Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs
popular History of Ancient Egypt, by Barbara Mertz
Yet another library find (type "Egypt" into
a library catalog and you'll get dozens of books returned)
that was an engaging and interesting history of Egypt.
This book is definitely not written for serious egyptologists
(which I am not), but is a well-written popular history
that presents the primary theories in Egyptology without
bogging down the narrative with the dozens of conflicting
theories that abound in the field. This is not a bad
thing, though. The book is quite dated (1964), and
therefore does not take into account the latest theories
and facts, but it does present a stirring history
that covers the basics.
Additionally, when Mertz is presenting her own pet
theories, or disagreeing with the majority of Egyptology,
she is very clear to label the ideas as her own and
point out that others disagree. In some cases, she
even admits that she has little evidence for her position
other than a "gut feel". It's refreshing
to read someone who is so passionate about what she
does, even if I had to take the writings with a grain
of salt and compare them to later, perhaps more accurate,
For example, many of the currently voiced theories
are not even mentioned -- the identification of Akhenaton's
mummy, and the possibility that Nefertiti ruled after
him as the pharaoh Smenkaure, etc -- but she paints
the broader picture of Egyptian history very well.
I found her attitude towards Ramesses II to be absolutely
in line with every guide we had in Egypt: Ramesses II
decided to simply cover every open space with his
name or his statues to ensure that he wasn't forgotten..since
he didn't really do much else except build and sculpt.
Most of our guides referred to him as "The Coca-Cola
Pharaoh", since his name was as ubiquitous as
the red and white Coca-Cola signs that hang everywhere.
Mertz is also the only author to directly address
the odd naming conventions that we use when we discuss
the pharaohs. Most books will outline the concept
of five names (the Royal Titulary), but don't mention the fact that pharaohs'
names were translated strangely and that our current
method of naming leaves something to be desired.
Thutmose, for example, is an odd conglomeration of
Egyptian and Greek words (Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek word for "son", Mose) and certainly not what the
Egyptians originally wrote. Her discussion of language
and culture are deftly woven into the historical narrative,
making this a very enjoyable book.