ANCIENT EGYPT

The History, People and Culture of the Nile Valley

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Volume Three  Issue One  -- July/August 2002

Review Panel

Miriam Bibby , Claire Malleson, Dr Steven Snape, Ella Louise Sutherland

 

The Monuments of Ancient Egypt

This issue's award for the most ambitious book title goes to Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch's The Monuments of Ancient Egypt, in which the 'the' claims rather more than we find here. What we do have is a perfectly good set of photographs of many of the most, and some of the less, well known major dynastic monuments, from Belibeit el-Hagar in the north to Abu Simbel in the south, and Serabit el-Khadim in the east to the Faiyum, Kharga and Dakhleh in the west. The sites selected have their individual appeal and interest successfully conveyed and a particular strength is the bringing to wider popular notice of deserving but comparatively neglected sites; the Faiyum and the Oases are well-served here, Bubastis less so.

A number of observations strike me about this collection of photographs. They are undoubtedly pleasant to look at and Stafford-Deitsch is to be particularly congratulated in achieving the almost impossible task of producing photographs of Egyptian monuments which are person-free (apart from the almost ubiquitous ghaffir-in-a-blue-gallabiya). 1 was puzzled by the artificially darkened sky on some of the external views, particularly as this device does not seem to be used to give any additional luminosity to the monuments themselves.

Another signature feature is the cornpositional device of a fragmentary block/statue in the foreground and large temple in the background; I was particularly intrigued by the plate of the Ramesseum (p. 103) where a ragged line of broken basalt blocks run from the left middle distance to the immediate right foreground, looking like a trail left by Ozymandias, inviting us to follow him overleaf to Medinet Habu.

1 was also, for a while, slightly puzzled as to the intended target audience for this book. The text prefacing each set of photographs, and the glossary/further reading at the end is of the no-previous-knowledge-assumed kind, while Harry James' foreword on recording the monuments of Egypt will be of interest to modem savants as well as neophytes. Then it became clear to me; this combination of a lecture by an expert Egyptologist and a guided tour of sites is a Nile cruise (plus optional visits) for the armchair traveller, but with many of the usual irritations (e.g. other tourists) removed. Further authenticity of the experience may be added by the reader – a bottle of  Stella might be a popular option.

SS

cover click on image to purchase from amazon.co.uk

Title: The Monuments of Ancient Egypt

Author: Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

Publisher: The British Museum Press

ISBN: 0714119466

Price £24.99

 

Private Life In New Kingdom Egypt

Private Life In New Kingdom Egypt is a fascinating insight into the lives of non-royal Egyptians of the 19th and 20th dynasties. Based primarily on the materials from Deir el Medina due to the fact that the majority of materials we have relating to private life come from the village, it does what other similar titles rarely do and gives a coherent overview of all aspects of life from men to women, children, sex, houses, old age death and burial.

So often scholars seem to present Ancient Egyptians as a wonderful, magical race, quite apart from our own; what Lynn Meskell does is carefully examine the materials and texts and place them in context next to each other, never failing to get across the idea that we only have a small sample of what must have existed all those hundreds of years ago, but that they too were as human as we are!

Men and women are considered alongside each other, but as we have so little evidence relating to the lives of women it is impossible to reconstruct their lives as fully as those of men. However, women were certainly the objects of male desire! The construction and use of the dwellings inside the villages of Deir el Medina and Amarna are examined as are the different uses for the two cemeteries and the variations in tomb ' content dependent on the status of the owners. The differences in burial practices within even the small community of Deir el Medina was great; in the western necropolis the elite members were accorded wonderful tombs (those we visit today - Naklit, Senned Jern etc.) whereas unmarried women were buried in simple tomb pits in the Eastern necropolis.

Eroticism, love and sex are clearly defined as both separate ideas and one concept; the love poetry presents a very romantic ideal of love and a very sensual image of women - no guesses as to whether it was written by men or women. Eroticism appeared in various forms: the beautiful wall paintings of Nebarmin exhibit wonderfully erotic scenes of female dancers and musicians while the Turin Erotic Papyrus presents an altogether different idea.

It is in fact very difficult to sum this book up in a few sentences. There are relatively few hard facts known and so each writer has to place their own interpretation upon the evidence and Lynn Meskell does so in a particularly imaginative way. In fact the final sentence of the book says it all - 'There are potent elements of familiarity between modern and ancient cultures, even in the final existential moments of an individuals life. The spectre that is Egypt has resounding longevity and offers endless inspiration'.

cover click on image to purchase from amazon.co.uk

CM

ISBN: 069100448X

Ancient Egypt: Music in the Age of the Pyramids

It's hard to imagine a world without sound recording. I could happily relinquish most modem media but 1 would not like to live without music. The texts, artefacts, architecture and art of the ancient Egyptians are a form of communication; human remains can be studied and the life and condition of individuals reconstructed. When it comes to the sound of the language, the music they made and their singing voices, silence falls.

There have been a few attempts over the years to produce music that evokes ancient Egypt, but it is an interpretation, since the musical notation of pharaonic Egypt is unknown. There are examples of the instruments they used, showing innovation at particular periods such as the New Kingdom, and representations of the playing of music is an integral part of much funerary art. One or two artefacts and texts hint at musical notation, but that is all. We deduce the role of music in tomb symbolism, social events, lovemaking and relaxing from images, texts and the instruments themselves.

Rafael Pérez Arroyo, a trained classical musician, has combined his compositional skills with a detailed study of ancient Egyptian music - he is the author of a book on the subject - to produce the CD Ancient Egypt: Music in the Age of the Pyramids. He conducts the Hathor Ensemble, playing reconstructions of musical instruments, in a series of hymns and dances which are sung using a modem form of ancient Egyptian based, as far as 1 can tell, on the protocol that most linguists use.

