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A very confused book
on 2 December 2012
Egyptian mythology fluctuates along Egypt's three thousand years of history. Mother becomes wife or daughter, powers and physical attributes alter, etc. For example in the Old Kingdom Horus' mother is Hathor, while she is Isis in the Middle Kingdom, Hathor taking charge of other tasks.
Thus, for the sake of clarity and for a better understanding of the evolution of the Egyptian's mind and beliefs, it would have been a good idea to present a whole coherent set of myths, epoch by epoch. On the contrary, here the author presents one sort of myth at a time, putting in each all the deities involved in the 3000 years of evolution, as well as the side stories and different versions of the main story, which often becomes very confusing. Besides, this impedes any historic learning for those who, like me, know too little about Egyptian history.
I was also disappointed by the fact that J. Tyldesley does not translate the myths herself. Worse, she does not even respect the translations she uses ; she candidly explains (p.346) "where it seemed appropriate that the Egyptians should be allowed to speak for themselves, I have used direct translations". She does not even explain when She thinks that the Egyptians should express themselves directly. I don't care about Tyldesley's interpretations of Egyptian mythology, and I have much more respect for the likes of A. George who let the Sumerians and Babylonians present their versions of Gilgamesh (he translates their texts himself, does his best not to distort their voices, and has the humility to not even fill the numerous gaps between two readable portions of a text, thus respecting them and us).
There is one point though, where I would have liked to read J. Tyldesley's point of view, but she never expressed herself about it. I mean the book is all along tainted with homophobia... Since the Egyptians speak only when J. Tyldesley allows them to do so, we do not know if this homophobia comes from J. Tyldesley or from Egyptian taboos. Since Egyptians accepted incestuous brother-sister couples as Pharaohs, and since one of their main gods -Seth- killed his own brother, while it took years of other Seth's treacherous deeds for the gods to decide that Seth could not be king after all, they might also have accepted homosexual relationships, though some texts seem to prove the opposite ; if not, J. Tyldesley should have said a word to distance herself from Egyptian's homophobia.
One example of this cunning way of expressing homophobia while letting the reader hypothesizing about its origin is given p.262, where J. Tyldesley asserts that the king Ptolemy XII's nickname "Auletes (the flute player) [...] is more likely to have been a decidedly unflattering reference to his sexual proclivities." Even though Ptolemy XII was of Macedonian descent (like Alexander the great and his lifelong love Hephaestion), and really was a good and passionate flutist frequently engaged in some sorts of flute contests... Flute mastery is not necessarily the most important attribute for a pharaoh, so there was no need to see homophobia in this ironic nickname.
And there are plenty of these examples where the open-minded reader (at least me) feels insulted.
While the author never says a word against homophobia, she incessantly adds a feminist bias in her presentation and, in all likelihood, in her choice of the texts she presents. I do not criticize her feminist bias, but since she so often put the women in the foreground (even devoting the third part of the book to "The great goddesses" -no part for the great gods-), she could have spent one line to reassure the gays about her non-hostility.
My three stars come from three assets of the book. First, as its title indicate, it contains many myths and legends directly translated (though by others). They appear all through the book, but mostly in its fourth/last part. I enjoyed most of them. I was particularly moved by the magnificent "Great Hymn to the Aten".
Second, there are a comprehensive index and a "glossary of the major gods and heroes mentioned" which were of great help to me throughout my reading.
At last, this is a beautiful book, with 25 color photos inside and hard-wearing pages. It is rare to find such a qualitative edition at this price.