Author Topic: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War  (Read 884 times)

Patrick Waterson

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Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« on: December 16, 2018, 10:25:38 AM »
[Redirected from the tail end of Why Would Non-Flanked Formations Rout?]

After all Sophocles wrote some of his Theban plays after the Athenian expedition to Egypt

As did Euripides. Aeschylus wrote his only extant Oedipus story play, Seven Against Thebes, beforehand.  I am not sure what this tells us apart from the fact that Athenians and their playwrights showed interest in the story both before and after the Athenian expedition to Egypt.  Unfortunately the loss of the majority of the plays written by all three major playwrights of the period mean we cannot really determine whether the expedition triggered fresh interest in the story and/or brought to light new information.

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The problem with Oedipus is that you have to look at the various sources were have, Sophocles and others and decide what they, as writers, added to the story from their own experience, and what was passed down originally ...

Yes, very true (Oedipus ages along with Sophocles, for example), and one does find a number of Grecised additions and changes, for example the 'beards' of Polyneices and Eteocles and the whole transfer of the story from Egypt's capital to Cadmus' colony.  But much is nevertheless preserved and directly comparable with Egyptian source material, for example:

"Thebes of all cities you hold foremost in honour* ..." - Sophocles, Antigone line 1137

*timas, from timē, worship, esteem, honour.

This is certainly true of Egyptian Thebes of the Eighteenth Dynasty, which awed and was admired by all who visited it (Akhenaten being an obvious exception), not least because it was the capital of the mightiest empire any of the visitors would have seen.  I have a hard time picturing an Athenian or anyone else applying it to Greek Thebes at any time in the latter's history. ;)

In any event, the Greek additions and insertions simply make the actual correspondences with the Egyptian events so much more remarkable.  The basic story also explains very well what happened after Akhenaten was deposed: his sons agreed to rule the realm in turn, but after one turn the younger refused to yield to the elder and the elder went off to seek allies abroad to reclaim his birthright.  He returned and fought a successful war up to the walls of Thebes (one illustrated by the fragmentary Amarna papyrus Duncan and I referred to).  Then the war entered a stalemate, which was resolved by a duel.  Both participants perished as a result of the duel, which triggered the suicide of their mother (Jocasta/Tiy).  Creon/Ay, who had arranged for Eteocles/Tutankhamun's army to make a surprise attack on that of Polyneices/Smenkhare no matter what the outcome of the duel, became the next ruler and decreed that the brother who had defended his homeland should receive a special burial (Tutankhamun; KV 62) while the other should be denied any.  The older brother's body was subsequently given funeral rites (KV 55) by his sister (Meritaten left a small gold plaque with a song to her beloved) but of a very improvised nature (Tiy's catafalque, Meritaten's own canopic vessels and other borrowed materials) for which the sister was punished by being confined within a pit with a limited supply of food and water (KV54), in which she eventually hanged herself.

The circumstances of the tale also explain the enigmatic KV63, the cache of coffins and embalming materials: Ay/Creon gave effect to his order by confiscating much extant royal funerary equipment and storing it where it would not be found.

One other feature also blends nicely: Oedipus went blind.  In the Greek story, he blinds himself, but in the Egyptian context, blindness is to be expected after several years of adoring the majesty of the Aten.  (The tomb of Aten priest Ptahwer at Amarna contains a prayer for Amun to restore the supplicant's sight, so it may not have been only Akhenaten who suffered blindness from daily sun-gazing; one wonders about Nefertiti's disappearance from public view in the latter part of Akhenaten's reign.)
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2018, 10:48:07 AM »
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I don't think the problem is a connection between Thebes and Egypt in the Mycenaean period, or even that the Greeks recorded information about Egyptian affairs.  It is the leap of saying that a Greek myth is lifted in detail from Egyptian events and that somehow that detailed original survived to appear in drama hundreds of years later.  You have no evidence for this except that you have noted "similarities", some of which (e,g. the death of Tutankhamun) are subject to multiple interpretations already.

If we want to use 'similarities' to describe these unique details, then so be it. :)  That there may be multiple interpretations of the death of Tutankhamun is immaterial: none of them have considered the evidence offered by the Oedipus story, which casts everything in a new light.

