The Bearded Pharaonic Lady; also, Weird Popular Depictions
This post spiraled off from my last post, as frequently happens.
You know you’re looking at a pharaoh in ancient Egyptian artwork by looking at his hat. There’s several different hats, but all of them are only worn by pharaohs. Moreover, there’s a square beard also only worn by pharaohs. That means when you see the above image, it’s got to be a pharaoh because only pharaohs have that headdress and beard.
Even if that statue is a woman, which it totally is.
Egyptians had a strong sense of ephemeral vs. eternal. Life on earth is short; palaces were built of degradable materials because it is the house of life. Stone was used for temples to the eternal gods and tombs to protect the eternal soul.
To Egyptians, what defined you was less about appearance and more about the soul, and so it is the soul that is depicted in their art. That’s why you can’t tell a person’s age in Egyptian artwork and all of their faces are the same. Instead, symbols tell us the nature of the soul in question.
The female Hatshepsut ruled Egypt for ever 20 years and, by most accounts, was pretty damn good at it. Thus, she had the soul of a pharaoh and, thus, she should bear the symbols of a pharaoh. Not all images of pharaohs have beards, and there are plenty of Hatshepsut without the beard, but there are also several that do.
While the image at right shows Hatshepsut as more obviously feminine (and beardless), there’s still real ambiguity to her. She has the figure of a woman but not the clothing of such. Instead, she appears to have no upper clothing at all, yet she doesn’t bear the details of a naked female body either.
The naked chest is completely expected for a male pharaoh, and here she once more takes on a more masculine appearance.
This is the expected dress of a pharaoh: headdress, beard (now missing), bare chest and knee length loin cloth.
Obliteration from History
Despite her skill at ruling, there was eventually a determined effort to remove her from history. Egypt was all about the natural order of things, and a female pharaoh just didn’t quite fit (although women were much more respected in Egypt than in many other ancient cultures). Her name was chiseled off carvings and omitted from later records of pharaohs. Her statues were smashed, and in some places she was simply and literally removed.
In my search for appropriate images, I came across this gem. Apparently, the image is used in the game Civilization IV. I’d put on my professor-pants and object to the fact that she’s wearing the crown of a wife, not a pharaoh, except that I’m too busy debating exactly how racist I should interpret that face.
And then, finally, the pic that actually started this train of thought:
At least they got the hat right.