Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Books Monthly supplement Antara

In search of an attribution
WhatOs in a painting? The potential for disaster, for one thing. Nigel Ryan reviews Headlong, a tale of vanity and ambition saved only by a thoroughly modern moral equivocation

Sayyid Qutb: Othe right to revoltO
Sayyid Qutb wa Thawrat Yulyou (Sayyid Qutb and the July Revolution), Helmi el-Namnam, Cairo: Meret for Publication and Information, 1999. pp150

Interpretation and beyond
Fate of A Prisoner and Other Stories, Denys Johnson-Davies, London: Quartet Books, 1999. pp222

Questioning the body, questioning the mind
Nawal al-Saadawi, TaOam Al-Solta wal Jins(The Twins of Power and Sex), Dar al-Mustaqbal al-Arabi, Cairo 1999 , pp258

A political scientist among the historians
The Social Origins of Egyptian Expansionism During the Muhammad 'Ali Period, Fred H Lawson, The American University in Cairo Press, 1999 (first published Columbia University Press, 1992). pp215

Ancient Egyptian windfall
* Egypt, Ancient and Modern by Isabella Brega, trans. C.T.M. Milan. The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp135
* Egyptian Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Pharaonic Times. Lise Manniche with photographs by Werner Forman. The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp160
* Ancient Egypt. David P. Silverman ed., The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp255

Intersection points
Al Jadid, vol. 5, no. 28, 1999, Los Angeles, Al Jadid

Sharing the self
Dikka Khashabiya Tasa Ithnayn Bilkad (A wooden bench barely wide enough for two), Shehata el-Iryan, Cairo: Aswat Adabiya (Literary Voices) General Organisation for Cultural Palaces, 1999. pp206
To the editor

At a glance
By Mahmoud El-Wardani

* Al-Hilal, monthly magazine, issue no. 12, December 1999, Cairo: Al-Hilal Publishing House
* Al-Arabi, monthly magazine, issue no. 493, December 1999, Kuwait: Ministry of Information
* Al-Kotob: Wughat Nazar (Books: Viewpoints), monthly magazine, issue no. 11, December 1999, Cairo: The Egyptian Company for Arab and International Publication
* Mirrors, Naguib Mahfouz, translated by Roger Allen, illustrated by Seif Wanli, Cairo: AUC Press, 1999. pp186
* Ibdaa (Creativity), monthly magazine, issue no. 10, November 1999, Cairo: GEBO
* Sotour (Lines), monthly magazine, issue no. 36, November 1999, Cairo: Sotour Publications
* Al-Thaqafa Al-Alamia (OWorld CultureO), Kuwait: The National Council for Culture and Arts
* Adab wa Naqd (Literature and Criticism), monthly literary magazine, issue no. 171, November 1999, Cairo: Progressive National Unionist Party publications
* Qadaya Fikriya (Intellectual Issues), occasional book, issues no. 19 and 20, October 1999
* Al-OOsour Al-Jadida (New Eras), monthly magazine, issue no. 2, 1999, Cairo: Sinai Publishing House
* Nizwa, quarterly magazine, issue no. 20, October 1999, Oman: Omani Corporation for Press, Publishing and Advertising

To see other book supplements go to the ARCHIVES index. 


Illustrations courtesy of International Commitee of the Red Cross
"Folk drawings and tales", Cairo, 1996

Egypt, Ancient and Modern by Isabella Brega, trans. C.T.M. Milan. The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp135

Egyptian Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Pharaonic Times. Lise Manniche with photographs by Werner Forman. The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp160

Ancient Egypt. David P. Silverman ed., The American University in Cairo Press, 1999. pp255

Ancient Egyptian windfall

Few countries can boast such a concentration of sights and mysteries as can Egypt, a country with a voluminous past that acts as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. To fulfill the increasing demand for popular literature on the country, publications in the 1960s and 70s gave a sometimes distorted picture of Ancient Egyptian civilisation, a picture that is today being corrected with the publication of a new crop of books of an altogether higher quality. It is now difficult to choose between Mark Lehner's The Complete Pyramids, Alberto Siliotti's Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt, or the new and revised edition of Flinders Petrie's The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh with an update by Zahi Hawass, for example, such is their uniformly high standard. Should one choose the comprehensive Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs edited by Regine Schulz and Matthias Seidel, Wolfgang and Rosel Jahn's Egypt: Nile, Desert, and People or settle for more specialised publications such as The Complete Valley of the Kings by Nicholas Reeves and Richard Wilkinson or Salima Ikram's The Mummy in Ancient Egypt?

