Rameses, The Damned
Reflections about the novel of Anne Rice: The Mummy or Rameses the Damned
'Rameses is alive' - a couple of fanatic Egypt-fans (I consider myself to be one of them) declare. They think that the spirit and memory of the 3rd ruler of the 19th Dynasty, Rameses II (also referred to as Rameses the Great) is immortal. He is the hero of numerous historical and romantic novels, his personality and the history of his reign inspired many authors and poets from Shelley to Anne Rice. The popular author of the Vampire Chronicles obviously agrees with our above opinion and what is more, she reaches farther: she says that the "immortal king" is immortal also in his physical character.
Have you ever dreamed of meeting your favourite person of the history? Haven't you ever tried to figure out what you would ask from him if you had only one question? Maybe you have already imagined what a face he would make if he saw the world of our age.
In this novel Anne Rice plays about with the idea that it is possible.
The Mummy or Rameses the Damned is not a horror-novel. It is much rather a crime-story or a romance inspired by mystical features. Some of its scenes could be horroristic if you try to imagine them as a screen-shot but this is not the essence of the work.
It is Rameses II in the focus of the story, who accepted a shot of eternal-life elixir from a Hittite priestess at his young age and condemned himself to live his life forever.
The damned creatures tired of their eternal life, that bury themselves voluntarily are returning characters of the author's stories and she often leads her heroes to the land of Egypt when they search for their origins and the sense of their life. Not only the mummies does she derive from the Valley of the Nile but she guides the reader to Egypt and farther, to the legend of Isis and Osiris, even when she searches for the roots of the vampire. Anne Rice's extra interest and devotion to the mystery of the ancient Egypt is obvious.
Also Lestat of the Vampire Chronicles buries himself when he can't find a sense of it all anymore. In the well-known story of "Interview with the Vampire" the master-vampire, Armand Warnes Louis, the young - less than 100 years old - vampire, that only few of the vampires can carry the weight of eternity. Most of them perish for their own will, their unchangeable nature cannot take the permanent changing of the world that surrounds them. The same problem appears on the pages of the Mummy. Rameses wanted everlasting life - every pharaoh wanted everlasting life, this is proven by the pyramids, the tombs and the mortuary temples - and he had not considered the consequences before he accepted it. He realized that eternal life was damnation, not blessing, when he had to see his world collapse, when became aware that everything he found important was fleeting, so he will necessarily lose all of them.
Though Rameses says in the novel that his spirit is flexible and able to accommodate to the new, more and more unfamiliar ages, he cannot treat the loss of the ancient ages, his own many millennium-year-old past.
So he buried himself, retired from daylight and life but following the thread of a legend, the beautiful queen, Cleopatra Philopator VII found him and resurrected him with her word of calling. But neither did he joined the pharaoh in the endless life and after the last queen of Egypt had put an end to her life by a viper, Rameses was left alone again, with another thorn of loss in his heart. Is there anyone he could love after this? Can a soul, which is locked into his never decomposing body, ever love anyone? Who will ever love him as much as to share the loneliness of his eternal life?
Anne Rice's Rameses is not a cruel, blood-thirsty, avenging mummy, not a decomposing zombie, but a cursed soul, who condemned himself by a hasty, ambitious move inspired by the fire and vehemence of youth. He is a human being who - as so many of us - made a wrong decision, a decision the consequences of which he could not comprehend or consider at that moment. Only decades, centuries after did he realize what he had done, when there was nothing he could do to change this decision. There was one thing left for him to do: to face his destiny with the dignity worthy of the greatest pharaoh of Egypt. He is still - in the first years of the 20th century - the ruler of Egypt. With the wisdom and experience of many thousand years, he has intelligence far over the average. If he stood at the cave of the Hittite priestess now, he would surely not drink that potion.
Rameses, who visits us in England, at the beginning of the 20th century and then returns to the scene of his glorious reign, to Egypt, with his new love by his side, is absolutely like a great ruler we may imagine. He is a dignified, unearthly, exotic heartbreaker, beaming with power. He is not ashamed to be in such a good condition after his 3200th birthday. (So, does anybody else want to taste this potion?)
You could rightly ask: How do we know anything about the personality and character of Rameses? None of us knew him.
