Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Ancient Egypt: An Introduction

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Peter C. Nadig)

Salima Ikram, Ancient Egypt: An Introduction. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

It is not easy to write an introduction to ancient Egypt, since so many details, past and present, need to be covered for this fascinating and extremely variant culture. A great deal of this fascination can be attributed to the aesthetic quality of Egyptian art which had left its mark over a period of 3000 years as well as the good preservation of many monuments and objects. Salima Ikram (American University Cairo) provides an excellent introduction – lavishly illustrated with photos and drawings. In nine chapters, the book aims at a general readership not familiar with Egypt by “setting the stage for their further study and investigation”. The focus is not only the various aspects of ancient Egypt’s history and culture, but also their reception as well as rediscovery through the ages.

The book starts with a detailed chronological chart of the periods of Egyptian history from 5000 BC till 30 BC. Kings’ names are given with their Horus and throne names as well as personal names and regnal years where possible (pp. xiii-xxiii). Chapter One (“The Black and the Red”) brings an outline of Egypt’s geography and environment. The author makes it clear that the country's wealth not only lay in the annual inundation of the Nile, but also in its natural borders. The different regions of Egypt, such as the Nile River and the Nile Valley, the Delta, the Western Desert with its oases, and the Sinai Peninsula along with the Eastern Desert and The Red Sea are explained. The second chapter ("Travellers, Thieves, and Scholars") deals with the history of Egyptology and Egyptomania. It began during the New Kingdom when Egyptians themselves began to reflect on the monuments of their past. Among these Prince Khaemwese, a son of Ramesses II stands out, whose restoration inscription can still be seen on a pyramid in Saqqara.

A separate section covers Greek and Roman visitors as well as scholars who wrote about Egypt such as Solon, Pythagoras, Herodotus, Manetho, Diodorus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, Septimius Severus, and the fourth-century nun Egeria. A short section sums up the interest of Arab scholars in Egypt, some of which studied the ancient monuments or tried to decipher the hieroglyphs.

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