middle Egypt suggests that she was actively involved in diplomatic exchanges with her husband’s other rulers of the time.

READ ALSOWhat is hidden under the wrappings of mummiesHe was also deified during his lifetime. He was worshiped at Sedeinga in Nubia (now Sudan), where a special shrine named Hout-Tiyi (“Temple of Tiyi”) was built in his honor. He appears there as a sphinx, that is, with a human head seated on a lion’s body. The image should emphasize the formidable and merciless nature of Egypt against its enemies.

Official charm of Nefertiti

Akhenaten, son of Amenhotep III and Tiyi, nominated his wife and possibly his cousin Nefertiti. Although the actual political function of the queen is still debated, it is clear that she played a primarily religious role. The queen appears systematically at her husband’s side during worship ceremonies in honor of the god Aten, who is represented by a bright sun disk.

She embodies the essential feminine principle necessary for the maintenance of cosmic order. A form of religious eroticism can be seen in it, in the sense that the great god, who is constantly excited by the queen, can thereby retain all his erotic power. The queen’s beauty is a theme announced by official speech: Nefertiti is said to be “perfect in appearance.” She pleases both her royal husband and the god Aten. To put it very plainly, he is “one whom Athene hath risen to love and glorify.” Suffice it to say, she is very sexy!

READ ALSOWho was Merenptah, the successor of Ramesses II? But this sexual attraction is purely ideological and conditional. It does not tell us anything about the actual physics of the ruler. Similarly, the very famous bust now preserved in Berlin is not a true portrait of Nefertiti, which allows us to reconstruct her face. Pharaoh images represent the official function of the sovereign, unrelated to the reality of his features: the queen’s appearance and personality are masked by an idealized representation of her function.

The close relationship between a king and a queen at the apex of the state was renewed in Egypt by the Ptolemaic dynasty, the Greco-Macedonian successors of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy Philadelphus II (king 283-246 BC) adopted the model of the ancient pharaohs, no doubt out of political interest, as he thought it would help strengthen his rule. Like Mykerinos or Ahmosis before him, he married his sister Arsinoe II. Incest was ideologically justified by the need to maintain divine potential within the dynasty. From Ptolemy II, the kingdom was officially ruled by a pair of god-kings and goddess-queens.

Curls of Isis

The Ptolemaic queen is defined as a “goddess”: one in Greek; netjeret In Egyptian. He could have appealed to Isis, the perfect goddess-queen model in the Egyptian tradition. According to her legend, Isis was married to her brother Osiris, a king who was unjustly killed and dismembered by the evil Seth. Thanks to her extraordinary magical powers, the goddess is able to reconstruct her husband’s body before she is united with him. She even becomes pregnant with Horus, whom she raises in secret until she overthrows the usurper.

This beneficial goddess was adopted by the Greeks. But they changed his appearance by introducing him to their pantheon. The pharaoh god changed his heavy wig to natural, bouncy and wavy hair. Long curls with multiple spirals also became the usual hairstyle of Ptolemaic queens who were assimilated with Isis. This rich hair emphasizes a power that is both feminine and divine. According to the ancient author Plutarch (Isis and Osiris 14), when the goddess Isis learned of the death of Osiris, she cut off a lock of hair, which she consecrated and displayed as a sacred relic in a temple at Coptos. A Greek inscription on this shrine describes Isis as “the great goddess of hair” (trichômatos thea megistè), in memory of this famous episode.

READ ALSOThe crazy story of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tombA repetition of the divine gesture in the middle of the III centurye century BC. BC Queen Berenice II consecrated one of her earrings at the shrine when her husband King Ptolemy III Euergetes went to war in Syria. The offering was a temporary mourning, a prelude to the safe return of Ptolemy III to Egypt. The queen’s hair represented the magical charm of the wife, capable of bringing her husband back to her and giving him all her strength as a kind of living lucky charm.

Then it is forbidden to cut

The poet Callimachus (Elegies II, “Berenice’s Loop”) says that Berenice’s Loop was turned into a constellation so that it would always be useful to perishing navigators. His Greek poem is unfortunately fragmentary, but an idea can be gained thanks to the Latin version offered by Catullus (Poem66, “Bérénis’ Hair”).

Later, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) forbade women to wear this type of hairstyle, which is now considered indecent (theEducator II, 10). He vehemently condemns “spiral turns” (bostrykhoi helictoi).

Today, Egyptian celebrities are also showing off their wavy hair. So they are a curly revolution (“looped revolution”) writes them into the continuity of the ancient images of Isis and Berenice.

*Christian-Georges Schwentzel is the author by CleopatraPublished on September 7, 2022 by Presses Universitaires de France (PUF).

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