The conicidental details exist in profusion throughout the Oedipus story.  Some of them shed light on the events and personalities of the Amarna period; others confirm the pattern of old king succeeded by exiled son (Tushratta's letters to Akhenaten show the latter was not au fait with matters at the Egyptian court), who murders him (erases his name) and marries the old king's wife (relief of Akhenaten and Tiy crowned and seated opposite each other with a very young Beketaten present from Year 12 of Akhenaten's reign).  Oedipus also had another younger wife, Eurygeneia ('fruitful'); Akhenaten has Nefertiti (and various minor wives who were not prominent enough to make it into Greek legend).  After a 17- or 20-year reign Oedipus is dethroned and replaced by his sons; Akhenaten's reign lasts either 17 or 20 years, and he is replaced by his sons.

The sons agree to rule annually in turn, but after one year each the younger son usurps the elder.  We have Year 1 of Smenkhare but no Year 2. We have Years 1-9 of Tutankhamun.  This is consistent with the story.  The elder son heads off to raise foreign allies to enforce his claim.  There is a war, which culminates at the gates of Thebes.  The Amarna papyrus (I think it is British Museum 10011) shows foreign troops, specifically Achaean Greeks and Libyans, in combat with, and most importantly, defeating, Egyptians (such a portrayal is unique in Egyptian art), placing such a conflict within the Amarna period.  The war is resolved by a duel in which both claimants die, and I have already described events thereafter.

That is a lot of 'similarities', and by no means an exhaustive list.  Yes, there are detail differences which have crept in, and there are multiple minor variations in the Greek versions, but the core of the story indicates that in the Oedipus plays we have a record of historical events from the tail end of the Amarna period.

Intriguing from my point of view is that from the allies of 'Polyneices' (Smenkhare) we also get a significant clue about the dynasty which followed Ay's subsequent demise.
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Erpingham

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2018, 11:20:50 AM »
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That there may be multiple interpretations of the death of Tutankhamun is immaterial: none of them have considered the evidence offered by the Oedipus story, which casts everything in a new light.

So, details of the death of Tutankhamun supports the idea that the Oedipus story is set in Egypt and a particular interpretation of the death of Tutankhamun is to be preferred because it fits the Oedipus story?

It isn't my period but, due to living with a kemetophile, I get to see almost every new Tutankhamun documentary when it turns up on the TV so I am aware that the story of the Great Apostacy and the return of True Religion is full of uncertainties and conflicting interpretations.  In part this is due to deliberate rewriting of history, in part because we have an incomplete understanding of the relationships between the characters and because the physical evidence is confusing.  We should be very wary of any attempt to be definitive which does not take into account this complexity. 
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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2018, 07:29:20 PM »
It isn't my period but, due to living with a kemetophile, I get to see almost every new Tutankhamun documentary when it turns up on the TV so I am aware that the story of the Great Apostacy and the return of True Religion is full of uncertainties and conflicting interpretations.  In part this is due to deliberate rewriting of history, in part because we have an incomplete understanding of the relationships between the characters and because the physical evidence is confusing.  We should be very wary of any attempt to be definitive which does not take into account this complexity.

So very true.  Yet how is one to explain the basics if not simply?

Actually, the Oedipus story explains so much about the events and personalities of the Amarna period that it should be considered a golden gift to historians.  One snippet which may interest a kemetophile: Nakhtmin is a strange and shadowy figure in Ay's Akhmim clan.  Painstaking work by Egyptologists (mainly a matter of elimination of a list of possibilities down to one) has established that Nakhtmin was Ay's son and designated successor.  We also know that he was a general in the army and honorary fan-bearer to Tutankhamun.

So who is his alter-ego in the Oedipus story?  One can point instantly to Creon's son Haimon ('skilled'), who is his designated heir and betrothed to the recently-widowed Antigone.  He kills himself when she is found hanging.

This tells us that Nakhtmin was indeed Ay's son intended successor and that Ay had betrothed Nakhtmin to Meritaten as part of his scheme to legitimise his own power (having himself married Ankhesenamun) and that Nakhtmin suddenly disappears from the records because he committed suicide.

In essence, the Oedipus story is a cipher which contains much information on the closing years of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
  • Patrick Waterson
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Erpingham

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2018, 07:59:39 PM »
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In essence, the Oedipus story is a cipher which contains much information on the closing years of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Or not.  The only person who seems to have thought this was Velikovsky.  I know you are a fan of his and therefore presumably have his book on the subject.  For those who like these sorts of things, there is also a theory on the internet that Akhenaten was Moses.

