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Egyptian Erudition

In response to:

Tut-Tut-Tut from the October 11, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

As a semiprofessional Egyptologist, I would like to comment, thus belatedly, on the books mentioned in the Peter Green article entitled “Tut-Tut-Tut,” in your issue of October 11, 1979. There are two highly important books I find missing from both the list of current publications and the body of the article and its footnotes.

The first is Ancient Egyptian Religion (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, Hutchinson House, 1952) by Jaroslav Cerný, Professor of Egyptology in the University of Oxford. The book was constantly, recommended to me as being indispensable. But copies of it were and presumably still are so scarce that Time Inc.’s London and New York offices had to search for a long time before finding me a copy. I have nothing against A.E. Wallis Budge, who wrote early in this century, or any author who has been republished, such as Adolf Erman who wrote in the 1890s, and indeed I’m proud to own original editions of their books. But it seems disgraceful for publishers to have ignored Cerný’s important work. When I met Professor Cerný in Egypt in 1967, I asked him why his book was so difficult to get and found myself hitting a sore spot. He had been persuaded against his will to undertake such a difficult task, and so few copies had been printed it had even been a financial loss to him. His book is not easy reading because he is accurately presenting beliefs that we find contradictory, but which the Egyptians found complementary and even the Egyptians changed their theology in the course of 3,000 years. It is a “slim, significant volume” that would be inexpensive to republish.

The other missing book is Professor John A. Wilson’s Culture of Ancient Egypt which is mercifully still in print in its paperback edition (1956). (The original hardcover was entitled The Burden of Egypt, University of Chicago Press.) In my opinion—and I have plenty of company—it is the best single book ever written about Ancient Egypt. It is an interpretative book rather than a straight history that both introduces the reader to the Egyptian mind and to the flow of Egyptian civilization. It is beautifully written and a joy to return to.

I agree with Peter Green that it is a shame that Sir Alan Gardiner’s Grammar has not been reissued. It is one of my most prized possessions and one that fascinates even my uninitiated friends. Sir Alan not only explains how the language works, but includes glossaries of hieroglyphs arranged by subjects such as birds or parts thereof. For those who can draw, he also gives hieroglyphic lessons. I hope that publishers both here and in Britain are aware that hieroglyphic fonts are readily available. We at Time-Life have borrowed from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago quite frequently and I’m sure at least one British university has a similar font.

There is a slight mistake in Green’s otherwise commendable article which is further proof, if more proof be needed, that Ramses II was (and is) the most successful self-promoter of all time. He did not win the battle of Kadesh. He did, however, manage to retreat with most of his army intact, and of course his account of the battle in the temple of Abu Simbel makes him the victor.

I am delighted to see P.H. Newby on your list. Having been born and reared in Cairo, I, too, have frequently “picnicked at Sakkara.”

Joann McQuiston

Time Incorporated

New York City

Peter Green replies:

Of course Joann McQuiston is right about both Cerný and Wilson: they simply slipped my mind at the time—unaccountably, since I own both books, and Barbara Mertz (who studied under him at the Oriental Institute in Chicago) pays Wilson a well-deserved tribute in her own work. Why no one has reprinted Cerný I cannot imagine: with luck some publisher may now take him on. The situation with Sir Alan Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar is better. The third edition has been reprinted in England as recently as 1978, and is available—at a very reasonable price—from the Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. What really happened at the battle of Kadesh remains debatable.

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