Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Egyptian is the first, and the most successful, of Waltari's great historical novels. It is set in a fascinating period of ancient Egyptian history, the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton who has been claimed the first monotheistic ruler in the world. The hero of the novel is not Akhenaton, however, but Sinuhe, the royal physician, who tells the story in exile after Akhenaton's fall and death. Apart from incidents in Egypt, the novel charts Sinuhe's travels in Babylon, in the Minoan Crete, among the Hittites, and among other surrounding cultures.
Sinuhe is a historical character, too, but little is known about his life. The existing facts are to be found in an ancient Egyptian text commonly known as The Story of Sinuhe. The original story dates to a time long before that of Akhenaton: texts are known from as early as the 12th dynasty.
Although Waltari employed some poetic license in combining the biographies of Sinuhe and Akhenaton, he was otherwise much concerned about the historical accuracy of his detailed description of ancient Egyptian life and carried out considerable research into the subject. The result has been praised not only by readers but also by egyptologists.
Waltari had long been interested in Akhenaton and wrote a play about him which was staged in Helsinki in 1938. World War II provided the final impulse for exploring the subject in a novel which, although depicting events that took place over 3000 years ago, in fact reflects the contemporary feelings of disillusionment and war-weariness and carries a pessimistic message of the essential sameness of human nature throughout the ages. Such a message evoked a wide response in readers in the aftermath of the World War, and the book became an international bestseller, topping the bestseller lists in the USA in 1949. It has been translated into some 25 languages.
The Egyptian is also a Hollywood motion picture based on Waltari's novel and released in 1954. The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Michael Curtiz, and the screenplay was adapted by Philip Dunne and Casey Robinson . Leading roles were played by Edmund Purdom (Sinuhe), Jean Simmons (Merit), Victor Mature (Horemheb), Gene Tierney (Baketamon), Michael Wilding (Akhenaton), Bella Darvi (Nefernefernefer) and Peter Ustinov (Kaptah). Cinematographer Leon Shamroy was nominated for an Oscar in 1955.
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