As the century progressed, British Museum curators gradually secured the Egyptian objects of carnivals and private collections in their carefully controlled public facility. However, one item baffled them—a three-foothigh chunk of black basalt bearing parallel inscriptions in Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and demotic characters. Enthusiasts of every kind were fighting to claim the lost knowledge of the stone. Meanwhile, adventurers set out to grab what remained of the physical history of Egypt.
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Giovanni Battista Belzoni opened new horizons for the display of ancient Egypt in the course of his extraordinary career. In , the adventurous Belzoni traveled to Egypt to convince Muhammad Ali, the fierce Macedonian ruler bent on modernizing his country, to adopt a waterwheel project.
When an ill-starred demonstration snapped the leg of his assistant, the undaunted Belzoni hatched an even more audacious scheme. The former circus giant proposed bringing the colossal head of a fallen statue of Ramses II from Thebes to England. Napoleon had coveted the great head during his campaign, but the feat of transporting an object weighing close to eight tons had eluded him. The daring Belzoni set forth on a quest to accomplish what Napoleon could not: he would haul this glorious symbol of the past to London.
After a series of mishaps that would have stopped a less determined man, he finally got the head on a ship bound for England. Egyptian corpses first appeared in western literature in the accounts of Renaissance travelers like John Sanderson. An agent of the Turkey Company, Sanderson was commissioned to search Egyptian tombs for mummies that could fetch handsome prices in Europe.
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In , Sanderson and his companions descended into a dark cavern in the mummy pits outside of Cairo. They walked over a jumble of bodies, breaking off heads and appendages along the way. Sanderson could have sold embalmed body parts to an apothecary who would crush them into powder for medicine used to cure conditions ranging from vertigo to epilepsy. Medieval doctors thought mummy medicine particularly effective for problems associated with the female reproductive system. They prescribed it to induce abortion, prevent conception, and bring on missed menstrual cycles.
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Karl H. Dannenfeldt reports that exasperated Egyptian officials tried to prohibit the export of mummies for this purpose. They were horrified by the violation of graves and felt that Christians were not worthy of eating the dead bodies of Egyptians Dannenfeldt In a gruesome twist, traders sometimes passed off fresh corpses as mummies when they could not come up with the original article. From a psychological point of view, the desire to eat dead Egyptians makes perverse sense. Mummies, like the bodies of women, represent the magical link between life and death.
They symbolize both the fecundity of the soil of Egypt and the barrenness of the sepulchers and deserts. Shrouds wrapped tightly over naked flesh tempt the viewer with sensuous enjoyment and the thrill of violation.
Whispers and Shadows: Volume I: An Exquisite Corpse by Thomas Grey
In The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle observes that the mysterious scrolls covered with hieroglyphs hidden among their creases suggest forbidden knowledge, identifying the mummy with the folds and recesses of the vagina Pringle —5. Eating mummies makes literal what looking at them achieves metaphorically. It turns the fears and repulsion associated with the female body into something appetizing.
After Napoleon brought a pair of mummified heads back from Egypt, wealthy collectors across Europe began to take tea in their parlors with embalmed corpses. He stripped naked to squeeze through a cavity in the rock and then slid through a narrow passage into a mother lode of mummies. Belzoni describes this event in his Narratives, conjuring a scene straight out of a gothic novel: A vast quantity of dust rises. I could taste that the mummies were rather unpleasant to swallow.
I sunk altogether among the broken mummies, with a crash of bones, rags, and wooden cases, which raised such a dust as kept me motionless for a quarter of an hour. I could not remove from the place, however, without increasing it, and every step I took I crushed a mummy in some part or other.
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It was choked with mummies, and I could not pass without putting my face in contact with that of some decayed Egyptian. I could not avoid being covered with bones, legs, arms, and heads rolling from above. Thus I proceeded from one cave to another, all full of mummies piled up in various ways, some standing, some lying, and some on their heads.
His account of the horror of swallowing mummies conveys the fear of contamination by foreign bodies. The ghastly mummies piled helter-skelter evoke a sense of reproduction gone wrong, turning the tomb into a horrifically fertile womb. Far away from Egyptian tombs, crowds gathered in the public spaces of London to see mummies punished for their monstrosity.