It is true but Rameses II was one of the few pharaohs who left some information to us not only about his glorious military campaigns and grandiose monuments but also about his personality and his human characteristics. How much did the imperial propaganda leave its fingerprints on the picture we have now? I cannot be sure. The insistence on his human side was an instrument of the propaganda that obviously left its mark on the portrait of the pharaoh but we will never know how much it distorted the reality. There are two different public pictures about Rameses: one is the triumphant general; other is the tyrant who enslaved thousands of people. Beyond the extreme and the mask of a king we can see an intelligent man of his family, a sensitive personality, much like the Rameses who comes alive by the imagination of Anne Rice. He is perfect with his faults and infirmities - how a man should be in the most dignified meaning of the word.
His passion and hasty nature did not change all through the millennia. He still often acts without thinking twice, led by his emotions, without considering the consequences he may have to face. One of these misdeeds in the novel almost end up in tragedy. The pharaoh was really so temperamental. When, in the 5th regnal year he marched up against the Hittite army and laid siege to the fort of Qadesh, such a careless decision almost cost him his life and his army. But Rameses was also favoured by the gods. It often took the 'personal' intervention of his divine father, Amon (the pharaohs of the New Kingdom traced themselves from Amon, on their inscriptions they address Amon as son) to drag his royal son out of the mess. Also one of the pharaoh's titles refers to his special relation to the deity: Meriamon (The Beloved of Amon).
The loving Rameses of the novel is not only the product of the author's romantic imagination. Rameses II demonstrated his devotion to his wife the most magnificent and splendid way. Many of the visitors agree that the tomb of his wife, Nefertari is the fairest Egyptian tomb, the huge twin-temples is Abu Simbel, that were built to evidence the love of the royal couple is the most magnificent monument, erected for the beloved darling. Maybe the Taj-Mahal can compete it. It may be surprising that Rameses had seven other wives beside Nefertari - three of them were his own daughters (it was not incest but ritual marriage) - and a harem of many hundred mistresses. To love the only one and a hundred in the meantime: it might be contradiction for the man of today but not for the Egyptian. Or maybe it is just another proof of the Egyptian mind-set that enabled the people to live together in peace with the contradictions of their world. Contradictions did not bother or confuse them so they did not search for solution.
The novel is penetrated by close eroticism over and over again, which is not unfamiliar with the author's style. Not unusually, she emphasizes that even the immortal man is man and even the resurrected woman is woman. In the ancient times there were two rulers who were considered to be real heartbreakers both in their own age and in the subsequent ages: Rameses the Great and Alexander the Great. So no wonder that the Rameses of the novel possesses irresistibly masculine features. The reputation of Cleopatra's beauty is not necessary to introduce. She made a crushing effect on the opposite sex and this ability did her credit many times during the story. Despite, I have to clear up a misunderstanding. It was not the physical beauty of the lady's face and figure that won many men's heart for her. She was undoubtedly attractive but far not a classic beauty (just take a look at any of his contemporary portraits). It was much more her education, sparkle and sex appeal that chained her preys to her. And before we would leave the "man-hunter" mark on her (as the book suggests) let's be just and take the facts into consideration. Cleopatra seduced both Caesar and Antonius. He gave birth to three children. One of them was the son of Caesar; the other two were the ones of Antonius. Is she really a man-hunter? On the contrary, Rameses never had the reputation of a petticoat-chaser, though he had hundreds of women in the meantime. By the way . the number of his known children is 167. And these are only the ones we know about.
Rice is excellent in stressing the dignity of the pharaoh's character. I have wandered many times how the institution and the ideology of the divine kingship formed the personality and self-esteem of a pharaoh, as individuality. Did these kings really believe in their divine origin? If the whole world that surrounds you suggests every day that "you are god", if you are brought up as the gods' son from your youngest age and you are considered to be equal to them, will you believe - from the bottom of your heart - that you are god? Will you?
"Being a god" - This meant something totally different in the ancient Egypt than at the beginning of the century (or even today). Then and there it meant more obligations than rights. Being a god did not allow you to do anything you want, but obliged you to uphold the divine truth and order against the forces of the chaos. Yes, the pharaohs may have considered themselves to be divine beings but not the same way as the "gods" of our age consider themselves to be gods.
