In Search of Sophia: the Egyptian Princess
In ancient days, in other lives, long past, but not forgotten.
In Adonai and Babylon, Etruscans and Egyptians came to my temple –
Journeyed to the valley of the moon. (Jim Gannon, Black Widow)
This is the account of Sir Craig Hudson, emeritus professor of Egyptology and Middle Eastern Studies at Bradenstoke College, Kingston University.
Archaeologists and a scholar with passion and a vision successfully located the tomb of Sophia in the land where the Pharaohs ruled. It was they who followed the dream and solved the riddle in their quest for Sophia, an Egyptian princess from a previously unknown dynasty dating back some 3,200 years to around 1,200BC. Her story had been lost in the mists of time but now it can be told for the very first time.
Regenerated through the ages, here in her thirteenth life, the mystic power of old, Sophia – Daughter of the Full Moon and, based upon the evidence we have been able to uncover, this is her story.
1971 AD: Masirah – We entered the encampment near the village of Hilf close to Turtle Beach, where old men of the sea, fishermen by trade, were seated around their camp fire, eating grilled barracuda and swordfish steaks, crayfish tails, dates, and almonds, drinking warm goats milk and hot sweet mint tea. We were honoured to be invited to join in their evening feast and as they shared their meal, Baksheesh, the Wali (headman on the island, appointed by the Sultan of Oman) told us a story, which had clearly been passed down through the centuries, to become a local legend, like a tale from the Arabian Nights, about a local girl from the island who had a dream of becoming a princess in the far off land of the Pharaohs. The Arabic and Persian name of that girl was Saphia – as derived from σοφία, the Greek word for “Wisdom”. Her name has changed over the centuries as she travelled through time across deserts and seas, until people came to know her as Sophia, and her name has represented the personification of wisdom around the world to this very day.
It is not known for certain what year the girl left the island, I have been unable to find any written texts, but, from the scant evidence, she must have begun her travels more than 3,000 years ago
One of the few creatures which survived the island’s burning desert heat was the scorpion, and the Wali explained that the girl had the magical power of a scorpion’s sting. Although outwardly calm and serene she could strike swiftly so it was no surprise when she adopted the scorpion as her ‘image’.
The old men’s story stayed with me and I vowed to follow in her footsteps, travelling back through the millennia, little knowing where my search may lead; to find out the truth of her story, to tell the world how the beautiful young Omani girl with a dream became an Egyptian princess.
And so our search for Sophia began….
The first part of my journey took me by dhow across the Arabian Sea to Oman at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula where the hot desert sands end suddenly on the high escarpment towering above the fertile green coastal Batinah Plain which meets the waters of the Indian Ocean. After two days and one night at sea, the dhow dropped anchor in the sheltered bay at Rayzut where my interpreter Sayeed and I disembarked. At the time of our arrival in October, the wet monsoon period had just ended and the all-enveloping misty drizzle had cleared. It was hot but the heat was tempered by the on-shore breeze drifting in from the Indian Ocean. Although the monsoon mists were gone, my journey through the mists of time had only just begun.
We were escorted in Omani Blue long-wheel-based Land Rovers along the coast to a dazzlingly bright gleaming white walled structure, the Sultan’s Summer Palace, which stood proudly in the centre of Salalah city. And there we stayed for several weeks as guests of the Sultan who was intrigued by my quest and, kindly offering his help, he provided me with a knowledgeable guide, Kimji, who might set me off on the right path in my search for Sophia.
1972AD Salalah – Life in the Sultan’s palace was relaxing and gave me an opportunity to study the local culture and gain an understanding of how life must have been there some 3,000 years ago. We dined well on local produce, bananas dates and coconuts from the verdant plantations alongside the Indian Ocean shoreline. Fish and goat meat were sold alongside scrawny chickens and some indescribable cuts of meat on stone slabs in the old open market place just outside the palace walls.
Kimji, our bearded old Omani guide was most helpful telling me stories, recounting ancient legends of his land, of which he was immensely proud. Although he spoke passable English, and I was able to understand some Arabic, Sayeed was ever at hand translating some of the more difficult passages of our many conversations. One morning Kimji brought me a gift, a fantastically coloured chameleon, about 12 inches (30cm) in length from nose to the tip of its’ tail, colours constantly changing to mirror whatever the surrounding background, perfect camouflage. Eyes rotating through 360 degrees, long rolled-up tongue ever ready to shoot out and catch any flies which came within range.