As I've mentioned, historians (even amateur ones) should be doubly careful when it comes to periods of history with a lack of solid facts but a huge amount of public interest.  In this case, we lack clear evidence that Akhenaten had any problems with incest (Egyptian royals tended not to), no evidence he was blind, no evidence that he asked his sons to share the throne (most people seem to think he was actually suceeded by a daughter), lack of evidence that his predecessor was still alive during Tutankhamun's reign, a shortage of evidence for a big civil war, uncertainty over Tutankhamun's cause of death (let alone detailed accounts of a duel to the death) and no reference to a major siege of Thebes during his reign.

Even by your standards Patrick, you have to admit that evidence for this interpretation is slight.

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2018, 08:51:36 AM »
Oedipus and Akhanton [sic] was published in 1960 and thereafter generally ignored despite the remarkable detective work it displayed.  Had it been written by anyone else I have little doubt it would have become canonical.

I am glad at least someone has read it.

In this case, we lack clear evidence that Akhenaten had any problems with incest (Egyptian royals tended not to),

He had absolutely no problems with it.  As is pointed out in Oedipus and Akhnaton, it was the Egyptians who had problems with the mother-son relationship, and they were not over-keen on the father-son relationship either.  The father-daugher relationships may have been neither here nor there, although Herodotus' Mycerinus was referred to in negative terms over his suspected relationship with his own daughter, which is indicative of general Egyptian disapproval, so Akhenaten seems to have managed just about every kind of forbidden relationship while almost uniquely not marrying his own sister (not sure if he had one; Nefertiti may have been Ay's and Ty's issue).

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no evidence he was blind,

Albeit certain of his Amarna style statues show characteristics of weak eyesight.  And we do know that at least one of his principal Aten-admiring followers went blind.  And by 'no evidence' I believe 'no Egyptian documentary evidence' is meant, because there is clear Greek evidence, even if the Greek explanation is incorrect.  There is also the common sense understanding about what years of gazing on the revealed majesty of the Aten on a daily basis would do to the eyesight (do not try this at home!).

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no evidence that he asked his sons to share the throne (most people seem to think he was actually suceeded by a daughter),

But he did not ask - they took it from him.  Regarding the presumed feminine succession, the confusion over Smenkhare being redesignated as 'Neferneferuaten' late in Akhenaten's reign seems to have thrown many people.

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lack of evidence that his predecessor was still alive during Tutankhamun's reign,

Again, lack of direct Egyptian evidence from an era whose records (such as they were) were subject to much erasure by future generations.  Greek sources provide the missing evidence.

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a shortage of evidence for a big civil war,

Does this admit to some evidence? :)

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uncertainty over Tutankhamun's cause of death

Which can now be resolved.

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(let alone detailed accounts of a duel to the death)

We do have Tutankhamun's wounds, which correspond exactly with those inflicted in the duel in Euripides' Phoenissae.  Since these wounds were not discovered until the CT scans of 2004 were evaluated in 2005, any theories from before that date were based on significantly incomplete information and can be discarded.  The latest theory seems to be that Tutankhamun was bitten by a hippopotamus, although this does not explain how traces of gold leaf came to be in his leg wound.  (The idea of a hippo with a gold filling can be discounted!)

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and no reference to a major siege of Thebes during his reign.

For purposes of comparison, can you find any Egyptian record of the Assyrian capture of Thebes in 663 BC?  This is a well-attested key event and indeed the first fixed date in Egyptian history.  Yet there seems ot be no problem relying on non-Egyptian sources for this cornerstone episode in Egyptian history.

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Even by your standards Patrick, you have to admit that evidence for this interpretation is slight.

On the contrary, evidence is abundant.  The Greek evidence ties in with and fills the gaps in the Egyptian evidence.  It is the Egyptian evidence on its own which is slight; adding in the Greek evidence provides a much more complete picture.

Quick observation on the philosophy of interpreting history ...

It seems the objections are along the lines of: Egyptian records are lacking, but we cannot accept clarification from another source, even when that source contains may points of identification; we must have our evidence in Egyptian records or not at all.

Exceptions are made for Assyrian evidence, albeit only after Assyria invades Egypt. Force majeure?  26th Dynasty records are so deficient that Egyptian history of the period is made up from Greek and Assyrian testimony with a dash of Hebrew contribution.  I do not see the validity of objecting to using Greek sources to make up deficiencies in 18th Dynasty Egyptian history.
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Erpingham

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2018, 09:56:43 AM »
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On the contrary, evidence is abundant.  The Greek evidence ties in with and fills the gaps in the Egyptian evidence.  It is the Egyptian evidence on its own which is slight; adding in the Greek evidence provides a much more complete picture.

Quick observation on the philosophy of interpreting history ...

It seems the objections are along the lines of: Egyptian records are lacking, but we cannot accept clarification from another source, even when that source contains may points of identification; we must have our evidence in Egyptian records or not at all.

Exceptions are made for Assyrian evidence, albeit only after Assyria invades Egypt. Force majeure?  26th Dynasty records are so deficient that Egyptian history of the period is made up from Greek and Assyrian testimony with a dash of Hebrew contribution.  I do not see the validity of objecting to using Greek sources to make up deficiencies in 18th Dynasty Egyptian history.

But you are not using a Greek source for the history of Egypt.  You are taking the text of a play written in the 5th century set in the heroic past of the Greek city of Thebes and claiming it is a detailed recollection of a translation of a lost Egyptian original from many centuries before about Thebes in Egypt.  The obvious historical approach in this case would be to start from a critical reading of Euripedes in his cultural context, to see if his work fits alongside other versions of the story and whether what happens is seen through a Greek or Egyptian perspective.  Does the description, for example, fit with other Greek heroic stories (e.g. Homer) or is it notably alien? 
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aligern

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2018, 02:51:29 PM »
Fascinating, though it is reminiscent of the sort of TV programme where Ancient Alien theorists believe that some carving on an Egyptian relief is a giant lightbulb.
The idea that a story might make its way across distance, cultural divides and time is not at all implausible and that a playwright picks it up and re uses it is well in line with what playwrights do.
As Erpingham says, though, it would need a lot more corroboration before one could claim that such reverse engineering was acceptable historical evidence. He is right too that a lot could be done to buttress the case with analysis of the play’s author, the sources of his other work  and the generality if artistic transmission from  Egypt to Greece. Early Greek statuary, for example, is very much derived from Egyptian models.
Then too, good stories are rare and precious and do travel ( shades of Joseph Campbell here) On Michael Wood’s TV Oddessy folliwing Alexander he found ‘Persian’  storytellers still telling stories of Alexander the Great, though with extensive accretions, that is 2,200 years after the event. Perhaps Patrick might find some support in the sources and content of Herodotus’ stories from Egypt?
Roy
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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2018, 07:35:10 PM »
Thanks, Roy.

Herodotus unfortunately passes over this particular episode in silence (perhaps unsurprising as his Egyptian priest sources were doubtless not enamoured of the Criminal of Akhetaten), but he is very useful for what happened immediately thereafter, the transition event being provided by a single sentence in Ammianus.

This is one point which I consider significantly in favour of identifying the Oedipus story with the Amarna period in Egypt: it forms part of a cohesive and logical pattern (I might be the only one seeing the logic at the moment, but the pattern is there).  The other point is that there are so many spot-on correspondences (or 'similarities') of the sort historians attempting cross-cultural synchronisation would give their eye teeth for; this kind of multiple match-up is not coincidental.

One of the features I tested was whether the Oedipus story could correlate with any other period in Egyptian history.  The result was a big no: this pattern is not replicated in any other dynasty, or at least any for which we have enough information to judge.

Another important aspect of any such attempted correlation is what we can derive from it, and whether this results in useful additional identifications (or just blind alleys).  In this respect, the Greek plays give us a clue about the tail end of Akhenaten's life, the part Egyptian records do not cover.  They have him wandering in exile - in Greece itself.  (How is that for a transmission link?)  They also have him soliloquising or expostulating that he would dearly love to be buried in his native land (Thebes of many chariots) - and that is the last we hear of him.

From these clues in the Oedipus cycle we can nevertheless work out what ultimately happened to him, and identify his mummy (it is not the one from KV 55).  The clues from the Oedipus cycle are merely pointers: the clinching evidence is provided by Gaston Maspero and his mummy unwrapping team and by subsequent recent examination of the body in question.

