All of Imhotep’s previous accomplishments wouldn’t amount to his architectural masterpiece. At least not in the eyes of the public.
It wasn’t much for him to design, of course. The night in which he’d conceived this wonder could be summed up with one term: Camelshit.
He’d realized this the moment Urshe burst into his office in Ptah’s temple in Memphis.
Urshe was the high priest of Thoth in those days. He was rather young for the job at 28, but he was highly energetic. Folks loved him throughout Lower Egypt, especially in Memphis. His father and grandfather had previously been the Moon God’s high priests, and they’d been pretty good at their jobs. Urshe was a genetic natural for the position: he slept days and was wide awake at night, drunk off of sesame-flavored barley beer until sunlight. Right now, his tipsy eyes were wide open with glossy fright.
“Grand Chancellor,” he began, gasping the title of Imhotep’s highest position in breathless solemness, “It’s Thoth. He’s gotten huge.”
Imhotep was sitting on his cloth-covered wooden chair, his papyrus scroll covering his lap. He had hit a wall in his design, so he wasn’t completely annoyed by Urshe’s interruption. But Imhotep couldn’t let him know that, of course.
“Can’t you see that I’m busy, High Priest?”
It was Pharaoh Djoser’s funerary monument that Imhotep was designing. Djoser and him had decided that it needed to be something big and amazing, something different than the usual mastaba slabs that the previous pharaohs had been buried beneath. Upper and Lower Egypt had enjoyed a long period of peace during Djoser’s reign, and one of the main reasons was their adoration and reverence for the Pharaoh. The Pharaohs before Djoser, with the exception of the first Pharaoh Menes, had difficulties in keeping the two kingdom’s united because…well, nobody really gave a shit about them. Djoser actually looked and acted how a God-King was supposed to, and everybody loved him for it enough to refrain from falling back into civil war. It would be essential to his legacy for him to be eternal in a way for all of Egypt to see, so that this supreme reverence for future Pharaohs would become more ingrained in Egyptian life.
But Imhotep was a bit stumped at the moment. His scroll only contained a drawing of the usual rectangular mastaba. He wasn’t quite sure where to go next.
Urshe was sputtering. “The townspeople are in an uproar, Grand Chancellor. The Moon God grew to be massive since last night, and He is shining brightly. It looks like He is preparing Himself for an attack on the Sun. I’m not quite sure what to tell everybody.”
Imhotep patiently rolled his scroll closed in his lap. “Yes. And I suppose that this creates quite an issue for the High Priest of Thoth, who should have more understanding of the Moon.”
The Moon God’s Priest opened and closed his mouth. His broad chest was heaving, and his heavy breaths were the only response that he could come up with. His eyes were still wide open, waiting for the great scientist to continue.
Imhotep, however, was choosing his next words carefully in his mind. He knew, of course, the reason for everybody’s Moon fear. As he had long ago calculated, tonight was to be a Supermoon…the Moon was within its closest distance to Earth in its elliptical orbit, and it was a full Moon. Imhotep had actually planned to go out and view this natural occurrence later, as he’d expected the Moon to appear bigger and brighter than usual. However, this science was not what the people of Egypt liked to hear.
He stood up from his chair and put a calm hand on the anxious Urshe’s shoulder. The young priest was going to have a heart attack if he didn’t fucking relax.
“Thoth is actually in very good spirits, lad,” Imhotep said, his wise voice unusually light and good-natured. “He’s just come closer tonight so that he may see Kemet’s peace for himself. That’s why he appears to be bigger and brighter.” Camelshit.
Urshe instantly relaxed, his innocent face breaking into a relieved smile that looked comedic. “Really?” he squeaked, sounding like an overgrown child.
Imhotep’s patience immediately ran out. It was surprising how gullible people were. He placed his other hand on Urshe’s opposite shoulder, pivoted him 180 degrees to face the direction of the door, and gave him a sharp push. “Yes,” he replied quietly. “Now go tell this to the people of Memphis, and see that word is quickly spread throughout the two kingdoms of Egypt, up and down the Nile, before everybody shits in their kilts.”
Urshe giggled as he ran out of the door, on a mission to inform everybody of the good news.
Imhotep shook his head and re-unrolled his scroll. The drab mastaba was still there, looking no better than Khasekhemwy’s funerary monument in Abydos. Khasekhemwy had been the pharaoh before Djoser, and he’d made some pretty cool buildings. So cool, in fact, that Djoser had abandoned his own original funerary monument in the Upper Egypt necropolis of Abydos. He didn’t want his shit to be confused with Khasekhemwy’s. So Djoser had chosen Saqqara, which could be seen from the great capital of Memphis, for his great architectural achievement of a tomb.