Such a brilliant creature. Kimji went on to tell me his chameleon story which gave me the next tangible ‘lead’ in my quest. On Masirah Island the Wali had spoken of the Scorpion and how the young Sophia had adopted the animal as her image. Now Kimji was telling me of the legend of an island girl who had travelled to Salalah and was befriended by an Omani Chameleon which followed her everywhere. The girl’s name was Sophia, was this simply a coincidence or the same Sophia for whom I was searching?
The old man said that according to legend, his Sophia had held a Scorpion as her symbol and she was so touched by the friendly chameleon that she also adopted it as her second defining symbol. Sophia of the Scorpion and the Chameleon.
I was sure we were talking about the same girl, the story from the fishermen on the island and the legend as recounted by Kimji had to be linked, intertwined.
It was coming towards the end of my time in Salalah when the Sultan took myself, Kimji and Sayeed a short distance eastward along the coast to show me the ruins of what must have been a sizeable settlement, now only low walls of sun-blackened stone remain in the desert sands beside the ocean. Thousands of years ago, this place was an impressive royal palace with canals of cooling water; it was the original home, the birthplace of the Queen of Sheba.
I was excited and yet rather disappointed at this revelation; surely Sophia and Sheba could not be both one and the same person? Sheba’s story is well known and her life with Solomon is equally well documented. The two young women must be two different people. Had my quest ended at the first hurdle? What had happened to Sophia? The trail seemed to have gone cold. I needed time to pause and consider, to stay focused on my quest for Sophia or accept that the stories and legends ended here. What had happened to ‘my’ Sophia and if she was real then where had she gone?
Other duties meant that I had to return to England and put my search on hold indefinitely. But from time to time my thoughts would drift back to my old quest. Whenever possible I would discus with colleagues and study texts looking for clues. Theories were examined and either discarded or noted as worthy of further investigation.
Eventually, my regular duties came to an end and at last I was able to take the time to resume my quest; but where to begin?
Now I knew where I would restart my search – back in the very place where the trail had gone cold so long before: back to the desert heat of Oman.
The original story told to me on the island spoke of a girl who had dreamed of becoming an Egyptian princess. So, how would she have travelled to the land of the Pharaohs over 3,000 years ago?
The answer, or at least first part of the answer, was back in Salalah where I had lost the trail. The answer when it came to me was so simple, I had been trying to unravel a long lost complicated mystery but somehow I had completely overlooked the obvious. The answer was quite literally under my nose in the Omani desert.
Three of the many things for which Oman is rightly famous, are frankincense – the aromatic gum resin burned as incense over millennia and worth more than its weight in gold; myrrh – used in perfume and medicines: and camels. Frankincense, Myrrh (and Gold) – were the three gifts carried to a stable in Bethlehem by the three wise men, the Magi.
[First references to Oman, then called Magaa, were in Sumerian times – in 3000 BC. Sir Ranulph Fiennes author of “Where Soldiers Fear to Tread.” published by Hodder and Stoughton]
For thousands of years frankincense was traded throughout much of Asia and the known world. The route of the ancient Frankincense Trail travelled west across Oman and through Yemen to San’a where it turned north to follow the eastern coastline of the Red Sea up through Jordan, passing Mecca and Jeddah and on towards Aqaba. The precious cargos were carried by camel in long trains plodding, trekking ever onward, winding through the hot dried up dusty wadis (river beds) and the welcoming cool green shade of remote, secret oases.
This surely must be the way Sophia had travelled 3,000 years ago. It was the logical route.
Petra – also known as the Rose City due to the colour of the stone cliffs in the narrow gorge: rock carvings in the shadows beside a pool of crystal clear water bubbling up from the hidden springs that feed the water conduits. Paintings on the walls within the red stone temples
Was this the first ever recorded image of our Sophia? Did she stop here in the Rose City to rest for a while on her journey and dream her dream once again, and did she have her likeness painted on the wall? Maybe she painted it herself. I would like to think so but, really, who knows?
