‘Tis 40 degrees celsius today, and the sun beats down heavily on deck. Wood has become warm to the touch, the sails are unbearably white, and when the bow dips and sprays the sweating crew with sea foam, you can hear a collective sigh of relief.
Such scenery brings to mind a myth I loved as a lass, the story of Akhenaten, the heretic Pharaoh. Sit by me in the shade upon this wooden chest, and I will tell ye of a tale. But ye skeptics be warned, this story contains religion, and I will hear no bad word uttered against that noble religion of Ancient Egypt.
In 1300 BC the Pharaohs promoted the worship of Ra, Amun, Isis, Osiris, Horus, Anubis, and all the other Egyptian deities that you are likely familiar with already. When Amenhotep III was Pharaoh, the priests of Amun were gaining a lot of power. Perhaps that is one reason his son, Amenhotep IV, started a religion of his own. He changed his name to Akhenaten and started worshiping Aten, the sun disc.
In an age of jackal headed gods and sky goddesses with wings, Aten was pretty weird looking. He was just… well.. the sun. Not the sun personified as a deity, just a sun. The only difference was he had arms coming out of him instead of rays, as though bestowing gifts of life and protection on everything.
Likewise, Akhenaten along with the Royal Family became rather odd-looking themselves. With wide hips and rather breasty looking chests there has been chatter around that perhaps the Pharaoh was a woman or hermaphrodite, had a genetic disease, or perhaps was an alien from outer space. My opinion is that he just liked the way he looked in those pictures – that his representation as a slightly feminine male had a symbolic meaning. It is difficult to say why he looked so weird, because a short while after his reign almost all trace of him was removed. His name was scratched out, his temples pulled down and he was never buried in his never finished pyramid. His descendant changed his name to Tutankhamen which realigned him with the worshipers of Amun, but even he did not last long.
Out of all the things in the world to worship, it was the sun that took center stage, with arms open in offering and protection. We now know that all our energy comes from the sun – if an organism doesn’t use it directly to photosynthesise, then it must be eating something else that does. A lion eats a gazelle which eats the grass, and so continues the circle of life. It’s the energy contained in little photons of light that give rise to the plethora of creatures that walk and swim the Earth.
But there be a couple of exceptions. Hyperthermophiles live deep underwater far below the decks. They dwell near volcanic vents in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees celsius, even hotter than it is today, and some of them get no energy from the sun. Their energy instead comes from these vents, from the very Earth itself, and they are the only ones I am aware of that live independently of the orb in the sky. They are the topic of my next video blog.