The Egyptian  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Egyptian (Sinuhe egyptiläinen, Sinuhe the Egyptian) is a historical novel by Mika Waltari. It was first published in Finnish in 1945, and in an abridged English translation by Naomi Walford in 1949.

The Egyptian is the first, and the most successful, of Waltari's great historical novels. It is set in a fascinating period of Egyptian history, mostly during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty, whom some have claimed to be the first monotheistic ruler in the world.

The hero of the novel is not Akhenaten, however, but the fictional character Sinuhe, the royal physician, who tells the story in exile after Akhenaten's fall and death. Apart from incidents in Egypt, the novel charts Sinuhe's travels in then-Egyptian dominated Syria (Levant), Mitanni, Babylon, Minoan Crete, and among the Hittites.

The main character of the novel is named after that of an ancient Egyptian text commonly known as The Story of Sinuhe. The original story dates to a time long before that of Akhenaten: texts are known from as early as the 12th dynasty.

Supporting historical characters include the old Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his conniving favorite wife Tiy, the wife of Akhenaten Nefertiti, the listless young Tutankhamun (King Tut) who succeeded as Pharaoh after Akhenaten's downfall, and the two common-born successors who were, according to this author, integral parts of the rise and fall of the Amarna heresy of Akhenaten, the priest and later Pharaoh Ay, and the warrior-general and then finally Pharaoh Horemheb.

Although Waltari employed some poetic license in combining the biographies of Sinuhe and Akhenaten, he was otherwise much concerned about the historical accuracy of his detailed description of ancient Egyptian life and carried out considerable research into the subject. The result has been praised not only by readers but also by egyptologists.

Waltari had long been interested in Akhenaten and wrote a play about him which was staged in Helsinki in 1938. World War II provided the final impulse for exploring the subject in a novel which, although depicting events that took place over 3000 years ago, in fact reflects the contemporary feelings of disillusionment and war-weariness and carries a pessimistic message of the essential sameness of human nature throughout the ages. Such a message evoked a wide response in readers in the aftermath of the World War, and the book became an international bestseller, topping the bestseller lists in the USA in 1949. It remained the most sold foreign novel in the US before its place was taken over by The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. The Egyptian has been translated into 40 languages.


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