Egypt fascinates me, especially ancient Egypt, really ancient Egypt – the Old and Middle Kingdoms. And Egypt is old. The so-called New Kingdom periodEgypt fascinates me, especially ancient Egypt, really ancient Egypt – the Old and Middle Kingdoms. And Egypt is old. The so-called New Kingdom period ended c. 1069 BC. Several decades before David created Israel and three centuries before Romulus and Remus founded Rome. The time span from Khufu to Cleopatra is greater than that from Cleopatra to us.
Lives of the Ancient Egyptians is a collection of 100 two-to-three-page essays about the men and women of ancient Egypt from those murky beginnings c. 3100 BC to its conquest by Augustus in 31 BC. There are entries for the usual suspects: Khufu, Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Ptolemy. But the relatively more interesting essays are the ones about the more obscure pharaohs and the less-exalted members of Egyptian society.
The following aren’t the “top 10” but they are a sampling of ones I found of particular interest:
Merneith: Before there was Hatshepsut, there was Merneith, the mother of Egypt’s fifth pharaoh, Den. She ruled as regent while her son was a child and was rewarded by him with a full mortuary complex.
Imhotep: The real Imhotep is a far more fascinating character than the villain of The Mummy movies. There are only two contemporary references to his existence that have survived. The first is an inscription on the base of a statue of Pharaoh Djoser located at the entrance to that ruler’s tomb complex, the Step Pyramid, the one that inspired all the succeeding pyramids. The inscription’s prominence and the fact that it honored someone other than the pharaoh indicate how important Imhotep was at the royal court. The second reference is a graffito on a monument from Djoser’s successor’s tomb complex. Later generations would embellish Imhotep’s life until he became a god of writing, architecture, wisdom and medicine.
Hemira: Hemira was a priestess of Hathor who lived in the Delta (Lower Egypt) during the First Intermediate Period. She staffed a minor temple in a provincial town but I liked the inscription on her tomb. People would come to these tombs and offer sacrifices and such for good fortune, etc., similar to Catholic saint cults. Hemira advertised: “As for all people who will say ‘bread for Hemi in this her tomb,’ I am an effective spirit and will not allow it to go ill with them.”
Intef II: Intef was ruler of the 11th Dynasty who loved his dogs. One of the stelae he erected shows him playing with his dogs Behkai (Gazelle), Abaqer (Hound), Pehtes (Blackie) and Teqru (Kettle).
Hekanakht: Hekanakht was a farmer whose letters to his sons and other family members reveal an anxiety over the proper management of his properties (“Take great care! Watch over my seed corn! Look after all my property! Look, I count you responsible for it. Take great care with all my property!”) and a tangled family life. His first wife died and the relationships between the children of that first marriage and the wife – Iutenhab – and children of the second were tense (“Shall you not respect my new wife?!”).
Twenty-five hundred years or so later, Agatha Christie would use Hekanakht’s troubled domesticity as the basis for her mystery Death Comes As The End.
Merenptah: Merenptah’s reign is noteworthy in some circles because it’s the only time in hieroglyphic texts that Israel is ever mentioned – as one of several cities and tribes defeated by Merenptah.
Paneb: Paneb was no court official or military officer. He was a crook and serial adulterer. A corrupt workman who stole, bribed and blasphemed and, perhaps, committed murder. Unfortunately, though we have a record of the trial where his enemies brought him up on the most serious charges, we have no idea how it turned out. Did he escape justice? Or was maat preserved and he got what he deserved?
Naunakht: Naunakht is another Egyptian woman. Women in Egypt enjoyed a relatively high status in society. They could own property in their own right and controlled their dowries. Naunakht’s children were not suitably grateful for her care and protection when they were young. When she had grown old and needed support, several of them were less than generous: “I brought up these eight servants of yours…But see, I am grown old, and see, they are not looking after me in my turn. Whoever of them has aided me, to him I will give of my property; he who has not given to me, to him I will not give of my property. They shall not participate in the division of my one-third.”
Piye: Most of the time, it was Egypt who sent the troops to chastise, sometimes conquer, Nubia but in the 8th century BC it was the other way around. Piye, the ruler of Kush, took his legions and conquered Thebes, going on to conquer Lower Egypt as well and restoring unity to the country. Far from being a foreign conqueror, however, it seems Piye was “more Egyptian than the Egyptians.” He restored the Amun cult and temples and consciously modeled the regime’s art and propaganda from models of the best remembered and most prestigious former dynasties.
Manetho: Manetho flourished under the first two Ptolemies (late 4th – early 3rd century BC). It is to him that all modern Egyptologists owe the scheme of 31 dynasties and a great deal of knowledge about that ancient land’s history (though all of his works survived second hand, being quoted in other author’s histories).
Wilkinson assumes a general knowledge of ancient Egypt on the reader’s part. If you didn’t recognize any of the “usual suspects” I mentioned above, this is probably not a book that will interest you. However, if you’re like me and do have an interest in the period, then I would recommend this book. I’d also recommend Wilkinson’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, which is also geared toward the lay reader and offers a well-written account of the Nile valley’s history over the same period as this book covers....more
Of late, and for too long, the Muse has left me and I have found little inspiration to write extensive reviews of the books I've been reading. But asOf late, and for too long, the Muse has left me and I have found little inspiration to write extensive reviews of the books I've been reading. But as I've given this one four stars, I'd be remiss if I entirely neglected to explain why.
