Hatshepsut Returns

Hatshepsut Returns

After Cleopatra VII, Hatshepsut (1507-1453 BC) is perhaps the best known of ancient Egypt’s small number of female rulers. Without a doubt, she’s also been my favorite Pharaoh to draw, male or female, in large part because of my weakness for strong and sexy women (in case you haven’t already figured that out). By the way, the collection of symbols in the upper left corner of the picture represent Hatshepsut’s official cartouche.

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The Egyptian Colony of Per-Pehu

The Egyptian Colony of Per-Pehu

Along the southwestern coast of Greece rise the mudbrick ramparts of Per-Pehu, a colony set up by the Egyptians around 1900 BC. Originally established as a fortified port for commerce as well as monitoring piracy in the Aegean region, the colony has blossomed into a thriving city over the subsequent three centuries. Unfortunately, when the Hyksos of Canaan (now Israel/Palestine) seized control of northern Egypt around 1650 BC, Per-Pehu got cut off from its mother country and so was forced into a state of independence. Now, circa 1600 BC, it faces a new threat looming from the east, namely the upstart Greek city-state of Mycenae, ruled by an ambitious and warlike king who hungers for conquest…

Per-Pehu is a fictitious city I created for my alternate-history story. Originally I had it named Dedenu, after the native Greek town of Dodona, but then I decided that a name made up of actual vocabulary from the ancient Egyptian language would be better. I believe Per-Pehu translates to “House of the North” in English.

Alternate History Novel Map – Egyptians Colonizing Greece

Alternate History Map_UpdatedThis is a map I made for an alternate-history novel I’ve been working on over the past month, which has ancient Egyptians colonizing the coast of Greece around 1900 BC, during the Bronze Age. The story itself takes place in 1600 BC, after the Canaanite Hyksos seize control of northern Egypt and therefore cut it off from its colony in Greece. Thus isolated, the colonists face the threat of brutal subjugation at the hands of the burgeoning Greek power of Mycenae…

Originally the Egyptian colony was going to be named Dedenu (after a Greek city named Dodona), but I decided to change it to Per-Pehu since I wanted the name to use actual vocabulary from the ancient Egyptian language. The name Per-Pehu should translate to “House of the North”.

Portrait of Menhit

Portrait of Menhit

Next in our line-up of goddess portraits with animal motifs, we have another leonine goddess named Menhit. She was very similar to the Egyptian Sekhmet insofar as they were both warrior goddesses associated with lionesses, but Menhit seems to have originated further upriver in the kingdom of Kush, in what is now northern Sudan. You could say she was the Kushite take on the same underlying theme as Sekhmet. Nonetheless, veneration of Menhit seems to have spread into Egypt as far north as modern Esna, where she became a wife to the native Egyptian god Khnum.

Sekhmet’s Portrait

Portrait of Sekhmet

This is a framed portrait of Sekhmet, the leonine Egyptian goddess of war and destruction. This time, I have represented her lioness motif with a helmet-like mask inspired by those used in the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King. Personally, I like the idea of various Egyptian deities’ animal “heads” really being masks or helmets like those worn in other regions of Africa.

Flag Designs for Ancient Egypt and Kush

These two are flag designs I created for the ancient Egyptian and Kushite civilizations which dominated the Nile Valley in ancient times. The flag with the ankh symbol on the left represents Egypt, whereas the Kushite flag is the one on the right with the god ram head symbolizing the god Amun.

For both of these flags, I wanted to use the pan-African colors red, green, and black. It was a bonus that, in ancient Egyptian culture, red represented the desert and black the fertile soil of the Nile floodplain (hence while these regions were known as the Red and Black Land, respectively).

Projecting modern prejudices onto an ancient African culture

I don’t normally blog about this kind of thing, but today I found an article on the Internet citing ancient Egyptian history to promote an agenda that seems feminist on the surface but actually appears rather sexist when you think about it. I thought it worthy of a response.

The author of the article is Egyptologist Dr. Kara Cooney, and the article is “Should women rule the world? The Queens of Egypt say yes.”

Her argument is that, even though most Pharaohs of the ancient Egyptian civilization were male, in times of crisis they would choose a female ruler instead. Among the female Pharaohs she names are Merneith of the 1st dynasty, Nebrusobek (or Sobekneferu) of the 12th, Hatshepsut of the 18th, and Tawosret of the 19th. And these are all interesting personalities in their own right, do not mistake me. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Hatshepsut is among my personal favorite Pharaohs throughout Egyptian history, male or female. There is a good case to be made for studying and giving more exposure to the ruling women of ancient Egypt, even if they weren’t the cultural norm for that society.

The problem comes in when she explains this trend by invoking modern Western prejudices about gender (emphases mine).

History shows that the Egyptians knew that women ruled differently from men. And so they used them to protect the patriarchy, to only act as stopgaps, placeholders, until the next man could fill the top spot on the social pyramid. But no matter how much power they held, even though many of them were called nothing less than King, these formidable women of ancient Egypt were not able to transcend the patriarchal agenda and change the system itself. When their reigns ended, the Egyptian power structure remained intact.

Cognitive scientists know that the female brain is different from the male. Social scientists have found that men are most responsible for violent crime, including rape and murder. On the whole, women are less likely to commit mass murder, less inclined to start a war, more likely to be in touch with and express their emotions, and more interested in nuance, rather than decisiveness. Perhaps these qualities were what ancient Egypt sought out in times of crisis.

These queens call out from the past, challenging us to place women into political power, not as representatives of a patriarchal dynasty, but as women who serve their own, different agendas of social connection and emotional cohesion, instead of serving the aggression of their fathers, brothers, and sons. If a long time ago, women really did rule the world, they were able to do so without a sisterhood, without their own agenda, without their own long term hold on power.

It’s time to look to history, to the powerful women of ancient Egypt who were the salvation of their people again and again. What if today they were allowed to rule with the full force of their emotions–using their emotions—that trait most demonized about women–their ups and downs, their sadness and joy, their mercurial natures? Could this trait be harnessed to connect with others, to find compromise, to take the finger off the trigger, to look to a nuanced solution? It is this element of emotionality that could lead humanity through the trials and tribulations of the 21st century. We should let ancient history be our guide and let women be our salvation once more, this time with their own interests front and center.

Anyone with a critical mind should be able spot the sexist over-generalizations here, even if it is cloaked in the rhetoric of feminism. And it’s not only sexist against men, mind you. The very assumption that women are naturally gentler and more nurturing than men (or, in other words, “sugar and spice” versus “snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails”) is an old prejudice that probably came about to rationalize regulating women to the role of homemaker and child-bearer while men were away doing all the “important” stuff. It really isn’t a trope that a presumed feminist like Dr. Cooney should indulge in.

The second problematic theme I see here is that she is projecting modern Euro-American notions about gender differences onto an ancient African culture. Does she know for sure that the ancient Egyptians had the same ideas about men and women’s “natural” differences that we do? Beliefs about gender vary from culture to culture and from time period to time period, as anthropologists have recognized for decades. You would think a scholar studying a civilization fundamentally far removed from our own would recognize this instead of forcing her own modern Western biases onto it.

This is a textbook example of Eurocentric sexism masquerading as feminism if I ever saw one.