Whatever one may decide, the last year has added a further three high-quality publications to this already impressive list: Isabella Brega's Egypt: Ancient and Modern presents an overview of the country from ancient to modern times; Ancient Egypt edited by David P. Silverman draws together authorities in the field to produce a vividly written guide to main themes of the Ancient Egyptian world, while Egyptian Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Pharaonic Times by Lise Manniche draws on Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Greek and other sources to explore the application of perfumes in ancient medicine, temple ritual and social occasions while also examining the erotic connotations of scent in Ancient Egyptian art and poetry. All three books, in their distinct ways, cast light on the land of the Nile.

Brega's Egypt, Ancient and Modern takes us from cosmopolitan Alexandria to the minarets of Cairo, from the Suez Canal to Pharaonic monuments along the Nile and from solitary oases to desert monasteries. Such an attempt at a comprehensive overview for the general reader has, of course, been made before: the popular 'Insight Guides' (published by APA) started the trend with a successful volume on Egypt published in 1988 that was the first book on the market to bring together the past and present in this way. Unique in its breadth of coverage, accuracy, vivid writing and exceptional photography, it has unsurprisingly held its own for the last decade. Brega's book, while also bringing the centuries together in a strong and appealing style, is for the armchair traveller. It is a book that a visitor to Egypt might like to carry home as a souvenir of a visit.

The book is divided into four sections. Part One is an ambitious coverage of ancient history from predynastic relics, such as a terracotta head found at Merimda Beni Salama in the Western Delta (considered one of the first examples of plastic art to be found in Egypt and dating back to the end of the fifth millennium BC) through to the Pharaoh Khufu and the Great Pyramid, Lord Carnarvon and the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, Ptolemaic Alexandria, the Roman conquest and the Aryan heresy. It goes on to cover the Arab conquest to Salah El-Din, the mamelukes to the monarchy, and, finally, the 1952 Revolution through to the present day.... all in 55 pages. Section Two deals with the Nile Valley, while Three covers Sinai, the Red Sea and the Western Oases. Anna Galliani's graphic design is splendid, and the book balances text with brilliant and appropriate photographs.

While Brega's book is best suited to the tourist wanting a convenient aide-mémoire, David Silverman's Ancient Egypt can be recommended to scholars and lay public alike. It covers all the major aspects of this impressive civilisation -- historical, religious, artistic, scientific and mythological -- and reflects the latest research in archaeology. It traces themes in Egyptian history over 3,000 years and includes maps, charts, and a convenient glossary for easy reference.

One example of the interest of Silverman's text is given in the article by Egyptologist Mark Lehner. The question of how the massive Great Pyramid of Khufu was constructed has long intrigued Egyptologists. The popular theory, of a single straight ramp at right angles to one face of the pyramid, had to be discarded when it was calculated that by the time the upper courses of the pyramid had been reached, such a ramp would have extended from Giza to Meidum. A second theory, which suggested that there were four parallel ramps, one starting at each corner of the pyramid and spiraling around it, was therefore suggested, but Lehner considers this to be implausible as well, since in his opinion the rough faces of the pyramid could not have borne the weight of the mud-brick or debris from which such a ramp was constructed. He therefore presents a theory that combines the two earlier ones, proposing that a construction ramp would have started at the very mouth of the quarry on the Giza plateau and risen to a height of about 30 metres above the pyramid's base in the south-west corner. Then, spiraling upward as the pyramid rose, the ramp would have encased the entire pyramid, its weight being borne by the ground around it.