The popular mummy striptease was one of the most bizarre spectacles a Londoner could observe on a Sunday outing. Showmen at various venues put on public mummy unwrappings, often, as Pringle notes, to the music of a brass band. She emphasizes that it was not just the jostling riffraff who came to enjoy the show. Poets, princes, and scientists all became eager voyeurs as the objects of fear and desire were mutilated and then discarded In , the London Times published an account of the unrolling of the mummy of a young woman of twenty-one. Birch of the British Museum lectured as he began to loosen linen bandages.
Through this dissection, the British Museum turns the female body into the object of all-seeing science, claiming ownership through an acceptable form of pornographic spectatorship. Mummy dissectors became celebrities. Egypt enthusiast Warren R. Dawson wrote an article for the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology in describing the well-known dissector Thomas Joseph Pettigrew.
When Belzoni asked the surgeon to help examine some of his mummies, a life-long love affair began. Persons of both sexes gathered to view knees covered with lustrous lotus-shaped gold pieces and gilded toes cased in delicate sandals.
ncof.co.uk/paz-en-la-guerra-reconciliacin.php It was as if the bejeweled body of Cleopatra herself had been captured and laid out on the table for all to enjoy. In , Pettigrew joined the new British Archaeological Association, whose annual congresses climaxed with a mummy unrolling. In a final flourish, the doctor raised his saw and hacked off the back of the skull. In fiction, mummies would get their revenge by chasing Englishmen through the vaults of their psyches.
Looking East in the Victorian Age In , the ambitious Muhammad Ali declared his intention to make Egypt and Syria independent of Ottoman rule, causing British concern about commerce and military links with the Far East.
Egyptomania was declining among the upper classes, but the masses were more enthusiastic than ever. Prominent public events fed the middle-class passion for ancient Egypt, such as the erection of the Luxor Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde in International fairs provided a new venue for Europeans seeking entertainment and edification, and no fair was complete without a lavish Egyptian exhibition.
The Crystal Palace, a colossal iron and glass structure designed to house the exhibit, included a series of elaborate courts that gave millions the chance to view the art and architecture of various historical periods— the world under one British roof. The most awe-inspiring was the Egyptian Court where visitors could immerse themselves in a simulated experience of ancient Egypt and then retire for tea and cakes.
It featured a replica of an Egyptian temple that visitors approached through a grand avenue of sphinxes, carrying them back, as a guidebook explained, through forty centuries of history. Other exhibition venues like the Elephant Pavilion at the Antwerp Zoo —56 , based on the temples of Philae, expressed the ancient continuing association of Egypt with the bestial and the bizarre.
By the s, many middle-class travelers could afford to see Egyptian monuments for themselves. Steamships carried voyagers from Southampton to Alexandria in just fifteen days. Enthusiastic travelers filled diaries with their observations and sketches, sending home boatloads of letters and postcards of the most impressive Egyptian sights.
Among important family papers and mementoes, Mary had saved eighty-four postcards collected during a trip to Egypt, including color scenes of Cairo, Edfou, Karnak, Philae, Thebes, and the Nile. The postcards are housed at the Virginia Historical Society headquarters in Richmond. One such expedition was mounted in by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette who explored Saqqara, the burial ground of Apis bulls sacred to the god Ptah.
Like the fairy tale Aladdin, he dug under the earth until he discovered a beautiful door. When he pried it open, Mariette was astonished to see the tomb of Apis filled with a breathtaking array of granite coffins. Mariette, who had won them in a near-fatal scuffle with an Egyptian governor, refused. The Grammar of Ornament, by Victorian designer and illustrator Owen Jones , reissued in with color plates , was considered a masterpiece of nineteenth-century color printing.
The volume included thousands of examples of ornamental motifs and designs, many drawn from antiquity. One plate presented Egyptian column capitals sprouting curved lotus leaves painted in vivid greens, golds, and reds. Jones, as influential as Frank Lloyd Wright in his day, had traveled to the Middle East on a grand tour as a young man and had overseen eastern displays in the Great Exhibition. He joined forces with several of the most prominent London decorative firms in designing wallpapers, silks, carpets, and paper items carrying detailed Egyptian and Persian motifs.
Manufacturers were not so fastidious about historical accuracy. They adapted the sublime style of ancient Egypt to add charm to various objects. For example, an Egyptian Revival automaton singing bird box produced in France made little chirping noises when opened. Garden decorating books such as those compiled by the French horticulturalist Boitard inspired Egyptian-themed fern stands and benches festooned with cobras.