Thursday, September 10, 2009
The Nile and the Egyptian Civilization by Alexandre Moret
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner Co., LTD.
Alfred A. Knopff
This 1927 book is by the late distinguished Alexandre Moret which comes with some immediate approval well at least by the mouse that nibbled on the bottom right corner of my copy. I love the look and smell of old books with texts that almost certainly will be out of date but in many ways closer to the truth of those days.
The introduction heads into the sources and chronology followed by the decipherment of the hieroglyphs including the discovery of the Rosetta stone by Captain Broussard of Napoleon's army while digging in the foundations of a fort at Rosetta.
As fascinating the landmarks of Champollion's decipherment are, certainly the chronology of Pharaonic dates of history in relation to the helical rising of Sothis by the priests of Heliopolis lends a date to the start of the Egyptian calendar of the rising of Sothis in 4241 bc, we are off to an interesting start!
Though I must also say that the rising of Sothis on this date and the start of the Egyptian calendar have been discredited with many experts placing that date to 2781BC or dispute the entire concept altogether.
Mr. Moret is next on the rarely covered subject of the nomes of ancient Egypt emerging from nomadic tribal standards to provincial status regardless of individual groups including the gods they represent with the chapter ending with a five-page chart of all the nomes of Upper and Lower Egypt including the nome gods and capital cities outstanding!
The succession of the dynasties of the god-kings of prehistory is well explained including the death of Osiris. The wars between Seth first king of Upper Egypt and the first king of Lower Egypt Horus the elder are well accounted with Horus defeating Seth and reigning for 300 years before the god Thoth's reign of thousands of years leaving Horus the younger, the son of Isis, to be the last of the god-kings.
The god-kings are then followed by the (Shemsu-Hor), demi-gods known as the servants of Horus. The Shemsu-Hor are the last of the gods before dynasties of mortal kings known as the descendants of Horus take hold of kingship.
The evolution of prehistoric monarchy to King Menes and the Thinite dynasties of I and II through those of the Old Kingdom are interesting and still reasonable interpretations of the surviving monuments more than eighty years later. While the pantheon of gods and goddess' merge and take the attributes of older gods while a defining of the gods roles takes place. Many take on elements of the gods Ra and Osiris while others fall from favor and are assimilated. The author gives a sound history of the Osirine play how it evolved as a royal prerogative in the Old Kingdom to a prerogative of the entire population by the Middle Kingdom.
The history of the political evolution and revolutions of the late Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom and up through the New Kingdom political structure is well explained, the place each official holds within the framework of administrations being reasonable though the story of the reigns of Thutmosis I through to Thutmosis III including Hatshepsut is largely now a discredited scenario as is much of the reign of Akhenaten in this book.
The second half of the book is a very detailed examination of the gods and the influence upon the evolution of Egyptian society. The book is certainly a good read with of course the expected flaws which were minor, the book was well written.
The book was a scholarly read rather than an entertaining read and I must say however that I would have preferred it to be 100 to 150 pages less as in the end it did turn into a bit of a chore to finish.