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Fascinating, though it is reminiscent of the sort of TV programme where Ancient Alien theorists believe that some carving on an Egyptian relief is a giant lightbulb.

That would be the Dendera Lightbulbs (or whatever they actually were).

They do look the part.  One wonders what people thought they were before lightbulbs and Crookes tubes were invented.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2018, 07:55:37 PM »
But you are not using a Greek source for the history of Egypt.  You are taking the text of a play written in the 5th century set in the heroic past of the Greek city of Thebes and claiming it is a detailed recollection of a translation of a lost Egyptian original from many centuries before about Thebes in Egypt.

Historians use Greek plays for information on aspects of Greek life and equipment (Aristophanes' plays are considered particularly useful for 5th century BC Athenian military equipment), so to deny a play status as a source seems strange.

I am not claiming it is a recollection of a translation of a lost Egyptian original, merely that the original events made sufficient impression for someone in Greece to take the trouble to remember and record them, that they were passed on to posterity and were seized on as material for 5th century BC Athenian plays, where despite an element of reworking much of the original detail was preserved.

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The obvious historical approach in this case would be to start from a critical reading of Euripedes in his cultural context, to see if his work fits alongside other versions of the story and whether what happens is seen through a Greek or Egyptian perspective.  Does the description, for example, fit with other Greek heroic stories (e.g. Homer) or is it notably alien?

It is quite alien; family-based tragedies are nothing new to Greek drama, but cross-generational marriage is to say the least extremely rare.  There are other curiously foreign elements like the characteristically Egyptian sphinx and Thebes being referred to as 'of many chariots' and 'first among the nations in honour' (or respect or prestige).  Another curiosity is that Laius (the Oedipus story equivalent of Amenhotep III) sparks the anger of the gods and originates the dreadful curse by entering into a homosexual relationship with a boy - hardly what one would expect as the origin of a terrible curse in a story originating in Greece.  (Velikovsky actually traces some of this in his introductory chapters; it was the culturally jarring bits which caused him to start looking outside Greece, and the sphinx which pointed him towards Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty.)
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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2018, 09:55:56 PM »
Patrick, I suggest that you are giving yourself a more difficult task than necessary by diving straight into the detail. It seems incredible that a story would be transmitted with exact wounds and similar minutiae. You have to make that seem more credible.
It would help if you could cite some evidence of the transmission of stories from Egypt to Greece abd the level of detail concerned.  What would be the method of transition? Were there bards? Were Greeks in Egypt in some special way just before the play was performed?  Were the priests involved? ( priesthoods being excellent means of freezing and maintaining stories, the Nicene creed being 1700 years old abd still being exactly reproduced)  Did said playwright use other Egyptian stories? Were other pkays derived from Egyptian themes? As I said earlier , can we see other cultural media flowing in the same direction.
Without a context within which detailed stories are shown to have travelled the route from Egypt to Greece the very level if detail that you are claiming becomes a barrier to believing your thesis.
Roy
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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2018, 09:39:24 AM »
Patrick, I suggest that you are giving yourself a more difficult task than necessary by diving straight into the detail. It seems incredible that a story would be transmitted with exact wounds and similar minutiae. You have to make that seem more credible.
It would help if you could cite some evidence of the transmission of stories from Egypt to Greece and the level of detail concerned.

Well, there is one rather obvious 'context within which detailed stories are shown to have travelled the route from Egypt to Greece' - Oedipus himself.  The story puts the exiled Oedipus in Athens, where he is hosted by Theseus (Sophocles moves him to Colonnus, but that was Sophocles' birthplace so most probably also Sophocles' interpolation).  And Oedipus (Akhenaten) is not alone: he has his daughter Antigone (Beketaten) with him.  Interestingly, the Greek story knows nothing of Oedipus' end, a strange condition given that his presence in Greece is a feature throughout, but entirely understandable if he left the country prior to his decease (e.g. hoping to arrange to be buried in his homeland).  This cut-off point is certainly consistent with the primary source of information being Oedipus (Akhenaten) himself, perhaps supplemented by his dutiful daughter, who would have accompanied him on his return.

