Monday, November 30, 2015

An Egyptian Princess

Georg Ebers
E. A. Weeks & Company

The late Georg Ebers was a celebrated Egyptologist and author from the second half of the 19th century whose works are known to contain references of archaeological discoveries of his time. Mr. Ebers is also well known today for an important medical papyrus from Egypt's New Kingdom period he discovered at Thebes, which bears his name, during the winter of 1873-74.

This 513-page book opens with a preface to the second German edition of corrections and improvements, including more recent discoveries of his day and a clarification of character names. The pages contain references at the bottom of the pages, often encompassing most of the page, these references while fascinating are a distraction from the main plot, making the book unsuitable for a child.

The book opens as guests arrive at the noblewoman Rhodopis house at the Greek city of Naukratis for a party. The guests are a mix of Mediterranean nobles one of whom has brought the words of an oracle while an Israelite had come to Egypt to buy chariots and horses for the governor of Judah.

After talk of sport and politics the Athenian Kallias announced that the Persians were on their way to Egypt in the form of an envoy to conclude an alliance with Pharaoh Amasis, and perhaps the Persian King Cambyses wishes the hand of Amasis' daughter, though there is some doubt among the guests as to the intentions of the Persian envoy. The party ends with a drunken insult of the hostess in remembrance of her youth as a slave by one of the guests but before the insult could be completed the guest was knocked out by another guest and carried away by his slaves.

Hurt by the insult the lady of the house wanders to the bed chamber of her granddaughter Sappho of whom Rhodopis is devoted. Days later a crowd gathers at the harbor at Sais including the Crown Prince Psamtik  and priests to welcome the ships of the Persians arrival.

The reader is present at a great banquet held by their jovial self -confident King Amasis with talk of events of the classical world in which they lived. Amasis and his heir are opposites as the king trusts his friends, Psamtik only sees the court vulnerabilities of his father’s generosity with a particular dislike of the Athenian Phanies, who Psamtik seeks to kill.

King Amasis to his queen and guests,

     "There are but two days when a wife brings pleasure to her husband's life: The wedding-day, when hopes are bright, and the day he buries her out of sight.'" *

"Cease, cease," cried Ladice, stopping her ears; "that is too bad. Now, Persians, you can see what manner of man Amasis is. For the sake of a joke, he will laugh at those who hold precisely the same opinion as himself. There could not be a better husband ------"

"Nor a worse wife," laughed Amasis.


A friend Gyges hears plans to capture Phanes and rides a brisk two hours from Sais to Naukratis to let Phanes know that Rhodopis' house, where he is, is being surrounded by guards in an attempt to catch him by Psamtik's men. This action saves Phanes who manages to escape the house dressed as one of the Persian guests, though not his boat which had been discovered and sunk by his pursuers.

Early the following morning the handsome young Persian Prince, Bartja visits Rhodopis to inquire about the well-being of his friend Gyges, but before he could meet with Rhodopis he catches her granddaughter Sappho in the garden and falls in love with the innocent girl. Now about a quarter of my way through the book I have found a comfort zone in the style of writing of the author, the characters and the many fascinating archaeological notes that accompany the storyline.

The love story between Bartja and Sappho continues with the help of Sappho's nanny Melitta until quickly Bartja and Sappho's love finds approval of Bartja's father and Sappho's grandmother. First, however, Bartja and his father have to complete their mission to bring back King Amasis' daughter Princess Nitetis to Persia to marry King Cambyses.

After a long journey, Nitetis arrives at the Persian capital and is met outside the city walls by her prospective husband Cambyses, who is clad in magnificent clothes of gold, silver and purple cloth with yellow leather boots on top a great stallion. The young Nitetis is well liked by Cambyses his mother and younger sister, but there are those at the court that have it in for the Egyptian princess.

In her apartments among the hanging gardens, Nitetis becomes a member of the royal family learning how to be a Persian queen, and of her duties. Cambyses is at first jealous by the thought that his younger brother Bartja may hold Nitetis' heart but soon becomes relaxed in the faith of his and Nitetis' love for each other.

As Nitetis is fitting into her new life she receives a letter from home from her mother Queen Ladice, the letter is all doom and gloom particularly for Princess Tachot who has fallen gravely ill in love for Bartja, and awaits to see him again, vowing not to die before then. On the day of Cambyses birthday celebrations, the elements of evil take hold in the caretaker of the harem Boges who wishes to eliminate Nitetis by making her look unfaithful to Cambyses, who is hot-headed and easily led by Boges.

As I finish chapter XIX my antique copy heads into Chapter XXI with no chapter XX, Chapter XXI starts at page 299 to page 306, then it starts over to page 299 and moves through the complete chapter to chapter 22. I also realize that I have reread earlier parts of this book which I chalked up to losing my page, but now I am in doubt of that.

