Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Role of Women in Egypt's History Lecture - My Review

"What does Egypt have to do with Chicago?," you might wonder. I certainly do not, as I have come to know the rich cultural connection between this beautiful city and an ancient one and the many Egyptological opportunities that proliferate through its haunted streets and heavily embellished theaters, some having been frequented by the most infamous gangsters, from Dillinger to Capone. However, Chicago has cleared itself (mostly) clean of its corrupt history and has welcomed programs, events, and celebrations that have cultivated it into an Egyptological hot-spot, boasting names (both fictional and real) like Indiana Jones and Rick O'Connell; mystery writer, Elizabeth Peters; and Dr. Emily Teeter, whom you may have seen give commentary on the Discovery and History channels.

As evidence of the aforementioned, there had taken place just recently a free lecture entitled The Role of Women in Egypt's History, as given by Ambassador Nihad Zikry, Assistant Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs. Although it wasn't entirely about ancient Egypt, a subject that she used to introduce her presentation, it did give me an appreciation for modern Egyptian women like her who have been raised in a country - like so many others - where the advancement of women has been a slow process. It was the perfect presentation to attend on International Women's Day, indeed. There were quite a few men in attendance too - I brought one of them with me.

Ambassador Zikry started her presentation off with saying that the important role of women is not a newly acquired achievement; women throughout all history and cultures have consistently exhibited this endeavor, this inevitable desire. After all, "in ancient Egypt, the deity of wisdom was a woman, not a man." I'd have to disagree with that statement, as Thoth is the chief deity of wisdom. However, there are many powerful female deities worth a mention. You have Seshat, consort of Thoth (how appropriate that she's his counterpart), the goddess of writing, lady-scribe to the pharaohs and all Egyptian kings throughout Dynastic Egypt, Mistress of the Books. Without her skill and duty to write the names of the newly crowned rulers on the leaves of a sacred tree to preserve forever their names, they wouldn't've been known to their successors. Then you have Ma'at and Shai, goddess of social and religious order, truth, and justice and goddess of fate, respectively, key players during the Weighing of the Heart Ceremony. Without these goddesses, Osiris, his Four Sons, and the 42 Judges would have been unable to determine fairly the outcome of a decedent's otherworldly trial, leaving the dead person unadmitted into the Afterlife. It's very interesting indeed that Ambassador Zikry mentioned that the highest position a modern Egyptian woman has attained is a judge, when you consider that, in ancient times, women were portrayed as deities of judgment. Finally, there are the Seven Hathors, septuplets with the power of foresight, the ability to determine the future of a newborn Egyptian child's life, particularly it's death. You can add to that list as many Egyptian goddesses as you wish. Those are my contributions.

Ambassador Nihad Zikry also spoke briefly of Hatshepsut, how she took up the highest achievement any ancient Egyptian could attain at the time - that of king. I append the following pre-Dynasty 18 queens to the list of powerful Egyptian women, who mostly like reigned as king in their own right: Mer-Neith of Dynasty 1, Ni-Ma-et of Dynasty 3, Sobek-Neferu of Dynasty 12, Ah-Hotep I of Dynasty 17, and quite possibly Tiye and Nefertiti of Dynasty 18. As a side note, I'd add that this achievement has never been neither matched following her long and prosperous reign or her predecessors' reigns, nor allowed ever again until Cleopatra VII, who had to commit many sinful acts to maintain that power (I don't blame her). Following Dynasty 18, with help from Djehuti-Mes III, kings/pharaohs never called their wives "God's Wife of Amun" again, as it was a powerful title, one that made royal queens practically, if not actually, equal to their kings in status.

These are just reminders that women can be as successful in higher positions as men are, even if they don't think, feel, or express themselves in similar ways. So, to all women of the world, if a man tries to throw religious dogma or prejudice in your face as justification for being superior, you make sure you give him a lecture on the "reasons" their opinion is unjustified.

Man fears time, time fears the pyramids, the pyramids fear Mother Nature.

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