Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses
Judy Chicago includes nine ancient Egyptian female figures in The Dinner Party. She invites Hatshepsut, the only female pharaoh, as one of the thirty-nine honored guests. The names of the powerful queens Tiye, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra and of the goddesses Isis, Hathor, Neith, Tefnut, and Wadjet are written on the Heritage Floor. This exhibition features objects related to these figures from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned collection of ancient Egyptian art. It also examines the impact of feminism on the modern discipline of Egyptology.
Feminism has changed Egyptology considerably in the years since Judy Chicago created her famous work. Many more women are working as Egyptologists than there were at the beginning of the twentieth century. Moreover, both men and women Egyptologists today more easily accept the idea of women wielding political power in the ancient world. Old interpretations of Hatshepsut’s reign as a violation of Egyptian protocol have fallen out of favor. Today Egyptologists understand that Hatshepsut preserved her family’s claims to the throne while the male heir was still a child. Hatshepsut has been transformed from a villain to the heroine of her own story in the most recent telling.
In much the same way, Egyptologists now recognize the queens Tiye and Nefertiti as their husband’s partners in ruling Egypt rather than as women who attempted to claim more power than was proper. Even Cleopatra, whose reputation among the ancient Romans as well as many modern historians was essentially negative, is today recognized primarily as the legitimate guardian of her country’s political interests.
These transformations in historical reputations stem from a viewpoint highly influenced by modern feminism. Feminism has enriched our understanding of the ancient world as well as changed the world in which we live.