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Chapter 10 Chapter 12

Egyptian Origins (11)
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The Mystery of Menes
and the City of the White Wall

So who was the Menes who Manetho said united Egypt? Some, perhaps most, Egyptologists argue that Menes was probably another name for Narmer, perhaps specifically for Narmer as the protégé of the falcon god of Nekhen. King lists other than Manetho's tell us that the first ruler of united Egypt was named Hor-Aha, who took a ceremonial name of Meni. Manetho would perhaps have rendered Meni into Greek as Menes. Some Egyptologists think this is what happened, and feel fairly secure in identifying Hor-Aha as the first actual king of all Egypt, most likely the son of Narmer.

Memphis. Whether he was Narmer or Hor-Aha, Menes built a capital he called the "White Wall," known to Manetho (and to history) as Memphis, located near modern Cairo, where the Valley meets the point of the Delta, the place where the Nile first divides as it flows north. Manetho tells us that Menes ruled 62 years and then died in a confrontation with a hippopotamus that took a dislike to him while he was hunting outside Memphis.

Pharaohs in later periods had their names written with a circle around them, a circle that Egyptologists call a "cartouche" (French for "cartridge"). Hor-Aha (like the monarchs immediately following him) had his name enclosed in an earlier, square variant of this called a serekh, which was derived from the appearance of royal palaces. A fragment of pottery in the British Museum has Hor-Aha's name scratched into it, in a serekh with a hawk sitting on the top of it. The hawk is perhaps the falcon of Nekhen, who, in local mythology was Horus, the son of Hathor, the cow-headed goddess possibly represented at the top of the Palette of Narmer.

In the myth of Osiris described several pages back in the section 3, on Neolithic Lower Egypt, Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis. How is he now the son of Hathor? In the north he was the son of Isis. In the south he was the son of Hathor. As we explore this odd difference, we will discover that it involves the answer to another, much more important problem: How did Hor-Aha's successors come to be regarded as divine? How did they become Pharaohs? The answer will lie in the politics of inter-regional jealousies and conflicts, and in the manipulation of myths.

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