THE FIERCE AND BELLICOSE General Horemheb could not believe what he was hearing from this silly, useless pharaoh.
“We will not be waging war on our neighbors,” Akhenaten decreed, slouching in his throne.
The general should not have been cowed by the words of the pharaoh, but the intensity with which Akhenaten stared into his eyes was unsettling. Some men took power from privilege. Others took it from their position. And still others took it from physical prowess. The pharaoh pretended he possessed all three. This gave him a surety that Horemheb found disconcerting to say the least.
Horemheb. This statue is on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
So while Horemheb longed to topple the pharaoh’s misguided government with some great military takeover, he found himself listening to this most incredible statement delivered by a freakish weakling, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“But Pharaoh, if I may, we depend on war for many things: our wealth, our security, our status. This will mean the ruin of us. Your father—”
“I don’t want to hear about my father. My father is in his tomb. His ways and his gods are things of the past. Just as dead as he is.”
“But, sire, we are the most powerful nation in all directions. Certainly we must protect that.”
Things have changed for the worse since the move to Amarna, Horemheb wanted to shout. The country is going soft. The king never even leaves the palace. The great cities of Memphis and Thebes are in decline. We, as an Egyptian people, are in rapid decline.
But he said none of these things. Instead, Horemheb listened to the pharaoh drone on in his stupid, idealistic way.
“And we will. We will worship Aten, who will protect our borders. But I see no need to wage war. What is so wrong with being a peaceful nation?”
“I believe in peace through strength, sire. We know this works from long experience.”
“I would expect to hear nothing less from you, General. That is your job.”
“And what is strength if it is not wielded? May I ask you that?”
The pharaoh smiled in a most condescending manner. “General, when was the last time you spent a day just dreaming?”
Horemheb’s jaw nearly dropped off his head. “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. Do you ever write poetry? Do you ever lose yourself in thought? Have you ever completed a painting?”
“I am a warrior, sire. I am not trained to sit and think; I am trained to do.”
“Then do this.”
Akhenaten said nothing. Instead, he closed his eyes as if to meditate.
Horemheb waited until he could wait no longer. “Sire, what is it you would like me to do?”
“Relax. Take your mind off war. Egypt no longer needs conflict, for we are protected by the great sun god, who will provide for all our needs.”
And lead us to ruin, Horemheb thought angrily.
“You are dismissed,” said the pharaoh with a gentle wave of his hand. “Go write a poem.”