"Thus open the gates of paradise."

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The Splendour That Was Egypt

06 Apr 2002

Who: Margaret Murray

What: The Splendour That Was Egypt

Where: Balfour Books, College Street, Toronto

When: Good Friday (April), 2000

Why: If you pick up almost any book on Egyptian mummies, you're sure to find one of Margaret Murray from 1908. She has just unwrapped one the The Two Brothers (currently staying at the Manchester Museum). One of the Brothers is lying on a table in front of her, mostly bones in a bed of linen. She is wearing a dark blouse and a white apron. There are two gentlemen at either end of the mummy, and a woman holding a notebook behind them all. They are all looking into the camera with a look common to people in photographs of that era -- they look somber and wary.

Murray was a contemporary of Flinders Petrie, and since she was connected to the Manchester Museum where I had recently spent some time, I was curious to see what she had to say for herself. The book was first published in 1949, though my copy dates from 1964. It's a lovely contrast to the slicker, more recent works you can find in your local bookstore. Facing the title page is a painting of the gold coffin of Tut-ankh-Amon; modern books seldom use paintings except in a historical context, and never bother to hyphenate the names. The text is surprisingly readable, and covers many aspects of Egyptian culture: history, social conditions, religion, literature, science.

A fair photo of the Narmer palette appears as plate LXVIII, front and back on the same page.