Picture this: A group of small schoolchildren is taken to a Natural History Museum. The cases are filled with brown, beige and burnished ochre chips of pottery, stone tools, unpainted and oddly-proportioned statues from ancient civilizations. Instead of making the textbook material spring to life in the children's imaginations, the artefacts seem only to render the extinct societies more distant, strange and colorless. Then, the group rounds a corner into the Egyptian galleries, which are filled with wall-fragments, stelae and coffins still resplendent in the vivid red, green, azure and brown of the original paint. Tiny, fascinating, child-sized pictures cover everything. The teacher or guide tells the kids that these aren't just pictures, they're the writing of an ancient language. Not only that, but this writing encodes "Magical spells", "Protective Curses", "Tales of the Gods" and "Prayers for the Dead". Oooooooooooooh. A fascination is born.
I'm not exactly sure when or how many times this scenario
happened for me, but that "ooh" stage is something I never outgrew.
Something about the balance between clean, simple-lined aesthetics
of Old Kingdom greywacke statues and the gaudy brilliance of color
and design in jewelry, hieroglyphs and tomb decoration holds my
fascination and excites new wonder. The summer I was fourteen, I
decided to try to teach myself to read hieroglyphs. Not being a
genius of the Champollion cut, I was not exactly successful, but I
made some headway, and I continued to research various aspects of
Ancient Egypt privately until I was able to take advantage of some
of the resources at the Oriental Institute here and obtain more
The specifications for a book's membership in my collection are somewhat broad, though they have narrowed over time, and I am continually weeding out various books. Most simply, books must have Ancient Egypt or some aspect of its study as their central focus. I am picky about books' scholarship, and generally avoid volumes whose data is outdated, ill-researched or oversimplified, though I keep some classics with historiographic significance, such as E.A. Wallis Budge's Victorian-era tour-guide, the reproduction of Champollion's monograph Lettre à M. Dacier, and Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar. I am far from wealthy enough to pursue first-editions of these historiographic works; with the exception of the limited-edition exhibition guide to the Treasures of Tutankhamun collection which toured the States in 1976, these volumes are all reproductions, reprints and modern editions. Within the realm of modern scholarship, I look for well-researched and -written works which either present well-orchestrated overviews of Ancient Egypt as an integrated whole, or focus on particularly interesting and important aspects of Ancient Egyptian culture, periods of history or research methods. Baines and Málek's Atlas of Ancient Egypt, for example, is a valuable topography-based reference, while Partridge's Faces of Pharaohs explores Ancient Egyptian dynastic structure and history via modern analysis of mummified human remains. My collection of Egypt-related fiction is fast branching off into a separate collection, but I think it is a valuable exploration of the imaginative, romantic aspects of reconstructing a distantly removed past, so I have included here one title from the fiction sub-group.In the future, I would like to include more primary-source material, more books of historiographic interest in the field, and a better representation of Old Kingdom and early Middle Kingdom materials. In particular, I lust after James Henry Breasted's nineteenth-century Egyptian history, and there is a very pretty translation of Letters to the Dead which I want for my own. There is no shortage of books on the market about my object of obsession, which is very unfortunate for my wallet, which is too thin, and for my bookshelves, which are prematurely bent like osteoporotic women. I, however, am quite happy to nestle in my wealth and read on.
Baines, John and Málek, Jaromir. Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Andromeda Oxford Limited: Abingdon, U.K.,1980.
Description de l'Égypte, ou Recueil des Observations et des Recherches qui ont été Faites en Égypte Pendant l'Expédition de l'Armée Française, Publié sous les Orders de Napoléon Bonaparte. Bibliothèque de l'Image: Tours, France, 1998.
Brunner, Hellmut. Hieroglyphische Chrestomathie: v.2, Verbesserte Auflage. Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, Germany, 1992.
Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms. University of California Press, Ltd. : Berkley, 1975.
Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom.University of California Press: Berkley, 1976.
Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period. University of California Press: Berkley, 1980.
Petrie, W.M. Flinders ed. Egyptian Tales: Translated from the Papyri. Dover Publications, Inc. : Mineola,1999. (unabridged republication of the two-volume 1895 translations)
Allen, James P. Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K., 2000.
Champollion, Jean-François et Guyon, Jean-Claude. Lettre à M. Dacer, Secrétaire Perpétuel de l'Académie Royale Des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Relative à l'Alphabet des Hiéroglyphes Phonétiques Employés par les Égyptiens pour Inscrire leurs Monuments les Tîtres, les Noms et les Surnoms des Souverains Grecs et Romains (Suivie de La Bataille des Hiéroglyphes). Fata Morgana : Frontfroide, France, 1989. Reproduction of the original Lettre à M. Dacier…, (published without the postlude by Guyon) Bibliothèque Artistique et Littéraire: Frontfroide, France, 1822.
Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten: King of Egypt. Thames and Hudson, Ltd.: London, U.K., 1988.
Capel, Anne K. and Markoe, Glenn E. eds. Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt. Hudson Hills Press, New York in Association with Cincinnati Art Museum : New York, 1996.
Germond, Philippe. An Egyptian Bestiary: Animals in Life and Religion in the Land of the Pharaohs. Trans. Barbara Mellor. Thames and Hudson: London, U.K., 2001.
Partridge, Robert B. Faces of Pharaohs: Royal Mummies and Coffins from Ancient Thebes. The Rubicon Press: London, U.K., 1994.
Quirke, Stephen. Ancient Egyptian Religion. Dover Publications, Inc.: New York, 1992.
Budge, E.A. Wallis. Budge's Egypt: A Classic 19th-Century Travel Guide. General Publishing Company, Ltd.: Toronto, Canada, 2001.
Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Nile: Notes for Travellers in Egypt. Thos. Cook & Son: London, England,1890.
Gilbert, Katharine Stoddert Gilbert, Joan K. Holt and Sara Hudson eds. Treasures of Tutankhamun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 1976.
Peters, Elizabeth. Three Complete Amelia Peabody Mysteries : Crocodile on the Sandbank, The Curse of the Pharaohs, The Mummy Case. Barnes and Noble Books : New York, 1993 (compilation © ; 1975, 1981, 1985 original publications).