To Yohanna of Bethany, Yusef of Arimithea, Sister Miriam and Martha of Bethany, Brother Eliazar, Melcaart and the Household of Yusef in Bethany. Greetings from Miriam, Queen of Egypt.
May the Mother forgive me, I am jesting, but my heart is filled with wonder and the joy of its own beating. I cannot begin to tell you of the great wonders I have seen since I landed at Alexandria! Alexandria! The very name sets my pulse racing! It is a marvel! The lighthouse Pharos is colossal! I toured it under direction of your cousin, Yusef, and from its heights you can see all of Alexandria and the gardens of Lake Mariotis beyond.
The city is so grand! Merchants and traders from every nation on earth are here! There are men and women with black skin. I even saw one man with strange narrow eyes, dressed in glorious silks of red and gold whose skin was the colour of parchment. I was told he was a prince from some great eastern country none have ever visited which lies even beyond the pillars that hold up the sky! Can you imagine!
Even now as I write this at night in my room by lamplight, the city is still alive. The streets here have lamps that burn outside all night! The Alabarch is very kind, but I must confess he is as rigid as a bargeman's pole. I am sure you Yusef, would approve of his piety, but he does not approve at all of my going unescorted to Philae, and he trembles at the very thought of my learning 'the black arts'- his words not mine! Your cousin Esther has intervened on my behalf, and I think that without her aid, he would have had me locked away, and I would never have been allowed into the streets. Because of this Mermaat and I will not tarry long in this city, wondrous as it is! I seem to be an irritant to the Alabarch, and his flock here is beginning to wonder if he has snapped and gone over to the dark side himself, housing the wild Gypsies Mermaat and I seem to be!
He has kindly agreed to hold my possessions here including the scrolls as when I reach the college at Philae any possessions I may retain, must by law, be given to the goddess Auset. I am sure that neither you, Yusef, nor the Alabarch would bear kindly the renunciation of the Holy Scriptures into the possession of Auset. Yet, the Alabarch says he will send me passages copied from them by his own scribes so that I may keep my vow to read from them each day.
Before I sleep, I must tell you of the ceremonies Mermaat, Esther and I witnessed today by Eleusis. We went there to eat a mid day meal at one of the many restaurants they have there. What a wonderful place! The establishments in Philae cater to every taste, and are surrounded by gardens. Esther brought us to a shop where we could eat falafel as righteous as any found in Yerushalayim. As we dined at tables set in the garden, we were distracted by a great noise: wailing and playing of pipes and drums and shaking of cistra. A procession proceeded down the street past us and toward the sea. There were hundreds of people dressed in white, many their heads shaven. Women at the head of the procession carried small baskets in which young lettuce and fennel, as well barley and wheat were actually growing in soil at the bottom of the baskets. From the little Greek I know, I understand they were singing of the marriage of Adonis to Aphrodite. There is some confusion in my mind whether he is her lover or her son, but he seems to be both. Both the participants and the statues of both Adonis and Aphrodite they carried were ornamented with a myriad of flowers and fruits. When they arrived on the beach, those carrying Adonis waded into the water and cast the statue adrift on a raft. The little baskets of growing plants were also set adrift, and bobbed in the hundreds on the waves. From our vantage point we had a good view of the ceremony. The crowd must have been thousands! The sea was blanketed with baskets and garlands of flowers, and appeared as a field of wild flowers blowing in the wind. As the statue floated out to sea on the raft, the crowd sang a long and mournful funeral hymn to Adonis. At one point, the waves pushed the raft back towards the shore and a great groan of agony and consternation issued from the crowd. A large group of young men plunged into the sea and pushed it back out. I was amazed that none of them drowned. After the statue was again some way out, it began to sink and a terrible wail arose, so loud, Esther and I covered our ears. This continued for some time after the statue had disappeared beneath the waves, until with a great clash of drums and the rattling of the cistra, the mood changed and the crowd began a hymn of Hosanna, rejoicing in the coming resurrection of the drowned god Adonis.
