Akhnaton -The First Democrat
The leader who had the first social consciousness in the administration of a nation
was a Pharaoh of Egypt, Akhnaton. … Born several thousand years too soon,
he was the first realist in democracy, the first humanitarian, the first internationalist. …
He saw that the duty of the ruler is to protect for all the right to live well,
to think, to dream, to hope, and to aspire. …
For his dream of the Brotherhood of Man he cheerfully gave his life.
MAN has passed out of the state of savagery and become a civilized creature with the development of social consciousness. Civilization is a collective state. In our collective type of life the isolationist is a detriment to himself and a menace to all others.
There is a great difference between isolationism and intellectualism. Development of the mind releases the individual from mob psychology, but it does not set him apart from the common responsibilities of his kind. A true thinker becomes a force for good within the group life. If his intellectual powers lure him away from the practical problems and values of his world, he can no longer make his contribution to the social unity.
Political reforms are not accomplished by the people, but through the people. Behind all collective progress stands the enlightened individual’s leadership. His superiority does not free him from common responsibility; his is the obligation to assume the greater burden of directing his vision to the well being of all his people.
Let us see how this works. We’ll go far back to ancient times.
Akhnaton, Pharaoh of Egypt, throned under the title Amen-Hotep IV, is often referred to as the first civilized human being. While this may not be literally true, he was definitely the first man in recorded history to exemplify social consciousness in the administration of a great nation.
Akhnaton, the beloved child of the Aton, was born at Thebes about 1388 B.C. Like most of the princes of his house, he was extremely delicate as a child, and it was feared that he would not live to reach the throne; as the last of his line, the dynasty would end with him if he died without issue. For this reason he was married in his twelfth year to a ten year old Egyptian girl of noble birth, named Nefertiti.
During the childhood of the young king, the Queen mother, Tiy, ruled as regent of the double empire. She is believed to have been of Syrian origin, which would account for the many strange and un-Egyptian ideas in religion, government and art which were developed during the reign of Akhnaton. Queen Tiy, brilliant and capable, had recognized before her son reached his majority that in him were qualities more divine than human. The son became the actual ruler of his country in his eighteenth year; his reign extended for seventeen years.
Akhnaton had been ruler of Egypt only about two years when he opposed his will to the priesthood of Amon-Ra. By attacking the oldest and most firmly established of all Egyptian institutions, the young Pharaoh created legions of enemies and brought down upon himself the wrath of the religion of the State. He could scarcely have chosen a surer way of complicating the problems of his life.
In the midst of this conflict he proclaimed a new spiritual dispensation, and to escape his enemies built a new capitol city, one hundred and sixty miles up the Nile from Cairo. His new faith was Atonism; and he named his city Khut-en-Aton–the Horizon of the Aton–and dedicated the city with these words: “Ye behold the City of the Horizon of Aton, which the Aton has desired me to make for Him as a monument, in the great name of My Majesty forever. For it was Aton, my Father, that brought me to this City of the Horizon.”
As High Priest of his new religion, Amen-Hotep IV changed his name to Akhnaton, because the older name included the word Amen, whose faith he had rejected.
Charles F. Potter, in his History of Religion, says of Akhnaton that he was, “the first pacifist, the first realist, the first monotheist, the first democrat, the first heretic, the first humanitarian, the first internationalist, and the first person known to attempt to found a religion. He was born out of due time, several thousand years too soon.”
From his twenty-sixth year to his thirty-first year, Akhnaton devoted his life to the perfection of his mystical doctrine in the city which he had built for the Ever Living God. Here he taught the mystery of the Divine Father, and wrote the simple and beautiful poems which have endured and survived time. To Akhnaton, God was not a mighty warrior ruling over Egypt, speaking through the oracles of his priests; he was not a Supreme Being flying through the air in a war chariot leading armies of destruction. Aton was the gentle father who loved all his children, of every race and nation; and desired for them that they should live together in peace and comradeship.
Even more, God, the Aton, had created all the lesser creatures, whether birds that nested in the papyrus reeds along the banks of the Nile, or dragonflies with many colored wings that hovered over quiet pools and the lotus blooms. The Aton was the father of all beasts, and fishes, and flowers, and insects. He had fashioned them in his wisdom and preserved them with his love and tenderness.
Akhnaton, seated in the garden of his palace, spent many hours watching the flight of birds and listening to the voices of little creatures. He tells us that he found the Aton in all of them; and that his heart went out to them, and he gave thanks for the goodness in everything that lived.
This was a Pharaoh who traveled alone through the countryside, meeting the peasants, conversing with slaves, and sharing the simple food of the poor. To the most ignorant man he listened with profound respect, for in each of his subjects he sought and found the life of the Aton. He saw the Universal God shining through the eyes of little children, beheld the beauty of the Aton in the bodies of the men who worked in the fields. He could not understand why others did not see God in everything, as he did.
Like most of the great religious leaders, Akhnaton accepted the social problem of life as part of religion. He could not accept the inequalities of birth, wealth, or physical estate as a justification for men persecuting each other or exploiting one another. He saw every living thing having a divine right–a right to live well, to think, to dream, to hope, and to aspire. He saw it the duty of the ruler to protect this beauty in the hearts of his people, to nourish it, and to give every possible opportunity for its expression and perfection.
Religious intolerance was impossible among those who worshipped the Atan, and there was no room for political intolerance in a world governed by the laws of brotherly love. Each man became the protector and comforter of all other men, cherishing the dreams of others equally with his own.
In his personal life Akhnaton emerges as the first man in history to bring dignity and gentle beauty to the management of his home. He was the father of seven daughters, to whom he was completely devoted, and in his speeches and public pronouncements he always referred to Queen Nefertiti as “my beloved wife.”
It was usual for the Pharaohs to cause themselves to be depicted in great stone carvings upon the walls of their palaces. They were represented as majestic figures, crowned and sceptered; they were shown either seated on their thrones or wielding their weapons against their foes. Akhnaton was the only Pharaoh in the history of Egypt who chose to be depicted with his arm about his wife, with his little daughters playing about and seated on his lap.
As with the passing years the health of the Pharaoh grew worse, the opposition of the priesthood of Amon-Ra grew greater; and his reign was complicated by invasions by the Hittite nations. The governors of various provinces pleaded with him for help, but Akhnaton would not send armies.
The dreamer king saw his lands pillaged and his cities conquered; but he would not kill his enemies; they, too, were children of the Aton.
Akhnaton died in his thirty-sixth year, at the altar of the Aton in the temple of the faith he had created. When his mummy case was found, the following prayer to the Aton was discovered inscribed on golden foil beneath his feet. “I breathe the sweet breath which comes forth from Thy mouth. I behold Thy beauty every day …. Give me Thy hands, holding Thy spirit, that I may receive it and may be lifted by it. Call Thou upon my name unto eternity, and it shall never fail.”
In the words of the great Egyptologist, Professor Breasted, “There died with him such a spirit as the world had never seen before.”
Akhnaton was the first man in history who dared to dream of the Brotherhood of Men, and he cheerfully gave his life and his empire for that dream.
He is indeed, “The beautiful child of the Living Aton, whose name shall live forever and ever.”
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