Copyright 1995, Internet Science Education Project
Forward Note by Jack Sarfatti .
This version may be distributed freely on the Internet. It is
especially suitable for children and all true romantics. This love
story by my dear friend, a Prince among men, violates, what David
Deutsch has called "the fundamental principle of the philosophy of
science". Your heart will throb at the end. I guarantee it!
Of the three parts of this story, THE PRESENT is all true. THE FUTURE is all imaginary. THE PAST is for the reader to decide, for all who witnessed it have been dead for thirty three centuries.
For more than thirty centuries, Akhenaten and Nefertiti remained unrecorded in history, forgotten even in legend. Their names were chiseled off the monuments; their faces were defaced from the statues; their city was razed to the ground, its very bricks stolen and carried off. Then, slowly, with the increasing successes in deciphering of heiroglyphic and cuneiform writing, a faint whispers of a king (either a gentle prophet or a cruel criminal) and a queen (too beautiful to describe) began to appear.
Defacers' chisels were not able to disfigure everything. The border stele in the remote areas had survived the destructive fury, and the clay-tablet letters written to foreign capitals had also escaped the censor's attention. Archaeologists began to read these dispersed messages and fill in the empty spaces on the monuments in Thebes and Karnak.
By 1900, a picture had emerged of a pharaoh who was courageous or crazy enough to buck one of the most enduring and entrenched of the establishments. He defied the priests of Amun. He started a new ethic-based monotheistic religion, and erected a beautiful city 300 miles north of Thebes.
The reaction to this rebellion was swift and complete. Within a few years of his death, nothing remained of his religion or of his city. Even his name and that of his queen were obliterated from the memory of men.
But only for a time. Today, Akhenaten is considered to be one of the most remarkable personalities, a man ahead of his time. All major modern religions are essentially ethic-based and monotheistic. But what about his queen? Was she as beautiful as the epithets proclaimed? Did she share his vision?
The answer to the first part came with the discovery of the bust of Nefertiti, unearthed near the modern city of Tell el-Amarna, by a team of archaeologists working for the German Orient Society under Professor Ludwig Borchardt of Berlin. They were allowed by the Egyptian Government to excavate the site of Akhenaten's short lived capital, Akhetaten.
The first person to lay eyes on Nefertiti's face in 3300 years was Mohammed Ahmes Es-Senussi. On December 6, 1912, he was digging in room 19 grid P_47 (the area was divided in grids measuring 600 square feet) when the rays of the sun lit up the gold and blue colors of the queen's necklace.
A shout from Mohammed brought all picks and shovels in the area to a stand-still. Professor Borchardt was sent for from his make-shift hut where he slumbered, on a canvas cot, after his mid-day meal. The statuette lay buried, head down, in the debris. Once uncovered, the sand-stone figurine stood twenty inches tall, and was in near perfect condition. The only visible damage was the chipped ear-lobes, and the in-lay of the retina of the left eye was missing.
As to the beauty of Nefertiti: it is timeless. Her face has become the best known in history, and her bust, which the German team smuggled out of Egypt to Berlin disguised as broken pieces of pottery, is the most copied and admired in the world.
The sand and dirt of room 19 (more than 30 cubic feet) was sifted again and again through a finer and finer mesh. All the ear pieces were found but the eye in-lay was never recovered. Only later, a closer examination revealed that it was never inserted.
Many theories, some likely and others far-fetched, have been advanced to explain this deliberate flaw in the masterpiece. It was suggested, for example, that the artist was interrupted at his work and left the work-shop with the in-lay in his possession, never to return. Or that the artist had fallen in love with the queen as she posed for him, was jilted by her, and in impotent revenge, refused to complete his masterwork. This is not as far-fetched as it first seems. The queen was known to be flirtatious. Another theory was that Nefertiti had gone blind in one eye. The artist had simply opted for realism over pharoanic dignity. Prevalence of eye disease in ancient Egypt was pointed to as well as the uniquely independent style of the artist. The graceful curve of the long neck, the arched eye-brow, and the hint of a smile on the queen's sensual full lips is a far cry from the symmetrical frozen immobility of the traditional Egyptian statuary.
This view too had to be abandoned, however, when new wall reliefs and other three dimensional figures were found. Some of these were clearly by the same hand that had carved the famous bust, and show the queen, some at an older age, with both perfectly good eyes. No satisfactory consensus has been reached to explain this archaeological mystery.
"I didn't know there was this much interest in Nefertiti."
Tomas Sefari pointed to the crowded auditorium. Even the dinosaur dons seemed to have come down from their ivory towers. So many reporters with Holocams moved about everywhere.
"They don't care about Nefertiti. They have come to see a man jump off the world," said Javed Chaudhari.
"I am not jumping off the world. It is a field-trip. A quest for knowledge." Tomas smiled. They had this conversation before.
"Most people don't understand that kind of motive. The opinion is that you have to be crazy to go on a trip like this, and Cosmic Coincidence Control is not supposed to let loonies run loose in our precious past. It surprised everyone when you got the green light."
Tomas was surprised too. No one has been allowed for nearly nine hundred years. "What about you Javed, do you think I am crazy?"
"I understand your passion, Tomas. It is your obsession that is beyond me. It is like Mummy Moorhead's."
Professor Archibald Moorhead, although no one questioned his scholarship, was considered a nut-case. He had devoted his life to the study of Rameses II, and was said to know more about Rameses II than even Rameses II.
"Thanks for the endorsement of my sanity," said Tomas.
"I can not understand that you would let them erase your memory," Javed went on.
"You won't even remember your name. How are you going to remember your mission?"
"Not erase, Javed, modify." said Tomas. "In any case, I had no choice. It was either that or no go."
About his mission, Tomas had no fears. No matter where, when, or who he was, he will always remember Nefertiti. But would he see her? Would he be able to talk to her? Touch her? In the rigidly stratified Egyptian society, he couldn't simply walk up to the palace. The pharaoh and his queen were considered gods, and were.
The lights in the auditorium dimmed. He saw Chancellor Thoorston walking to the stage, and was relieved to see that the proceedings would be informal. Too many people around him had been acting as if it were a funeral.
The podium, an ancient 23rd century job (the Academy prided itself on its old-world ambience), lit-up as the Chancellor approached it.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Global Academy of Antiquities. I am happy to see so many of you here. Obviously, I need not belabor the importance of this event. Your presence here confirms it. After a hiatus of nine hundred years, a member of this Academy will travel back to the time of the 18th dynasty of the pharoanic age, and due to his courage and sacrifice, our own age will be richer. As tradition dictates, professor Sefari will entertain a few questions from the press although all pertinent information is on the Info-tab. So without further ado , I give you Dr. Tomas Sefari."
The hall broke into applause and pandemonium as hands went up for attention.
"Professor Sefari," called out Chitra McLintock of the World Fashion Net, "Those clothes you are wearing, is that how the men dressed during that time?"
"Yes, That is correct," said Tomas. "Dr. Chaudhary, our foremost expert on the period's fashion, assures me that even the spinning of the yarn as well as weaving of the cloth was done according to the techniques of the time. It is also true of the few carving tool I carry."
"What is the mechanism of sending information back to our time, since you will not be returning?" asked Timbo Gore of the New Gotham News.
"This seeming pebble," said Tomas fingering the pebble hanging around his neck with a leather thong, "is actually a nanotech recording device which is activated when pressed between my palms. I have been told that it is capable of surviving the vicissitudes of time. It is a time-capsule, if you will, to be dug up by my colleagues."
"But professor, since you won't remember anything, what reason will you have to be talking into the pebble," insisted the reporter.
"A post-hypnotic suggestion will compel me to say my prayers with my hand pressing around this pebble," Tomas said.
"Dr. Sefari, why is it so important to know what happened to Nefertiti's eye? Why are you willing to throw away your life for this trivial piece of data?" asked the young reporter from The Star Rumors.
"The questions of motivation are always personal. As to the worth of the information, I believe that all knowledge is intrinsically important, no matter how minuscule."
Many more hands went up, but Chancellor Thoorston brought the proceeding to an end.
Tomas Sefari hovered over a bluff. Below him, the Nile was a wide ribbon of shimmering water speeding to meet the Mediterranean. Around him, a sea of wheat fields: some harvested, tied in neat bundles, and arranged in straight rows; others ripe and ready, yellow as the sand he could see far to the East. The sky was turning purple pink. The sun will soon rise. His feet felt the ground.
Time tunnels, those alley-ways that criss-cross "The Garden of The Forking Paths," had brought him here, to the time of his dreams, the time of his muse, Nefertiti. Soon his memory would fade, transmute, and adjust. He will cease to be Tomas Sefari and become Thotmas the Artisan. Thotmas! his name, a name he has always had.
A boulder, polished by the ages, protruded from the flat field. Here the ploughman had connived with necessity and bent the furrows around the unyielding rock, making it a thing of beauty, a place of power, a place to welcome the morning sun. He walked to the boulder, pulled by it.
The boy bolted from under the rock, sleep still in his eyes, and fear. Thotmas grabbed him, smiled at him, and offered him a piece of flat-bread--bread baked in the far future and put in his bag, along with his tools, by the always thoughtful, but no longer remembered, Javed Chaudhari.
Fate rules the world. Never were two people better met than Thotmas and Jabedi, a time traveler and a run away slave boy. Jabedi taught Thotmas the Theban language, guffawing at his mispronunciations. Thotmas taught Jabedi to carve soap-stone into figures and to whittle faces from the driftwood. They wandered along the Nile, going North. Thotmas, restless, prompted by some subliminal longing; and Jabedi, merely to get far from Thebes and his sadistic owner.
One hot afternoon, thirsty and tired, they came upon the Inn. The walled court-yard, with its gate wide open, was big and inviting. Men snoozed in the shade on thick papyrus mats, some sat talking and drinking. Donkeys dozed, tethered to the palm trees, resting as only the beast of burden can. In the shade of the old fig-tree, a woman cooked in the out-door kitchen.
Emboldened by his hunger and taunted by the aroma wafting from the flaming brazier, Jabedi walked up to her.
"Mistress, for the price of a meal, my master will draw the likeness of thy face which is more beautiful than the full moon in the harvest season," said Jabedi, his voice dry, a mere croak.
"Drink!" she said, pointing to the water pitcher. "Drink some water before you sell your master. And give him some too."
Thotmas did not draw the likeness of Dulea, the cook and the proprietress of the Inn. He painted it, in bright colors, on the huge adobe wall overlooking the Nile.
In the mural, Dulea stands in her out-door kitchen. A brazier flames next to her. Lush green leaves of the fig-tree fill and form the back-ground. Bundles of garlic and onions hang from the wall. Foods of all sorts: a roasted duck, fish on the hook, a stack of bread, a basket if fruit sit on the counter. Surrounded by this cornucopia, her arms full of green vegetables, she looks like an earth-mother. Thotmas was happy with the results. Business at the Inn boomed soon after the mural was finished. Dulea found many, some quite odd, reasons to be on the river.
"The eyes seem to follow you," she said.
"She is happier than a pharaoh’s daughter," said her taciturn husband.
And then the pharaoh's soldiers came. Thotmas was finishing his second mural: a bird's eye-view of the Nile, painted on the front wall of the Inn, near the kitchen. It shows Juma standing next to the water-wheel that hauls the river water for the use of the Inn's gardens and guests. Below him, filling the horizon, is the Nile. On its broad back float sluggish barges, swift sail-boats, and far in the distance, a royal galleon, colorful as a fire-cracker.
With the clatter of hooves, dust, and barking of orders, the soldiers rode into the court-yard. Fear hung sweat thick in the Inn. People herded themselves near the kitchen, seeking security in the company of others just as helpless as themselves. They brought nothing but death and slavery to the fellahin.
"Where is the one who painted that?" demanded the officer of the horsemen, his spear pointed to the wall. Not an eye raised or a muscle moved. Thotmas put his reed-brush down and looked up at the horsemen.
"Keep thy eyes cast down, O artisan. Provoke them not," whispered Dulea to him.
"It is I who did it," said Thotmas walking towards the officer. Jabedi followed close, keeping his eyes prudently glued to the ground.
"Are you also the one who painted the picture that can be seen from the river?" inquired the officer. Already his voice had lost its harshness.
"That is so,." replied Thotmas. To everyone's amazement, the officer climbed down from his horse.
"Sir!" he said, "You are asked to present your self for an interview with a person of importance. A boat will collect you tomorrow morning at the Inn's docking. This tunic has been sent to you for your use." He gave Thotmas a bundle.
Hardly any one slept that night. The Inn hummed with gossip. Who was this person of importance? Speculation abounded.
"He is a banished prince of India. Now that the cruel regent is dead, he is to go back and rule his native land and free his sister and mother from the dungeon where they have languished for many years," said the story-teller with entirely unjustified confidence. But the less fanciful explanation offered by the donkey driver, presented with visual aids, held more sway.
"Look at my donkey over there, just look at her." He pointed to the donkey. "Now look at this." He passed around a papyrus sheet. Thomas had done the handsome animal justice.
"As anyone with eyes can see, this man Thotmas is a damn good painter of pictures. The tax-collector has heard of his talent. He is going to decorate his tomb. Even now, if you take the trouble to look, there is a galleon anchored on the Nile to take him to the City of the Dead."
The donkey-driver did not know how uncannily close to the truth he had come. It was not the tax-collector, but Nefertiti, the queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, who had seen the Mural on the wall. The sun was shining on the mural as the queen's galleon passed by. The colors of the mural were radiant in the afternoon light. The peasant woman looked alive, her eyes following the royal barge; and it seemed to the queen that the leaves of the painted fig tree moved in the breeze.
"The man that painted that mural, bring him to me," she ordered her chamberlain. "And Hetusha," she added. "No harm must come to him. He is special. We need men like him to build Akhetaten."
Akhetaten, the capitol of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, was the first planned city in history. In 1359 BC, one hundred thousand workmen and artisans arrived at the virgin site, (a barren desert on the western bank of the Nile mid-way between Thebes and Memphis), and in less than four years, a city with its broad avenues, lush gardens, great temples, and elegant homes and palaces, was complete.
Thotmas was the master sculptor of the "city of dreams," and the most favored of its queen. He too loved her with all his heart. No woman was ever painted or sculpted with more passion for perfection than Nefertiti by Thotmas. He sketched her as she posed for him in the nude, he chiseled her likeness in alabaster, granite and sand-stone. As he knew her more, his art transcended tradition and touched the face of beauty.
On the thirteenth day of Peret, in the year 1355 BC, Jabedi brought a load of sand-stone blocks to the work-shop. One small block (2'x2') took Thotmas's fancy. He carried it to his private work-place. His body shivered with the cool touch of the stone; his mind filled with strange premonitions. He closed his eyes and saw the face of his beloved embedded in the stone.
For the next two months, in secret, Thotmas coaxed the stone, chisel stroke by gentle chisel stroke, to release the face hidden within. Slowly, the graceful neck, the high cheek-bones, the curved brow, emerged, and the sensual lips of the queen smiled at the artist. Still in secret, he painted the bust with loving care. But the statuette stayed sightless. Thotmas could not bring himself to insert the eye in-lays.
Finally, when he could find no more excuses, he forced himself. His hands shook as he put in the right eye retina, and as he picked up the paste for the left eye, his mind whirled, his head spun, and the memories came flooding in: memories of another time, memories of who he was and why he was here. Thotmas/Tomas Sefari realized that he will not complete his masterpiece. He must not, if he wished to be with his beloved. He walked to the river. The Nile was in flood and the little paste for Nefertiti's left eye will never be found.
Nefertiti was said to have died five days before her 40th birthday. But her sarcophagus was never found, and the rumors persist in the time tunnels that she was seen traveling to the future in the company of Thotmas/Tomas Sefari.