Akenaten: Hymn to the Sun

1033 words | 4 page(s)

The “Hymn to the Sun” from Janetta Rebold Benton and Robert DiYanni’s Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities was composed by Akhenaten, the Pharaoh of Egypt known for his daring transformation of Egyptian spirituality. The hymn is dedicated to the “Aten”, or the sun god, whom he believed to be the creator of everything on Earth, and is comprised of 12 parts of different lengths. One of the most important hymns of the Dynastic period in Egypt, the “Hymn to the Sun” allows scholars to examine Egyptian spirituality and its heritage. His ideas, expressed in the hymn, set him apart as compared to the polytheistic religious system of the Egyptian dynasty. The present paper will analyze the “Hymn to the Sun” by contrasting it to traditional religion of ancient Egypt, trying to show to what extent Akenaten’s new religion was different and unique in the history of Dynastic Egypt. The paper argues that there are 3 main differences between the beliefs expressed in the hymn, and those of the traditional Dynastic religion, namely, the fact that it illustrates a first example of monotheism in Egyptian culture, it describes a different relationship between the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh, and is conceived as a deity that values life, as compared to traditional Egyptian belief in the importance of death.

The attributes associated with Aten in the hymn are not necessarily new in Egyptian spirituality, however, what is interesting is that the Sun-god worshiped by the Pharaoh comprised many different attributes of several gods, thus making him more powerful, and suggesting that Egyptians needed no other god. This is obvious in VII, lines 3-4, in which Ahkenaten that there is no other God besides the Sun –god. This was completely opposite to the Egyptian tradition, in which many different deities, some more important than others, were worshiped throughout the country, and for different reasons. The hymn suggests, from the first lines, a very comprehensive ‘list’ of attributes that leave no room for other deities. Not only are other gods left aside, but the traditional “triad” form is abandoned. The sun is envisioned as the “one”, with no one besides him. The Sun is responsible, according to the hymn for the creation of life, and in lack of the sun, life is not possible. Due to its constant visibility on the Egyptian sky, and its visible power over the entire nature, the power of the solar god was considered the sole creator of the world. This concept was not a new one, as the polytheistic religious system of the Egyptian dynasty often included creator gods, but this time no other gods are associated to him in the process of creation.

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The relationship between the Sun god and the Pharaoh is also special. In the traditional system of belief, the Royal figure was considered divine itself, and sometimes, the Pharaoh was envisioned as the son of a god. This was only natural, since the Pharaoh needed to continue to proclaim his divine nature to justify his ruling. However, this time, the relationship between Father and Son is deeply spiritual. From part I, Akhenaton describes himself as the son of the sun god, and declares that his divine father loves him, and gathered the people of Egypt for him to rule (12-13). In addition, in part XIII, this relationship is more extensively described, as Akhenaton declares that he knows the Aten better than anyone else and that Aten provides him advice like any good father would. Akhenaten describes his own birth as a divine one. He states that that he was born from the sun’s body of fire in the last verse of the hymn.

Moreover, another difference between the hymn, and the traditional belief, is that in Atenism, life is more important than death. In traditional Egyptian belief, death has a central role, as it can be seen from the importance placed on mortuary constructions, and on rituals of passage, and from the existence of great deities of the death. However, in this hymn, there is no reference to death as well. The sun is worship as an entity which not only gave life to everything, but also continues to bring back ‘life ‘every day, when its light begins to warm the earth again. The sun nurtures and provides for its creatures, and constitutes an entirely positive deity. It is important to note though that death, which is also part of the cycle of life, is not mentioned, but only suggested in reference to night. Night is dangerous in lack of the light provided by the nurturing sun, and therefore, it is a time when everyone should rest. In the hymn, as compared to the traditional Egyptian belief, idea of fights between forces of darkness and those of light is not present, because Aten is the sole god, so he has no enemies. Instead, the sun peacefully sleeps at night, continuing to repeat the re-birth cycle day after day.

Therefore, as shown through this paper, there are many differences between the religious cult of the sun god Aten promoted by the Hymn, and the traditional belief system of the Egyptian Dynasty, despite the fact that many of the same themes are present. The first difference and the most important, is that Aten is considered a unique God, and no other divinities are associated with it. As such he is the sole creator of everything which is alive, and he is the only worthy of worship. The second difference can be found in the relationship between the sun and the Pharaoh. Although this relationship has been described as one of parent- son previously, what is different is the depth of this relation, and the warm and close relation that the hymn suggests. Finally, the third important difference is that, as compared to traditional belief, the God is the importance attributed to life. The sun is a positive, nurturing divinity that begins the cycle of re-birth every day when he wakes up. All these differences show that the period in which the Hymn was composed represented a unique and very important period in the history of Egypt, despite later attempts to hide it and forget about it.

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