I asked the innkeeper of the meaning of this ritual and he called the Greek who ran the restaurant next door over to us, and the Greek told us what he knew of its origins. Adonis was born, as far as he understood it, from the trunk of a myrrh tree. Aphrodite had had an incestuous affair with her father Zeus, and the seed of the child she was afraid to bring to term, for her husband Haephestos who was extremely jealous of her would surely wreak vengeance upon both her and her father. As Haephestos fashioned the thunderbolts and armour of Zeus and knew its flaws and power more than any, she was afraid for them both. So she secreted the egg with the unformed child within the bole of a myrrh tree in her garden. Ten months later, the bark of the tree split and Adonis was born. Aphrodite, who had tended the tree day and nights, picked him up and held him to her breast, but as she stared down at the child in her arms, she feared her husband Haephestos who was extremely jealous of her, would believe, and quite rightly this time, the child was the product of an extramarital affair, for the child had none of the coarseness of Haephestos, and could never pass for his son. So, she fashioned a chest of sycamore wood and placed the baby within it, and descended to the realm of her sister Persephone and gave it to her for safekeeping.
After Aphrodite returned to the surface, Persephone opened up the chest, and was so entranced by the beautiful boy, she decided to keep the child as her own. Aphrodite meanwhile, spoke to her husband of the child in an offhand manner, ignoring her own part in the child's conception, and suggested she might like to keep the child as her own. Such was her charm, Haepestos agreed, and made no connection between the child and the sexual dalliances of his wife. Delighted, Aphrodite returned to Hades to claim the child but Persephone would not relinquish it. The two goddesses argued and raved at each other, and the noise of their arguments woke the great Greek god of gods, Zeus. When he heard of the disagreement, he was reminded his incestuous relationship with Aphrodite and suspected the child was his, but because he was in fear of the wrath of his wife Hera he would not acknowledge his parenthood. Thus constrained, he could not rule on the motherhood of one or the other without tipping his hand, so he commanded Adonis would for six months of the year remain with Persephone in the darkness of the underworld and, when the sun was at its greatest power, Adonis would return to the surface of the earth and live with Aphrodite.
Adonis grew into a handsome man, more beautiful than any other, and soon, Aphrodite herself fell deeply in love with her son. Apparently Haephestos disappeared, for it is said Aphrodite married Adonis, and lay with him. Three days after their marriage, the innkeeper said, Adonis went hunting. This despite Aphrodite's pleas not to go into the woods in search of wild boar, for pigs were the sacred animals of her rival Persephone. He ignored her pleas, and during the hunt was gored to death by a wild boar. The doves of Aphrodite brought her news of his death and she found him in the woods, but she arrived too late. Where his blood drained into the earth, wild anemones had sprung up, and every vernal equinox thereafter. She threw his body into the sea from which she herself was born, and as he sank below the waves, anemones opened and flowered in his wake.
At this point, Haephestos returned, wearing as a robe, the hide of a wild boar. Aphrodite, seeing his garb, realizes too late her husband and Persephone have conspired against her, and Adonis has been returned to Hades. It is this love, this struggle, and the constant renewal of life and the inevitability of death, enacted in the resurrection of Adonis that the worshippers celebrate, and that they bleed a pig and eat its flesh as a sacrament.
Our storyteller offered some pork to us, and I must admit that the aroma tempted me, but decided I had best not eat it. Esther would have had conniptions I am sure! He seemed quite disappointed, so we ordered some of his wine to take back with us.
As we were leaving, he brought the wine in a sealed jar, and as he handed it to me, he said quite mysteriously, 'In Crete, they say Aphrodite gave birth to Adonis though she was a virgin and the story is much older than Greece itself!'
Well, I must get some sleep, I'm afraid, for at sunrise we set sail for Philae!
I am now in Memphis! I shall continue to write until I enter the college at Philae. That way when you receive this letter you will know all is well and I have reached my destination safely! If you do not, then you will be none the wiser. Mermaat and I set sail with an Egyptian captain, Theophilos, a nephew of Mermaat who sails between Alexandria and Koptos. He seems more Greek than Egyptian, but he has agreed to take us to Philae, but cautions this time of year the Nile is treacherous and we may have to proceed on foot. I cannot tell you how much this land continues to amaze me!
