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Nudity in Early Egypt

A fascinating tale of early sun worship and nudity was unearthed in 1887 at Tell-el-Amarna, a small Egyptian village on the banks of the Nile some 200 miles south of Cairo. There, an Arab woman accidentally stumbled upon the baked-clay tablet archives of Pharaoh Akhen-Aton (1385-1353 B.C.). It was learned through the subsequent translation of these tablets that the brilliant young pharaoh and his exquisitely beautiful queen, Nefertiti, considered the sun, Aton, to be the true wellspring of life and thus justified the practice of nudism for spiritual and physical advancement.

Because of the discovery of these tablets and other artifacts at Tell-el Amarna, the seat of Pharaoh Akhen-Aton's government, it is now well known that he was not only a great religious reformer and mystic, who disputed the pantheism of the traditional priesthood, but also a poet of great sensitivity. On the scattered stones that had formed the original wall of Aton's Temple, archaeologists have found and deciphered the pharaoh's famous "Hymn to Aton, the Sun God," a portion of which appears in the Hebrew scriptures as Psalm 104 of the Old Testament. "Through this poem," writes J. Herman in King& Queen of the Sun, "the pharaoh reveals himself to be a lover of beauty in nature, in art, and in man."

However, some of the archaeologists who unraveled the story of the Sun Pharaoh had difficulty accepting what they found and became highly critical of Akhen-Aton and Nefertiti. "Brought up in an environment of Victorian and puritanical notions, they condemned these entrancing figures of Egyptian history because they discovered that not only the Pharaoh and his wife but also their children and officials went around with too few clothes (transparent at that!) or no clothes at all, that they practiced nudity in the royal palace, in the royal gardens and swimming pool, that they loved physical beauty, valued good food and wine, and led a frankly joyful existence."

The spontaneity, freedom, and humanistic values espoused in the lifestyle of this remarkable couple brought scathing criticism and retaliation from the conservative priests of the "old religion." Upon his death, Akhen-Aton was succeeded by son-in-law Tutankh-Aton ("King Tut," famous for the fabulous gold and jewels found in his tomb in the twentieth century), who was coerced by the priests into eradicating Akhen-Aton's reforms.

"They practiced a religion and nudist way of life that was far ahead of their time," writes Dr. deHoratev of the Sun King and his queen. "They came to an age that understood them not." He adds, rather dejectedly, that although future generafions may be more understanding of their message, "...our own day gives them a miserly recognition."6

While it is known that Akhen-Aton and Nefertiti were not the first Egyptians to luxuriate nude in the sun's rays (a fourteenth century, B.C. carving of a nude Sumerian priest is preserved in the British Museum, and a fifteenth century, B.C. painting of a nude Egyptian girl lutist is found on the wall of a Thebes tomb), he and his alluring consort did have their "day in the sun," breathing life into a freshly idealistic concept of community.

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