The strange physical features with which the pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenophis IV) was represented in sculptures and paintings have led to many theories, speculations and fantasies. Akhenaten, who reigned from 1353 to 1335 BC and faced the reputation of a heretic by giving prominence to the god Aten over the other deities of Egypt, appears often in the art of Amarna (the name given to his time , by the name in Arabic of the place where he had his new capital built) with feminine characteristics: wide hips and breasts. Although it is generally believed that it responds to an artistic convention influenced by the new religious ideology, it has sometimes been suggested that this physiognomy could have been caused by some disease, such as genital adipose dystrophy or Frohlich syndrome or the genetic disorder known as de Marfan. Now, a historical novel speculates that the image that Akhenaten wanted to offer of himself perhaps responded to an identity queer, a “non-binary sexual identity” that does not fit into established gender patterns.
The pilgrim of Aten, by the 40-year-old writer and diplomat from Madrid, Luis Melgar (La Esfera de los Libros, 2021), focuses on the princess and later queen Mutnodjmet, who is often considered the sister of Nefertiti – Akhenaten’s main wife – and consort of the general. and then Pharaoh Horemheb, the last of the 18th dynasty (although Egyptologists are not sure that sister and queen, even if they are called the same, are the same person). Mutnodjmet is the narrator of the novel and the author credits her with actually being “a woman enclosed in a masculine body”, a man with a transgender personality who dresses to appear in everyone’s eyes as a woman.
“I was in Cairo, my first diplomatic destination, and I saw in the city’s museum the impressive colossi of Akhenaten with hermaphrodite features, it seemed to me that there was a gender identity issue there and I decided to write a historical novel about the pharaoh and his wife Nefertiti ”, explains Melgar by phone from Beijing, where he is the first secretary of the Spanish Embassy. “However, at the beginning I felt very corseted and, to feel more free, I decided to change the focus and put it on Nefertiti’s sister, also making her transsexual. The character worked so well and I liked him so much that he ate the novel. Everyone finds her endearing, starting with my mother and my husband ”. The novelist considers “a reasonable speculation not so far-fetched” to attribute Akhenaten an identity queer before the letter (during the hieroglyph). “I know people like that, we always think that we have invented gunpowder, but, without a doubt, there were people with that non-binary identity in the past.”
Mutnodjmet lives a stormy relationship of sadomasochistic edges and Theban mistreatment with Horemheb, while establishing ties of sympathy with Akhenaten queer. The pilgrim of Aten, whose plot may seem nonsense, it is nevertheless very entertaining and has echoes of the Egyptian novels of Terenci Moix, the Sinuhé, the Egyptian of Mika Waltari (where the Mutnodjmet-Horemheb relationship also appeared as very conflictive) and Nights of old, by Norman Mailer, with the deal between Ramses II and his subordinate chief chariot for everything, Menenhetet.
Luis Malgar, who has done his homework by documenting himself thoroughly – although there are some debatable scenes in which Egyptians snort drugs and drink tea (what they actually knew was hibiscus infusion anyway) – imagines that Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet They were originally two girls from the Asian kingdom of Mitanni (present-day Syria), Henti and Itani, respectively, the second a boy who felt like a girl, turned into wide-spectrum priestesses of the Hittite goddess of fertility Shaushka – an avatar of Ishtar – in Nineveh. Driven to Egypt, they thrive there in the court of Amenophis III and are adopted by the vizier Ay until Nefertiti arrives to marry the crown prince Akhenaten, while Mutnodjmet falls under the influence of the tyrannical, depraved and ambitious general Horemheb, who the most affectionate Who calls her is a little bitch and makes her soldiers rape her.
In the novel, Akhenaten, confused with his own identity, wants to become a sacred slave or nun, but Nefertiti convinces him to identify himself by elevation with Aten, who, he says, “just like you, is neither male nor female.” The doubts are not an obstacle for Akhenaten to procreate six daughters with Nefertiti, and Tutankhamun with his sister Beketaton (one of the theories that historians consider), and that without liking women. The one who rules Amarna in Melgar’s fiction is actually Nefertiti. “It has always seemed to me that Nefertiti has been treated unfairly”, reflects the novelist, “when she probably had great political talent, and I wanted to vindicate her.” The writer follows another very fashionable hypothesis, which is that Nefertiti succeeded her husband by adopting the identity of male pharaoh. just as Queen Hatshepsut did in her time. As seen, a plot trans it does not clash excessively with the Amarnian era and the New Kingdom in general.
One of Melgar’s endeavors has been to convincingly represent the everyday life of the ancient Egyptians, something he admires in Sinuhé, the Egyptian. For the scenes of the plague of plague he has been based on the current one from covid: when he wrote them he was in China at the beginning of the pandemic. De Terenci Moix says that he likes it very much and that, like him, he has tried to explore narratively the sexual customs of the Pharaonic Egyptians. From his portrait of the Amarna court he emphasizes that, although it was probably as troubled a world as he paints it, his is not a history book but a novel; “In any case, I have tried to be rigorous historically and I have been very orthodox,” he says, although he acknowledges that it is highly unlikely that Nefertiti was a foreign slave. “The truth is that at that time there are so many open questions that it is possible to speculate a lot,” adds the author, who has bravely resolved some mysteries such as the disappearance of Nefertiti from the historical record. Melgar discards the hypothesis that the queen is buried in undiscovered secret chambers of Tutankhamun’s tomb. “I don’t see why he should put his stepmother in her grave,” he says.
The mummy had given birth
The pilgrim of Aten he tries to faithfully portray Mutnodjmet and even has her accompanied by two dwarf slaves who are represented in the Amarnian tombs as his entourage. In any case, archeology seems to show that the lady was not a man: the mummy attributed to her, found badly battered in the Memphite tomb of Horemheb at Saqqara, is undoubtedly that of a woman; the skeleton proves that she gave birth on several occasions and was buried together with a fetus.
Luis Melgar will not leave Egypt in his next novel, nor from the Amarna family, but he will set it in another time: he is writing about the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Carter and Carnarvon and the publication, also in the Sphere, will coincide with the celebrations of the first centenary of the great archaeological find that takes place in 2022.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.