ANCIENT EGYPT

The History, People and Culture of the Nile Valley

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Volume Three  Issue Two - September/October 2002

Review Panel

Miriam Bibby , Claire Malleson, Robert Partridge

Ancient Egypt: Art, Architecture and History

 

The continuing popularity of the culture of Ancient Egypt means that there are many new books published on the subject, most of which cover familiar ground. There has, therefore, to be something really special about a new book for the enthusiast to add it to their collection.

The title of this book is all encompassing, and to do such a vast subject justice would, one would expect, require a publication of monumental size. Thus, I will admit when I first saw the advertisements for this new title, I was expecting a large book. What actually arrived was in fact a small book it would actually fit in a decent sized pocket - but with 144 pages and over 300 illustrations Ancient Egypt: Art, architecture and history can only be described as an absolute little gem.

 The book takes a chronological approach and looks at the origins and development of the art and architecture right through to the Ptolemaic Period - a span of over 3,000 years. The contents are further divided into three main themes. The main theme is the history and development of the art and architecture, but the other themes cover the historical and cultural context and also look at the great masterpieces.

 The text is, of necessity, brief but to the point. It is the photographs which make this book though, and although they are small in size the sheer number and quality make this book a delight. In the pages you will find all the familiar objects and buildings you would expect, but also a number which will be completely new to most readers.

In the 'masterpieces' sections some major pieces of art are shown but along side the piece described is a number of photographs of other contemporary pieces for comparison. So, for example, when the famous Berlin head of Nefertiti is shown, it is shown alongside three other portraits of the queen.

 The selection of some of the 'masterpieces' is also interesting and some objects included under this heading, such as wooden tomb models and ostraca, may come as a surprise, as will the exclusion of some other prime pieces which always appear in other books. This, to my mind, actually makes this book all the better.

 Appendices in the book include maps, a list of names which appear in the book and a mini (very mini) biography, a list of divinities and a note on some of the museums around the world which house Egyptian objects.

 My only criticism of the book is that there is no bibliography. However, the author is Italian and the book was first published in Italy, were there a bibliography, it would probably be of little use to English-speaking readers.

 The Price: well at £9.99 it has to be excellent value for money. As an introduction to the subject it is an absolute must, but then really is something in this book for everyone, from beginner to longer-term enthusiast.

 RP

 Title: Ancient Egypt: Art, architecture and history

Author: Francesco Tiradritti

Publisher: The British Museum Press

ISBN: 0-7141-1950-4

Price: £9.99 (PB)

                                                                     

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

A Passion for Egypt:
A Biography of Arthur Weigall

 

The death of Arthur Weigall in 1934 produced at least one newspaper piece suggesting that his early demise (he was 53) was the result of the influence of ‘the curse’ – that of Tutankhamun, of course. The dramatic possibilities of pharaonic culture had been exploited for over two decades in the cinema and by novelists and artists. The early death of an Egyptologist – although not particularly connected with the discovery – provided an opportunity not to be missed. Weigall’s life, at least its latter half, had been a highly dramatic one, in fact a theatrical one, literally and figuratively. Julie Hankey’s biography of her grandfather Weigall reveals the number of parallel worlds in which he operated, worlds which superficially had little in common but which were in fact linked by curious connections.

 Born into a society in which class nuances were subtle but well-defined, Weigall was balanced between success and failure in his youth in terms of his place in that society. His mother, Mimi, ‘had been a regimental daughter and wife virtually all her life’. The death of Weigall’s father, Captain Arthur Archibald Denne Weigall, occurred on active service in Afghanistan in the year of Arthur Weigall’s birth, 1880. This military class should have defined his position: ‘Here, therefore, were plenty of ordinary upper middle class relations. But although many of the administrators and archaeologists Weigall met later would have shared his kind of background, it was in his case a back round merely oil paper. None of his uncles or aunts figured in his boyhood.’

 His mother, faced with the prospect of a life of relative impoverishment and seclusion as an army widow, drew on her religious resources and threw herself into charitable work in Salford, which mainly involved the attempted salvation of girls drawn into a life of prostitution and their diversion into domestic employment. This was the first social phenomenon with which he came into contact: ‘The gulf between them and the middle classes was so great that they might have belonged to different nations and races.’ Thematically, this division, or gulf, between diverse groups in society and the world, not necessarily based on wealth but on diversity of belief and action, is one which occurs throughout the book.

Thus the book creates a vivid impression of time flowing from Victorian security (or rigidity) through the age of Edwardian archaeologists to inter-war excesses; these last reflected to a certain extent in the glorious, although flawed, theatrical and cinematographic interpretations of pharaonic society as decadent and ostentatious. In the latter part of his life, Weigall was to be part of that theatrical world, both writing novels and contributing to stage works through scripts and set designs.

 Weigall, who was to successfully ride different waves of Egyptological thought (and to make waves too), does seem to have pulled himself up by his bootstraps in order to enter a subject which was still dominated by those with wealth at their disposal. He was to have entered the working world as an accountant, and passed the examination, although ‘I am sure I don't know how I did it, for my brain was full of other things... Beside a mass of Egyptological literature, I worked through a great many histories; I taught myself the rudiments of Coptic, Arabic, Persian and Hebrew; I read a lot of Huxley, Herbert Spencer and other great thinkers; and I devoured a mass of books on Biblical criticism. I was obsessed with a passion for knowledge; and my coaching for the examination seemed to be a sort of prison.’

