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Sample Essay from Brooker Prize Winner

Ancient Egypt
Rachel Anne Dion


General Information


Previous Prize Recipients

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 formal training.

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 I am picky about books' scholarship, and generally avoid volumes whose data is outdated, ill-researched or oversimplified, though I keep some classics with historiographic significance, such as E.A. Wallis Budge's Victorian-era tour-guide, the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.

Ms. Dion won the 4th-year prize in 2002
for the collection described in the preceding essay.

A sample of her bibliography follows.

General Titles
(sample out of 12 titles)

Baines, John and Málek, Jaromir. Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Andromeda Oxford Limited: Abingdon, U.K.,1980.

  • Hardback, excellent condition
  • This is a really great atlas and basic reference. It not only aligns the ancient and modern topography but also provides articles on history, culture, geography and geology along with lists of Ancient Egyptian, modern English and Arabic topographic vocabulary and place-names.

Primary Source Material
(or as close as one can come to primary source texts
after 2000--5000 years)
(sample out of 9 titles)

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.

  • Hardback, jacket somewhat shredded along spine where it rubbed against something else in my suitcase, but otherwise in excellent condition ·
  • A prize of the first magnitude, this book was a gift I bought myself when I was in Paris this past summer. It is a new, one-volume reprint of the original encyclopedic opus intended to catalogue Napoleon's grand new territory-were he to have successfully conquered Egypt, which he didn't exactly do. The book is important not only from a historiographic standpoint, but because Napoleon's team of artists and scientists meticulously recorded features of sites and artefacts which unfortunately did not survive later "archaeologists", scavengers, tourists and black market profiteers. Although this expedition and the paperwork it generated were seminal in the later decryption of hieroglyphic writing and the Egyptian language, none of the artists contributing to this volume had any real idea of what the inscriptions they saw said. Nonetheless, these men so accurately copied what they saw that Description de l'Égypte has legibly preserved huge inscriptions now otherwise lost. The artistry alone makes this volume invaluable.

Brunner, Hellmut. Hieroglyphische Chrestomathie: v.2, Verbesserte Auflage. Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, Germany, 1992.

  • Paper-back, excellent condition
  • This is a collection of photographs of surviving Egyptian hieratic (cursive hieroglyphic) texts. The photographs are clear enough for the modern translator to read, allowing one to truly go back to the written primary source material as much as possible without actually tracking down these stelae and yanking them out of their museum cases.

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.

  • Paperback, excellent condition
  • Lichtheim's comparatively recent and extremely scholarly set of books are comprised of the translation of a variety of historically and culturally important Egyptian texts throughout the span of the classically considered Ancient Egyptian state. These texts range from religious funerary texts to tomb biographies of prominent figures, medical papyri and records of international diplomacy, trade and conquest.

Petrie, W.M. Flinders ed. Egyptian Tales: Translated from the Papyri. Dover Publications, Inc. : Mineola,1999. (unabridged republication of the two-volume 1895 translations)

  • Paperback, slightly worn corners but very good condition
  • Petrie was the first truly rigorous excavator and archaeologist to explore Egypt ; to the present, he remains one of the best, brightest, most innovative and fascinating Egyptologists of any period. This popular volume contains translations of a variety of more plot-oriented texts spanning the Old Kingdom-Late Period. The translations are accurate, yet accessible, and each tale is followed by a brief discussion of the text, its provenance and possible interpretations. It's both a fun read and extraordinarily informative.


The Egyptian Language
(sample out of 9 titles)

Allen, James P. Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

  • Paperback, creased spine, much-fingered and worn pages

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.

  • Paper-bound with combed pages, excellent condition
  • Lettre à M. Dacer qualifies as one of my treasures. This volume is a beautiful reproduction of Champollion's 1822 letter to the Secretary of the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres after he decoded the Rosetta Stone. The scholarship is obviously somewhat outdated, but as the modern postlude outlines in greater detail for modern readers, the historiographic significance of the work is overwhelming, and its influences on any modern studies within Egyptology are far-reaching. My boss picked this up for me as a gift when she visited the Louvre three years ago.


Specific Themes,
Periods and Perspectives within Egyptology

(sample out of 19 titles)

Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten: King of Egypt. Thames and Hudson, Ltd.: London, U.K., 1988.

  • Paperback, somewhat creased spine, highlighting on some pages

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.

  • Hardback, excellent condition with beautiful illustrations

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.

  • Hardback, excellent condition

Partridge, Robert B. Faces of Pharaohs: Royal Mummies and Coffins from Ancient Thebes. The Rubicon Press: London, U.K., 1994.

  • Paperback, excellent condition, black and white photographs of mummies interspersed on non-glossy pages
  • This book was written by a physician who examined the Deir el-Bahri mummy cache via modern radiographic techniques. The degrees of probable blood-relatedness between members of the royal family, mis-identification of mummies by later generations, illnesses and probable causes of death are all discussed at length.

Quirke, Stephen. Ancient Egyptian Religion. Dover Publications, Inc.: New York, 1992.

  • Paperback, excellent condition


Historiographically Important Materials

Budge, E.A. Wallis. Budge's Egypt: A Classic 19th-Century Travel Guide. General Publishing Company, Ltd.: Toronto, Canada, 2001.

  • Unabridged reprint of

Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Nile: Notes for Travellers in Egypt. Thos. Cook & Son: London, England,1890.

  • Paperback, excellent condition, inscription on title page
  • Budge was the unscrupulous Collector of Antiquities for the British Museum during the Victorian era. At one point, the colonial authorities in Egypt, both British and French, grew so weary of Budge's complicity in the illegal antiquities market that the French Director of Antiquities for Egypt forbade this robber-archaeologist to leave the country with any more antiquities. The Director of Antiquities then sent a large group of gendarmes to Budge's hotel to make sure the British Museum employee boarded his ship within the week without any artefacts. Budge distracted the police officers with a large meal while his henchmen dug a tunnel through the hotel's basement wall and smuggled antiques to the ship through this tunnel. This travel guide is typical of Budge's popular works on the antiquities of Egypt; it is engaging, riddled with inaccuracies and extremely colonialist in perspective. The book provides an interesting view into the Victorian understanding of Egypt, which, for ill or for good, continues to influence scholarship today.

Gilbert, Katharine Stoddert Gilbert, Joan K. Holt and Sara Hudson eds. Treasures of Tutankhamun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 1976.

  • Paperback, good condition, faded spine
  • One of my prizes is this volume, one of a limited-edition run printed for the unique 1976 tour of Tutankhamun's funerary goods through major American cities. The book catalogues the entire collection in detail, contains articles on Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb and Tutankhamun himself as well as a large quantity of color photos. A friend of mine obtained this book from a huge used-book sale for $3 and gave it to me.

(sample out of 19 books)

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).

  • Hardback, worn jacket, pages slightly grubby on the edges, binding slightly loose, overall good condition
  • A Ph.D. alumna of the U. of C.'s Oriental Institute Egyptology program, Barbara Mertz has written two popular volumes on Egyptology in addition to a large corpus of mystery novels under her pen name Elizabeth Peters. The Amelia Peabody mysteries are set in the Victorian period with a husband-wife Egyptologist duo who solve mysteries. It's candy for the egyptophile, and surprizingly well-researched.