We travelled for miles through the Nile Delta. The land here is rich and green, but for the most part from the river all that can be seen are the giant papyrus reeds, which line the bank. The channel we travelled along is not a main part of the Nile, but it brought us through the most amazing place I have ever seen. Here on the western shore the Egyptians have created the largest necropolis in the world. They believe the dead travel to the west; so all graves are on the western side of the Nile. The word they use for the dead literally means westerners! But the graves! I cannot tell you the size of the greatest of them for even though I have seen them I cannot imagine human hands built these monuments! There is a place where a great stone sphynx stares out to the Nile. It is an enormous stone lion with the face of a man, and it stands guard before a pyramid, the largest stone building in the world. It rises from a three hundred cubit square and the four sides slope inward like monstrous flat stone triangles until they reach an apex two hundred cubits high, equidistant from each base, There are several similar structures in the necropolis, but three stand out from all the rest, the tombs of Khufu, Kephren and Menkaura. Luckily, we disembarked there for an afternoon for we had on board several Greek tourists, who also had booked passage for Philae. Their accent seems strange, but my Greek is improving due to their presence and constant chattering.
They say the pharaoh Khufu who built the Great Pyramid was so obsessed by the construction of his own tomb, he had no money to build tombs for others in his family. When one of his daughters complained of his miserliness, to teach her, he said, humility, he sent her to work as a holy courtesan in a temple brothel! He forced her to charge each customer a minah of gold, for the men would pay a fortune to be blessed by intercourse with a princess of the Royal Family, and the gold he took to complete his pyramid. To spite her father, she added a charge of her own: a block of stone. These stones were so many, so the story goes, they were enough to form the middle pyramid of the three smaller pyramids standing out in front of the Great Pyramid I have mentioned. This smaller pyramid is itself fifty cubits square!
But such is the simple beauty of the Great Pyramid I cannot but think whoever built them could be so petty. Nor do they seem to me to be tombs, although here almost everyone agrees they are. The Greeks argued extensively about how it came to be here. One thought it to contain secrets of the gods, another thought its dimensions held a numerological significance about the size of the world, another the movements of the stars. Whatever its primal purpose, its origins are a mystery as old as the world itself. Faced with such an enigma, in their efforts to explain it, I learned more about the nature of my companions than the pyramid itself.
From Kephren we travelled south by camel at the Greeks' insistence for they wished to see all the wonders of Egypt as they travelled. I must say I am so thankful for their presence, for much of what we saw cannot be seen from the water channel, although some parts can be reached by boat. The necropolis stretches along the edge of floodplain from the Great Pyramids for almost twenty miles past thousands of other lesser tombs, strange bench-like stone trapezoids, pyramids bent at odd angles, not straight and true like the Great Pyramids. We saw the Serapeum where we learned we had just missed the festival of the running of the Apis Bull. A special bull, they say, with a white triangle on a black forehead, the shape of the dung beetle marked under his tongue and twenty-seven other special marks, is loosed and finally sacrificed then dried with special herbs and unguents, wrapped in swaddling clothes, then entombed in the Serapeum in a huge stone sarcophagus, of which there are many. Cows, sacred dogs and cats and ibises are similarly wrapped in swaddling and buried here in the millions. They say one gallery alone holds 2 million ibises!
I do not know quite how to begin. I have not written of much of the voyage for my heart lies heavily within my breast. Mermaat was taken by a crocodile. There is not much to tell. We had beached along a spot in the Nile heavy with papyri, a small tributary. Mermaat and I took our leave of our fellow travellers to bathe in seclusion and found a small quiet pool, which suited our fancy. The air was hot so I stripped and swam out into the water. Mermaat stayed by the shore, standing knee deep in the water.
Suddenly she screamed and I looked up in time to see her being dragged by a huge crocodile. It was a monster fifteen cubits or more long. I swam toward it but it submerged taking Mermaat with it. I came to the spot where Mermaat had been taken but I could see no wake nor ripple. It was as if she had never existed. I dressed and ran for help but there was nothing to be done. Mermaat was gone!
Theophilos has been very kind. We searched through Mermaat's belongings but there was nothing but a few clothes and a letter of introduction from her to the Mother Superior at Philae. From reading the letter, we discovered she was planning to stay at the Temple convent at Denderah, so we shall stop in there to deposit her belongings with the priestesses there, and I shall continue on to Philae as planned. I feel this is what I must do. It is with great apprehension that I continue my journey for we are less than halfway to Philae.
I have just returned with a heavy heart from the temple of Hathor in Denderah. No one seemed to care Mermaat had died, and they received her belongings in a most uncaring manner. I was loath to leave her possessions with them; they were so indifferent to them. The place was in a state of confusion. We had arrived as the statue of Hathor was being returned from its pilgrimage and procession to Edfu to procreate with the god Horus (in Re-en-Kaam, Heru) as part of the coronation ceremony of Horus as Pharaoh -a trip, I was told, of a hundred miles- and so, I would put such indifference to Mermaat's belongings to the uproar which surrounded her return.
