Thursday, October 1, 2015

Egypt Under the Pharaohs

Barbara Sewell
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 68-25454

The book opens with the usual rundown of the environment along the Nile, and the divisions into which ancient Egyptian history is partitioned. This short book contains black and white images on most pages; unfortunately many of these are too dark, though nice color full page photographs are spaced throughout the book.

This volume is very much suitable for young readers ten and up. The read moves quickly onto death and the Egyptian afterlife with some very unusual images including one of all four stoppers from Tutankhamun's canopic chest. From here the writer moves to the Old Kingdom and the effective organization of manpower to create statues and stone buildings on a monumental scale.

After the fall of the Old Kingdom and its god-kings a period of anarchy followed where nomarchs vied with each other for power. The king's of the Middle Kingdom were once again effective rulers but they were no longer seen as god-like. This produced statuary in the Twelfth Dynasty of king's whose faces were now worn by the heavy burden that rested upon them.

A series of weak rulers followed creating the conditions for foreign king's to dominate Lower Egypt while intimidating the king's of Upper and Middle Egypt. The king's of Thebes Seventeenth Dynasty took up arms and fought to drive the foreigners from Egypt. It was finally the Theban King Ahmosis who unified the two lands establishing the New Kingdom, and her period of empire.

An interesting full color picture of the statuette of Queen Tetisheri owned by the British Museum appears on page 71, and on the museums website as a forgery. The great warrior Thutmosis III expanded Egypt's borders to their greatest extent, making the house of the Eighteenth Dynasty fabulously wealthy as well as the priests of the god of Thebes Amun. King's of both the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties contained rulers like the Nineteenth Dynasty King Ramesses II, and Ramesses III of the following dynasty who maintained order, but a series of weak kings living short reigns brought about the end of the empire.

Ms. Sewell presents the society and its domestic life with more amusing black and white photographs. Ancient Egypt was a barter economy where a worker was paid in food, clothes or any other producible measure in exchange. A society who's comforts could be acquired through work and the prosperous population in which their calendar year was dotted with great festivals among being the Opet festival.

The training of scribes brought with it the compositions of wisdom literature and admonitions of how to behave with consideration and good manners. These were to be written over and over again till the scribe could act on behalf of those in need of letters to be written, orders verified, tallying commodities and needs of law.

The author relates the discovery of the hieroglyphic writing by Champollion and others from the ancient monuments including the Rosetta stone.  Ms. Sewell proceeds forward with the sciences that from mathematics, astronomy, medicine and the calendar year, created an eternal people living eternal lives.

Today the world’s modern Egyptian collections are inevitably made up of objects needed for both life and contentment in the afterlife. These workshop/home crafts range from the simplest of objects to intricate productions worthy of royal workshops. In color plate 15 is presented a beautiful well painted scribe statue found in the Giza necropolis in 1951.

Barbara Sewell has put in print a manageable book for a young reader with solid tangibles about ancient Egypt. The book is suitable for an older reader though the light overview of famous discoveries will have most impact upon those who are just learning about ancient Egypt. Ms. Sewell has here presented a worthy gift for the young reader in Egypt Under the Pharaohs.

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