Most Greek stories about Egypt were picked up by Greeks who went to Egypt.  Here is an example of the level of detail they could bring back (Herodotus II.121):

This king (they told me) had great wealth in silver, so great that none of the succeeding kings could surpass or come near it. To store his treasure safely, he had a stone chamber built, one of its walls abutting on the outer side of his palace. But the builder of it shrewdly provided that one stone be so placed as to be easily removed by two men or even by one. So when the chamber was finished, the king stored his treasure in it, and as time went on, the builder, drawing near the end of his life, summoned his sons (he had two) and told them how he had provided for them, that they have an ample livelihood, by the art with which he had built the king's treasure-house; explaining clearly to them how to remove the stone, he gave the coordinates of it, and told them that if they kept these in mind, they would be the custodians of the king's riches. So when he was dead, his sons got to work at once: coming to the palace by night, they readily found and managed the stone in the building, and took away much of the treasure.

So far it is rather Ali Baba, but it rapidly becomes less of a fairy tale.

When the king opened the building, he was amazed to see the containers lacking their treasure; yet he did not know whom to accuse, seeing that the seals were unbroken and the building shut fast. But when less treasure appeared the second and third times he opened the building (for the thieves did not stop plundering), he had traps made and placed around the containers in which his riches were stored. The thieves came just as before, and one of them crept in; when he came near the container, right away he was caught in the trap. When he saw the trouble he was in, he called to his brother right away and explained to him the problem, and told him to come in quickly and cut off his head, lest he be seen and recognised and destroy him, too. He seemed to have spoken rightly to the other, who did as he was persuaded and then, replacing the stone, went home, carrying his brother's head.

When day came, the king went to the building, and was amazed to see in the trap the thief's body without a head, yet the building intact, with no way in or out. At a loss, he did as follows: he suspended the thief's body from the wall and set guards over it, instructing them to seize and bring to him any whom they saw weeping or making lamentation.

It gets more detailed.

But the thief's mother, when the body had been hung up, was terribly stricken: she had words with her surviving son, and told him that he was somehow to think of some way to cut loose and bring her his brother's body, and if he did not obey, she threatened to go to the king and denounce him as having the treasure.

The resultant plan and its implementation are described in full.

So when his mother bitterly reproached the surviving son and for all that he said he could not dissuade her, he devised a plan: he harnessed asses and put skins full of wine on the asses, then set out driving them; and when he was near those who were guarding the hanging body, he pulled at the feet of two or three of the skins and loosed their fastenings; [2] and as the wine ran out, he beat his head and cried aloud like one who did not know to which ass he should turn first, while the guards, when they saw the wine flowing freely, ran out into the road with cups and caught what was pouring out, thinking themselves in luck; [3] feigning anger, the man cursed all; but as the guards addressed him peaceably, he pretended to be soothed and to relent in his anger, and finally drove his asses out of the road and put his harness in order. [4] And after more words passed and one joked with him and got him to laugh, he gave them one of the skins: and they lay down there just as they were, disposed to drink, and included him and told him to stay and drink with them; and he consented and stayed. [5] When they cheerily saluted him in their drinking, he gave them yet another of the skins; and the guards grew very drunk with the abundance of liquor, and lay down right there where they were drinking, overpowered by sleep; [6] but he, when it was late at night, cut down the body of his brother and shaved the right cheek of each of the guards for the indignity, and loading the body on his asses, drove home, fulfilling his mother's commands.

We may note the detail with which the man's actions are described, together with other small details (part-shaving the guards, indicating for the historian that the latter were not Egyptian).

The story goes on to describe how the pharaoh tried to catch the enterprising fellow by pandering his own daughter and getting her to ask each man what was the most daring deed he had performed.  Again, the story here is quite detailed.

When the king learned that the body of the thief had been taken, he was beside himself and, obsessed with finding who it was who had managed this, did as follows—they say, but I do not believe it. [2] He put his own daughter in a brothel, instructing her to accept all alike and, before having intercourse, to make each tell her the shrewdest and most impious thing he had done in his life; whoever told her the story of the thief, she was to seize and not let get out. [3] The girl did as her father told her, and the thief, learning why she was doing this, did as follows, wanting to get the better of the king by craft. [4] He cut the arm off a fresh corpse at the shoulder, and went to the king's daughter, carrying it under his cloak, and when asked the same question as the rest, he said that his most impious act had been when he had cut the head off his brother who was caught in a trap in the king's treasury; and his shrewdest, that after making the guards drunk he had cut down his brother's hanging body. [5] When she heard this, the princess grabbed for him; but in the darkness the thief let her have the arm of the corpse; and clutching it, she held on, believing that she had the arm of the other; but the thief, after giving it to her, was gone in a flash out the door.

