The Great Hymn to the Aten was found in the tomb of Ay, in the rock tombs at Amarna. It is attributed to Pharaoh Akhenaten himself, and gives us a glimpse of the artistic outpouring of the Amarna Period.
- How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
- They are hidden from the face (of man).
- O sole god, like whom there is no other!
- Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
- Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,
- Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet,
- And what is on high, flying with its wings.
- The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,
- Thou settest every man in his place,
- Thou suppliest their necessities:
- Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
- Their tongues are separate in speech,
- And their natures as well;
- Their skins are distinguished,
- As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.
- Thou makest a Nile in the underworld,
- Thou bringest forth as thou desirest
- To maintain the people (of Egypt)
- According as thou madest them for thyself,
- The lord of all of them, wearying (himself) with them,
- The lord of every land, rising for them,
- The Aton of the day, great of majesty.
The hymn notes the depth of human sleep, awakening to daylight. Of lands, pastures, animals expressing the joy of warmth of sunlight, and of the growth of plants, and creatures in the daily sustenance of the sun.
The hymn portrays the sun as the giver of all life, plunging the land into darkness and danger during the night, to reawaken to life, daily work and praise with the dawn. There is great emphasis on the diversity and holiness of all living things, who praise the Aten with their every action.
Akhenaten's religious reforms (later regarded heretical and reverted by his successor Tutankhamun) have been described as the earliest known example of monotheistic thought and heralded as a possible indication that the Egyptians were the source of Judeo-Christian thought. In the Amarna period, Akhenaton elevated his god, the Aten (or Aton ), to a supreme place in the pantheon, and he did conscript his followers to physically erase and expunge the names and images of other gods from monuments. The interpretation of the religion of the Amarna age as true monotheism, however, cannot be sustained in the light of simultaneous worship of other gods. Ma'at (Goddess- embodiment of truth and universal balance) continued to be venerated, both as a concept and in her personification as a goddess; the presentation of her image reached new prominence in the Amarna age. The king and queen also, in some circumstances, were associated with the gods Shu (masculine- god of the area between Earth and Sky and of dry and arid regions) and Tefnut (feminine- goddess of Earth and Sky and moisture, capable of manifesting herself in various forms, i.e. rain, hail, floods) respectively. Statuettes of Bes and other members of the original pantheon have been discovered in the houses at Amarna. The greatest objection to the religion of the Amarna age being true monotheism is the elevation of the king and his queen Nefertiti (and perhaps, posthumously, Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III) to divine status. The remaining vestiges of the old gods, as well as the "holy trinity" formed by Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the incarnation of the solar light as the Aten, consisted of yet another conventional grouping of gods.
The Hymn has a remarkable similarity to Psalm 104, with which it is frequently compared, although there is currently no established link between them.
The "Hymn to the Aten" was set to music by Philip Glass in his opera Akhnaten.
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