Such a racket! I have never seen so many musicians in one place at one time! They were supposedly all playing the same hymns, but some, I am sure had started several beats ahead of the main groups, and others several beats later. Still, there was a great celebration at her return. A merrymaker, I stopped to ask directions assured me the goddess was now heavy with a divine child, and the rebirth of Horus was guaranteed. I must say I took this news with as much enthusiasm as the nuns who signed for Mermaat's chest. Apparently, the Horus at Edfu is the elder Horus, and his copulation with Hathor results in the birth of the Horus who is also the son of Auset. There seems to be much confusion in the Egyptian pantheon as to actual identities, but no one seems to care about the inconsistencies. Their answer is always: 'Such is the Mystery of the Gods!' It seems all things are possible to the Egyptian including inconsistency and paradox. This attitude is both endearing and frustrating, and would anywhere else lead to absolute anarchy.
The Greeks who are still with us say it is due to the absolute antiquity of the land of Egypt. Where no invaders have imposed change from the outside, gods have replaced other gods, but have still retained the older identity of the deity they have usurped. So, Hathor, or Het Heru, the House of Horus, is muddled with Auset, and Auset absorbs the manifestations of the elder Hathor.
Theophilos, who attended my return by the temple gates, was incensed at the reception of his aunt's offering, and wanted to reclaim them immediately, but I prevailed against him, reminding him such were his aunt's wishes, and he eventually acquiesced. We made our way through the throngs of pilgrims gathered about the sanctuary to be healed. Some of their afflictions were frightful, and I wondered how they thought the goddess would cure such maladies, but the thousands of offerings left in the temple attested to Hathor's healing powers.
I noted to Theophilos the large number of pregnant women, and he told me there were not one, but two birth houses on the temple precincts and that the midwives and the priestesses of Hathor were the most talented and knowledgeable women in all of Egypt. Women journey there for hundreds of miles to receive the blessing of Hathor, and this at a time when birth is imminent! I wonder at their faith they should set of in their third term, heavy with child, and to give birth as they arrive here at the sanctuary. It is said that Horus and Hathor are reunited in the larger of the two birth houses.
To add to the incessant cacophony of all the usual hucksters and souvenir traders, the pilgrims and the clergy, the temple is also still being built. It has been under construction, I am told, for over two hundred years!
So much had changed in two days! I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am by recent events. I was helping Theophilos and two of his crew repair the sails on his boat, when the procession of an obviously influential woman appeared. To our great surprise, the procession halted as the woman in her divan drew alongside our beachhead. The woman called out to us and asked if I was the girl who had returned the belongings of Mermaat to the temple. I looked at Theophilos and he was as surprised as I was. I replied I was she, and the woman invited me to travel with her for she was carrying the possessions and other funeral gifts to Abydos in honour of Mermaat.
I accepted but asked that Theophilos should travel with us for he was her kin. The high priestess assented, and Theophilos left his boat in care of his first mate Andreos, and we joined the procession. Theophilos was overwhelmed by the honour accorded his aunt and was brought to tears, as was I.
The funeral procession boarded a gilded barge, which set out on the current for Abydos, several miles downstream.
Our hostess introduced herself. She was, she said, a high priestess, one of a few who dressed and anointed the idol of Hathor which was the focus of the cult at Denderah. It was her position to officiate at the unveiling ceremony of the statue on the first day of summer. It was she who chanted the incantations greeting the new summer sun and praising the naked wonder of Hathor on the temple roof as her seven veils were removed to receive the first beams of the sun god Rei as he peered over the Eastern horizon. Her name was Hetherunetchhet, which in Re-en Kam means Servant of the House of Hathor. The voyage downstream was pleasant and we were served a delicious meal of cold duck, bread, olives, figs and several sweet breads with honey.
By the end of the day we reached Abydos.
What a place!
We had to drop anchor off the causeway at Abydos, and were boarded by an officer of the necropolis of Abydos. Many boats of all sizes and shapes were at anchor off the beachhead waiting to deposit bodies of the dead in their resting places. The official from the necropolis was a dour thin man with absolutely no humour within his bones. I believe he was offended at being assigned to a boat with no corpse to bury, and that in some way it affected his status with his fellows. Nonetheless, our hostess was of sufficient importance in the hierarchy at Denderah, he was somewhat placated by her constant deference to his commands, although at one point I am sure she winked at me when his back was turned.