The music includes hymns from the Pyramid Texts and processional hymns to Hathor. The influence of Coptic Church music is acknowledged. The whole is a highly structured, formal sounding suite of music in which it is possible to be seduced by the clarity, beauty and performance of the classically trained singers, who are indeed excellent. The music is characterised by the use of a particular glissando effect. The whole is perhaps evocative of an image of religious music of the state, or a nation state, but it does not evoke ancient Egypt in its entirety. The 1ba dance, for example, is an extremely sustained and controlled piece.

This CD will therefore probably find its greatest appeal amongst aficionados of European church music (if you liked Fauré's Requiem, you'll love this, as they say on Classic FM). If an attempt is to be made to use the language of ancient Egypt, 1 would also like to see musicians interpreting some of the less formal (but philosophically complex) texts of ancient Egypt such as those extolling the virtues of living in the here and now, and making the best of this enjoyable day.

The CD is accompanied by a booklet in which various aspects of ancient Egyptian music, and the thought behind the recording, are discussed. There are a number of colour photographs and line drawings too, making a comprehensive package of sound and information.

 Title. Ancient Egypt. Music in the Age of the Pyramids (CD)

Composer/conductor: Rafael Pérez Arroyo

Label: NAR

Ref: NAR 0010-01 8437003071010

Price € 24.15 (Euros)

Henry Salt., Artist Traveller, Diplomat, Egyptologist  

The birth of modem Egyptology is a subject that has been receiving more and more attention of late, with the republication of old manuscripts and histories of the characters involved. This book is a good addition to the burgeoning fold.

Henry Salt (1780-1827) was born the youngest of eight children in Lichfield, Staffordshire. There is very little discussion about Salt's early life, probably due to the difficulty in locating information. We do however learn of an illness that affected Salt's spleen sometime between the ages of eleven and fourteen. This illness would go on to plague him for the rest of his life. But the main thread of the book joins up with a fourteen year old Salt off to study Classics under the watchful eye of a big brother in Birmingham

A year later, Salt returns home with aspirations to be a portrait painter. For the next few years of his life, we follow Salt moving around and making friends, and revisiting old ones, as he follows his dreams. Salt could not have known what was just round the corner. In June 1802 he was off 'on a voyage to the East' with Viscount Valentia. By mid January India came into view, and along with it all manner of adventures. It was not until early 1806 that Salt sets foot in Egypt, the country he would later spend so             much time in.

Not wanting to give the game away, once Salt is in Egypt the readers will find themselves completely engaged, as I did. Salt's infamous struggle with museums over antiquities he collected is well covered, as are his meetings with Belzoni (although 1 would have liked to know more about Belzoni's wife -  she sounds like a book waiting to happen!), his excavations, his family life and finally his death and burial within the grounds of his own garden. All in all, this book provides an excellent biography on the life of Henry Salt and his adventures, and what a life he had!

 

cover click on image to purchase from amazon.co.uk

Title: Henry Salt., Artist Traveller, Diplomat, Egyptologist

Authors: Deborah Manley and Peta Rée.

Publisher: Libri Publishing

ISBN: 1-901965-04-X

 

 Egypt - Splendours of an Ancient Civilisation

As a previous reviewer has pointed out (Dr Steven Snape in AE May/June 2002), Thames & Hudson books are glossy beasts from a well known stable. Being aware of this fact, I decided that I was not going to be distracted by T&H's form when I came to review this book, nor was I going to promote yet another general text about ancient Egypt in a field that already seems full. We can all start out with the best of intentions. Within six pages (a stunning start, three double page images which include the gold plaque of Henuttawy and a gold and faience pectoral of Sheshonq I and II), I was completely distracted by the superb photography. Damn. This was so much the case that I didn't even address the text for some considerable time. Images of ancient sites are interspersed with pictures of modern day Egypt and Egyptians; aerial photography reminds us of just how remarkable the landscape is. I found the image of the date harvest on pages 26-27 particularly arresting. The photographs evoke aspects of ancient and modern Egypt, pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic, as well as aspects of the landscape - and seascape - reminding us of Egypt's environmental and cultural diversity. A further series of images evokes the work of the Egyptologist, past and present. As if that weren't enough, the book has further appeal in specially commissioned cross-sectional diagrams of tombs and sites.

 And so I turned to the text, by Alberto Siliotti, knowing that it would be good but feeling that it would inevitably come in second place to the images. Having leafed through the pages looking at the photographs first, I had paid little attention to the structure. This begins with an introduction to Egypt itself, a history which obviously cannot cover all periods in depth, a history of Egyptology, and then, the most substantial part of the text, on temples and tombs of Egypt. There is also a glossary, plus a bibliography and index. Within the 'temples and tombs' section the piece on Tanis was particularly good, but the whole of the text is an excellent foil to the photographs and the lengthy, informative captions for the images are particularly commendable. The text will perhaps not contain much that is new for most established students of Egyptology, but some of the images could surprise. There is of course always at least one drawback to every publication, and this one is no exception. It weighs a ton and I got backache from sitting with it propped up to look at the images before finally laying it on a flat surface. Also, for those who like their books to be more than coffee table decorations, and make regular reference to them, a paperback of this size causes some concern regarding durability. It is, however, just the thing to give to a partner who is showing some reluctance to make a visit to Egypt. If this doesn't spur them on, nothing will.

 

MAB

 cover click on image to purchase from amazon.co.uk

 

Title: Egypt: Splendours of an Ancient Civilisation

Author: Alberto Silotti

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

ISBN 0-500-28338-9

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