At Petra she left the company of the camel train team and boarded a sailing ship to travel south along the Gulf of Aqaba and then westward once more to the Red Sea port of Hurghada where she left the ship and set foot on Egyptian sand for the first time.
Sophia’s arrival in the Egyptian port coincided with the night of the full moon; here the moon was a symbol of rejuvenation and, given its cycle, this is understandable. Later texts in fact describe it as “the one that repeats its form”. Her timing would appear to be coincidental, but perhaps it was fate, pre-ordained, commanded by forces more powerful, that she should arrive on the eve of that auspicious event. Her dream was more than just a dream, it was her destiny. For the following 28 days of the lunar cycle she rested in the port town learning something of the ways and culture in this new land, until the night of the next full moon. The following morning she awoke well rested, feeling completely rejuvenated, she bathed and looked out over her new world. Sophia, the young woman from Masirah Island was now reborn as Sophia: Daughter of the Full Moon. She had a new name, no longer just ‘Sophia’ from the island, she is now called Sophia Badriyah [BADRIYAH (بدريّة): Feminine form of Arabic unisex Badr, meaning “full moon.”].
It could have been that this would be where my search would end. But I was sure there was more to her story.
Her journey had been long but it was not yet complete.
Now, as the new Sophia – Daughter of the Full Moon, she had gathered many followers, willing devotees drawn to her presence by some mysterious force. Together they left the port town and travelled west by northwest through mountain passes to reach the banks of the great River Nile. Along the way, she had gained more followers from each of the villages they passed through. She had to hire six Feluccas – the traditional Egyptian wooden sailing boats – to transport her and her people across the river to the western bank.
The captain of her vessel gave her directions to the Valley of the Moon, and as they landed he also gave her the name of local guide who would be willing to show her the way. She located the guide and he was so captivated by her serene beauty that he refused all payment for his services, instead he became an avid follower. By the time they reached the fabled valley in the New Kingdom, the Pharaoh Amenhotep greeted and welcomed Sophia into his temple at Soleb. Amenhotep fully identifies himself with the moon, and his temple at Soleb is dedicated to the Moon.
The Pharaoh presented her to his court as part of his family, Sophia: Daughter of the Full Moon, Egyptian Princess, and in recognition he instructed his scribe to create a cartouche to show the world her name in the official hieroglyphs of their written language.
She was home. She had arrived at last.
The records show that Sophia lived a long life but when the time came for her to join the realm of the departed, she was well prepared for an even longer journey through the eons of the afterlife.
At this point the records seem to end, but by now I was convinced that her story was not yet over.
Some years later whilst in Cyprus I visited an old monastery high in the Troodos Mountains and met a monk who was in charge of the library, he was custodian of a collection of ancient Greek scrolls and Egyptian papyri. And what I discovered within those texts was no less amazing than all the discoveries my research had previously uncovered. There, in the faded brittle documents, was a report of a very wise well-travelled woman of some considerable status who had arrived on the island, close to where the fortified harbour of Kyrenia stands on the northern shore.
The name of that woman was Saphia. The records do not show quite how long she lived on the island, but in the scrolls there is a reference to a Saphia who travelled to the south west coast and after visiting the Temple of Apollo she swam twice around the Rocks of Aphrodite before boarding a ship at Paphos harbour to sail west across the Mediterranean Sea and through the Pillars of Hercules. This was all too much to be simply more coincidence. The clues were there, waiting to be discovered, the riddle would be solved. How many incarnations had she had? A daughter of the moon indeed, continually being reborn.
A ship passed Tangier and steamed under the towering Rock of Gibraltar, leaving the warm blue Mediterranean waters in its wake and then turned north in the cold grey Atlantic swell until at last the shoreline of Britannia came into view. The ship continued to voyage northward along the western coast until it arrived at its destination – the port town of Fleetwood, where one passenger disembarked, walking down the steps onto the quayside. That passenger was Sophia.
My search for Sophia has taken over 40 years but it has been a fascinating quest
A journey that has taken us thousands of miles, through millennia of time, over lands and seas: All the way from the burning hot desert sands of Oman to the stinging blowing sands of Fleetwood.
Our quest is over. Sophia lives once more.
(C) Russ Morton – 3rd July 2014