A summary of the historical work of Immanuel Velikovsky
Part 3. Oedipus and Akhnaton
The starting point of Velikovskys researches into history was a book by Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, which dealt primarily with the Egyptian king Akhnaton. Velikovsky was a psychologist and he was soon struck by the similarities between Akhnaton and the legendary Oedipus. Thus he began his historical studies and, after the publication of other works, in 1959 his book Oedipus and Akhnaton was published, in which he defended the thesis that the Oedipus legend was based on historical events, i.e. the fate of Pharaoh Akhnaton. It was more or less a digression by Velikovsky as it contains no evidence of his other claims. However, the similarities are indeed striking and this amazing assertion should not be overlooked in a summary of the work of Velikovsky.
I will begin with a brief description of the Oedipus legend. The legend had an important place in early Greek literature. Already in Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus meets Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus, in the underworld. All known Greek writers of antiquity wrote about the story of Oedipus, or parts of it, which have become famous tragedies. There are many variations of the story, but in broad outline they are the same.
When the Theban king Laius and his wife Jocasta were expecting their first child, there was an oracle that foretold that the child would murder his father and marry his mother. On the birth of a boy, Laius gave the order to take him into the wilderness and leave him there to die, but a shepherd found the child and brought it to the palace of the king of Corinth. There the child grew up thinking himself to be a son of the king of Corinth.
When the boy became older, the oracle of Delphi predicted that he would murder his father and therefore Oedipus did not want to return to Corinth. During his wanderings he came across Laius who attacked him when he didnt move out of the way quickly enough. Subsequently, Oedipus killed Laius. Oedipus reached the gate of the city of Thebes, which was guarded by a winged sphinx. The Sphinx gave him a riddle and when Oedipus solved the riddle the Sphinx killed herself in anger by jumping off a cliff. The people of Thebes were happy with the death of the Sphinx and Oedipus married Jocasta. He had two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
Then there were disasters in the city and people went to the oracle to ask for the cause of these disasters. The answer was that someone in the city had killed his father and should be punished. Gradually the truth became clear to those involved. Jocasta hung herself and Oedipus blinded himself by stabbing his eyes and then went into exile.
His sons agreed to reign one after the other, changing every year, but after one year Eteocles refused to give up his place. Polyneices went to Argos and with help of seven heroes of Argos he tried, unsuccessfully, to conquer Thebes. During this war, Eteocles and Polyneices were both killed in a mutual fight. King Creon, the brother of Jocasta, became king. He gave Eteocles a royal funeral, but forbade anyone to touch the corpse of Polyneices. Antigone could not bear that her beloved brother lay there as food for birds and dogs and she tried to bury him, but she was caught and sentenced to a slow death, trapped in a tomb.
After one generation the 'Epigoni', the sons of the seven heroes who had helped Polyneices, returned to Thebes. They conquered the city and put an end to the family of King Laius. According to the Greek historians this was ten to fourteen years later and also only a decade before the start of the Trojan War.
When Velikovsky started his research into the similarities between Oedipus and Akhnaton his first objection was, of course, that it is hard to imagine that Greek writers would base their plays on stories of a king who lived 900 years earlier than they. In subsequent years he developed the theory that Egyptian history might be estimated nearly 600 years too old. That would make the link of Oedipus and Akhnaton less absurd than it first appeared.
Velikovsky provided a great number of indications that the legend could be based on the life of Akhnaton.
First, the city of Thebes. In Greece there is a city of Thebes and in Egypt there was also a city of that name, especially prominent during the 18th Dynasty. In the time of Akhnaton it was the capital of the country.
Then there was the Sphinx, a mythical creature that is not part of Greek mythology, but is eminently typical of Egyptian mythology. Further, a Sphinx with a female torso and with wings appeared for the first time in Egypt during the time of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy, the parents of Akhnaton.
Queen Tiy had three daughters who are often depicted in family portraits, but they also had a son, Amenhotep IV, who appeared in portraits only when he became king, after the death of Amenhotep III. We have no sign of his existence from before that time. The Amarna letters indicate that Amenhotep IV is indeed a son of Amenhotep III. The king of Mitanni wrote to Amenhotep IV about the time "that your father was king", as if Amenhotep IV did not know a lot about it. He also says: "You can ask your mother, Tiy, about it". These are indications that Amenhotep IV did not grow up at the court of his parents, but elsewhere.
After a few years, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhnaton.
A further clue is the name of Oedipus. Literally it means 'swollen feet', but it may very well be translated as 'swollen legs'. Images of Akhnaton show that he had a long neck and long back of the head. Another characteristic was a thick abdomen combined with a thin upper body. In a 1920 article, a French physician stated that Akhnaton seemed to have suffered from a disease called progressive lipodistrophy. This might explain why the Greeks called him Oedipus.