It takes some efforts to make Rameses understand that here and now unfortunately it is not him who reigns. Certainly he comprehends, understands and takes of the situation - he has renounced the reign when he "died" and left the throne to his son and successor, Merenptah - but his behaviour leaves no doubt that custom is a second nature: the man who ruled as god for 67 years will not be comfortable and authentic in the role of a commoner.
The turn of the century is an intermediate period in the history of discovering Egypt, between the treasure hunting inspired by financial interests and the archaeology that strove for the scientific excavation and research. The excavator was usually allowed to keep the artefacts to his own country, but at least he probably may have been unopposed if he wanted to take the founds he uncovered. At the beginning of the century the "mummy unwrapping" was an elegant social gathering program in the saloons of London, a sensation in order to raise the splendour of the host.
Considering this it is not surprising that the mummy of Rameses follows the heirs of the excavator to England. The great pharaoh comes alive in a library-room of a noble house in London and finds himself in a country; the maps of his own age did not even refer to. He first heard about it in the age of Cleopatra, when Britannia was not more than a distant, barbarian Roman province.
He is fascinated and dazzled by the he vividly alive city - his pretty hostess is pleased to show him - but in the meantime the surrounding unavoidably brings the hurting memories to the surface. The Egyptian collection of the British Museum, the wax model of Cleopatra in the panoptic, all remind him to the pain he ran from back to his crypt, and the homesickness for his beloved Egypt.
First he does not want to return - to remember and to recall the past - but finally he decides on taking a look at his one-time empire.
The Egyptian civilization was already dying in the age of the Roman conquest - in the age of Cleopatra - and it was more and more replaced by the Greek (Hellenistic) culture. Alexandria was the cultural citadel of the Hellenistic world. The ancient places, the centers of the golden age of Egypt were about to disappear, the age of the pharaohs was about to descend but the temples of the old gods still stood firmly, their cult was still alive and active in the common knowledge. This was Egypt when Rameses last saw her.
When he returns now, Egypt is nothing more than a memory. Have you ever tried to imagine your home, your city, your country and your whole culture as archaeological remains? You return to the place that you call home but nobody knows where your city stood; you don't even find a single trace of the house you lived in. Your temples are covered with sand to the capitals of the columns and nobody remembers the god that used to be worshipped there. Only your name carved in stone a thousand times publishes that you erected it. It would publish if anybody else except from some scientists could read the inscriptions. But nobody (almost nobody) can understand your mother tongue or read your writing. The resting places of your ancestors has already been devastated and robbed out. Not only their treasures have been taken - depriving them of the comfort and wealth of the afterlife - but also their carefully embalmed and mummified bodies - robbing them of the possibility of resurrection.
During the 1930 years passed since the death of Cleopatra, the memories of her age faded too. Alexandria is still there but she is only the empty shadow of her former self. Only pieces and ruins tell us about that glorious age. On the other hand everything reminds to that woman.
And of course there is another dilemma: you can introduce yourself as anyone but Rameses the Great, otherwise you will immediately be taken to the lunatic asylum. You have to accept that you are Reginald Ramsey. That's all. So ordinarily. Nothing like "Horus of Gold", or "Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt", maybe "Beloved of Amun". No way!
I don't think that any of us can imagine or spiritually experience such a situation. Let's remember the words of our grandparents. How many times did they tell stories about the events not older than a couple of decades? What nostalgia shines through their monologs? How much they miss those days! Although only decades have passed. Not millennia. How many times do we hear from our parents: "This is not my world. How different if was a long while ago". (In a sharper version: "These young folks . !") Rameses has to get even with himself concerning many things if he wants to guide his endless life to new path and find his place in this new world, which is so strange all over for him. But will the shadows of his past leave him alone? Has he already paid the price for the mistakes he made or may the gods demand more for sharing the immortality with him? The question still remains open for us, but Rameses seems to have found his own answer:
I might be immortal but there is a passion of a mortal burning inside me; I might have been respected as god but now I am human; my empire might have fallen to ruins for many millennia . "But I am a king. That's what I will always be."