Friday, June 11, 2010

Egypt Under the Pharaohs

Heinrich Brugsh-Bey
John Murray, London, 1902
Reprint by Bracken Books, 1996
Random House UK Ltd.
ISBN 0 09 185049 5

This reprint of the 1902 book by Heinrich Brugsh-Bey opens with a basic map of Egypt and a less than an adequate list of illustrations which are mostly infrequent small photographs and sketches. This is followed by a table of the principal kings names surrounded by cartouches which I found particularly interesting by the presence of cartouches around the Thinite kings names.

I realized from the start that a copy of a one hundred and an eight-year-old book was going to have many inaccuracies but this was the work of the very famous nineteenth-century Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsh-Bey. Many of the names of the kings and place names will certainly confuse the average reader as Mr. Brugsh-Bey's rendering of hieroglyphs has become reinterpreted by scholars who have followed and who's readings are accepted today .

One of the things I loved about this book was the table of the pedigree of the chief architects and the genealogical tables that follow. Mr. Brugsh-Bey tells that at the end of the VIth Dynasty c.3060 bc a queen named Nitocris altered the pyramid of Men-kau-Ra, the author says "altered it, left the body of Men-kau-Ra in the lower chamber, and placed her own in the blue basalt sarcophagus contained in the upper one."

I did like that the author presents each ruler's names at the start of their biographies and the list of kings of the thirteenth dynasty according to the Turin papyrus is outstanding. Egypt under the Pharaohs so far is not likely appropriate for the young or those who have a passing interest in the subject but due to the authors importance I persist.

The Second Intermediate Period as expected is particularly confusing with the domination of the Hyksos kings and the rise of the VXIIth Dynasty. To the courts of the Hyksos the author believes belongs the biblical figure of Joseph, not an unreasonable though unproved deduction.

Mr. Brugsh-Bey was clearly a man at the center of nineteenth-century Egyptology and as such approaches his study with a scientific view of the monuments. I really love all the cartouches that head the chapters including their phonetic values.

By chapter seven the author has taken us out of the Second Intermediate Period and into the New Kingdom. By now the amazing discoveries that have come since the writing of this book have really come to light as the author lays out his study.

Mr. Brugsh-Bey now follows the monuments and their inscriptions including the numerous than known monuments of the "Warrior Pharaoh" Tehuti-mes III or at least those inscriptions which are relevant to the authors point. The author discusses the inscription from one of the few surviving blocks from the beautiful little temple on the island of Elephantine which Napoleon's savants had drawn so carefully but that sadly the Governor of Aswan had the temple destroyed in 1822.

The author discusses the Karnak Kings list which has Tehuti-mes III claiming his descent back to King Sneferu including the Middle Kingdom rulers and thirty kings of the XIII Dynasty. As the author traces the monuments he comes to the heretic Pharaoh Khu-n-aten of whom the author is aware of the tombs in the cliffs of Tell-el-Amarna but only a couple of the boundary stones beside this much of what the author says is hopelessly out of date.

The author provides a single sentence to describe Khu-n-aten's successor Saa-Nekht while the reigns of Tut-ankh-Amen and Ai make up a short five pages of this four hundred and sixty-nine page book. Once again the next dynasty, the XIX Dynasty starts with a wonderful genealogical table.

The author who believes that Seti I was first buried in his temple at Abydos and later moved to Thebes says of Rameses II "The feeling also of gratitude towards his parents seems to have gradually faded away, as years increased upon him, to such a degree that he did not even deem it wrong to chisel out the names and memorials of his father in many places of the temple walls, and substitute his own."

The author goes on to say of the Ramesseum "Here stood also the largest statues of the king, which, according to tradition, Cambyses threw down when he visited Thebes." With a translation of an inscription of Ra-messu XIII so ends the New Kingdom.

I was thrilled at this point to realize that the next section was on the royal mummies of Deir-el-Bahari especially since I had noticed all mention absent from the earlier biographies of the New Kingdom pharaohs. Thrill soon turned to disappointment as the author breezed through the descriptive in a couple of pages with a footnote on the 1891 discovery of the priests of Amen cache of which the author says.

"Some of the sarcophagi bore the date of the XI Dynasty, and it was hoped for a few hours fondly hoped that the explorers might have come upon an unbroken sequence of high-priests from that period onwards." From here Mr. Brugsh-Bey turns to Her-hor and the XXI Dynasty of Thebes and the kings of Zoan-Tanis.

As the Third Intermediate Period advances the monuments become more and more silent and the role of the king more provincial. The book ends with some supplementary notes by M. Broderick on the last dynasties and their kings.

To close the book a series of interesting tables follow including on Egyptian nomes, calendar and a list of values. "Egypt under the Pharaohs" was perhaps a must read for the really serious Egyptologists but a book that will be too difficult and not recommended for the average reader.

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