Chaonnophris and Herwennefer

There were many pharaohs in Egypt; but to an Erisian only two of them are of consequence: Chaonnophris and Herwennefer.

They are not the most famous ones, that much is true: but they are vitally important to every Erisian. (Non-Erisians will probably be more entertained by amazing tales of the adventures of Boss Narmer, the rogue scorpion pharaoh who unified Upper and Lower Egypt, battled dragons, saved dark-eyed maidens from evil crocodile knights, righted wrongs, out-Solomonned Solomon, etc. etc.)

This much is known: in 205 BCE Egypt was ruled by Ptolemy Philopator, a pharaoh from the line of the first Ptolemy who had been a conqueror, a general of the warlord Alexander, called Great by some, who had added Egypt to his dominions as just another grape to be ground under his heel. The wine of that grinding had fallen to the first Ptolemy to drink after Alexander's premature death; and his line had ruled Egypt for a hundred years. Ptolemy Philopator was a weak, indolent man, ruled by his passions and by his lovers, interested in religion only as far as it involved orgies, and a man that thought himself a great literary figure because he had admirers who said so. (In reality his "Adventures of Boss Narmer, the Hero Pharaoh" was a derivative, deeply unoriginal pastiche of the most hackneyed and cliched motifs in all Egyptian literature. Really, a pharaoh that is a son of the sky god, is robbed of his inheritance by a wicked uncle (yawn), grows up as a peasant boy, is guided by a wise, long-bearded priest of Amun, and has to die and rise again and then defeat a foreign goddess in the east by taking her sacred ring into a mountain of fire before she covers all the lands in a darkness and a flood? Ptah!)

Herwennefer, then, who was known by at least four other names, too, was a potter and a literary critic of the time. In the year 205 BCE he set his pen down and in a bravery-drunken frenzy told what he really thought of "Boss Narmer and the Secret of the Eclipse of the Pyramid of Storge"; a few days later his camel died in the Upper Egyptian village of Ikelbug, and having no other way to escape the pharaoh's guardsmen pursuing him, he took out a copy of his review and read it: and the townsfolk, hearing the awfulness of their ruler's prose made bare and nude, were convulsed with anger and indignation. When Herwennefer then read a few stanzas from a rival bestseller, Euthydemus I of Greco-Bactria's "This is My Kingdom; You Can't Touch This", the townsfolk were so shamed by Egypt's apparent heading towards being a laughingstock of the nations for the literary gauche-like dilettantism of their leader, that they beat the pharaoh's guardsmen to death with farming implements and small pyramids fixed to the ends of sticks (the local weapon of choice), and proclaimed Herwennefer a pharaoh.

In the following years, all of Upper Egypt rebelled and chose to follow pharaoh Herwennefer, and pharaoh Ptolemy was much maligned; and the reputation and the reality of the Ptolemaic dynasty entered a grievous and eventually fatal decline, to reach its final, absolute and most horrendous nadir in Cleopatra VII, a nosy writer of tell-all books.

Herwennefer's reign came to an ignoble end when it became clear that he could not write either; his only work, "The Nile Is A River In Egypt", is lost, but by the critique written by his successor, the literary critic and headsman Chaonnophris, it was a fairly awful piece of work. (Certainly inferior to such classics as "The Power-of-Osiris-Which-Makes-Things-Fall-At-Dust's Rainbow" by Necho Ptynchon II, "The Farewell to the Arms of My Enemies Who I Have So Totally Crushed That No Trace of Their Seed Remains and Their Fields and Wives are Barren, Covered With Stubble and Undesirable" by Ernest Artaxerxes II of Persia, and the like.)

Chaonnophris ruled c. 198--186 BCE, and on the first day of his reign he declared that all literary critics should be put to death; and there was much rejoicing. This became his downfall, as his messengers and functionaries were constantly hounded by wild gangs of literary critics and priests of Ptah-Tenure, the god of serious words; and this so sapped his strength that in 186 BCE he was defeated in a battle against the Ptolemaic pharaohs, and his kingdom was lost, as was his life. It is said that he was buried at the bottom of an inverse pyramid dug into the stony soil of Ikelbug, and that for centuries literary critics came there and spat and shat on his remains, and wiped themselves with works they considered inferior. This practice came to an end c. 400 CE, when one foolish critic cleaned her nether regions with a signed copy of "St. Michelle Remembers", the supposed masterpiece of St. Cyril, the Pope of Alexandria; or "the literary pharaoh of the salons of Alexandria" as ran the epithet coined by Theodosius II, Emperor of Rome and author of "The Nicaea Code". St. Cyril was not amused by this act of assholery, and the Dark Ages of Literary Criticism (400--1400 CE) began.

What Erisians can learn from this is anybody's guess.

last updated: (Mar 14 2011)