Sunday, September 29, 2013

Spaceship Earth Pharaoh confusion

I'm having a pharaoh problem.

I'm trying to figure out exactly WHICH pharaoh is being represented in Spaceship Earth (you know, the one we should all blame for taxes!)

Jim Korkis writes that the letter on the little table in the scene is a transcription of a real pharonic dictation: "Royal decree to the royal scribe and vizier Ammon Hotep…may he live, be happy and prosperous. Lo, everyone who shall make petition to vizier concerning fields, the vizier shall order him (to come) to him—in addition to listening to the overseer of lands and the officials of the cadastre. He shall hear every petitioner according to this law which is in his hand."

So is that Ammon Hotep? Who is that? Google thinks I mean Amenhotep (or more specifically Amenhotep III). That seems a reasonable guess, but it lacks confirmation.

This past weekend I snapped a photo of the letter on the table. In addition to hieroglyphics, it has a royal seal/emblem on it (called a cartouche). Surely it would be child's play to match this cartouche with ones listed online.

See the cartouche dangling over the side?

So I found an online listing of all known cartouches, and scanned them visually for a match. No luck. It was not even close to any of the cartouches for Amenhotep (any of the Amenhoteps), which would have made the most sense, given what we know of the letter.

That was frustrating enough, but then I ran across online photos that gave me more pause.

Flickr user Matthew Cooper has been able to capture the scene despite the poor lighting. Here is a low-res reversion of his shot:

See the cartouche in the background? All cartouches have an oval around them. Now, I thought, we might be getting somewhere! But alas, my visual scan of the website of cartouches didn't hit a match here either.

And that's when I noticed this wall cartouche doesn't really match the table one.

Then the final realization came: Cooper's shot of Spaceship Earth, which is only a few years old, does not show any papyrus dangling over the table, so it must be a somewhat new addition.

To summarize: neither the wall cartouche nor the newer papyrus cartouche match real cartouches that I can find, and the supposed letter from Amenhotep doesn't shed any light on which pharaoh this is.

I suppose it's POSSIBLE the details aren't supposed to line up, and that it's enough to be authentic-looking, but that seems very much unlike Disney today, let alone Disney in 1982, when details were paramount. The aforementioned Jim Korkis article goes on at length about other details in this same ride. The telephone switchboard was fabricated after a real one from the turn of the century.... I think that means they would have sweated the details of the cartouche.

My best guess is that I'm just not scanning that website right, and the royal cartouche is right in front of me and I just can't see it. But any advice or insight is highly welcome here. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.