The first chapter of Mahfouz's "Akhenaten" depicts "a city devoid of life", a city "possessed by silence" and the "spirit of death." The former "city of wonders" now haunted by past evanescent grandeur holds "a solitary prisoner," Nefertiti, the "heretic's wife." The heretic was a young pharaoh named Akhenaten. Akhenaten challenged the high priests by rejecting his "ancestors' heritage" and introduced a new religion, the religion of the one and only God.
The war between the old and the new religion, or "the war of the deities" (line 30) devastated Egypt and weakened the whole empire. This is an ironic consequence given that Akhenaten's religion focused on Light and Life. The war brought Egypt "shadows of gloom and grief" (line 12, 38), Darkness and Death. Akhenaten's new religion tore the people of Egypt between their loyalty to the pharaoh and their desire to be faithful to their ancestors' religion of worshipping multiple deities.
Throughout the entire passage, you can hear and feel the terrible silence of the city of Akhetaten. Mahfouz uses words that evoke the sound of "a hushed voice" (line 33) and uses many words that begin with the letter "s", thus further emphasizing the silence. The author's use of diction effectively illustrates the evanescence of Akhenaten's religion of one god. Akhenaten's religion is now a distant memory. The knowledge of his religion needs to be recorded and preserved for future generations before it fades into darkness. This is the purpose of Mahfouz's novel.
Akhetaten is perceived by the elders as "the cursed and infidel city" because it represents the religion of Akhenaten who is now perceived as a heretic. Its roads are now empty; its temples are now empty; its trees are now leafless, just as the city is now lifeless. The gates and the windows of the city of Akhetaten are closed, just like the eyelids of its dead pharaoh, Akhenaten. His eyelids were closed... [continues]
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