The enterprising thief was eventually amnestied and given the pharaoh's daughter in marriage (he must have made quite an impression).  We may note that the level of detail is if anything greater than that preserved in the Oedipus stories, or at least the plays derived therefrom.
  • Patrick Waterson
"History is not merely what happened; it is what happened in the context of what might have happened. Therefore it must incorporate, as a necessary element, the alternatives, the might-have-beens." - Hugh Trevor-Roper

Erpingham

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2018, 10:42:23 AM »
But you are not using a Greek source for the history of Egypt.  You are taking the text of a play written in the 5th century set in the heroic past of the Greek city of Thebes and claiming it is a detailed recollection of a translation of a lost Egyptian original from many centuries before about Thebes in Egypt.

Historians use Greek plays for information on aspects of Greek life and equipment (Aristophanes' plays are considered particularly useful for 5th century BC Athenian military equipment), so to deny a play status as a source seems strange.
You have missed the point.  Aristophanes was a 5th century BC Athenian, so is a possible source for 5th century BC Athenian things.  You wouldn't use Shakespeare as a source for 11th century Scottish tactics but you may well use him for details of Elizabethan life.
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I am not claiming it is a recollection of a translation of a lost Egyptian original, merely that the original events made sufficient impression for someone in Greece to take the trouble to remember and record them, that they were passed on to posterity and were seized on as material for 5th century BC Athenian plays, where despite an element of reworking much of the original detail was preserved.

This whole discussion started when you claimed the details of the fight between Etocles and Polynices showed detailed knowledge of a duel between Tutankhamun and Smenkhare, including the use of Egyptian weapons.

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The obvious historical approach in this case would be to start from a critical reading of Euripedes in his cultural context, to see if his work fits alongside other versions of the story and whether what happens is seen through a Greek or Egyptian perspective.  Does the description, for example, fit with other Greek heroic stories (e.g. Homer) or is it notably alien?

It is quite alien; family-based tragedies are nothing new to Greek drama, but cross-generational marriage is to say the least extremely rare. 

Again, you seem to have missed the point.  The story is one covered by other writers and playwrights - it cannot therefore be considered alien to the traditions of Greek literature.  It may have been popular because of its great potential for tragedy - family conflict, mistaken identities, the outworking of fate, but that would be to embark on a discussion of the evolution of Greek drama, which isn't what we are about.  However, back to where we started, does the detailed description of the duel fit the Greek tradition of heroic combat or is it notably alien?
« Last Edit: December 18, 2018, 10:45:12 AM by Erpingham »
  • Anthony Clipsom

aligern

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2018, 11:42:36 AM »
Would not matter if the duel fitted Greekbtraditions as stories are changed by transmission to fit  the understanding of the audience, hence king Arthur and his knights, tourneys etc.
I worry a bit about Patrick seeing ‘detail’ as somehow indicative of accurate transmission, unless that detail is entirely something that could only happen in Egypt.
What is suppirtive is that Fift century Greeks actively sought and disseminated Egyptian stories which the cite does prove.
Kastly, I take the point on Shakespeare, but if we had no modern survivals of Latin literature, then it would be useful to have Julius Caesar as evidence for the end of the Republic.
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Erpingham

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Re: Oedipus, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun's Civil War
« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2018, 12:48:55 PM »
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Kastly, I take the point on Shakespeare, but if we had no modern survivals of Latin literature, then it would be useful to have Julius Caesar as evidence for the end of the Republic.

We might, and if we did we would do so cautiously.  However, that isn't the parallel here.  That would be "In the absence of historical records from Mycenaean period Thebes, to what extent am I willing to treat the legendary tale of Oedipus as evidence of the development of that city?".  If you told me that Shakespeare's Julius Caesar allowed us to accurately reconstruct the career and death of Alexander the Great, you'd be less likely to get an accomodating reply.
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