We can imagine that the disease was visible at a very early age and that his father and the counsellors of his father thought the boy would not live long and that it was better if he did not grow up at the court. The boy could have been raised at the court of family in Mitanni. Akhnaton often called himself "he who continued to live", an addition that has puzzled historians. Contrary to expectations, he remained alive and it is possible that he developed a grudge against his father, the counsellors of his father, and maybe the priests of Amon. That resentment could have played a role in the fact that Akhnaton, wherever he got the chance, made the name of his father unreadable and also, in his decision at some moment in the fifth year of his reign, to abolish the worship of Amun, to replace it with the worship of Aten and to build a new capital several hundred kilometers north of Thebes. After his arrival at Thebes, maybe his resentment led him to throw the Sphinx, off a rock, but that is speculation and is not enough to take the similarity between Oedipus and Akhnaton for granted.
Akhnaton and Tiy.
When Akhnaton built the new capital Akhet-Aten, he started to build tombs for his family and senior officials. The largest tomb under construction was for Ay, the man who would later become king after the death of the son of Akhnaton, Tutankhamun. Ay was mentioned with many honorary titles, including 'divine father', a kind of title that was earlier given to Huya, the father of Queen Tiy, mother of Akhnaton. If the roots of the Oedipus legend lie in the time of Akhnaton, it is possible that Creon in the legend plays the role of Ay. In the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology in 1957, an article appeared that offered a fairly strong argument that Ay was the brother of Queen Tiy and was also the father of Nefertiti, the woman that Akhnaton married.
Akhnaton married Nefertiti and had a number of daughters. Sometimes two daughters are depicted, sometimes four and sometimes six.
In Akhet-Aten was a tomb for Huya, built in the twelfth year of the reign of Akhnaton. Huya was the superintendent of the house and the harem of Tiy. Tiy is called the king's mother and great royal wife. She was called royal wife because she was the wife of Amenhotep III, but it is puzzling why she would still maintain a harem after her husband had been dead for 12 years. In Huya's tomb, Nefertiti is depicted with two daughters, but Tiy is also depicted with royal decorations and a princess, Beketaten. The famous Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, said that Beketaten was often called the seventh and favorite daughter of Akhnaton, but the fact that she was always depicted with Queen Tiy and was named princess, while the other daughters were consistently named daughters of Nefertiti, led Flinders Petrie to conclude that Beketaten was Tiys daughter. Because Tiye was Amenhotep III's wife, it was concluded that Beketaten was a daughter of Amenhotep III, but the fact that she was pictured as being so young caused confusion and historians tried to think of all sorts of explanations.
Tiy was described as the loving husband of the king (as if Amenhotep III was still alive). Velikovsky raised the question as to whether Akhnaton may not only have married Nefertiti, but also Tiy, his mother, and if he might also have been the father of Beketaten.
Mitanni family relationships
Oedipus married his mother and maybe Akhnaton did the same, the difference being that Oedipus did it without being aware of it, while Akhnaton must have known. There were family ties between the house of Amenhotep III and the royal family of Mitanni. Amenhotep's mother was a Mitanni princess, just as was one of his wives, and there are suspicions that one of the parents of Tiy was also of Mitanni descent. Therefore, Velikovsky suggests that Akhnaton grew up in the royal family of Mitanni and assumes that Mitanni may be the same as the Medes, who lived in the north-western part of Persia. Persian peoples had different ideas than other nations about sexual relations between parents and children or between siblings. In their religious beliefs, such contacts are encouraged and Greek and Roman writers of antiquity repeatedly reported in horror about such relations among the Persians. So, we can imagine Akhnaton being brought up where a marriage between mother and son or father and daughter was found not only permissible but even desirable, especially so in the royal family.
Akhnaton came to Thebes and married Nefertiti, but also his mother, initially in secret, but after his break with the priests of Amon in the fifth or sixth year of his reign, when he chose the worship of Aten, he decided to be "living in truth" and made his relationship with his mother public. That could be the significance of the regular addition to his name: "living in truth".
In the twelfth year of Akhnatons reign Nefertiti suddenly disappeared from the scene. Her name was removed from a number of monuments, while Akhnaton's name was left intact. We may assume that she had fallen into disfavour, but the cause is unknown. Tiy apparently won the battle of who was the most important wife of Akhnaton, because both kept appearing on images after his twelfth year. However, she didnt have long to enjoy her victory. King Akhnaton remained on the throne for five more years, although somewhere in those five years Tiy also disappeared from the scene. In the last days of his reign Akhnaton was frequently shown with his eldest son Smenhkare, who he appointed as co-ruler and who is king for about one year after the disappearance of Akhnaton.
During this period the power of the Egyptian empire eroded quickly. The Amarna letters that were found in the ruins of Akhet-Aten show that kings of Syria and Palestine desperately and vainly begged for help. Only a few decades earlier Egypt was the undisputed ruler in the area. In the eyes of the people of Egypt the trouble in the country was obviously connected with the sinfulness in which the king and his family lived. We can compare this with the verdict of the Delphic oracle that someone had killed his father and needed to be punished. Ay placed himself at the head of the opposition to Akhnaton. The fate of Akhnaton is not known. When, during the excavations at Akhet-Aten, a double wall was found with a room beyond, bedouins who lived in the neighbourhood said that behind the wall a doomed prince had been detained in the distant past. Velikovsky mentions this, but leaves it at that.
