Saturday, June 27, 2015


Francesco Abbate
H.A. Fields
Octopus Books
ISBN: 7064 0062 3

   This originally named book contains sporadic text but appears the content of the book is mostly colored entire page photographs of Egyptian art. The lovely small volume immediately appears child-friendly and for the most part, can be read in a day or two.

The author begins with a description of the values the ancient Egyptians put on to art being given magical properties whether, in funerary material, temple situations or as personal adornment, art had a purpose. Soon I come to the first set of photographs with these being images of a number of schist palettes from the Predynastic and Thinite periods leading up to the Old Kingdom complete with descriptions of the objects presented.

Our author explains of the standardization of the arts early on in Egyptian history to serve as a model for the needs of the king and his people. The author recounts the story of the recovery of a book written by the god of wisdom Toth from the tomb of a magician nearby Memphis. Indeed the prince found the book as told in the tomb which instead of being dark was as light as day from the glow of the book.

There follows a conversation between the deceased man and the prince in which the prince wants to take the book but can only do so if he wins a contest in performing magic. The frequently passing photographs are an excellent assortment of masterpieces from a number of museums. These include a two-page photo of the famous diorite statue of King Chephren.

The Old Kingdom tombs of Ti and Mererukas are certainly two of the finest of the period with their raised reliefs of the good life. Two photos are of a pillar in the small temple at Karnak built by the Middle Kingdom King Sesostris I. The magnificent reliefs demonstrate the mastery of relief carving in the beautiful little temple.

     'The nobles are full of misery and the low classes are full of, lapis-lazuli, silver and turquoises, hang on the necks of slave-women while ladies walk the streets in rags...He who once did not even possess sandals, today is the master of treasure.'

The Middle Kingdom was a period of soulful thought in the reunification after the turmoil of the First Intermediate Period. The king was no longer a god as in the Old Kingdom but a man who must bear the responsibility of for the well-being of his people. Our author is very knowledgeable and in a few pages is able to give a fairly substantial account of the history of ancient Egypt.

A variety of  photographs depict some very famous royal statues, frescos, and art of the New Kingdom. The depictions displaying rulers who are now confident warriors expanding the empire to its greatest extent under Thutmosis III. These victories bring spoils back to Egypt allowing for a prosperous population while making the priests of Ammon exceedingly rich.

Each ruler of the New Kingdom tried to out-due his predecessor's accomplishments in their contribution to the building temples, shrines and of course the kings tombs in the Valley of Kings. The stage changes and a series of works of the Amarna period are put forth to the reader. As Iknaton's religious reforms involved only the king and royal family no connection was made by the god to the average Egyptian. This left no following and Iknaton's religious reforms were soon forgotten after the king's death.

Tutankhamen and his officials who were giving guidance to the boy king saw that Iknaton's capital at El Amarna was distant from the seats of power so the king moved his court to Memphis and returned to the worship of Ammon ending the heresy of his predecessor. The book includes a nice picture of a colossal statue of Ramses II from the now lost temple of Gerf Hussein which today lye's at the bottom of Lake Nasser.

After the grandeur of the New Kingdom, a period of decline existed where the two lands were ruled by foreign kings. Lybian dynasties gave way to Ethiopian kings who reversed the age-old role of Egyptian domination over the southern neighbor. In turn, the Persian kings took over Egypt as an outpost of their empire under Nebuchadnezzar who's army had overthrown the Pharaoh Necho.

With the arrival of Alexander the great, the Egyptian traditions were respected though the Egyptian people had now become second class citizens under the rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. With the death of Cleopatra VII, Rome took control of Egypt reducing its status to provincialism.

I have very much enjoyed this book and though not complex the author managed to lay down a good account of Egyptian history. The 103 photographs presented many exceptional pieces with a number of these artifacts being new to me. Between the text and the choice of objects I am impressed and would have no hesitation giving this volume to a young person.

     'Death presents itself to me like the aroma of myrrh, as when one is sailing on a windy day. Death presents itself to me like the scent of lotus flowers as when one is sitting on the edge of intoxication. Death presents itself to me like a familiar road, as when one returns from war to one's own home...'

