Negan at Nekhen by Michael Fassbender

 

Negan at Nekhen by Michael Fassbender

I tend to be a Johnny-come-lately to famous TV programs. I don’t maintain cable or streaming subscriptions, so I catch up with the programs I choose to watch after they come out on DVD, sometimes years later. This year, I am getting caught up with The Walking Dead, and at the moment, I am watching season seven. I am now getting to know Negan.

I knew that Negan was a controversial character. Some fans hated him enough to abandon the series entirely after his brutal debut. Others have considered him the best long-term villain yet; for my part, I haven’t formulated my opinion on that. I’ve been too busy noticing something else. Negan shows how far people have descended from civilization as we know it by serving as a throwback to a style of leadership as old as the late Neolithic. Specifically, he breathes life into something I have read about only recently. 

Since childhood, I’ve maintained a fascination with ancient Egypt. I’ve kept up, more or less, with major discoveries and at least the outlines of Egyptian history as our understanding has shifted over the years. The Egyptians were a civilized and humane people, comparing favorably with most of their neighbors, most of the time. At the earliest stage of their history, though, even they practiced a form of human sacrifice. The burial of a king’s retainers with him after he died went on through the end of the second dynasty, before the first of the pyramids was built.

More recently, I became aware of even darker currents in the predynastic period. Two years ago I read the first two volumes of John Romer’s History of Ancient Egypt. This was a fascinating and thought-provoking work, but the most intriguing of all was his reconstruction of the predynastic, about which we have learned so much in the last thirty years. Alongside the more benign notes, like the importance of cylindrical seals to the formation of Egyptian writing, came the startling revelation of the more brutal side of early chiefdoms in southern Egypt, above all in the important town of Nekhen.

Nekhen, later known as Hierakonpolis, was a major predynastic site that may have set many of the patterns of later pharaonic civilization. It is generally thought that the unifier of Egypt, Narmer, had come from Nekhen, and its patron god, Horus, became the first king of the gods under the unified state. Nekhen provides the earliest example of tomb paintings, significantly including boats as a major image. We also find the earliest examples of the royal Smiting motif in connection with early Nekhen chiefs.

The Smiting motif presents the king with his right arm raising a mace above his head, and his left hand grasping the hair of a kneeling foe. It is understood that the king is about to deal a crushing blow to the head of his enemy. In this historic period, this image was understood symbolically; it represented the king as the champion of the forces of order (a word synonymous with truth in Egyptian) defeating the powers of chaos. 

Primitive versions of the Smiting motif were found at several predynastic sites in Egypt, with at least one estimated to around 3500 BC. While nineteenth-century scholars often thought the image suggested military conquest, more recent scholars tended to assume the motif held the same symbolic significance as it did in later centuries, until it was noted that a number of bodies found in predynastic graves near Nekhen showed the evidence of a crushing blow to the head. The Smiting image was therefore no mere symbol in the predynastic period, but a harsh reality for some members of the population. As this predates the written word even in Egypt, it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure the context of these killings. They may have been human sacrifices, or criminal executions, or something else entirely. The one thing we know with a high level of probability is that they were members of the same population, not foreign captives. Their bodies were buried in the same cemeteries with the same kinds of grave goods as those who died from natural causes, indicating membership in the same society.

In short, the predynastic people of Nekhen witnessed the same grim political theater that Rick Grimes and his team suffered when Negan killed Abraham and Glenn with Lucille. One or more people were killed by crushing blows to the head by a strong man who used the exercise to demonstrate his supremacy, or establish his dominion. With this as the true subtext of both cases, the introduction of Negan in The Walking Dead serves as an eerie parallel to real events taking place half the world and 5500 years earlier.

One might call it a striking resemblance.

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Michael Fassbender is a part-time writer in the Chicago area. His story Inmateappeared in Sanitarium Magazine in 2016; The Cold Girlappeared in Hypnos Magazine in 2016 and has resurfaced in October 2019 in a volume entitled Re-Haunts. But Together We Are Stronghas appeared in the February 2020 issue of Horror Magazine, Miroir de Vaugnacfound its place in Dark Divinations on May Day, and Schattenlenkers Hidden Treasurewas revealed in The Nightside Codex in August. This Halloween, Old Growthbegan spreading in Scary Stuff. You can read about more of his work on his website, michaeltfassbender.com.

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