Monday, January 4, 2010

The song remains the same...but somehow sounds different

I just finished a really amazing and somehow expansive, (at least for my little noggin') book on ancient egypt. Aptly titled The Egyptian, by Finnish writer Mika Waltari, it's a fictionalized story of the incredible journeys of a doctor during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten at the end-(ish) of the New Kingdom. What that means in terms of timeline is that Ancient Egypt still had hundreds of years to go as a hugely influential and powerful realm, but was on its way out.

The book itself was written at the tail end of the second world word, an interesting fact in and of itself due to the history of Finland in relation to its surroundings at the time. Both the writer and his subject matter were wrapped up in distinctively intense and turbulent environments. Perhaps this is why Waltari chose Ancient Egypt to study - the difference between a civilization that endured for 3,000 years and the strange global village? entity? smear? that is experienced now is so vast that maybe he was able to find a much-needed escape penning the tale he did.

And the tale is one worth paying attention to, not only because Pharaoh Akhenaten was a fascinating character who pushed gender boundaries and spiritual concerns further than we might ever comprehend standing on this side of history. For me, it was the position I had on the other bank of the creek of time, the crack that opens into another world, that was the most enriching.

For years I have waited to become passionate about the history of things from a broader perspective than a basic understanding of art and music in Western Europe. Here, then, in this book, is my gateway. I have always been overwhelmed by the shape of things, and how despite thousands and thousands of years, so much remains the same. Suddenly, simultaneously, I want to know more of the details of the sameness of things. It's clear that ego and lust and greed and joy and love and pain and oxen and shovels and sheep and your brother all effect the outcome of each day, year, group of folks. But the Egyptian brought me sensually closer to the specifics of these generalizations for certain people - the linen, the smell of myrrh, the difficulties of practicing medicine during wars with chariots...

And similar to how I might respond to a slap in the face by a mostly-friendly stranger, I feel awoken. The trickle of human history and how it trails to the life I understand. A deeper sense of where the spill is coming in and in turn how to describe it to those around me, or just my own lone-some self. Collections of stories for the basins of water surrounding us.

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