And, as usual, Imhotep had to do all of the thinking.
He turned the scroll sideways, closed his left eye, and studied the mastaba. Maybe he could put an upside down golden bowl on top of the structure. That’d be pretty slick. He would call it a “dome”. Nobody had ever seen one of those before. Excited by the idea, he hurriedly dipped his reed pen in ink and drew the “dome” on top of the mastaba. After completing the half-sphere, he held the scroll in front of him, eyeballing his latest invention.
He threw the scroll on the ground, pissed off that he’d even thought of the “dome”. Such a primitive idea it was.
The smell of grilled hippopotamus quickly filled the temple of Ptah, and he heard the fussing of women. The smell and the sound were heading directly towards his office. He knew exactly who it was.
Djoser stepped magnanimously into Imhotep’s office with the plate of hippo in his large hands. His face was half made-up, and his royal headress was lazily covering his large head. Four of his bare-breasted female attendants scurried in after him, fussing over his makeup and his attire. One of them was attempting to attach his ceremonial beard, but he kept moving his head away like a child avoiding being spoon fed. He took a large bite of his meal.
Imhotep laughed at the sight of his rebellious old buddy. The two had grown up together, and had remained best friends even after Djoser had become Pharaoh Horus-Netjerikhet.
“Great Egypt,” Imhotep shot in mock rebuke, “what have I told you about eating this late at night? It fucks your stomach up.”
Djoser took the last big bite of hippo and handed the empty plate to one of his attendants. His large jaws took about ten harsh chomps before he swallowed it with a ferocious gulp. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
“Nice to see you, too, Chancellor.” Djoser finally allowed the attendant to begin attaching his ceremonial beard. The goat’s hair tickled his clean-shaven face, and he chuckled. “Got any beer?”
Imhotep walked over to a table in the corner of his office, picked up a large jug of the finest grain beer in Lower Egypt, and poured two large cups. He walked over to the tall God-King of the Nile Delta and handed him the larger cup.
Djoser grabbed the cup and chugged the beer down in three gulps. The resulting belch that filled the room smelled like dates, watermelon, and hippopotamus.
“What the fuck are you doing awake at this hour?” the Pharaoh asked Imhotep, holding out his cup to be refilled.
Imhotep took the cup and defiantly placed it on the table in front of him. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“But I asked first. And I am the Ruler of the Two Kingdoms, so you must answer.”
Djoser was only half-kidding when he played this game with Imhotep, but it annoyed the great physician nonetheless.
“I’m designing the new tomb. At least I was, before you interrupted me.”
The Pharaoh looked down at the scroll that Imhotep had thrown to the ground. He picked it up and, after studying it for a few seconds, threw it back on the ground.
“Camelshit,” Djoser muttered.
“Yes, my sentiments exactly.”
“I mean, what the fuck is that round thing on top of it?”
“I was going to call it a ‘dome’.”
“Looks primitive,” Djoser responded dismissively. “You’ve got to stop banging those backwards chicks from across the Mediterranean.”
Imhotep ignored the dig. “So what are you getting all ceremonial for?”
Djoser liked getting made up and God-Kinged up, but seldom did he do so this late. His attendants had bags under their eyes from being awaken from slumber, and their ebony nipples were pointing downwards as if still sleeping. They would be blatantly displaying their rightful annoyance if Djoser were anybody other than Djoser.
“Didn’t you hear?” The king’s eyes widened. “Thoth is in good spirits tonight, and He has come close to see Kemet’s peace for himself. That’s why He’s bigger and brighter right now.”
Imhotep suddenly felt nauseous. “Who told you that?”
The only thing that the great architect disliked about his Royal friend was his dogmatic gullibility. Djoser was very religious, and believed everything that he was told about the Egyptians Gods. He even believed that everything came from a Cosmic Egg.
Djoser continued. “So I have decided to parade through Memphis tonight, so that Thoth may get a better look at me.” He stopped for a second, his face brightening up with an even better idea. “And so that the people of Memphis can see Thoth getting a better look at me.”
It really wasn’t a bad idea, Imhotep thought. Anything to add to the dogma.
“Have you seen the Moon tonight, Imho?”
Imhotep hated that nickname. “No, I have been designing your fucking tomb all night.”
Djoser guffawed. “Imho. Imho, Imho, Imho.” He stopped for a second to enjoy the anger in the great sculptor’s face. “You’ve been putting half-testicles on the top of mastabas all night. I hardly call that designing.”
