The History, People and Culture of the Nile Valley
Volume Three Issue One -- July/August 2002
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.
Title: The Monuments of Ancient Egypt
Author: Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
Publisher: The British Museum Press
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
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
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
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
Rafael Pérez Arroyo
NAR 0010-01 8437003071010
€ 24.15 (Euros)
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
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
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!
Henry Salt., Artist Traveller, Diplomat, Egyptologist
Deborah Manley and Peta Rée.
- 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.
Title: Egypt: Splendours of an Ancient Civilisation
Author: Alberto Silotti
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
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