The king of Egypt was the first example in recorded history of the archetype identified in psychological parlance as ‘The Great Individual’.23 This long-enduring figure is often encountered in epic and mythological contexts. He is heroic in scale and action; Gilgamesh and, on the mythical plane, Herak-les are good examples of the type, so too, though on a different scale, is Alexander the Great.
The Great Individual is an agent of profound change, by his actions or example releasing great charges of psychic energy into the society or community with which he is engaged. He is, in the generally employed sense of the word, ‘charismatic’. In addition to his heroic qualities he may also be a sacrificial figure who suffers or dies for his followers. The hosts of dying gods belong to this category.
According to the Pyramid Texts, the most venerable series of sacred writings in the world, which emphasize the unique nature of the king and are designed to ensure his survival after death, the king existed before the creation of the world.24 In the way of the Great Individual he will eventually decline from his position of primacy, to assume something more like a mediatory role, a process which the Egyptian kingship precisely experienced, when the glory in which the Early Dynastic and early Old Kingdom kings reigned was replaced by the still-powerful but more circumscribed state of the kings of the Middle and subsequent kingdoms. Eventually, the figure of the Great Individual will disintegrate, a process which is often also the fate of the society of which he was once the prime mover. This disintegration may actually be mirrored in the Great Individual’s physical dismemberment, as was mythically expressed in the death of Osiris. This was eventually to be Egypt’s destiny.
Egypt was unique — and uniquely fortunate — in having at its disposal not merely one but a number of Great Individuals amongst the kings of the earliest dynasties. Their powerful influences, which effected such dramatic developments in the early centuries, continued to resonate throughout the Valley for many hundreds of years after their lifetimes. Whilst they lived their unique status was preserved and identified by their being represented on a superhuman scale, or raised high above their followers, whenever it was necessary actually to represent them. Thus they were preserved for ever in their archetypal roles.