We slept on the deck of the boat that night beneath gauze nets, and as the sun arose, the necropolis officer, who had remained with us all night, informed us we could move the barge to the shore and proceed into the necropolis. The barge was rowed into a small opening on the bank and into a canal, which led toward the Ausarion, the sanctuary of Ausar at Abtu. The canal was silted in, and many of the gardens and tombs I saw were in a great state of disrepair, but the Ausarion itself was well tended. What a grand procession! Priestesses and Priests all decked out in their finest ceremonial clothes, carrying offerings and libations for Ausar, the King of Tuat, the Afterlife, and food for the sustenance of Mermaat on her journey to Tuat.
We made our offerings at the Ausarion at the shrine of Ausar, and as Mermaat was a servant of Auset, we left the food offerings there for her under the care of the great goddess. We also made food offerings for Set, the brother of Ausar, for the way to Tuat was through his domain of the western desert.
Theophilos was beside himself. He wept openly, but his tears were tears of joy, for he was now firmly convinced his aunt would be well cared for in the afterlife. I was happy she had returned to the womb of the Great Mother, but I missed her terribly, and the loss of Mermaat made me think of you all as well, and I was moved to tears for my losses. I am so very far from home now, and I think I can hear the Shekhina of Israel calling to me even now. Mention me in your prayers. I know that you do for I call upon the Great Mother to turn her face towards you and offer you the milk of her breasts.
I am back in Denderah, sleeping in the guesthouse of Hetherunetchet. I am tired and tomorrow, I sail south once again with Theophilos.
We docked for a day at Koptos on the east bank of the Nile close to Wadi Hammamat. I watched workmen dismantling several ships and asked why they were taking the vessels apart, for they seemed to be very careful not to damage the integrity of the pieces. Apparently, Koptos is only ninety miles overland from the town of Kwesir on the shores of the Red Sea. The dismantled ships are carried in a caravan to Sauu, north of Kwesir and reassembled. From there, they sail to trade for slaves and ivory in Punt or to the turquoise and copper mines in the Sinai or to Yemen for spices and incense. The Egyptians call the land of Arabia and its environs Punt.
I took lodgings in the town, and refreshed myself at the public bathhouse. The ceremony there is not as rigorous as the mikvah in Yerushalayim, but I am still positively glowing from the experience! I have my own private room, but I can hear the Greeks arguing next door. They never seem to sleep! The lamp is flickering, and I am tired, and so shall continue my letter later.
Thebes! The Greeks were absolutely jumping out of their skins as we approached, for there is a city in Greece of the same name and two of their number lived there. The Egyptians however call this place Waset. Because there is so much to see here, we are staying for three of four days, so I am taking this opportunity to write again, though without Mermaat here, I feel little desire to do anything. Theophilos has been so kind and is going out of his way to keep me entertained. He has kinfolk here and so I am invited to have dinner with them tonight, and the Greeks have been invited as well. They live in the northern quarter of Thebes proper, but it is a dying city. The ruins here are spectacular. Parthenophilius, Theophilos' second cousin acted as our guide, his palm crossed -more than once- by Greek silver, acted as a guide, and yesterday, before dawn, we took the ferry across to the necropolis directly across from Thebes.
We walked across the great plain to the southern cliff face and there, in a field of lentils, amongst the fallen stones of a great palace, rose the most awesome colossi, I would guess fifty cubits high, and there Parthenophilius bade us wait. We dined on a small meal of bread, olives and wine, and, as we were eating, the first beams of the sun rose above the eastern desert, and as the rays struck the great statues and warmed them, a most terrifying wail arose from them as they sang to greet the face of Rei. We were all most alarmed, that unencumbered by mechanical means, the statues should sing out to us!
We were still discussing this marvel when field workers, peasants from Karnak, entered the field and began weeding. One of the women was a friend of Parthenophilius's mother and greeted him warmly. She was a large woman and embraced him enthusiastically as any mother would hug a child, and Parthenophilius seemed a little embarrassed by this display, but she was so large, he could do nothing to stop her.
