Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Tutankhamun's Egypt

Cyril Aldred
Charles Scribner's Sons
New York
ISBN 0-684-15795-0

Looking for the next volume from my collection to read I found three books I have not reviewed by the late Cyril Aldred and realized it was Christmas 2012 that I last reviewed the great man's work in his 'Jewels of the Pharaohs'.

You have to love a brief introduction and chronology with events of interest which occurred during Egypt's many dynasties including the Ptolemaic Dynasty who's pharaohs were responsible for the great temples at Dendera, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Esna, and Philae. The author begins with the Egyptian people and their lives in chapters that are short and filled with black and white pictures which often dominate the texts on many of the pages.

It amazes me how much information is crammed into the tomb paintings of the Egyptian nobles which by the Eighteenth Dynasty reveals the various trades and even how those trades were carried out. Inevitably the tomb paintings would always show the bountiful life with tomb owners sitting in front of tables overflowing with the produce of the land which made Egypt into a food exporter to her neighbors in hard times. The Kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty brought to the nobility of generations the sweet life.

In the pyramidion of the fallen obelisk from Karnak created by Hatschepsut, it can be clearly seen that Amun has been attacked with a chisel and then re-carved at a later date. The same can be said for Amun's name on the obelisk leaving Hatschepsut, and her throne name Maat-Ka-Ra untouched. A series of colored images pass by including the launching of the night bark in the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of Kings. A statue of Amun bears the face of Tutankhamun representing likely the restorations carried out of Amun's statues and reliefs after the heresy created by the boy king's predecessor.

In the next chapter, we find here the King is depicted as an inspirational warrior hero and protector to his people. The great King Amenophis II is shown on a granite stela found at Karnak riding his chariot while shooting his arrows through a copper ingot. The reader is presented with the tombs of the Kings beginning with the Eighteenth Dynasty King Thutmosis I who created his tomb likely in the Valley of Kings. The author has also presented the three best surviving mortuary temples of the New Kingdom rulers a mile away along the Nile.

The peoples looked to the King to bring Maat to their world but without the effective governance of the Kings affairs by his officials harmony could easily be lost. Mr. Aldred puts forward a number of line drawings from the various officials tombs with my favorite being King Amenophis II on the lap of his wet nurse Amen-em-ipet. The Egyptian scribe was the fabric that held the monarchy and its bureaucracies together for thousands of years in records trivial and important.

Being a scribe there was plenty of room for advancement as was true of the military where a successful career could take a soldier to the top as in the case of Haremhab the last pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The army was made up of soldiers of many nationalities as in the case of King Akhenaten who's bodyguard contained Asiatic, Lybian, and Nubian soldiers. Again I am impressed by the tomb representations of various trade workshops with just about every step represented in a small vignette.

Here the artist raises a pot from a piece of metal or fashions leather sandals, guilds a statue or creates a box through generations of artisans in reserved jobs passed from father to son. These artworks, for the most part, exist as anonymous creations by an unrecognized craftsman with few pieces able to attribute to a specific artist. The technologies such as working and transporting stone and the creation of papyrus paper still present fantastic achievements to us today. The hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts could be written on papyrus to form libraries and archives of the governorship of the resources including taxation and distribution.

The late Mr. Aldred ends his book with death and a goodly burial which often ignored the historical lessons that some day you may see someone wearing your dead mother's jewelry. I have to say that I figured it would be a fine read designed for the younger reader and to my delight it was rather light on King Tutankhamun's treasure. The books concentration was less about Tutankhamun than the times he lived and the laws which governed Tutankhamun's Egypt .

'Well tended are men, the cattle of god. He created heaven and earth according to their desire. He made the breath of life for their nostrils. They are his images that have come forth from his body.'


Jewels of the Pharaohs
Quote pg.  82

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