The grand vizier maintained his composure. “It’s a fucking ‘dome’.”
The God-King threw his muscular arm around Imhotep’s shoulders. “Come, Old Friend. Let us go outside and see Thoth.”
Despite Imhotep’s protests, Djoser led him out of the office, through the back door of Ptah’s temple, and into the large private courtyard of the holy place. The attendants shuffled behind them, cursing both of them by the Goddesses under their breath.
It was a beautiful night outside. The Nile’s life-nourishing waters were flowing serenely, and the weather was cool. The city folk, as expected, were out and about, and their happy chatter could be heard from all directions. Everybody was enchanted by the sight of the Supermoon.
Ah, the Moon. It was indeed larger than usual, and its luminous brightness was almost aggressive. The night sky was brightened by this natural spectacle; the Moon’s craters resembled vast oceans across its white surface.
“Ah, Thoth,” Djoser whispered reverently, his head tilted at a 60 degree angle. His attendants were applying dark shadow to his eyes, using the Supermoon’s light to see what they were doing. “Thoth, all praises be to Thee. Please gaze upon Thy servant’s kingdom with grace.”
Suddenly, Imhotep heard a noise that sounded like a large uncouth person clearing his throat. He looked over and saw a camel standing near them, ignoring their presence. Its lips were chewing in the way that camels’ lips always do.
“How the fuck did that damn camel get back here?” the great carpenter wanted to know.
But Djoser was in a zone. “All of Egypt shall praise me for years,” he said, dreamily, “and the inhabitants of the Sinai Valley will seek to be brought into my God-accepted embrace.”
To Imhotep’s surprise, the camel began to take a shit right there in front of them. The first set of dung clumps seemed to form a mound on the ground.
But the great Pharaoh was unfazed. “Even the Nubians will finally acknowledge the legitimacy of Kemet. They’ve always said that we aren’t ‘black’ enough.” Djoser chuckled deviously. “Now, they’ll see that we’re the blackest Africans in Africa!”
Imhotep couldn’t take his eyes off of the camel in action. Its dung continued to drop, the mounds resting on top of one another. Each mound of crap was smaller than the one below it, forming a disgusting pile of excrement that started off wide at the bottom and tapered off at the top. It looked like a square, with four triangles on each side pointing upwards.
“Osirus himself will give me dap when I enter the underworld,” Djoser continued, “and the Ogdoad will eagerly gather around me, saying, ‘Pharaoh Horus-Netjerikhet’, you were our main man while you were alive, and, now that you’re dead, you’re our main soul!’ ”
The camel was finished with its deed. Its aloof eyes slid back to glance at Imhotep ironically, its chewing mouth forming a smile. In fact, if the great carpenter wasn’t mistaken, the camel even winked at him.
“Yes, Imho. Tonight is the night that has secured my place in history, as the greatest God-King of all time.”
That’s when the idea struck Imhotep like the slap of a pissed-off baboon.
Imhotep quickly paid his courtesies to Djoser. “Look, enjoy your parade. Make sure you don’t get too drunk, like you did for the annual Flood celebration last year. You threw up all over your Queen Hetephernebti, and she blamed me for that shit.”
Djoser was still in his trance of grandeur. “Grand Chancellor, Thoth looks down upon me with grace. My vomit is nectar to the mortals…”
But Imhotep was already back in the temple before the God-King could finish his soliloquy. He rushed to his office, grabbed his scroll off of the ground, flipped it over to the clean side, and drew a simple mastaba.
Then he drew another mastaba on top of it, smaller than the one beneath it.
And then another in the same fashion. And then another, and another. He topped it off with a sixth mastaba on the top, which formed the peak of the structure.
After he was finished, he held the scroll out in front of him, admiring his work. His heart was beating fast, as if this rush of creativity had been a sexual endeavor. Right there in front of him, designed by his own hand, was the most original structure that would ever be built. He held the scroll to his chest, and would have cried tears of joy if he were a pussy.
He would call this new architectural masterpiece a “Pyramid”. No, fuck that; too savage. A “Per-Neter”. Yes. It was to be called a Per-Neter.
Djoser would indeed be remembered as one of the greatest Pharaohs of all time, but not because of this damn Supermoon that had the people of Memphis hooting and hollering. It would be due to this Per-Neter that Imhotep himself had just designed.
Looking at the magnificent structure, Imhotep wondered if anybody would ever come close to inventing such a wonder as this.
He shook his head, laughed, and muttered to himself,