Sunday, December 8, 2013

10 Amazing things… “Wonderful things…


10 Amazing things… “Wonderful things…” reaching for and touching the sun god.

91 years ago, late November, 1922, Howard Carter, archaeologist hired by England’s Lord Carnarvon, poked a lighted candle into a small opening down near a stairwell dug out of the sands that literally fill Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.   (The candle was a precaution against the possibility that the humans standing almost breathless near Howard Carter would enter a chamber sealed for over Thirty-three hundred years only to  succumb to poisonous gases that could have built up over those long centuries.)  The candle stayed lit; a very good sign.

At that moment the host of the excavations, Lord Carnarvon, could wait no longer:  “Do you see anything?”

“Yes,” replied Carter his voice shaking with emotion, “wonderful things.”

Over the next ten years Howard Carter carefully documented, cleaned and removed all those wonderful things, including priceless funerary masks, indeed caskets of solid pure gold. 


Many of the objects were personal to the life of the boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamen and his half-sister wife, Ankhessenamun.  From many of the objects that depicted the lives of the royal couple, they seem as touchy-feely-in-love as do today’s royal couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.   In several Ankhessenamun is shown putting traditional wine-tasting cups to the lips of her husband, the young Pharaoh, for his assessment.  

Obviously, from the quantity and placement of dozens of amphorae of wines also discovered in the boy-king’s tomb, wine played an important part in his life as well as in his after-life.   Tutankhamen was buried with scores of amphorae of wines from his great-Grandfather’s reign, as well as dozens from his own favorite vineyards, those in the Western and Eastern Delta, made by his favorite vintners, Khaa, Sennufe and Rer.  These wines were carefully chosen by his young wife, knowing they would not only sustain Tutankhamen during his nightly voyage to the Sun god Amen-Ra, but would give him voice to speak wisdom he discovered on these voyages to his people.  These wines were deemed by his vineyardists to be erneheh, or “eternal”, living forever.       

Following the sun every night was one of the most dangerous and serious adventures the dead pharaoh undertook for himself and his people.  Just as the vine follows the sun, dying in the winter, like the god Osiris, and rejuvenated each Spring when the sun returns sap to the vine, so too the dead Pharaoh was believed to follow the sun for eternity.  The golden funerary mask showed his connection to the sun god, both as his son and as his equal in the pantheon.  And wine was the symbol of this renewed life, sustaining daily communion with the sun and with the people of Egypt.  


In the photo above, Tutankhamen is traveling through the dark of the night, voyaging to find the sun.  His guide and protector is the night-black panther. 


Most poignant of discoveries in the tomb of Tutankhamen was that of the remains of the funerary breakfast partaken of by his closest family and friends.  Though at least three of the “friends” involved were already conspiring to usurp power from the young survivor,  the Queen Ankhessenamen, it is obvious that she herself had chosen her husband’s favorite wines to serve, because none of his former “servants” could have been bothered.  Three tall blue glass amphorae of these wines were among the remains of the breakfast.

Sadly Ankhessenamen herself, though the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his beautiful Queen, Nefertiti, did not long survive her husband.   Forced to marry her husband’s former chief advisor, or Vizier, Ay, she soon disappeared into those desert sands and was heard of no more while politics warred over her former kingdom.

But when she and Tutankhamen came to the throne in 1332 B.C., Egypt’s Delta vineyards were long famous.  Begun by Pharaoh Narmer around 3000 B.C., from one pharaoh to the next, vineyardists developed the original clonal strains that had arrived from Asia.  The wines of Egypt were not just enjoyed by Pharaoh and his court and wealthy Egyptians, but shipping of them became big business.  And by the time of Tutankhamen, specific vineyards had cult followings and were consumed in Krete, the Peloponnesos, Attica, Makedonai, Thrace, and Hatti.


Above is a tomb painting from Tutankhamen’s chief vineyardist.  You will soon be able to read about him, and Pharaoh Narmer’s wine-making practices in my wine-novel, The Night Julius Caesar Invented Champagne.


Be still, Caesar, your time is nigh. 


Madeleine de Jean,

The Night Julius Caesar Invented Champagne.