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A Fictional Biography of Hatshepsut-Maatkare


Maria Isabel Pita


© 2009, Maria Isabel Pita

All Rights Reserved


Daughter of Re


Great House


Hatshepsut first experienced fear in her royal nurse’s milk. The unfamiliar flavor made her cry in protest. Desire and fulfillment formed the twin peaks of her life until the first words she believes she remembers hearing, “The falcon has flown!” were whispered against her cheek, and then suddenly the generous nipples she loved so much trickled only a frustrating bitterness. Fortunately, her mother came and took her away and in the arms of her new nurse life became unremarkably pleasant again.

She was too young to understand that her mother’s brother, Amenhotep, Amun is Content, had gone to his Ka and another man had taken his place as Lord of the Two Lands—her father. She loved the way he swept her up in his arms and spun her around and around, transforming the room into a cloud of bright colors in which the only real thing was the firm warmth of his arms holding her against him. When he set her down she clung to the pillars of his legs, giggling helplessly as the room settled solidly back into place. The world outside entered the house in her father’s flesh and she inhaled it curiously as he perched her on his lap. She loved snuggling up against him while he conversed with the queen even though his deep voice vibrated so soothingly through her body she had to struggle not to drift off to sleep. She pressed her ear against his chest, listening in wonder to the drummer living inside him who never needed to rest. Intriguing shapes sometimes hung from a leather cord around his neck, and although they did not taste like much their bright colors never failed to entertain her.

 She hated it when Inet came to take her away; she would much rather have slept in Pharaoh’s arms than in her bed. Knowing it might be a long time before she saw him again made it doubly hard to let go. The first sentence she clearly remembers understanding was spoken by her father: “She is a little queen fighting for her throne.”

“My throne!” she echoed and clutched the head of the jeweled bird resting with open wings against his chest. Determined to hold onto him, she endured the pain of its beak digging into her skin.

* * * * *

Hatshepsut traced the contours of a gold figure that formed part of a small wooden box but was cooler and smoother to the touch. Its face was missing and it seemed to be wearing a skirt. Only its lovingly open arms looked familiar.  

She said, “Who is this odd little person, Mami?”

“That is an ankh, my love, the symbol for life.”

“It looks like a person,” she insisted, not knowing what a symbol was.

“Because a human being is the pinnacle of life,” the queen replied patiently, “the brilliant star at the summit of the pyramid.”

“And what is life?”

“Ultimately, life is the mysterious ability to ask that question, Hatshepsut.”

“I do not know what a symbol is,” she admitted. Words she had never heard both excited and affronted her. It made her feel annoyingly stupid how many objects had the power to hide from her even in the bright light of Re, until a new collection of sounds suddenly made her see them as if for the first time.

“Symbols, my daughter, are all the masks worn by Maat, the goddess who can also take the form of an ankh. And before you ask me who Maat is I will tell you even though you will not yet understand. Maat is one of the two daughters of Re.”

It soothed Hatshepsut’s frustration to sit on her mother’s soft lap and forget the sharp edge of questions. It was true she did not understand but with someone lovingly caressing her shaved head it did not matter.

“I am very proud of you, Hatshepsut. The intelligence of your heart is as sharp as Thoth’s beak. There will be time for more questions later but now you must go and clean the body your heart brings to life with its voice.”

“I have heard father’s heart talking, and yours and Inet’s as well, but it does not use words as we do.”

“Listen carefully, my love. The feelings burning in your heart are sia and the thought-words which serve to express them are ais. The difference between them is the difference between the sun’s life-giving heat and the moons cold reflection of its light. Lord of Time through the phases of the moon, Thoth is Re’s servant. Remember that, Hatshepsut.”

“I promise I will remember even though I still do not understand.”

“You will.”

“When? After I take my bath?”

Ahmose laughed and pushed her gently off her lap. “Perhaps after you take as many baths as there are frogs in the palace ponds! Now off with you, impatient one.”

* * * * *

The River had risen five times before experiences began flowing with increasing clarity and depth through Hatshepsut’s awareness, shaping the banks of past and present while the future remained a formless brilliance indistinguishable from her first conscious sight of the great pyramids.