 This passion, and his determination, led him to work hard and to make the right contacts, particularly at that time with Petrie, and to commence a career as an archaeological administrator in Egypt, thus in a sense working his way back into a situation in society which he might blinder other circumstances have considered his right. Perhaps it is because it was never given to him as a right that he retained a role which comes over as slightly 'on the fringe’ of the subject, and certainly there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence in this book for his refusal to take either it or his contemporaries completely seriously.

 Scandal touched him at several points in his life – scandal for the times, on the whole – and any dislike he produced ‘was probably all Weigall could expect after a career spent making waves. Like all evangelists – like Mimi herself, though Mimi’s girls were no doubt more tractable; than archaeologists – Weigall couldn't see something wrong without leaping in to put it right, with all the ardour, and even arrogance, of absolute conviction. Very often he was right, but no one ever made friends by being right.' One close friendship that he did make, although not without its rift, was with Sir Alan Gardiner, a man of a background different from his own: ‘He is the first man I have ever been able to play the ass with. Yesterday we climbed up to the Shekh's tomb, and danced in circles in the moon round it, chanting “ticky-tick, ticky-tick, chickabee-chickabor”.’

 Egyptology is now of an age in which it reconsiders the founders of the subject and the students that succeeded them. Hankey’s sympathetic but not uncritical book takes its place as an extremely vivid recreation of part of the history of that subject, which since World War II has taken a much snore objectively interpretative approach through social and economic studies. Focussing on personalities can make the reader veer between amused sympathy and distaste. Weigall's larger than life character conies through clearly: a man whose over-riding passion for Egypt drove his life, like so many of his contemporaries. Meanwhile, his wife Hortense – the ultimate example of a woman who put her life on hold for a man – lives in her parallel world, captured forever in the mono images at the day.

MAB

  A Passion for Egypt

Author. Julie Hankey

Publisher: I.B. Tauris

ISBN: 1-86064-566-6

Price: £22.50 (HB)

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

Egyptian Mummies: People From The Past

 

This book is aimed at children and it is one which children of all ages will love, given its gruesome subject matter! Its aim is to introduce children to Egyptian mummies, and the ancient civilisation which created them. It also tries to show that mummies were real people, with varying lives and experiences.

 The author looks at seven mummies now in the collection of the British Museum in London. These mummies cover all periods of Egyptian history, from the well-known ‘Ginger’ a predynastic burial, to the mummy of a young schoolboy form Roman Egypt.

 Sections of the book look at how and why mummies were made, on the grave goods buried with the dead and on the types of tombs made for the dead. We also learn about the activities of tomb robbers and, in more recent times the work of archaeologists.

 It is, however, the pages which look at the seven individual mummies which are the most fascinating. In addition to a description of each mummy, the author puts his or her life in context. So, for example, in the chapter on Katabet, a lady who died around 1300 BC, we learn not just that she was an old lady when she died and had very bad teeth, but also about the life of a lady in the Theban area at this time, about her jewellery and the amulets found on the body.

 Although this book is large in size, it only has 46 pages. These are, however, full of excellent colour illustrations and a wealth of well-written, brief and accurate information, drawing on the very latest scientific research. In this limited space, the author has succeeded admirably in explaining how we know about mummies and also the continuing relationship between the mummies and us today.

 This book is sure to inspire any young reader, and there is a most useful glossary of terms and a small but good book list for further reading in the subject.

RP

 title Egyptian Mummies

Author. Delia Pemberton

Publisher: British Museum Press

ISBN: 0714119202

Price: £8.99

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

The Red Tent

 

The Red Tent was inspired by one small biblical event; the rape of Dinah, and the subsequent revenge carried out by her brothers – genesis Chapter 34 verse 1: ‘ And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see that daughters of the land. And when Sechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.’

 Anita Diamant took this as the key event and wove the story of Dinah around it, telling the story from the point of view of Dinah herself. After introduction, Dinah begins her tale with that of her mother; how Rachel met Jacob by the family well and fell in love with him, how he married Leah who bore him many sons and how he later married Rachel and took Zilpah and Bilhah as his concubines. Jacob’s tribe steadily grows, Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob to survive birth and the final baby to be born to him is Joseph (of the technicolour dreamcoat!). Dinah goes on to train as a midwife, and becomes very popular, assisting her mother-aunt Rachel with the labours of all the women attached to the tribe.

 She meets Esau (Jacob’s brother), Rebecca and Isaac and eventually she falls in love. This is where the twist comes: the rape was not a rape but the coupling of the lovers in the Sechemite tradition – prior to marriage, ‘his soul clove unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel’. However their union is totally against the tradition of the Canaanite tribe and Jacob’s sons declare the act as rape; all except Joseph eventually carry out a terrible revenge upon the men of Sechem.

 Dinah, struck with grief and anger, flees the country and travels to Egypt where she lives with her new workman husband in Deir el Medina. The final turning point is beautifully unexpected and Dinah finds peace at last.

 Anita Diamant is a scholar of ancient women’s studies. Her in-depth understanding of life in ancient Caanan and Egypt compliments her fertile imagination perfectly. As the story is told from a woman’s view the bias is towards the lives of the women, the stories they told, the recipes they shared, their monthly visits to the Red Tent, their pregnancies, births, deaths, miscarriages and love affairs.

 The Red Tent is a rich and vivid picture of a female biblical character involved in all the best loved bible stories of Joseph and Jacob. It is a love story and a tragedy – telling the oldest tale ever written of families opposing the passion of two young people. It is a ‘must leave’ for all female Egyptophiles!

CM

 Title: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

Publisher: Pan

ISBN: 0-33048-796-5

Price £6.99 (PB)

 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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