The advantage of Lehner's theory, according to Zahi Hawass writing in Chapter 12 of the book, is that the ramp could thus have reached the top of the pyramid in the shortest possible distance. However had "the ramp enveloped the entire pyramid, it would have been difficult for a surveyor to check all the lines and angles. Also, it is doubtful whether such a huge ramp could have risen to the full height of the Great Pyramid without collapsing". It has been estimated that some 18,000 people worked at Giza, most of them living at the site.

For many people, mummies are synonymous with Ancient Egypt, and they have certainly gripped the popular imagination through highly publicised discoveries and horror movies. The section on mummification included in the present book covers the interesting and relatively new study of Paleopathology, the study of ancient disease, a study only made possible through the examination of mummified human remains. Thus we learn that while early studies of mummies entailed destructive autopsies, newer, non-invasive techniques including CT scans and X-rays are now preferred, and from these a clearer picture of Egyptian pathology has emerged, "with occasional evidence of such diseases as pneumonia, tuberculosis, smallpox and poliomyelitis". We learn too that a 14-year-old girl, whose remains were mummified, appears to have been the victim of the crocodile; when her mummy underwent autopsy by specialists at Manchester University in England in 1975 it revealed that both her legs had been cut off shortly before her death.

For the quality of text, illustrations and contributors, Ancient Egypt should be in every library. In Part One of the book, "The Egyptian World", such eminent scholars as Donald Redford, professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto and for many years director of the Akhenaten Temple Project in Luxor, William Murnane, professor of Ancient History at Memphis State University and a member of the University of Chicago's epigraphical team at Chicago House in Luxor, and Fekri Hassan, geologist turned Egyptologist and now professor of Egyptology at University College, London, all contribute chapters. Silverman discusses the origins of the pharaonic system of government and the fate of the pharaoh after death, while James Allen, associate curator of the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, reviews Ancient Egyptian ideas on the cosmos, solar cycle, "the one and the many (gods)" and the heresy of Akhenaten.

Part Two of the book, "Art, Architecture and Language", includes Hawass on the pyramids and Rita Freed, curator at the Department of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, on Egyptian Art, from predynastic examples through the Classical and Empire periods to the art of the late Pharaonic period, Ptolemaic and Roman times. Silverman provides information on Ancient Egyptian scripts and scribes, the evolution of the Ancient Egyptian language and modern attempts at decoding it.

Illustrated with some 200 superb colour photographs, maps and charts, the book illuminates vivid and powerful images of a fascinating culture and is unquestionably the single most comprehensive, authoritative and accessible guide to the many dimensions of the ancient Egyptian world.

Egyptian Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy, and Cosmetics in Pharaonic Times by Lise Manniche, on the other hand, reveals the high degree of importance attached to perfumes and cosmetics in Ancient Egyptian society. These were used on an everyday level to attract, allure or honour, but they also had a religious function, and were even used to help gain passage through the chambers of the underworld to the afterlife. Werner Forman's photographs, which illustrate the book, are superlative.

In general, the book is full of delights, and readers will find tips on Ancient Egyptian grooming, skin care and makeup in its pages. "Sweet ointment was a remedy that even the gods would not want to be without," says Manniche, referring to the medicinal value accorded to perfumes, and she points out here that the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, used it in this way to heal a wound inflicted on her son. In her daily cult at her temple, ointment was presented to the goddess along with cosmetics, food, clothing and ornaments, and during rites performed during the building of a temple, alabaster jars containing ointments would have been among the items included in the foundations.

At the risk of being accused of pedantry, reference is made to "a number of localities in Upper Egypt between Quseir and the Red Sea..." on page 136; presumably this should read Qus. Also I wonder why cardamom has been included in the section on ingredients, when the word "has not been identified in Egyptian texts" (page 16), and it was, in fact, only supplied from India and Arabia via the eastern Mediterranean from mediaeval times. However, in looking at the role played by scents and cosmetics in Ancient Egypt, and in discussing their preparation, and, in some cases, actual recipes for them, Manniche has done us a great service, helping us to appreciate to what extent modern fragrance owes a debt to Ancient Egypt.

Reviewed by Jill Kamil

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