Sitting on her favorite goose-head stool beneath a pavilion erected in the center of the vessel, she kept her back straight and attempted to hold herself motionless as a statue. Only her eyes moved, squinting and blinking in the face of the world’s brilliant colors. On both sides of the River, stretching all the way to the edges of the desert, golden fields of wheat were divided by shadowy groves of date palms or by herds of peacefully grazing cattle.

The royal barge turned into a canal lined by limestone walkways and her breath caught as the horizon blinded her. For a gloriously unsettling instant she failed to understand it was a pyramid filling her vision. Its dimensions were so vast it was difficult to distinguish its solid edges. The monument soared up from the desert into the boundless sky and ended in a star brilliant enough to shine in Re’s company. The pyramid’s gleaming point sent long, luminous arms directly into her squinting eyes and she felt it silently telling her something wonderful.

As the ceremonial ship glided along the still waters of the canal, she turned her attention reluctantly back down to earth. Above the rhythmic whisper of the oars more voices than she had ever heard before surged in powerful waves toward the pavilion where she sat behind her father, The Good God Akheperkare, and her mother, Queen Ahmose, King’s Sister[1] and Pharaoh’s Great Royal Wife. Also with them that morning was Ahmose-Meritamun, Born of the Moon-Beloved of Amun, King’s Daughter, King’s Sister and God’s Wife.

An intermittent breeze—strengthened by attendant’s slowly waving great ostrich feather fans—wafted myriad scents beneath Hatshepsut’s nose. In contrast her hearing felt oddly numbed by the cries of joy rising from the multitudes lining the banks. The crowds rippled like fields of wheat in a powerful wind as some people regained their feet and others kissed the earth as the royal ship approached. She was happy everyone loved her family so much but she was more interested in the giant lion—its human face framed by a striped cloth like the one her father was wearing that morning—that crouched on the horizon guarding not just one pyramid but three.

She squirmed against the spotted animal skin sticking to her naked buttocks, eager to disembark. It was an overwhelming relief when she was at last able to stand up and walk. The white temples of the pyramid builders reflected the light so intensely she was glad Inet had painted her eyelids with soothing shadows. All she remembers after that is standing between her mother and Meri facing a marvelously life-like statue. They were alone; father had vanished into one of the shining walls with the hemu Ka. It had made her nervous when the priest stared down into her eyes as if there was no end to how far he could see inside her. She had been glad when he left and she could grasp her mother’s hand and the hand of her mother’s sister safely in hers.[2] She felt very grown up in those moments even though her only adornment was a girdle of golden cowrie shells Inet had said would help keep her beautiful and healthy. The insides of her sandals were decorated with scorpions she magically crushed with every step while invoking the protection of Serket.

Mindful of being a visitor in the royal couple’s offering chapel, she whispered, “Who are they, Mami?” The nearly life-size statue was carved from a smooth dark stone.

It was Meri who replied, “That is Menkaure the Divine and his Great Royal Wife, Khamrenebty, the goddess Hathor embodied.”

“He is almost as handsome as father.” She was careful to continue speaking quietly. “But his queen is wearing a funny looking wig.”

“That funny looking wig,” Ahmose squeezed her hand as if by way of reprimand, “was the height of fashion a long time ago, Hatshepsut.”

“Well, she looks very nice, and she loved her husband as much as you love father.”

Meri asked, “How do you know that?”

“Because she is embracing him and holding him close beside her, as if she does not wish for him to go away all the time the way father does, and she looks happy. How could she be so happy if she did not really love him?”

“An excellent observation,” said God’s Wife. “And an even more astute question.”

“Notice, Hatshepsut,” her mother added in the tone of voice that commanded her to listen attentively, “that Khamrenebty is as tall as her husband. In reality her head may only have reached his shoulder but in truth she was his equal and ruled Kemet by his side. So it always was between The Good God and his Great Royal Wife before the darkness of chaos swept over Kemet in the form of invaders from the north. Now there are only a few of us left who remember.”

* * * * *

“Hatshepsut!” Inet cried her name urgently. “Come, my lady! It is time to give a road to the feet!”

“But I cannot leave without Bubu!”

As she spoke his name, the cat strolled into her room from the Pleasure House.