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ancient Egypt As It Was

Charlotte Booth
Quid Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-7627-7058-8

Here we have an imaginative concept as a tourist guide to Thebes in 1200 BC. The guide opens with a historical rundown of Egyptian history leading up to the early descendants of Rameses II and the holy city of Thebes. The author deals briefly with Egypt's unification at the dawn of dynastic history. The reader is introduced to a number of important deities and a quick layout of the cultural development of the Egyptian civilization through time.

The brief sections which the pages are divided into are informative especially the nomes of Egypt which are rarely represented in publication. The author deals with the nuances of societal structure of the age including status and the division of wealth. The ancient Egyptian lady was not subservient to men but could possess assets and estates and could even loan money to her husband unlike in many other cultures.

In the second chapter, the guide moves to the noisy city of Thebes which can be as noisy at night as the day. A number of small maps give the landmarks to the Theban zone including the temple at Karnak and its numerous subsidiary temples dedicated to a number of other gods beside Amun the temple of Karnak's central god. Ms. Booth guides the reader around Luxor temple as well the temples and shrines at Deir el Bahri except Hatshepsut's.

Interesting are the concepts of situations presented the ancient visitor which include the 100-year-old ruins of the flooded mortuary temple of Amenhotep III that in its already abandoned state can be visited throughout including the sacred spaces no longer occupied by the kings mortuary priests. Of The Chapel of the White Queen, the author says;

     "The chapel as it stands was built by the heretic king, but was strangely enough not destroyed with the others from his reign, although certain elements can be dated to the earlier reign of Amenhotep Akheppere, and some kitchen buildings still produce food for the festivals on the west bank.

Although abandoned after the reign of the heretic king, it has since been added on by Ramses, and the enclosure wall of his mortuary temple abuts its western wall."

The author makes the statement that most of the tombs in the Valley of Kings are in the western valley when in reality they are in the eastern valley. It is at this point that the book loses some of its effect as the author describes sites including the royal necropolises and the contents of those tombs that would absolutely not have been on the tourists path in 1200 BC.

The reader is next guided to the sites around Egypt outside the Theban zone to Mennefer, Pr-Ramese and the Temple of Ra at Iunu. The vignettes the book is broken into allows for little flow in the text creating lots of little points of interest but no connective story line. Having laid out the tourists landscape Ms. Booth presents native customs of entertainment depending on your budget.

There is lots to do including jumping, playing games, hunting hungry hippos or whacking birds on the head with a stick, or better yet just go back to bed. Thankfully the Egyptian calendar was full of festivals for the public to participate in. Ms. Booth lays down how to, and what to buy while at Thebes but recommends that blank rolls of papyrus make for an excellent light currency to pay for goods.

The reader is informed of various words and phrases to help communicate with the locals including dealing with health issues should the visitor experience illness while traveling. The guide ends with a section on reference and resources for the reader to follow up on the subject.

I found the books concept interesting from the start and was filled with many tidbits that one would not normally find. It must be noted that the choppy nature of the books various elements removed all flow resulting in the book being slightly tedious and boring.

The lack of colored photos might also make this book less appealing to many readers including younger readers. "Ancient Egypt As It Was" is not a book to rush out to get and certainly nothing I will re-visit in the future.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Mountains of the Pharaohs

Zahi Hawass
Random House
United States of America
ISBN-13: 978-0-385-50305-1
First Edition

This nice sized book by Zahi Hawass begins with an introduction to the history of the Giza plateau with King Khufu and his architect Hemiunu choosing the place for the king's pyramid. A couple generations later the plateau was essentially finished as the royal burial ground of the Fourth Dynasty. The incredible monuments had begun their fame that would draw visitors throughout the rest of history including a group of imaginative types who believe they were created so that the English race could read the mystery in the measurements of their construction.

This amazing dynasty began with Khufu's father King Sneferu and the building of his pyramid at Meidum that today looks more like a giant pillar than a pyramid. Sneferu gained the reputation of having been a wise king who went on to build more pyramids including the first true pyramid later on at Dashur and the Bent pyramid at that same site.

