Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Phiroze Vasunia)

Ian S. Moyer, Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism. Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2011. 

“O Egypt, Egypt, of your pious deeds only stories will survive, and they will be incredible to your children.” Ian Moyer’s book is a first-rate analysis of the relationship between Egypt and Hellenism; it moves significantly beyond the historical positivism, the binary framework of Greek/barbarian, and the colonialist assumptions of older scholarship. Moyer considers four sources closely—Herodotus, Manetho, the Delian Sarapis aretalogy, and Thessalus (who composed a treatise De virtutibus herbarumin the first or second century CE)—to each of which he devotes a chapter. The book is ostensibly about meetings between Greeks and Egyptian priests, the latter group typified by the figure who looks “mysterious and austere, dressed in white linen, head shaved, wise in the ways of magic and divination… known since Herodotus as a fount of ancient wisdom”. But the device is a launching-point for a series of investigations into the encounters of Egyptians and Greeks over many centuries. Moyer is a learned and skilled reader of the texts, and there is much to hail in the publication of this erudite, sophisticated, and thoughtful volume.

Moyer is sensitive to the history of scholarship on his topic and he elucidates its politics with acuity, but is nonetheless wary, and weary, of talking about Black Athena; his own book tries to shift discussion away from questions of influence to interaction.

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