Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kara Cooney's "The Woman Who Would Be King"

Kara Cooney is an associate professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. In 2005, she was co-curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Cooney produced a comparative archaeology series with her husband, Neil Crawford, entitled Out of Egypt, which aired on the Discovery Channel and is streaming on Netflix.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, and reported the following:
I got lucky; Page 99 is the beginning of a new chapter entitled THE CLIMB TOWARD KINGSHIP – a clean break in Hatshepsut’s story, an obvious step forward her narrative of power consolidation – except that Hatshepsut’s story is anything but tidy and clear. It’s a mess of humanity and nuance as I conjecture the modus operandi of a woman dead 3500 years.

The chapter opens with the obvious: This is a man’s world. It was in antiquity, and it largely is today. There were few female rulers of any kingdoms or regional states in the ancient world, but Egypt’s system of divine kingship allowed more women at the pinnacle of authority than anywhere else in the Mediterranean. But those women that did rule the land – like Merneith of the very first Egyptian dynasty – did so only as placeholders for the males around them. Merneith ruled on behalf of a son too young to rule; she was never named with a title of any official authority because her son was the rightful king (even if he was too young to do the job). Other Egyptian women stepped into power only when they were the last of their dynasty, when their father, brothers, and sons were all dead, the last gasp of a dying family lineage. Their reign was always short and died with them.

Hatshepsut must have known that she was fighting a rigged battle, that her own sex was working against her, that her womb and breasts with all their capability of producing new life were her greatest liabilities, that her biological inability to impregnate a harem of wives with potential kings would forever limit her to the confines of internal court spaces. But then her young husband died unexpectedly, and a baby king was consecrated, her nephew, unable to rule on his own for fifteen years if he lived past two. Hatshepsut was the most capable and best placed person for the job, man or woman; she worked to see her nephew educated and became the true mother of her family’s young dynasty. But then she decided to take a larger leap, to see her power formally recognized, to be called King, not just king’s wife. This was a formidable woman who could plug into a matrix of power with will and strategy, moving the pieces of a political game that controlled lesser mortals. Should we be surprised that all evidence of her reign as king was later erased with impunity, that few today can even pronounce her name? The game was rigged a long time ago…
Visit Kara Cooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue