In an interview with "Time" about his video for Katy Perry's "Dark Horse", director Matthew Cullen said that ancient Egypt is part of our "shared collective mythology." In the video, Perry plays an ersatz Egyptian queen who hosts various suitors, each bringing her gifts of jewels, Twinkies, hydraulic low-riders and a crocodile skins. Perry zaps each of these men with lightning bolts, reducing them to red ash. It's only when her final suitor offers her a floating pyramid (that looks like something out of "Tron") that her vanity is appealed. Perry climbs the temple, sprouts wings and "ascends" to immortality. The suitor... turns into a dog.
As loathe as I am to find myself agreeing with a pop music video director's PR babble1, there is something about Egyptian history and mythology that captures our attention like a cultural monomyth. Almost a month after the "Dark Horse" video was released, archeologists unveiled two restored statues in Luxor, Egypt at the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III. These massive monuments to the Pharaoh and his wife Tiyhe serve the same purpose as Perry and Cullen's anachronistic pyramid, to immortalize their subjects. Made of quartzite, these statues join the larger Colossi of Memnon representations of Amenhotep III on his throne. Just one of them weighs 250 tons.
While Tiyhe wasn't as powerful as Perry's faux queen, she was very influential. One of the restored statues depicts her beside Amenhotep's right leg. By today's standards that reeks of misogyny, but history says that Amenhotep regarded her as a near equal. This was especially unusual because Tiyhe was a commoner with the role of the Pharaoh's "great royal wife," despite her lack of royal blood. As such, her oldest son became the legitimate heir to the throne. This was one of the few times an Egyptian ruler married outside of a royal family.
Unlike Perry's queen in "Dark Horse," Tiyhe shared Amenhotep with secondary wives. So the lyric "Once you're mine there's no going back" didn't really apply to their relationship. However, it is known that Amenhotep had many offers from foreign princes to marry his four daughters. While he didn't shoot them with magical lightning, the Pharaoh always refused his daughter's suitors so foreigners would never have a claim to the Egyptian throne.
Unfortunately, time took its toll on the "immortality" represented by Amenhotep's mortuary temple. Erected between 1390 and 1353 B.C.E., the temple was destroyed by earthquakes, seasonal floods and overgrown vegetation. The remains were pillaged for materials that could be reappropriated for other temples. Even in the nineteenth century, European consuls took items from the site for their own museums. The soil's salinity dramatically changed after the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s and rising groundwater is still causing the site's stone to split and crack from root growth.
In 1997 a long-term preservation program began, naming the mortuary temple an endangered site and beginning conservation of the remains. The team mapped the site, using magnetometric surveys to define it above and below ground. They restored pieces of the aforementioned colossi and found the remains of more statues, including the two unveiled this week. The site statues are covered in fine sand in an attempt to hinder further corrosion from salt water.
These monoliths may memorialize Tiyhe and Amenhotep, but they aren't transcendentally divine like the Katy Perry demi-god at the end of "Dark Horse." With Egypt's tourism completely devastated since the nation's political instability in 2011, there may not be many visitors to Luxor in the near future anyway. Can Egyptian mythology still be maintained if no one will visit these wonders of the world?
1 To be fair, Cullen also directed the amazing introduction to "Pacific Rim" and is working on an adaptation of Martin Amis' "London Fields."
- CNN Staff, "Egypt unveils two massive restored pharaoh statues." CNN Travel. March 24, 2014. Accessed online March 28, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/24/travel/egypt-new-pharoah-statues/
- Hussein, Ramadan B. "The Throne Beckons." Calliope. Vol. 18, Issue 1. September 2007.
- Michaels, Sean. "Katy Perry accused of 'portraying blasphemy' with Dark Horse video." The Guardian. Wednesday, February 26, 2014. Accessed online March 28, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/feb/26/katy-perry-petition-islam-blasphemy-allah-dark-horse-video
- Rothman, Lily. "There's a Very Good Reason Why Katy Perry's 'Dark Horse' Video Is Set in Ancient Egypt." Time. Feb. 21, 2014. Accessed online March 28, 2014. http://time.com/9233/katy-perry-dark-horse-egypt/
- Sourouzuian, Hourig. "Beyond Memnon." Icon Magazine. Summer 2004.
- "Amenhotep III (c. 1391 - c. 1354 BC)." BBC History. Accessed online March 28. 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/amenhotep_iii.shtml
- Amenhotep III. Columbia Electronic encyclopedia. 6th Edition. September 2013.
- "Egypt tourism totally collapsed, changes need: Tourism Minister." Daily News Egypt. March 23, 2014. Accessed online March 28, 2014. http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/03/23/egypt-tourism-totally-collapsed-changes-needed-tourism-minister/
- "Pharaoh Amenhotep III Statues Unveiled in Luxor After Centuries 'Scattered In Fields." Huffington Post. 3/25/14. Accessed online March 28, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/25/pharaoh-amenhotep-statues-luxor_n_5027523.html?ir=WorldPost
- "The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III." World Monuments Fund. Accessed online March 28, 2014. http://www.wmf.org/project/mortuary-temple-amenhotep-iii