I first became aware of Margaret Fuller's existence from a review in the New York Review of Books of one of the recent biographies that have come out and was intrigued (whether this one or Megan Marshall's, I forget). And when I came across this quote (which graces my e-mail address), I knew I had to know more: "I now know all the people worth knowing in America and I find no intellect comparable to my own."
It turns out that my gut reaction was correct: Fuller is a person worth knowing. I've provided some examples of her thoughts and beliefs in my status updates so I will only quote here a sketch culled from Matteson's biography:
Margaret Fuller was, in her time, the best-read woman in America and the one most renowned for her intelligence. She was the leading female figure in the New England movement known as transcendentalism. She edited the first avant-garde intellectual magazine in America. She was the first regular foreign correspondent, male or female, for an American newspaper. As a literary critic, she was rivaled in her era only by Edgar Allan Poe. Three years before the convention that is usually regarded as the beginning of the women's rights movement in the United States, she wrote a groundbreaking book demanding legal equality for women....
Though always formidable as a thinker, she became great only as she came to sympathize with the hopelessness of imprisoned prostitutes, the hunger of exploited children, and the pain of wounded soldiers who had offered everything they had for freedom.... It is only when we discover her as a misfit, as an apostle, as a seeker of Utopia, and in all the other identities through which she passed that she ceases to be the Margaret-ghost and lives for us once more....
Fuller's dearest principles [were] a sincere antipathy to violence and cruelty; a belief in the power of art and literature to assist in social change; and, above all, a confidence that the best, most durable revolution begins with the liberal education of every human being. pp. xi, 444-5)
This does little justice to the person described in this work and Marshall's but, hopefully, it may inspire someone reading this to seek Fuller out....more
This is a very dense biography of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79), and a more general history of the establishment of the Flavian dynasty (69-96);This is a very dense biography of the Roman emperor Vespasian (69-79), and a more general history of the establishment of the Flavian dynasty (69-96); Levick assumes a very solid knowledge of Roman history in the reader.
Which - if you have one - makes this a highly recommended book. Levick presents a balanced account of Vespasian's life and his (and his family's) impact on the development of the Principate....more
If I were recommending this book, I’d recommend it to sixth graders or middle-school teachers with students interested in American and/or Native histoIf I were recommending this book, I’d recommend it to sixth graders or middle-school teachers with students interested in American and/or Native history. There’s nothing wrong with the book’s content but the writing is so simplistic (amateurish in spots) and the analysis so shallow as to make it useless as a serious history of the period. As a narrative of events, though, it’s perfectly adequate. And as I have no great familiarity with the time or its actors, the book was revelatory in that respect but also disappointing. There’s little discussion of the social and political background that engendered the war or the relationships between the whites and Native tribes.
It would have been a much better adult history if Hatch could have elaborated on the Seminoles and their origins, or the machinations in both Congress and in the military regarding Indian policy, or the drives that made it expedient to thoroughly cleanse Florida of Natives. Though what he does touch upon is depressing enough. It is no comfort to realize that our military’s tradition of invading countries without learning about the environment the army will be fighting in or the people we’re killing has a long history. The first expedition to tame the Seminoles ended in ignominious defeat; and when Winfield Scott assumed command, he also assumed he would be fighting a conventional enemy using conventional strategies. What he got, and what he bequeathed to his successor commanders, was a situation not dissimilar to Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan. The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) was the longest and costliest of the Indian wars and – like war in general – utterly pointless. The Seminoles didn’t want it and, recognizing that they couldn’t escape US domination, were willing enough to adjust to white settlement in Florida but they faced the limitless greed of the settlers, the animosity of the increasingly hysterical slaveholders (many Seminoles were escaped slaves), and the implacable enmity of the federal government under Andrew Jackson and his protégés.
As disappointing as the shallowness and superficiality of the writing was Hatch’s unfortunate tendency to ascribe motives and thoughts to people without any evident source. All too often, he writes “X must have felt…” or “We can assume Y was thinking…”. How does he know this? Why is this a reasonable assumption? There’s an extensive bibliography with what appear to be oral histories and personal memoirs but the footnoting is execrable. Is it so hard to indicate that “X writes in his diary that he felt…” or “In his memoirs, Z writes that Y told him…”? Or indicate the primary source you’re relying on in a note?
Apparently, the answer is “yes.”
If I were 13, this would be a great book, full of interesting characters on both sides and (from a 13-year old’s POV) well told (in fact – from an adult POV – the writing improves as Hatch gets more engaged with the course of the war). If I had been able to read this 30 years ago, it may have redirected my historical interests. As it was, the interesting books I read tended toward medieval and ancient histories – c’est la vie. So I will recommend this for my young adult/middle-school-age following and their parents but I can’t comfortably recommend it to older readers interested in American history.
A final note, there are two plusses about this book. One is the already mentioned bibliography, which has a wealth of books and articles for interested readers (though a lot are probably only accessible via a university library). The second plus is that Hatch reproduces three treaties between the federal government and the Seminoles that give the reader a chance to read some primary sources in their entirety. A rare opportunity in popular histories....more