To be the body of the state

An image of a “virtual autopsy” of Tutankhamun has been released in order to promote a new BBC documentary. It’s breathtaking.

Here is the image of the man – so barely a man – as the king that he truly was. How do I say “that he truly was”? Is that not cruel, dismissive, ableist? We could never say of an ordinary disabled person, or indeed of any person, that she “was” her body. But a pharaoh’s body was the body of the state. He was a god; his flesh was supposed to be of gold, his hair of lapis lazuli. At his jubilee festivals, the king ran ritual laps around a track to mark the boundaries of his kingdom. He was the Mighty Bull, the Horus and the resurrected Osiris.

And there he was, little Tutankhamun, the son of a brother and sister, the last male left in the path of his father’s wake of destruction. The sickness and suffering at the heart of the kingdom must have struck everyone that looked on him – except, perhaps, for his half-sister-wife. Ankhesenamun’s virtual autopsy will probably never exist in this detail, but if it did, it would no doubt look much like this one with a wig on top.

What it was to be Tutankhamun is inextricable from what it is to see, to inhabit, this body.

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