46: Akhenaten

Akhenaten

Learn this, and learn it well.

Cause change in one arena of life and you'll be remembered as an innovator.

Better still, if you gain some steam towards this change, but never actually make it to the top of that mountain, fret not, for you will still be remembered as a dreamer.

There is no danger in wanting to change one thing. People are multi-faceted, so they can bend on one thing, no matter what that may be. Case in point, the man in charge of the first great civilization: the pharaoh.

There came a time in Egypt's long, elephantine history, wherein a young ruler by the name of Amenhotep IV came into his own. We could bark at him right out of the gate for using his one thing on the menial labor of changing his name from the aforementioned Amenhotep to the newly minted Akhenaten, fresh enough to not require a number after its pronouncement. But, I'll give old Akh'ey a freebie on that one. Where Akhenaten uses all his valuable points is on the deferment of Egypt's religion away from the Ra's and Horus' towards a new solar-disc God.

One god to rule them all.

A preeminent god. Aten. And the whole of Egypt scratched their heads and mumbled, “Ah, that's what's going on with his new name Akhen-aten. I get it.”

Akhenaten had his one thing, great. One could even say that he converted Egypt shrewdly. He didn't appear to murder dissenters of the new faith, he made pronouncements to associate Aten as a new name of Ra. Aten was not merely the new god on the block, he was, in essence, in literal essence, the amalgamation of all of Egypt's gods. You see, this new monotheism did not require the betrayal of Egypt's many hosts of heaven, nay, it merely was the result of the people's fervent religiosity. All things were summed up in one. All the gods found their true identities, their final godness in Aten himself.

You see?

Right there.

If Akhenaten stopped there, he'd be the greatest innovator of not just his age, but all ages. He'd be the great innovator of Egypt. And if by some chance, a later generation, a son or daughter, a King Tut or a Queen Nefertiti, undid all of Akhenaten's labor in service of the solar-disc Ra, then still, fear not, for we would elevate him to this day as the greatest of all idealistic dreamers.

But the devastating truth is that Akhenaten couldn't stop there.

He moved the capital to... wait for it.... Akhetaten. That's right, Akhenaten lived in Akhetaten worshipping Aten.

And that's not all.

Akhenaten loved his wife just a little too much. Nefertiti, which we remember along with the likes of Cleopatra as being one of histories famous beauties, was the monotheist's wife, lover, and apparently, co-ruler. In his later years, Akhenaten began to serve two divine rulers; his god Aten, and Nefertiti. Unfortunately, Akhenaten's feminism came just a few millennia too early for the rest of the developing world.

Perhaps if the good Pharaoh was ultimately so charismatic, so pragmatic, as well as so wise, he could survive the triple-change he havocked upon Egypt. But alas, he embalmed himself in failure when he changed his image. Akhenaten himself gave orders to have his image be revealed on stone reliefs as having a forever long chin, an alien-ish lengthened skull, twisty legs, and finally, the cherry on top, a sagging stomach.

Who could survive this Salvador Dali-like surrealism?

How could the people take such a caricature seriously?

If you change one thing, you're an innovator. Change two and you're a wizard. Make it three, and you'll be counted as a hopeless romantic. But woe to him who goes beyond that.

Akhenaten tried for four, and so upon his death, all his work was undone. Egypt returned to their old gods, and ultimately, doomed itself because it's once innovative King couldn't stop at one... or two... or three.

Remember Hadrian? He did one thing for Rome; he grew a beard. Thus, after him, every successive Caesar had to have a beard. That's innovation. Constantine went monotheistic... but tried to stretch his luck to two by moving the capitol. Is it any wonder that Alaric sacked Rome less than a century later? Constantine was moderately successful because he stopped at two. Because Akhenaten's appetite for change knew no ending, he stands alongside Nero, Elagabalus, Pied Piper, and Rasputin as a ruler who could have at one time been thought of as an innovator or dreamer poet, but instead lives in historic hell.

REMEMBER, REMEMBER: one change per dictator. Anything more, and you risk legacy ruin.