Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: The Zodiac of Paris

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Patricia Johnston and Glenn Palmer)

Jed Z. Buchwald, Diane Greco Josefowicz, The Zodiac of Paris: How an Improbable Controversy over an Ancient Egyptian Artifact Provoked a Modern Debate between Religion and Science. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010.

On July 1, 1798, Napoleon and his troops entered Alexandria with the intention of establishing a colony in Egypt, disrupting British trade with India, and purportedly freeing the Egyptians from their Mameluke oppressors and imposing liberty and equality on this land. After a struggle with the Mamelukes (who were supported by the British and the Ottoman Turks), Napoleon fled to France on Oct. 11, 1799, leaving behind the savants—the intellectuals and scholars who had accompanied him—along with remnants of the French army to preserve the glory of Napoleon. The savants had been given a vacant palace in Cairo and an academic organization, the Institute of Egypt. Napoleon had also ordered them into the field to make copious notes, chart maps, record contemporary life, gather artifacts and natural specimens and, above all, to document the ancient temples and monuments. During this campaign Vivant Denon drew the circular Dendera Zodiac, which he published in 1802, after the Napoleonic expedition. In 1821 the actual zodiac was moved to Paris and in 1822 installed in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and in 1964 it was moved to the Louvre.

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