Who hasn't heard of him - Oedipus, the tragic figure from Greek mythology whose shocking fate has moved so many generations, inspired so many writers and even found his way into modern psychology through Sigmund Freud? Is it conceivable that this figure and his fate was not a creation of human fancy at all but the conversion of real historical happenings? This question is posed by Immanuel Velikovsky in the present book. Like a detective, he takes the reader on a unique investigation full of suspense, breathtaking surprises and insights while meticulously searching for traces of a finding that seems to be even more incredible than the original myth itself. The most popular pharaonic family of all - Akhnaton along with his wife Nefertiti and his son Tutankhamen - are exposed as the real protagonists of the Oedipus saga.
I was expecting Velikovsky to have connected Akhnaton to Oedipus only through his marriage to his mother Tiy (Jocasta), but he has explanations for all the characters in the Oedipus plays: Oedipus, Jocasta, Antigone, Creon, Polynices, Eteocles, Tiresias, Laius, Chrysippus. He even has an explanation for Antigone's tomb, the Sphinx, Oedipus' exile, Polynices not being properly buried, and the Seven Against Thebes.
The only thing that bothered me is that he jumped to a lot of conclusions but that can be expected in a book like this. Above all, it was a very good book that casts a light on many, many coincidences between the legend and the Heretic Pharaoh.
I am still reading this book.
The irony of Velikovsky’s career is that he probably would have been ignored as just another minor loon with crackpot ideas were it not for Harlow Shapely and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who organized a boycott against the publisher of Worlds in Collision. It was during the McCarthy era, and the idea of censorship put a lot of backs up; thus Velikovsky became a cause célèbre among a coterie who hadn’t the faintest idea of what he was talking about.
The gist of Velikovsky’s method is:
* The Old Testament (as far as “history” goes; Velikovsky never address Creation) is factually correct.
* Any other ancient text is also factually correct, insofar as it agrees with the Old Testament.
* If archaeological evidence – stratigraphy, sequence dating, etc. – disagrees with (1) or (2), it is wrong.
* If scientific evidence or theory – radiocarbon dating, celestial mechanics, etc. – disagrees with (1) or (2), it is also wrong.
From the above come a couple of corollaries:
* Since archaeological, astronomical, and radiometric dating methods are all incorrect (at least, insofar as they disagree with Velikovsky), and all ancient texts are factually correct as long as they don’t disagree with Velikovsky, any texts that appear to describe similar events actually do so, even if one is a 14th century CE Aztec codex and the other is Exodus. The apparent discrepancy in chronology is incorrect.
* If an account of a particular catastrophe – for example, the Earth’s rotation stopping and the planet catching fire - doesn’t appear in a particular culture’s mythology or written record, it’s because the event was so traumatic it induced “collective amnesia”.
I’ve been reading my way through Velikovsky’s work over the years – he was very prolific – and came up with one of the rarer works in a used book store. [Oedipus and Akhnaton is peripheral to the main Velikovsky theme of repeated catastrophes – he just stepped aside for a moment to muck about in Egyptian history. Here, Velikovsky states – I almost said “proposes” but there’s never any room for testable hypotheses in Velikovsky’s work – that Akhenaton (that’s my preferred spelling) and Oedipus were the same person. Yep; Akhenaton “killed” his father (at least, Velikovsky acknowledges this was symbolic – by chiseling Amenhotep III’s name of monuments), married his mother (Queen Tiye/Jocasta), was denounced by Tiresias (Amenhotep son of Hapu), and went blind. His sons (Eteocles/Polynices –Tutankhamen/Smenkhkare) warred against each other; his successor (Creon/Ay) forbid the burial of Polynices/Smenkhkare and entombed Baketaten/Antigone alive when she performed it. All spelled out by carefully selected texts, thoroughly documented in footnotes. As just one example, Cadmus, the founder of Thebes in Greece, was (according to Velikovsky) the same as Niqmaddu II of Ugarit (who Velikovsky refers to as “King Nikmed”). Velikovsky has Nikmed marrying an Egyptian princess (I confess I’m not up to speed on Ugaritic history, but AFAIK the only evidence for this is a relief that shows Niqmaddu accompanied by a lady in what can be interpreted as Egyptian dress, which Velikovsky cites as if it were a textual reference); Cadmus had an Egyptian wife (Velikovsky’s authority for this is an encyclopedia published in 1724 that names Cadmus’s wife as “Sphinx”); thus, since Niqmaddu II was a contemporary of Akhenaton he brought the story to Greece – where presumably all the names were changed to avoid embarrassing the participants.
There’s an interesting epilogue – Velikovsky was a Freudian, and he gives great credit to The Master for elucidating the Oedipus Complex. However, he is forced to dismiss Freud’s last work – Moses and Monotheism. Freud has Moses picking up monotheism as a disciple of Akhenaton; this is doubly heretical for Velikovsky since he doesn’t consider Akhenaton a monotheist (rather a “monolatrist”) and because Akhenaton has to come much later than Moses for Velikovsky’s chronology to work.
Velikovsky’s been gone for decades now, but even a minor amount of Web searching discloses he still has numerous followers. Catastrophism is always popular, and some like that; Velikovsky was “persecuted” by “the Establishment” and some like that; Velikovsky appeals to Biblical literalists by finding “scientific” explanations for the miracles documented in Exodus; and Velikovsky’s sanctification of the written word and his methods of using texts appeal to deconstructionists. I can recommend Oedipus and Akhnaton to anybody who’s interested in studying the workings of a mind like Velikovsky; as Egyptian history it is, of course, valueless.