The resemblance between the fate of Oedipus and Akhnaton does not stop here. Two graves found in the early twentieth century in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, have shed new light on the matter. One was discovered in 1907 and, although the tomb was in dissaray, it had apparently never been robbed by grave robbers because in it were several golden objects. There were wooden panels covered with gold and bearing the name of Queen Tiy. There were also other object with her name on them. On the floor lay a coffin covered with gold and precious stones, but it was ruptured on one side. Initially it was thought that the tomb of Tiy had been found, but when the bones were subjected to closer examination, it turned out to be the body of a man. Because the coffin in which the mummy was found was clearly intended for Akhnaton (his name was scratched, but all his royal titles were still there), it was thought it was the mummy of Akhnaton. Confusing, however, was that the skull belonged to a person aged 26 years at most. Akhnaton was an adult when he became king and reigned almost 17 years as king. Under the feet of the mummy a love-poem was found, etched in gold leaf and apparently dedicated to the dead.
The second tomb was the tomb of Tutankhamun. There are no archaeological finds in history that have caused as much of a stir as the discovery, in 1922, of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
In the grave there was enormous wealth for a king who actually had a short life. After the examination of the mummy, Tutankhamun turned out to have been about eighteen years of age at the time of his death. The most surprising thing was that his skull showed a lot of resemblance to the way Akhnatons head was always depicted. The conclusion was that Tutankhamun had been a son of Akhnaton. Until then it had been assumed that he was Akhnaton's son-in-law, because he was married to Ankhesenpaaten, the third daughter of Nefertiti. So, Tutankhamun was married to his half sister.
On re-examination of the mummy from the first tomb, it was found that the deceased could have been only 23 years old, at the most. He must also have been a son of Akhnaton. This meant that it was Smenkhare, Akhnatons successor for a short period before Tutankhamun became king, also for a short period. The difference in the funerals of the two is remarkable and the legend of Oedipus can shed light on the reason for this.
When Oedipus abdicated from the throne, the eldest son, Polyneices (Smenkhare?), succeeded him. The two brothers agreed to change places each year and after one year Eteocles (Tutankhamun?) was king. After another year Polyneices came back, but at the advice of Creon (Ay), Eteocles refused to transfer power. Polyneices got help and then there was the war of the 'Seven against Thebes', in which both brothers died. After that Creon took power. One brother was given a royal funeral, while the other brother on the battlefield lay prey to birds and dogs.
In one of the burial chambers of Tutankhamun he is shown fighting a war against foreign invaders and that could very well be a depiction of the war for the succession of Akhnaton.
In the legend, Antigone buried her brother (and was punished for it). It seems that Smenkhare was hastily and improvisingly buried by someone who tried to embalm him as much as possible, burned some herbs and left a love poem for the deceased. This person had used four vases with a name that could not be read and with the image of someone who later proved to be Meritaten. Meritaten was the eldest daughter of Nefertiti. She was the half-sister of Smenkhare and his wife. Antigone mourned the death of her brother who might also have been her husband.
For punishment Creon left Antigone in a tomb to die. Velikovsky mentions the discovery of a small grave 90 metres away from the tomb of Smenkhare, two square metres wide and two metres deep. It attracted little attention from archaeologists. In that grave was some left-over food, plates, jugs and other items of little value, such as oil lamps, brooms and a few scarves that could be precisely dated to the last year of Tutankhamun. One of the scarves had a mark woven with the words 'Long live the good king Nofer'. Nofer was the name Smenkhare assumed when Nefertiti disappeared from the scene. Velikovsky stops there and says that although there is no evidence, this pit could be where Antigone died. Ay remained king for a few years and, if we are to believe the legend, after Ay the house of Akhnaton and the 18th Dynasty ended when, after ten years, the Epigoni returned and conquered Thebes.
All in all, the similarities between Oedipus and Akhnaton are remarkable, and not only because of the name of Thebes, the thick legs and the Sphinx. Both grew up elsewhere and became king after the death of their father. They married their mother and had a child from her and both were murderers of their father (Oedipus literally and Akhnaton by mutilating parts of his father's name.) There was a curse upon their kingdom and after their voluntary or forced resignation, there was conflict between the two sons that followed him. Both sons died about the same time. An uncle took power and gave one son a royal funeral and the other nothing.
Of course, the events at the court in Egypt, which at that time was the most powerful empire in the entire Middle East, made a big impression in the world. Certainly, if we assume that all of this happened not in 1340, but in 800 BC, it is hardly surprising that the events were retold in all parts of the classical world. The fate of Michael Jackson and the sex scandals of Bill Clinton and the OJ Simpson murder case combined in one person, may be compared with what had happened in Egypt. We in our time hear about it through radio and television. The classical world was just developing the art of writing and the early Greek writers were happy to have such a fascinating subject to write about.