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Book Review: Reflections of Osiris


I’ve just finished reading Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt by John Ray. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book originally. I thought it could be dull or completely unhelpful to hear stories of people who had lived in AE. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the book. Ray writes a lot like Barbara Mertz and that makes the book more enjoyable for me- as the text isn’t so academic and dry.

The book opens with a general intro discussing how the book is to be laid out, chronology, names and all that. And by this point, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The book covers people throughout various periods of history in Egypt including:

  • Imhotep
  • Hekanakhte
  • Hapshepsut
  • Horemheb
  • Khaemwise
  • Petiese
  • Nectanebo II
  • Hor of Sebennytos and his friends (all in the Serapeum)

Now most of these stories I had already heard. We all know about Imhotep, the angry mummy who wants his woman back awesome guy who helped build the pyramids. And you can’t read anything without hearing about the ‘female king’ Hapshepsut. And I had even heard of Hekanakhte through Mertz and Petiese from Sauneron. And the people at the Serapeum are very well known (this relates to two twins who were slighted by their mother. In order to save themselves from starvation, they become part of the cult of Apis at the Serapeum).

However, despite knowing most of these stories and people- this book really does cast them in a different light. Most times, the history around these people is presented in a very cut and dry method. So and so did this, this, that, and that. And that’s it. However, Ray does a great job at making the stories more engaging, and bringing the characters to life. He also discusses these people in a more indirect way. He doesn’t just talk about the people- he discusses what is going on at the time in Egypt. He shows how the political events of the era could influence the people we are reading about. He puts the people in their time and place- and paints a much broader picture than most historians. And for me, these stories seemed more real; they had more depth to them. And in some ways, I understood a bit more about how things can be effected by the surrounding areas.

Here are a few interesting quotes I saw:

“This predecessor was Osiris, a god who can be thought of as the photographic negative of the sun god: a being who had ruled on earth, been put to death by the machinations of evil and disruptive forces, and who passed into a new life as the light below the earth, ruler and judge of the dead who are in the Underworld”

“On his death, the kind was known officially as Osiris the nesu, followed by the throne-name (given at coronation). The second name, the one written with the bee-hieroglyph (given at birth), ceases to exist. On earth, the king had a dual nature, corresponding to the emanation of the divine which was present within his temporal, human, dimension. The latter would grow old, infirm, and die. The former was immortal. Pharaoh was, literally, a god-king.”

“Amun, in upwardly mobile style, got rid of his first wife, a goddess named Wosret, who was the theological equivalent of the girl next door. Instead, he contracted an alliance with one of the most distinguished ladies in the land, the goddess Mut, the embodiment of motherhood. Like her husband, this goddess was somewhat bland in essence, and this made the pair ideal for usurping the roles of more defined, and therefore more limited, rivals. A less cynical school of thought holds that there was no divorce, and that Wosret and Mut are the same goddess going under different names, but if so, we are still dealing with an attempt to upgrade the original product.”

As you can tell by the quotes above, the writing style is approachable and easy to read. And in many cases, you feel like the author is being straight with you. He doesn’t have an agenda to push, or any theories he’s trying to prove. He’s just telling you how it is. I particularly liked the mention at the end of Nectanebo’s chapter- where he relays that the reason we don’t have the end of the story is because the young boy who was translating the story got bored, and decided to draw some weird doodle face instead.

If I had to give any critique to the book, it would be that I wanted to hear more about Osiris. I understand why the author chose the name that he did. And I know the book is more about the people than the god- but there was a chapter at the end about Asar, and it was severely lacking. I would really really really like to find a book that actually goes into the deity himself. The other thing that might be an issue for some is that the stories/people covered in this book are pretty well known. I have no clue if we have records of people who are more obscure- but it would be cool to see stories that are less well known.

However, I feel that the book is worth reading, and it offers a slightly different perspective than most. The book is more useful for historical references and ideas than for religious ones, but I still think there is interesting information in it.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Kemetic Book Reviews, Kemeticism

 

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Book Review: Abydos

Today I will be reviewing the book “Abydos: Egypt’s First Pharaohs and the Cult of Osiris” written by David O’Connor which can be found here.

If you have any interest in Abydos or early Egyptian tombs/structures, this would be a good book for you. The information is well written and seems to be pretty bias free. The author is very good at stating what we know, what we don’t know, and his thoughts on what might have happened. He doesn’t present his theories as truths- which is something a lot of authors have a problem with. For this reason alone, I would recommend this book. However, there is a lot of useful information in general. I learned quite a bit about Abydos- it’s structures, it’s history. The only thing I would have liked to have learned more about is Osiris- his cult and how his cult interacted with Khentiamentiu. However, there is still a fair amount of information regarding Osiris’ cult and his temple (I just want to know MOAR).

He goes in depth about the history of Abydos- from dynasty 0 all the way to the Late Period. He discusses various building projects there, talks about the layout and designs of many of the temples, the anomalies of some of the structures and what we can learn from them. Considering that Abydos is usually only mentioned as being “Osiris’ city” or the place where Seti built that big temple with the kings list- it’s nice to see a more in depth approach. Of course, as O’Connor mentions in his book- you find some answers, only to come up with more questions. I, too, have more questions for having read this book, but I have more answers too.

A particular quote that I liked:

┬áThe vast cemetery field comprising the Middle and North cemeteries and Umm el Qa’ab was personified as Hapetnebes, “Shoe who hides her lord”, a term peculiar to Abydos. The endless, open desert plain of Abydos was imagined to be a goddess, generated by & embodied in the landscape itself. “She who hides her lord” was complex in meaning. At one level, this goddess as landscape literally hid and thus protected Osiris himself- buried at Umm el Qa’ab – as well as his countless followers, eash one also an Osiris entombed in the Abydene cemeteries. But Hapetnebes was also a more positive force in that Osiris, buried within her, experienced revitalization or rebirth every year. In this perspective, “She who hides her lord’ is virtually lanscape conceited of as a mother goddess, in whose womb lies the potential for and actualization of life. She thus relates to the subtle interplay of meaning btwn desert and floodplain in the prototypical Egyptian landscape. The desert, seemingly dead, generates life for Osiris and deceased Egyptians; and thus relates to those more obvious manifestations of vitatlity and reproduction, the inundation and consequent vegetation, both seen as manifestations of Osiris’ capacity to regenerate.

He also discussed a bit about what we modernly call the Mysteries of Osiris. As I mentioned in on of my last posts, it was common for the Mysteries to involve a procession that started at Osiris’ temple and worked towards Umm el Qa’ab- what was believed to be Osiris’ tomb. During the procession, agents of Set would try to stop these people by attacking them. Of course, Osiris’ “team” would win, and they’d make their way to the tomb where rituals were more than likely done. This was also an interesting tidbit to learn.

I think for me, besides the two nuggets above, the biggest help this book served for me was to learn about early dynastic pharaohs. Most authors completely skip over early and pre-dynastic Egypt. More or less saying that they were there, stopping to look at Menes, Scorpion King, Narmer Pallete… and then moving on. If you’re lucky, you might see “Naqada” listed. However, O’Connor does go pretty deep into early dynastic goings on in Abydos (at least in regards to the structures there). So I feel like I’ve had a huge history gap somewhat filled. I know that this comes with the territory- Abydos housing tombs for early kings and all, but it was still nice.

Overall, I would recommend this book. It’s well written. Has good info. And if you’re into Osiris or Abydos in general- it helps to give a more complete picture of both. The author is respectful of his subject matter, and I think he approaches the topics that he discusses really really well. So go read it!

See this review on Pagan Book Review!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Kemetic Book Reviews, Kemeticism

 

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