How does history pick whom to remember?
Can someone end up ‘going down in history’ just by happenstance?
Increasingly I think that somebody has to make an effort to get the mass of humanity looking up from their self-absorbed (rightly-so) lives of daily trials and tribulations, to be interested in the story of a distant other who they do not know.
Sometimes people may make the effort to immortalize someone in order to uphold a cause that their life represented- such as patriotism, scientific advancement.. even consumerism. To put it crudely- you become the icon that serves an agenda.
Other times, it becomes possible owing to the singular obsession of the individual ‘to be remembered’. We’ve all heard/ read about famous people who wanted to ‘leave a mark’, ‘be loved and revered’, ‘be famous/ powerful’..
I wonder what kind of lives these individuals really have- What do their personal lives look like? Who do they love, or are devoted to? What gets them to smile when they are alone? And their private thoughts?
Author Michelle Moran explores one such character: the Egyptian Pharaoh Nefertiti in her book titled ‘Nefertiti’. She is beautiful and ambitious with a singular obsession to ‘go down in history’.
One wonders, reading through this book, whether the famous Pharaoh would have been actually so tiresome, self- centered and unidimensional, as the writer paints her. What about mystique and depth that one would typically expect from an Egyptian symbol of power and beauty? Or was it painstakingly projected through each deliberate relic created for history?
Did Michelle Moran fail to capture the depth of the character? Having read another of Moran’s works ‘The last queen of India’ about Rani Laxmibai, perhaps she can tend to ‘understate’ strong characters, but she does capture nuances.
Going with Nefertiti through the pages of this book is tiresome. I wonder how many of current world leaders, business tycoons, entertainers etc would fit the same mould.. and I wonder about the private and public repercussions of that.
The thought leaves you embracing lovingly your own insignificance in the trajectory of time. As General Nakhtmin says to Nefertiti’s sister, “Let history forget your name. For if your deeds are to live in eternity, you will have to become exactly what (they) want you to be.”