Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Pyramids Of Egypt

I. E. S. Edwards
Penguin Books
ISBN-10: 0140136347

The late I. E. S. Edwards was among other important posts the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum until his retirement in 1974. After this he worked on the UNESCO project to save the temples at Philae and was Vice-President for the Egypt Exploration Society. This is his 1947 publication on the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

The publication opens with a series of prefaces updating the reader on developments that occurred since first published. In the introduction the author puts ancient Egyptian history into its proper order up to the end of the late period before Alexander the Great's arrival in 332 B.C. A map sets down the location of its sites along the Nile from Elephantine in the south to the sites of Tanis and Buto in the northern delta.

     "However primitive and materialistic the Egyptian conception of the after-life may seem, it must be conceded that it was responsible for the production of some of the greatest artistic masterpieces in antiquity. Without the impetus provided by a practical motive, it is doubtful whether a fraction of the statues, reliefs, or inscriptions which are now so universally admired would ever have been produced."

The evolution of burial customs at the beginning of Egyptian history follow through the simple shallow pit in the desert topped by a mound of sand. Within this grave the body was in a contracted position with offerings and pots surrounding the corpse. By the time of the First Dynasty the shallow pit was replaced with the rock cut tomb topped by a rectangular mud brick mastaba with offering chapel.

The Third Dynasty King Djoser's architect Imhotep erects Egypt's first pyramid, and first stone monumental construction. The pyramid surrounded by false stone buildings, courtyards, and gateways set a new standard for Egypt's king's and a series of step pyramids followed complete with the layout of Djoser's monumental needs for the after-life. As time passed the various elements of the mortuary temple stayed from one generation to the next, and were added on to with vestibules, storerooms, and shrines.

It is King Snefru who develops the first true pyramid at Dashur but only after two previous attempts, one at Meidum and another back at Dashur.With the bent pyramid the stress of the steep angle of the pyramid caused cracks in the burial chamber requiring the architect to reduce the angle of construction of the pyramid. With the Red Pyramid the king had the first true pyramid worthy of the great king's burial.

It is Snefru's son King Khufu who moves his pyramid complex to the Giza plateau, building with monumental blocks weighing up to 200 tons, with mortuary chapel and causeway leading to the king's valley temple. On the Giza plateau next to Khufu's pyramid King Khafra built his pyramid complex, that today appears to be the largest in the cemetery though only because it is erected on higher ground.

It is within the measurements of the pyramids that often haunt books on this subject, making them clearly unsuitable for the younger readers. Fortunate for myself as Mr. Edwards presents words of interest that sets this volume apart from the many books that these measurements have killed.

The king's that followed to the end of the Old Kingdom were unable too afforded their pyramid complex's on the same scale after the epoch of pyramid building in the Fourth Dynasty. Rather these king's afforded rubble filled pyramids cased in limestone with a burial chamber under the pyramid. In the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties corridors and temples were covered in brightly painted sculpted reliefs of fine Tura limestone. At the end of the Fifth Dynasty with King Unas the pyramid texts began being carved on the walls of the burial chamber and other surfaces. The kings of the Sixth Dynasty continued this practice and the texts even appeared on the walls of at least three queen's from this dynasty.

     " In front of each sarcophagus, near the south wall, there was a rectangular pit, about 3 feet deep, in which a Canopic chest containing the king's viscera had been buried. Pepi I's Canopic chest still retained one of the packages with his viscera wrapped in bandages of fine linen, which had been stained brown with resin. Only fragments of the jar had survived."

In the middle of the book there are a large number of pages of black and white photographs, of which many fine shots of pyramid interiors, including the burial chamber of the Twelfth Dynasty King Amenmesses III. In the Twelfth Dynasty the pyramid again rises to the grand scale of the Old Kingdom. The entrances were moved from the north face to ingenious new hiding places with interior passages filled with security measures including secret passages in the ceilings of corridors. Within these pyramid enclosures were found a number of famous jewelry caches from a number of Twelfth Dynasty princesses, and in one tomb was found the disturbed burial of a Thirteenth Dynasty king named Hor.

With the passing of these great monarchs Egypt again splintered into provincialism marking once and for all the end of monumental pyramids in Egypt. While at the same time a population of people, possibly Semitic, immigrated to the northern delta taking control of Lower Egypt. The expulsion of these people known as the Hyksos was completed with Ahmosis I reuniting all of Egypt from Thebes, bringing on the country's greatest period of Empire.

With the enormous wealth which flowed into Egypt from conquered lands, its rulers could well have afforded great pyramids but chose not to. Here the theological impetus had taken a back seat for the safety of the king's mummy. Even the mortuary temples were separated from the now hidden royal tombs, instead the pyramid was now in vogue in the cemeteries of the nobles.

In this subject, particularly on the great pyramid, I wince at the thought of another pyramid book, though I do find the Twelfth Dynasty pyramids with their devices for security curiously entertaining.  I. E. S. Edwards 'The Pyramids of Egypt' is not for children but teenagers and up, being certainly thorough, especially given the books vintage. In conclusion, I couldn't put it down!

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