Writing Out Loud: TUT, ANKHESENAMUN, AND VALENTINE

By George Stahl

Tomorrow is the day we celebrate amor, unquestionable devotion to the heart, the pursuit of happiness ever after, and the pledge of undying love. It is a day named in memory of a 3rd century priest in Rome. The Emperor at the time, Claudius, said that men were not joining the army because they were getting married, and their devotion and love for their wives was getting in the way. So, he said, no one should get married. This priest refused to obey; he married young lovers in secret. When he was found out, he was executed by being beaten, and his head was cut off. The priest’s name was Valentine.

Tragic love is one of the strongest loves. According to Shakespeare, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Some of the most romantic, most heartfelt loves in literary history have been those romances that were doomed from the beginning: Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Robin and Marian, and Samson and Delilah. Among these is a romance that has little coverage in books, internet, and social media. However, on Saturday, the 16th of February, an event took place 96 years ago that took us back to the days of the ancient pharaohs and kings.

In 1923, Howard Carter, an English archeologist, unveiled his discovery of KV62, a tomb in Thebes, (present day Luxor) Egypt, near the Valley of the Kings. This was discovered to be a sort of pharaoh’s graveyard, where over 60 tombs of various sizes and riches were found under the sands of time. What was unusual about KV62 was that it was the tomb of a 19-year-old boy named Tutankhamun. Tut, as he is referred to, ruled Egypt after his father, mother and uncles were dead. He did not sit on the throne alone, however. On his left was his bride, and half-sister, Akhesenamun, who was three years older than the King.

The story of the youngest couple to be the leaders of a nation starts way back when they were 10 and 13 years old. That’s when these two were betrothed through the family to be the future of the Egyptians. As they grew together, they became very close friends, and by the time they were on the throne, they were deeply on love. There were those who, like in our other examples of doomed love, didn’t want to see the kingdom left in the hands of hormonal teenagers, despite the fact that these youngsters were supposed to be gods. In their positions, they had no one to answer to if they wrecked the family chariot or set fire to the rear bedroom of the palace. The buck stopped with them, but it was also they who spent it.

The one person they trusted was a man named Ay. He was the father of Queen Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun’s mother. Tut and Ay got along fine, and for the most part, Tut didn’t make any decisions unless he ran them past Ay first. Side note, do you suppose that this decision making process spawned the term, “The Ay’s have it”?

History talks a lot about Tut. There have even been songs about the boy king in modern times, and his “condo made of stona.” And don’t forget all of that stuff about a curse on anyone whom opens his tomb. Sorry Carter and the rest of your bunch. Not much, again, is said about Tut’s wife, Ankhesenamun. An attempt to couple her with Imhotep was made in the movie The Mummy, but the time line is off by about a century or so. In real life though, her fate was not as glamorous.

Tut and his wife had two daughters, both of whom died soon after they were born. They moved from the palace and resettled in Thebes where they returned to the ancient religion of their forefathers and abandoned the new religion so many of the leading hierarchy of the kingdom were leaning to. This move brought more opposition to the young couple, but again, Ay stepped in, reprimanding those who defied the couple, protecting their rulership.

There is a relief of wood and gold that was found in Tut’s tomb depicting his wife, Ankesenamun, bringing him flowers and gently touching his shoulder. The artisan captured the love in both of their faces, as their eyes meet in the rendering, the words “I love you” quietly roll off of their lips. They sat beside one another for 10 years, ruling without further incident over the people. Their Kingdom was prosperous, peaceful, and without complaint. On the day that Tut died, at the young age of 19, Ay was said to have lost a son. Ankesenamun honored her husband, as did all of Egypt, as Tut’s tomb proves. His is the most intact, and most treasure-laden, of most of the pharaohs. KV62 was Queen Ankhesenamun’s Valentine to her husband.