 “There he is.” Inet frowned. The large young feline never listened to her. “Now hurry, my dear. The boat has been furnished and Pharaoh awaits his daughter.”

“Come, Bubu, we are going on a journey!” She was not at all nervous about leaving home because everyone who lived in her heart was going with her.

It turned out to be a very long journey. Land gave them to land as the River never ended. Thankfully, being onboard the Falcon was great fun. She was not limited to the pavilion, except for during the hottest part of the day when Inet made her take a nap after they ate. She spent as much time as her father permitted by his side. She enjoyed listening to him talk with the captain, a tall man named Manu whose especially nice smile inspired her to favor him with her questions and observations.

As the solar bark began its journey through the dark hours of the night, the royal ships turned toward shore and a Mooring Place of Pharaoh. Unless she was too tired to remember their arrival, Hatshepsut always enjoyed studying new faces and smiling up at each one to see how it reacted. She liked the people who grinned warmly back at her, but she was disappointed and bored by those individuals who looked away, as if the daughter of Re was too bright to look at.

She knew from listening to her parents talking together alone, as they invariably did in the evenings, that how well equipped the ports were pleased them.

“Soldiers and chariots are all kept properly anointed,” her mother said. “And I have it from Akheperseneb that Pharaoh’s army occasionally eats as well as the court, enjoying short-horned oxen from the west, fat calves from the south and succulent birds from the reed swamps in addition to the customary wheat loaves, dried meats and honey cakes. My lord is truly generous.”

“It is best to keep them happy now for the closer we draw to Wawat the louder their bellies will speak longingly of home.”

Even though she was full of duck, Hatshepsut could not resist helping herself to another fig. “Where is Wawat?” she asked.

“Near the end of the world!” Ahmose sighed.

“Then why do we have to go there?”

“Pharaoh is honoring all the gods with a visit to the Nome of their birth. The Ba of each Nome enriches the land in its own unique fashion but they all share a single Ka in the king who wears the Two Ladies on his forehead—the vulture Nekhbet, guardian of the south, and the cobra Wadjet, protector of the North. Wawat is in Down Below, the realm of chaos and despair where Sekhmet feasted wildly on blood until Thoth transformed her into Bast by plunging her into the sacred waters of Osiris at the birth of the River. Pharaoh is once again taking the shining lances of his army Down Below to pierce its darkness with Re’s light and enforce the Divine order of Maat. Now off to bed.”

“Tomorrow we reach the city of your birth, Hatshepsut.” Her father kissed her goodnight on both cheeks. “Waset, home of the King of The Gods, Amun-Re. Together you and I will visit the Hidden One in his temple.”

Wide awake with questions, she lingered disobediently. “But how can we visit a god that hides from us?”

Laughing, Ahmose glanced at her husband, her eyes intent on his reply.

“She is exhausting,” he groaned, falling back across the couch. “I keep expecting Manu to throw her overboard, the poor man. He has earned a golden collar!”

Hatshepsut watched in fascination as her mother leaned over her father and gently raked his skin with her red fingernails from the base of his neck all the way down to his navel. She nearly forgot her question as her parents suddenly reminded her of two kittens playing in a basket.

“Husband,” Ahmose whispered, “she will not leave until you answer her question.”

He grasped her slender wrist, inhaling appreciatively as he sat up. “My dear daughter, your Ka asks questions your Ba is still too young to understand the answers to. Go to bed and see if a dream will enlighten you. We learn as much, and often more, when we are asleep, which is what you should be.”

“Yes, father. Goodnight. Goodnight mother.”

“Goodnight, my love,” they said as one.

* * * * *

Re felt more powerful in the Town of Amun, where Inet said everyone was celebrating the festival of Renenutet, giving thanks for the bountiful harvest and the good fortune of health and abundance that augured the birth of many future scribes. However, when Hatshepsut asked where her mother and Meri had gone, her nurse’s bright expression dimmed to one of respectful sadness.

“They have gone to offer the first fruits of the harvest to the dead and to remember your little brother who went to his Ka only one moon after he was born, on that ill-fated day when Seth celebrates his birthday.”

