Friday, October 16, 2015

Jumbled facts about Egyptian history

No matter how hard I tried to arrange the dynasties and the succession of pharaohs and gods in my head, I found it impossible to keep them straight. I never knew who was historical and who was mythological. The endless facts I read in guidebooks, the recitations I heard from guides, tended to sit in a tangled muddle in my head. More than the monuments and the kings and the gods, I was interested in the history of the simple Egyptian people, how they had lived their days. I didn’t care much about Sobek and Horus, but I liked knowing that wealthy women in ancient Egypt had been obsessed with beautifying their hair and had regularly rubbed it with all manner of curious potions—hippopotamus fat, powdered donkey’s teeth mixed with honey, the juice of juniper berries—and they decorated it with fine combs and flower blossoms. Sometimes they shaved their heads completely and wore wigs. I liked knowing that the prophet Muhammad was fond of cats and that he preferred to cut off the flowing sleeves of his robe rather than wake a cat that had fallen asleep on it. I liked knowing that when an Egyptian house cat died, the entire household shaved their eyebrows in mourning; when a dog died they shaved their entire bodies; and when an important man died, his female relatives smeared their heads and faces with mud and marched around the town beating their bared breasts. I was delighted to know that in the embalming process, the ancient Egyptians pulled the dead man’s brains through his nose with an iron hook, and that at the end of a nice dinner party it was the custom for a man to wander around the room carrying a small coffin containing the image of a corpse, showing it to each guest and exhorting: "Look on this body as you drink and enjoy yourself; for you will be just like it when you are dead."
Rosemary Mahoney, Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2007), p. 132.

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