Her name is Rhea, and how that name suits her! She is indeed the very epitome of the Great Earth Mother! She took me aside and told me to ignore the tours the men were taking and stay with her for a few hours and when the sun beat down too fiercely, she would take me to the funerary temple of the great Queen Hatshepsut herself. True to her word, before the boat of Rei had travelled to the top of the sky, we set out on foot for the temple of Hatshepsut. From the palace of the third Amenhotep, Rhea told me his name, and seemed quite informed as to the genealogy of the area's temples. One of the descendants of Tutmose, indeed all the temples seemed to belong to the same dynasty. The Greeks, I noted had climbed the cliffs and were exploring a pass above the temple of Amenhotep.
Though the sun beat down upon us, and Rhea sweated profusely, she didn't seem to be bothered by the heat despite her size. She listed off the names of the kings who had built the palaces we passed: Merneptah, Tutmoses (the Fourth), the Rammesseum of the great Pharaoh Ramoses (the second), the third Tutmoses, the fourth Ramoses, and Set (the first). We followed a footpath, which led beyond these and connected to a long causeway lined with trees and shrubs. The gardens were well tended and a large number of pilgrims were going about their business here. We walked along the causeway, which were flanked by charming stone sphinxes. The sun beat down from overhead, but the presence of the gardens and the trees had a cooling effect upon the air, and created a welcome breeze. At the end of the causeway, we mounted an extremely long ramp with a gentle slope, which led to the first upper story of a terraced palace of amazing dimensions.
Rhea stood proudly on the first terrace and opened her arms wide. 'All this, honey, was built and supervised by a woman!' she cried. I was captivated by her pride, and looked about me in wonder. I felt so small in that place, and wondered at my diminutive size and the magnificence of Hatshepsut's vision.
This woman, Rhea told me, born of the blood of Ahmose, who had driven the Hittim from this land, and her mother of the same name to the first Tutmose had taken the reins of the state while her husband and half-brother, whenever the second Tutmoses travelled through his Empire. Although Hatshepsut herself had born a daughter to the king, she had no sons. The throne of Egypt, although it passed through the female line in name, in reality passed through the first-born male heir of the king. To preserve lip service to the old traditions of the gods, the heir would have to marry his eldest sister in order to ascend the throne. Without the hand of the princess in marriage, no king could rule with the true blessing of the gods.
However, one of the auxiliary wives to the king bore a son to the king. The daughter of Hatshepsut was horrified she should be married to such a young boy, Hatshepsut decreed she should act as regent until the young Tutmoses was of an age where he could rule.
But as the boy reached the age of maturity and the boyhood locks were shorn from his head, she balked at the prospect of yielding the throne to this half-royal heir. Hatshepsut was a strong-willed woman, and declared she should don the lapis beard and trappings of the Pharaoh.
Under her regency, Egypt had prospered as never before. Her domains extended to far off lands, and her trading ships had traversed the coastlines of Africa and Arabia, bringing to Egypt untold riches in gold, incense, myrrh, turquoise and copper. The establishment of Egypt decided in her favour and threw their weight behind her claim to the throne and maintaining the status quo. Amazingly, a priest of Amon, whose temple dominates the village at Luxor, found a scroll deposited at the temple at the time of Hatshepsut's birth.
The scroll described the conception of Hatshepsut from the union of her mother and the god Amon. That such a union should be revealed at this time was extremely fortuitous, and Hatshepsut was quick to disseminate this mythical story.
Amon, it seems, the ancient, mysterious Hidden God, descended to earth in the guise of Hatshepsut's father, the warrior king Tutmoses. As Ahmose the wife of Tutmoses slept, Amon crept into her bedchamber, where the fragrance of his presence awoke her desire. He went to her swiftly, his desire aroused. Ahmose recognized the manifestation of Amon, and overcome by his splendour, she opened her mouth and he breathed into her the Breath of Life, and she opened her arms and legs to the great god, and he entered her, his phallus pushing between her limbs through her vagina and deep into her womb. Having done all he desired of her and all she desired of him, Amon told the queen she would bear him a daughter, and that she should call her Khenemetamon Hatshepsut, or She Whom Amon Embraces, Foremost of Noble Women. All that had taken place had been written down before the birth of the child and was not to be revealed until the girl had blossomed to womanhood and proved herself capable of being Pharaoh. This was as she had done, and now, the priests declared Hatshepsut must realize her divine nature and fulfill her destiny as Pharaoh.
As the god Amon had prophesied, she brought forth the blessings of the god upon the Land of Egypt: regular floods, bountiful harvest. No one in Egypt could deny she was embraced by Amon, and everyone was reassured that their ruler, although a woman, was the beloved of the gods.