The jaws of the little wooden hippopotamus sitting in Hatshepsut’s lap closed with a loud snap as she tugged on the string connecting them. “Mother had another child besides me?”

“Please do not tell anyone you know, Hatshepsut. Your mother did not wish to upset you with his death.”

She tossed the toy away. “I am not upset!”

Bubu pounced on it like a lion, intrigued by the string.

The Temple of Amun-Re affected Hatshepsut like her first sight of the pyramids. Rays of light streaming in from openings in the dark ceiling, decorated with golden stars and flying birds, looked almost solid enough to touch. Erected on her father’s command, two rows of immense wooden pillars evoked lotus and papyrus stalks. As Re traveled across the sky, the great columns seemed to bloom with paintings and hieroglyphs inscribed on all their sides. The shafts of sunlight spoke in silent sentences she felt her heart understanding almost as clearly as her eyes could see them. The hall was dark enough to hide the mysterious Amun-Re even as his luminous arms welcomed them.

While the queen and God’s Wife spent the day with the ancient cobra Renenutet, Pharaoh and his daughter visited the Per Ankh, and there her favorite half brother, Amenmose, Born of Amun, joined them. She was delighted to see him. He kindly cured her boredom by giving her a ride on his back into the inner garden, where there was no one to hear her scream as he tossed her into a pool, flung off his kilt, and promptly joined her in the cool water.

She splashed him happily. “What is father doing in that stuffy old room?”

“Consulting with some of the wisest men in the Two Lands.”

“If they were truly wise they would be out here with us!”

He laughed. “Well said, sister.”

* * * * *

After Waset, the royal family stayed for a few days in Nekhen before sailing even further south to Djeba. All Hatshepsut remembers about the Temple of Horus is dazzlingly painted columns and a sky blue as lapis lazuli. Every time she looked up she glimpsed a falcon flying so high its wings appeared as motionless as those of the jeweled hawk resting against her father’s chest. Djeba was special to Pharaoh for he was the spirit of Horus made flesh, or so her mother told her and she believed it even though she had no idea what that meant. She was certain of only one thing—the whole world belonged to her father.

She never got bored on the ship, from which there was always something new to see. One afternoon she happened to be looking at some wet rocks rising from the water near the west bank when one of them suddenly opened its mouth and she realized it was a hippopotamus. Its tongue was as big as her bed; it could easily have crushed her little bones with the square rocks of its teeth and buried her forever in its dark belly. The thought thrilled her with terror.

“The Great One.” Ahmose stretched forth her right hand with two fingers extended in the gesture of protection. “Tawaret, she who destroys to protect and to nourish. If you had to give two words to what the heart repeats over and over with its double beat they would be creation and destruction, the rhythm of life as we experience it.”

Even though Re was still high in the sky, she shivered. “But when something is destroyed it dies…”

“Do not be afraid, my daughter. When we die we are born to the Divine power behind all creation that lives inside us.”

“But Inet told me the hippopotamus goddess protects women in childbirth.”

“That is so, but Tawaret also protects the soul in the magical womb of the burial chamber, through which we are born to our eternal nature as we assume command of the laws of manifestation.” She pointed upriver. “See that crocodile?”

Hatshepsut shaded her eyes with both hands. “Yes, I see it!”

“The first neter to emerge from the starry womb of Mother Nut, Sobek swims with Tawaret, the goddess who wears him across her back in the northern sky. To our body the crocodile is a dangerous creature, but our Ka understands that the death and destruction it represents lead to the transformation of state which returns us to our celestial source. Even so, the journey through the Dwat can be a perilous one. Ammit, who is half crocodile and half hippopotamus, devours any heart which does not balance with the feather of truth, forcing its owner to begin the journey of life anew.”

“The feather worn by the goddess Maat?”

“Yes. Maat is the Divine energy embodied in the sun. If you have faith in life’s eternal nature, and are true to what you believe with all your thoughts and actions, then your heart receives, circulates and exhales Maat as you speak in a perfect balance. But doubts and fears, evil words and deeds block the free flow of cosmic energy through your body, which drains you of health and strength and prevents beautiful things from happening to you.”

