Egyptomania: A History of Fascination Obsession and Fantasy by Ronald H. Fritze

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Abstract

Ronald H. Fritze is a professor of History and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Athens State University, and author of several books on controversial issues. Fritze is not an Egyptologist and he does not try to make a book for scholars. His purpose is to write a book intended for the general public on a fascinating topic: Egyptomania.

Egyptomania is a phenomenon that goes back to Antiquity and persists up to the present; it manifests itself in a fascination that sometimes outweighs the actual ancient Egyptian civilization. Egyptomania is not a “perjorative term” (10) as Fritze says, but sometimes it takes on bizarre contours.

In this book, the author shows how some of the most striking and founding features of the ancient Egyptian civilization have been apprehended and then used, over time, by different political powers and organizations. In other words, he tells the story of the evolution of Egyptomania.

The book's tone is set immediately in the Introduction: “Egyptomania can take a scholarly form, but it is also a widespread and persistent aspect of popular culture” (9). What seems to interest the author are the reasons for the popularity of this phenomenon in popular culture. To achieve this purpose, in chapter one Fritze presents a synopsis of the history of ancient Egypt — including sections entitled “Environment,” “The How of Ancient Egyptian History,” and “A Chronological Overview of Ancient Egypt” — to supply readers with an elementary knowledge of Egyptian civilization.

After this brief presentation, he begins to demonstrate how various peoples and cultures have encountered Egypt throughout history: the Hebrews and the biblical account of the Exodus, which present Egypt as a land of oppression; the Greeks who, on the contrary, showed respect and admiration for that civilization as they considered it to be a source of wisdom, and of civilizational and artistic archetypes; the Romans, less enthusiastic than the Greeks, but still “assimilating” Egyptian beliefs and showing respect; the period from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West to the Renaissance, when the knowledge of the ancient Egyptian civilization was “lost” after the temples closed and the knowledge of hieroglyphic writing faded; the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment with the rediscovery of the classical world and of the authors who wrote about Egypt; the expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt and its consequences for the rediscovery of ancient Egypt, including the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the deciphering of hieroglyphs by Jean-François Champollion; the manifestations of Egyptomania in Europe after the decipherment of hieroglyphic writing, the beginning of the first archaeological voyages, and the first publications of fiction; the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun and its consequences on the growth of archaeology in Egypt; the emergence of hermetic “sects” — Masons, Rosicrucians and Theosophists; Egypt and disappeared civilizations; the election of Egypt as a primordial and structurant civilization; the representation of Egypt in novels and films.

On the last page of his postscript Frinze states: “Why Egypt is so attactive in popular culture remains something of a mystery, but its existence is undeniable” (377). As an Egyptologist, I dare to make explicit that popular culture's fascination with Egypt derives first and foremost from the easy and immediate recognition of its writing, its architecture, its painting, etc. — that is to say the recognition of a Culture, with a unique visibility distinguishing it from all others, existing and known.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-150
Number of pages2
JournalCanadian Journal of History
Volume53
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Egyptomania,
  • cultures
  • peoples

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