All except for one. The young Tutmoses. To ensure he did not interfere with her rule, she prevailed upon him to head the armies engaged in securing the boundaries of her empire. This he did, and it seemed campaigning suited him, for he was absent from Egypt for the most part of twenty years. Never had Egypt risen to such great heights as under the rule of this great queen.
Yet, after her death, Tutmoses had all references to her chiselled out of her monuments, and where he could, substituted his own name. This, we all know, is a common practice amongst the vainglorious and ambitious monarchs everywhere on Earth. But there in her sanctuary, I could still find her name inscribed in her cartouche, the ring of eternity. All is as Rhea had said, for I read the story with my own eyes on the walls of her temple.
I have seen the greatest wonders here in Egypt, but none have inspired me as this place, for here, I feel the hand, the heart and soul of a great woman. If she can accomplish so much, then what am I not capable of?
It is one of the most soul inspiring places I have seen here in this land. The temple sits at the base of the huge western cliffs, much the same as the face of the plateau at En-Gedi, and it seems to have materialized and grown from the earth itself. Never have I seen a building so in harmony with its surroundings. The architect who drew the plans and supervised the construction was a lover of the Queen, Rhea says, her favourite. I think he must have loved her very deeply, for the palace seems to be a love song set in stone.
I am looking forward to seeing Rhea again tonight, for she is attending the dinner at the home of Parthenophilius's family. I must go and prepare for the meal now. I will write again when I can.
So much has passed beneath the bow of our boat since I last wrote, but I did not want to send two scrolls for fear they may become separated. I have seen so much which I have no room to tell about. The temples of Karnak and Luxor, and the many in between here and there. I must admit I am wearied from my travels, and now face the end with some trepidation.
We have arrived at the island called by the Greeks Elephantine. The Egyptians call it Abu, which roughly translated means 'Ivory Island', actually the animal from which it is extracted. In the Old Days, here was border between Egypt and Nubia, the land called Kush. There are still many troops of soldiers stationed here. Most of the Egyptians here are really Nubians, although they dress as Egyptians, their skin is the dark brown of the betel nut. We docked here and were swarmed by traders of every kind offering gold from Eastern and Nubian deserts, black men selling ivory of immense size, ebony, incense by the mina, the gorgeous yellow spotted skins of leopards carried in by the donkey trains from beyond the desert. After he secured the boat and posted guards who demanded five minas of copper for their services just for the day, Theophilus and I made our way by ferry to Syene. The Egyptians call this town Suenet, "The Market". There are many fine houses here as well as vast warehouses, all of which are walled and well guarded, for piracy and theft are as common as regular trade here. I am amazed at the variety of people in this place. There are many, many dark brown and black-skinned people here, more than any other place I have visited in Egypt. It is said they are burned that colour by the sun, but this seems a fanciful notion for their facial features differ from ours.
There are some who say they travel from Ethiopia. This land, the Egyptians say, is the land from which all people are descended. This is remarkable for we were taught that we are descended from Adam and Eve in Mesopotamia. This has disturbed me to the core, for is it possible we are wrong about our origins? I cannot think people were created in both places, yet they are so different from us, perhaps there is more than one Garden of Eden.
The wonders I have seen in this small place! Animals of types I have never seen! Donkeys with black and white stripes! Gazelles with dark brown spots and legs and necks, which stretch more than four lengths of a man, and can graze without standing on their hindquarters from the tallest trees!
Despite the differences between the way the inhabitants appear, all worship the god Ammon here, to the exclusion of all others. The Greek influence is lessened here, and the atmosphere is more exotic than I could ever imagine. The temple of Ammon is a great building and richly endowed by the traders who engage in commerce here.
Well, I'm finally here! Tomorrow I leave for Philae in a small boat more suited to the cataracts in the river. The Greeks are travelling with me, and I must bid farewell to Theophilos for he must return immediately, as he cannot afford the harbour fees, and his boat is loaded. In the morning I shall send this letter back to the Alabarch with instructions to return it to you through Annobal.
I cannot believe I am now at the end of my journey! It seems the long years of a lifetime ago that I left Yerushalayim and the beloved hills of Israel, although it is only a few weeks. I hope this letter reaches you in good time, and that you are all well. I miss you all terribly. May you rest in the lap of the Good Mother until we meet again.
All my love, Your Sister,