Monday, January 08, 2007

Penn Epiphany

Last Saturday night was our annual Epiphany Party (12th day of Christmas a.k.a the visit of the Magi to adore the baby Jesus a.k.a Little Christmas throughout Latin America, Puerto Rico, Spain, Italy and I think France, too) and it was a hoot. In Ireland, it's not a party event, rather a Holy Day of Obligation involving a pop-in to church for mass. Because Larry's Puerto Rican, we celebrate and hold the party on the actual January 6th night regardless as to which night of the week that date falls on.

The party has become a sort of unofficial end-of-party-season event among our friends and, we always vow to keep it 'small this year'--more so on my part--but invariably never do. This year we had forty guests and we keep the list reflective of the neighborhood we live in so we have gays, lesbians and straights, Christians, Jews and atheists in attendance, all sharing a love of good food and alcohol including vino, lashings of vino. Larry, of course, served up the traditional Pernil and rice with pigeon peas--this year with a bit of a twist because he added pieces of dried mango and apricot that made it even more yummy. In addition we serve sauerkraut--which is my Irish contribution to the bill of fare!!!!!

Next morning, we rose early to travel up to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Museum where David Silverman is the co-curator of the exhibit Amarna, Ancient Egypt's Place in the Sun. It's sort of an appetizer to the national Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit he's curating that begins at the Franklin Institute in February when it moves to Philly from Los Angeles. David and his partner Gary had organized a private tour of the exhibit--before it opened at 1.00 pm to the public--with brunch afterwards, and all twenty guests were required to be in the museum lobby at 10.30 a.m. precisely to keep things on track. Both Larry and I are geographically challenged and it didn't help Gary had inadvertently written among the directions 'Take 676 East towards Philly Airport....when he meant 676 West." We whizzed up I95, luckily encountered no traffic cops, and the Egyptian Gods were with us because no matter how many mistakes we made--and there were many including a foray into one of Philly's dodgier neighborhoods--and much cursing, we still made it into the museum carpark at 10.28 where an ashen-faced, nervous Gary was meeting other arriving guests, having just been informed twenty minutes earlier by one of the party that his directions were wrong. It all went well and everyone, bar two, got there on time.

What a magnificent exhibit. Truly fascinating. What was most enlightening was how Tut's father, Akhenaten, moved the Royal Court to Amarna and then proceeded to extinguish the ancient Egyptian's worship of many Gods in favor of a single God, which was the sun known as Aten. Moreover, he consolidated his power by stating that worship of Aten could only be achieved through him as Pharaoh--only the Royal family and priests could enter the temples--which in effect elevated him and his family (including Queen Nefertiti) to the level of a God. In this way, the Pharaoh became divine. Effectively, he established a new religion with the Royal Family at its center and the God Aten was no longer depicted as an ornate figure--similar to the ones we see depicted in the tombs--but rather as a simple disc with sun rays that ended in hands reaching to the Pharaoh and his family's uplifted hands. Akhenaten's 'renaissance' if you will was short-lived however, because his son, the boy king Tutankhamun, came to understand his father had been wrong and returned the Royal court to the ancient capitals and reinstated worship of all the Egyptian Gods, restoring Ra to his role as the supreme God, the God of creation.

And as I was about to leave the exhibit--my tongue already anticipating the first refreshing slake of ice-cold Mimosa--and was peering at the God Amun's miniature statue (the one featured on the Museum's exhibit details page), I had an epiphany. I thought about our own modern day relationship to God (or lack of it) in His/Her/Its many manifestations and how the various world religions have been manipulating and packaging God and associated images to their audiences in order to serve their ends throughout the millenia. Are they so very different to Akhenaten?

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