These factors have resulted in my setting this book, and review aside for the past year as I contemplated if or how I should finish and publish this review. In the end, I have decided that due to loss of context I should end the review here, but to publish just in case the entire print run was affected in this way. For those readers who have this book already, you can find what appears to be the missing chapter in a link below.


* Taken from the translations of F.W. Richter

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Six Books for Every Egyptian Collection

On this beautiful day here in Vancouver, I am reminded that winter has arrived, and that I have not put together in a while a collection of must have reads suitable as gifts for loved ones. These books included for the first time three exhibition catalogs of shows that contained extraordinary content never to be seen again.

1. The Search for Alexander; An Exhibition- From the age of small children people around the world are taught of the fame of Alexander the Great. Here we have a catalog of the early 1980's exhibition, containing objects from his time including many objects found within the intact burial of Alexander's father Philip II, King of Macedonia. The book contains beautiful pictures provided with clear explanations of artifacts built to dazzle the senses.

The Greek Ministry of Culture
New York Graphic Society of Books
ISBN: 082121080

2. The Complete Valley of the Kings- In this book the reader is brought through the history of the tombs within the valley, their occupants and discovery. Author Nicholas Reeves recent theory about finding Nefertiti's burial behind frescoes painted on the walls in King Tutankhamen's tomb makes this the perfect timing for anyone interested to explore the sacred valley.

Nicholas Reeves & Richard H. Wilkinson
Thames & Hudson
ISBN 978-0-500-28403-2

3. Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt-This book is the most challenging among the books presented, and best for a little older crowd. The author Robert A. Armour lays before the reader a complex extraction of components that make up ancient Egyptian Paganism. Within these pages a greater sense of the individual character of gods, goddesses and the divine family is remarkably constructed.

Robert A. Armour
The American University in Cairo Press
Cairo, Egypt
ISBN 977 424 113 4
Dar el Kutub no. 4130/85

4. Akhenaten: Pharaoh of Egypt- It is hard to write a list of books to recommend to my viewers without including something by the late Cyril Aldred. The subject of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten cannot be forgotten being a favorite subject of Egyptologists young and old. In this fertile ground Mr. Aldred produced one of the finest representations of the lives the king and royal family lived in their capital at Akhetaten.

Cyril Aldred
Thames and Hudson
First Abacus Edition
Great Britain
ISBN-10: 0500276218

5. Pharaohs and Mortals: Egyptian Art in the Middle Kingdom- The collection of art put together in this 1988 exhibition likely will never be seen again as so many of Great Britain's finest Egyptian collections lent pieces to this show. Too often now a days exhibitions are organized around pharaonic personalities like Tutankhamun, Cleopatre or Ramses II. Here in this catalog author Janine Bourriau presents an outstanding collection of art of the Middle Kingdom to rival anything from the New Kingdom.

Janine Bourriau
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Cambridge University Press
Great Britain
ISBN 0 521 35846 9

6. The Treasures of Tutankhamun- This is the book and guide to the 1972 fiftieth anniversary exhibition of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The exhibition was held at the British museum with objects from the boy king's tomb, many of which are now according to Egyptian law unable to leave Egypt again including the pharaoh's mask.

British Museum Exhibition
The Trustees of the British Museum
Thames & Hudson Ltd.
ISBN: 0 7230 0070 0

Monday, November 9, 2015

AKHENATEN: Pharaoh of Egypt

Cyril Aldred
Thames and Hudson
First Abacus Edition
Great Britain
ISBN-10: 0500276218

Egyptologists first stumbled upon his peculiar figure carved on the walls of abandoned rock tombs in Middle Egypt. Since that initial discovery, he has been the subject of much inquiry and speculation. He has been identified by one scholar as the Pharaoh of the Oppression, by another as the victim of Exodus. Freud claimed him as the mentor of Moses and the instigator of Jewish monotheism. Glanville's view of him was that as a king he deserved nothing but censure. Breasted hailed him as the first individual in history. To Gardiner, he wears a fanatical look and Pendlebury thought he was a religious maniac."

The book opens with the structure of ancient Egypt, and the role of the pharaoh as a divine entity upon which the well-being of Egypt and her peoples was dependent. The pharaoh interceded with the gods as an equal who placed offerings to the deities on behalf of his subjects. With the bringing on of empire, the Theban kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty owed their allegiances to Amun, god of Thebes, bestowing huge donations to the estates, and temples of Amun.

In reality, the kingly Dynasty formed at Thebes probably ruled from the old capital of Memphis in Lower Egypt much of the time. Cyril Aldred continues through the protocol of the royal family, particularly the concepts of brother-sister marriages, and the need for co-regency with two Horus's sitting on the throne at the same time. A series of black and white pictures depicting the king's family are a fine choice of images.

