Monday, June 27, 2011

Her Majesty, Pharaoh Hatshepsut

Who is a woman in history you respect?

I'm not sure if "respect" is a strong enough word for the woman I'm going to mention here.  Perhaps something more along the lines of "idolize"?  I can never live up to her legacy, but she has been an inspiration for me since a very early age.  The only female Pharaoh.  Not just queen consort.  Not just queen regent.  Pharaoh.

There are a handful of Egyptian queens who are known to the modern lay-person.  Nefertiti.  Cleopatra.  Perhaps even Nefertari.  Yet, despite their achievements, these women never reached as high as Hatshepsut.  Ironically, Hatshepsut ruled several centuries or so before Nefertiti and many centuries prior to Cleopatra (VII, if you need to know which one I'm referring to).

After the death of her father, she took a husband - her half brother, Thutmosis II.  He was sickly and died shortly after.  However, despite the fact that Thutmosis II had produced a male heir by one of his consorts (Prince Thutmosis III), he was too young to rule and Hatshepsut moved from the position of Queen Consort to Queen Regent.  Her daughter, Neferure (presumably fathered by her husband Thutmosis II, however this is debatable) also moved up in rank.  Shortly after this "upgrade", it became apparent that Hatshepsut did not intend to give over her rule to Thutmosis III.  She was crowned Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt circa 1479 BC.  Some scholars believe that her father had groomed her to rule as his successor, sensing that his son was weak and ill-equipped for the crown.

Her rule was greatly successful and surprisingly unopposed.  In general, it was a time of peace - however she did successfully lead military campaigns in Nubia, Syria, and Levant.  She expanded Egypt's trade network a great deal.  Perhaps more telling of her success is the fact that she was a prolific builder - the  sign of a successful pharaoh.  The Deir el-Bahri complex still stands today, as does the Red Chapel and one of her obelisks (at the time, it was the tallest in all of Egypt).  You may find more about her building exploits here.  As time went on, she was depicted as a man in the friezes telling stories of her life.  In court, she worn the traditional false beard of the male pharaohs and was known to occasionally drop the feminine "t" at the end of her name and go by "Hatshepsu".

Truly, Hatshepsut was pharaoh.  A great pharaoh.  Yet, her rule did eventually end as you'd expect it to. She died after ruling for 22 years, sometime in her 40s or 50s.  An abscessed tooth prevented her from eating and she had the misfortune of suffering from pain and malnourishment for several months before her death.  She was buried with full honors - as a king.  As a pharaoh.

And, despite all this, there were still rumors that she was having a love affair with the Royal Architect, Senenmut.  Some were not happy that a woman was on the throne.  For example, here is a rendering of some graffiti found in a construction area that, I think, remained unfinished.  Presumably it was drawn by a workman:

What we have here is a woman, wearing the nemes crown (image here, for reference) unique to male Pharaohs, apparently taking it from behind.  It is assumed that this is Pharaoh Hatshepsut and Senenmut, presumably indicative of the fact that some people continued to be disturbed by the idea of a woman on the throne.  After all, being penetrated means weakness, yes? *insert eyeroll*

This woman has my deepest admiration and has had it since I was a child.  I aspire to be like her: Diplomatic, yet unafraid of conflict.  Pragmatic and practical, yet able to build a prolific legacy.  Down to earth, but pious.  And, perhaps most interestingly, able to wield the control, power, and intelligence associated with masculinity while still being able to exhibit the beauty, grace, and sensuality of femininity.  Hatshepsut was a fascinating blend of stereotypical male and female attributes.  This is something that I relate to deeply.  In some sense, I too was trained by my father as his "heir" and "son", despite the fact that he once had other male children.  But that is another story for another time.

My relationship with this idol is complicated.  I too struggle with this blending of male and female, and even the struggle of blending dominance with slavery.  I have mentioned before that my slavehood feels like a contradiction to the rest of me.  I wonder if Hatshepsut also wondered these things, sitting on the royal dias and wearing sandals painting with her enemies on their soles (so that she might crush them with each step) by day, and perhaps falling into the arms of a man at night, releasing the anxiety into his embrace.

It is a strange duality.  Although I seriously doubt that Her Majesty the King would ever consider herself a "slave", I am sure she felt loves pull - and even vanilla people refer to love as a form of slavery.  I think she would understand.  Across the centuries, I wish I could have known her.  So much of the time, there is no one here to answer these questions about myself (save for me).  I feel, again, that she would have understood the strength and struggle in being both a ruler and a subject.

"Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people say.  Those who shall see my monuments in years to come and who shall speak of what I have done." -Hatshepsut, Pharaoh Maatkare (meaning "truth and justice in the soul of Ra").


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, how interesting... I didn't know about her, but glad I got to. That pic is quite a statement about how different art can feel depending on context, intent, etc.