     'A very strange discovery was made by English archaeologist John Perring and Richard Howard Vyse as they explored this pyramid in the late 1830's. Their workmen were clearing the interior passages and suffering greatly because of the intense heat. On October 15, 1839, they opened a tunnel that led to one of the interior chambers. Suddenly, they were greeted by a refreshing draft of cool air, so strong that it blew out their torches. The wind continued for two days, and then stopped as suddenly as it had started, leaving the archaeologists completely mystified as to its source.'

The chapters are short and almost completely void of pictures except for a small group of colored photographs near the middle of the book. With the death of Snefuru his son Khufu mounts the throne and moves his court to Giza where his pyramid was to be built but first his palace and administration buildings had to be built including a canal dug to receive ships that will bring supply's needed in the building and the leveling off of the site to begin the foundation of the pyramid.

The pyramid rose quickly as Khufu's court settled down to the king's business from Aswan to Giza to Heliopolis. In reality, the kings court was as much a bureaucracy as the kings extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandchildren to the kings crown prince. Not helpful to archaeologists today is the number of these royals who bore the same name or names similar. So far I am enjoying this read and find it suitable for a teen though the lack of pictures might be a turn off even so the book is likely to be enjoyed by readers far above those young Egyptian enthusiasts.

After a successful reign of Khufu, he dies leaving his heir Djedefre to make the final arrangements for his father's mortuary needs including the sealing of boats in the boat pits dug for that purpose. With Khufu's passing Djedefre chooses a high plateau at Abu Rawash overlooking his father's pyramid to build his own pyramid and mortuary complex. The site at Abu Rawash has been particularly badly damaged with the kings statues being smashed with what may have been vengeance and the site quarried away for stones to build other projects up to modern times.

The intrigues of this dynasty follow the death of Khufu and have created imaginative scenarios in the minds of past explorers. In Khafre's mortuary complex we find one of the few well-preserved Old Kingdom funerary temples decorated with many statues of the king of which one is likely the great masterpiece in royal statuary of the Old Kingdom. Arriving at the photographs the reader finds a bonnie lot of sixteen images mostly of the pyramids mentioned.

      'The relationships between Khafre's pyramid temples and the Sphinx temple also link the Sphinx to Khafre: Khafre's valley temple sits on the same rock-cut terrace as the Sphinx temple. The fronts and backs of the temples are nearly aligned and the walls of both are built in the same style of large limestone blocks with harder red granite added as a finish, and there is evidence that these limestone blocks were quarried from the Sphinx ditch itself.

The author goes forward explaining the personalities of Khafre's court and their respective burial houses at Giza. A fascinating read if I can keep straight the queens all bearing identical names and who is next in line of an uncertain succession. The death of Khafre, (perhaps before any of his queens) may have left a void in this succession with the king's heir Menkaure too young to rule so that Khafre's brothers may in turn have held the post briefly before Menkaure was able to rule.

In this king's pyramid, we find the smallest of the three kings pyramids at Giza but built with costlier materials including a granite casing for at least some of the pyramid and many of the Old Kingdoms finest statues of the ruler with the goddess Hathor and nome gods of Upper Egypt. When the king flew to heaven his successor Shepseskaf completed Menkaure's mortuary complex in cheaper materials like mud brick.

In the next section, the author deals with the modern discoveries of the city of the pyramid builders and their mostly mud brick tombs to the south of the pyramids. These discoveries while slightly mundane introduce the reader the sympathetic standard of living endured by the builders as not slaves being brutally beaten but to fellow men and women in joint causes to the betterment of the king and well-being of his people.

In the end, the house of the Fourth Dynasty passes to the kings of the Fifth Dynasty who move their palaces and burial structures to Abusir leaving Giza to be abandoned, vandalized and quarried. The statues of the kings in the mortuary temples being smashed to create funerary offerings for lesser burials at the end of the Old Kingdom.

Zahi Hawass has created in this document a specific and understandable format of the family of King Snefuru and his descendants. Particularly those members of his family who created the monuments on the Giza plateau including the great pyramid. I have really only one complaint in that the book could have used a map to demonstrate the sites at Giza being put forward. Mountains of Pharaohs would make an excellent and uniquely informative gift to anyone interested in ancient Egypt or Pyramids.