After a short reign of about nine years Thutmosis IV died young with as a result the new Horus, Amenhotep III, known as the magnificent, was still a small child of perhaps as young as a few months to six years of age. Unique to the reign of Amenhotep III are a series of large scarabs which were created within the first eleven years of his reign marking the king's marriage to Queen Tiye, a foreign princess, and the king's prowess.

The author places before the reader the known evidence for the reigns of the Amarna king's particularly the dates related in inscriptions of Akhenaten's reign. The iconography of Akhenaten is family oriented with the abandonment of the king as warrior and savior of the Egyptian population. Here now the king is represented with his wife Nefertiti and their six daughters in moments of idle luxury playing games.

     "One hymn, in particular, which appears in the tomb of the priest Ay is generally regarded as having been written be Akhenaten himself. In it, the universalism of the Egyptian empire finds full expression with the royal poet projecting a world faith to displace the nationalism that had preceded it for twenty centuries."

The author now looks more deeply into the members of the family including the in-laws, a family from Akhmim of which had been the parents of Queen Tiye. Her family held a number of the highest of posts with a possibility that Nefertiti was a member of this clan and a granddaughter of the priest and future Pharaoh Ay, has been suggested. A series of images occupy several pages mostly with family portraits, rarely seen artifacts, and inscriptions.

The question of co-regency has always bothered Egyptologist's as it represents chaos and uncertainty to both the sides for or against such an institution. Many inscriptions are free from naming the monarch, as a result, it takes corroborating texts, and the civil calendar to ferret out the truth. A number of sources such as stelae and fragmentary papyrus documents may point out the highlights, and bureaucratic functions, while wine labels can give the highest year of a king's reign.

The reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten are also blessed with the Amarna letters from rulers of subjugated states. The clay tablets written in cuneiform were found at Tell el Amarna at the end of the last century. These letters ask for protection from incursions to Egypt's northern possessions and for the pharaoh to send gold. Many of the documents covered give important dates for both king's which seem to indicate that at least a short co-regency existed between the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten.

     'May the Good God Live, who takes pleasure in Truth, Lord of all that the Sun-disk encompasses, Lord of Heaven, Lord of Earth, the Great Living Aten who illuminates the Two Lands! May the Father Live, Divine and Royal (Re-Herakhty, the Living, who rejoices on the horizon)| (in his manifestations of Light which is in the Aten) |, giving life forever and to all eternity, the Great Living Aten who is in Jubilee!'

We find ourselves back at the 1907 excavation of Valley of the Kings tomb no. 55, conducted by some of the most capable and learned archaeologists of their day. The result of which was one of the worst conducted excavations in the valley. Perhaps the group of men were mesmerized by the knowledge that they were in the presence of Akhenaten, that or Queen Tiye, and confronted by this knowledge were overwhelmed by the destroyed burial and their presences within it. A series of colored pictures that are not the usual fair now follow including the gold jewelry found outside the royal tomb at Amarna.

Akhenaten's religious reforms found within the Aten an all-encompassing universal spirit that possessed no equal, even nullifying Osiris and his cult. No longer was there need for the pantheism of gods each possessing individual aspects, Instead, the creation of all was the product of the rays of the Aten. The end of the Amarna heresy was not as abrupt as sometimes thought, certainly, the king, Tutankhamun and his court left Akhetaten early in his reign.

There is evidence of building work by Horemheb at the site, even as the temples of the Aten were being demolished, the blocks reused as fill in construction at Hermopolis. In Horemheb's usurpation of the monuments of his predecessors Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay, he did as many pharaohs before he had done. The greater persecution of Akhenaten's memory being the deeds of the Nineteenth Dynasty king's that followed, creating lists of king's that do not include the Amarna Ruler's.

In 'Akhenaten Pharaoh of Egypt' Cyril Aldred found and presented to the reader a man ahead of his time, in whose theology may have cocooned him from the politics of his dominions and the temples of the gods the king was supposed to serve on his peoples behalf.

The flood of differing opinions about Akhenaten expressed by the author at the start of the book often invites excited imaginations to run wild. It is however within this book that the author constructs through surviving records a tale and king that are both unforgettable!

     'The burial arrangements at Thebes should have been the direct responsibility of the Southern Vizier, perhaps Ay; and under the circumstances, it is probable that small tombs were hastily cut in the various burying grounds at Thebes designed to hold more than one occupant. In one of these in the Biban el-Moluk, Tiye, Akhenaten and Smenkh-ka-Re were interred with such equipment as Tut-ankh-Amun was prepared to supply or consider appropriate. In another cache, it is tempting to believe that Nefertiti and her daughters and perhaps grand-daughters were laid to rest. At the funerary ceremonies, Tut-ankh-Amun and his Queen would, of course, have had to officiate and there was no question of any mean and dishonorable burials, though they may have been less opulent than the deceased had planned for themselves.'