Hatshepsut thought a great deal about that conversation. She resented being afraid of anything and it seemed her mother had given her the words she needed to in the future defend herself from the sensation of powerlessness she disliked so much. When she mentioned the hippopotamus to Inet, her nurse changed the subject by once more telling her the story of a fish that fell in love with a boy. For a while she managed to forget the concepts—as dark and intense as the star-filled sky—her mother had planted in her heart.

* * * * *

Hatshepsut began to feel they would never reach Wawat. She did not want to admit she was increasingly nervous about traveling to the end of the world. It reassured her to stand at the ship’s railing and look out at the army traveling with them. The points of spears—all properly polished and anointed—reflected the light of the rising sun so that another glimmering river seemed to be flowing across the earth. At times there was barely enough room in the water for all the boats sailing behind the royal barge. As twilight fell, the gilded Wedjat eyes painted on the curving bows saw into the darkness and guided them safely toward the torch-lit shore.

Every morning the world was born anew and the baboons were there to rejoice in the miracle. Their raucous celebration woke Hatshepsut and forced her to face another day of the seemingly endless journey. Time flowed slowly by in a waking dream of golden desert mountains and vast turquoise skies her mother described as the jewels worn by the falcon god whose right eye was the sun and whose left eye was the moon.

When they reached the first wild waters, all the ships turned into the canal she learned her father had recently emptied of the stones blocking it. But when, days later, they came to a second place where the River was not navigable everyone was obliged to travel by land as Pharaoh commanded the boats be dragged behind them. Hatshepsut’s heart beat fast with mingled fear and excitement as the nearly deafening power of the rushing River, carried toward her by the wind, coolly stung her skin and lips and enabled her to taste its dangerous beauty.

Several mornings later the Soul of Isis rose on the horizon. The star burned a pure blue-white and announced Wep-Renpet, the birth of Re and the Opening of the Year, Pharaoh’s birthday. They were far from home in Wawat, which made the excess of lamps lit that night in celebration look even more comfortingly beautiful, and yet the skin of the royal court’s local host remained as dark as night. No Kushite had ever smiled at her the way Ruiu did, Deputy of the King’s Son and Overseer of the Southern Foreign Lands. She liked Ruiu and his wife very much because they were not afraid to look her straight in the eye. It was disappointing they never touched her; she would have liked to know if their skin was as cool and smooth as the black ivory it resembled.

Inet complained of the plainness of the rooms and garden but wherever there was a pool Hatshepsut was happy, and it especially pleased her when Amenmose joined her in it. She relished distracting him by diving beneath the water and tickling him as he swam. Afterward they embraced the shade beneath a pavilion where he attempted to silence her curious questions by slipping slices of fresh fruit between her lips.

“How much farther do we have to go, brother?”

“A long way, little sister.” He wiped away the cool juice trickling down her chin with his warm thumb. “Deep into wretched Kush.”

“But if Kush is so wretched, why are we going there?”

He frowned. “So it does not come to us.”

This disturbing conversation replayed itself monotonously in her mind until five large monuments, all proclaiming her father’s victory over the Kushites, brought the barren landscape to life with the reassuringly clean and colorful lines of hieroglyphs. The royal party spent that night in one of the newly constructed fortresses and several days later an even larger fortification of Pharaoh rose welcomingly on the horizon.

The ships were pulled over land again and then, at last, they united with their final destination. Generals, priests, scribes, the most elite members of the court, the queen, a prince and the princess—everyone had come all that way in order to watch Pharaoh’s scribes drawing on a big rock. They had reached the end of the ordered world of Maat and Hatshepsut wanted desperately to turn back and go home. It seemed to take forever to complete the great monument marking Kemet’s new southern boundary. Through his bodily son, Thutmose-Akheperkare, the power and compassion of Amun now reached all the way to that desolate place. The mountain became a closed door locked by magic. Those foolish enough to ignore its warning would perish like shadows on the shining lances of Re’s army.

[1] Some Egyptologists believe that when Ahmose (most likely a daughter of Ahmose I) married a non-royal man she forfeited the title “King’s Daughter”.

[2] The ancient Egyptians did not use the words “sister”, “aunt”, “uncle”, “grandfather” or “grandmother.” Hatshepsut’s maternal grandfather, for example, she would have referred to as “my mother’s father.”

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