BEFORE THE SPHINX: Early Egypt by Robert Silverberg


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It is possible now to do what Petrie was unable to do in 1894: to write an extensive account of how Egypt took form, to discuss the early Pharoahs with the confidence that we are talking about actual historical figures, and to describe in detail the impressive artistic and cultural achievements of Egypt at the beginning of its greatness."" Thus concludes the third chapter, by which point Mr. Silverberg has encapsuled his project, outlined his procedure, discussed the sources of our new knowledge of an old time, established its dynastic and epochal boundaries, and chronicled the progress of historical and archaeological scholarship from before Herodotus to ""the new generation of native-born Egyptian Egyptologists."" Now he reconstructs the sequence of circumstances that brought pre-dynastic Egypt toward unification, introducing and analyzing the foreign-invasion hypothesis en route, and next come ""The Early Pharaohs"" with whom the counting of dynasties first begins: ""It is a mistake to think that the emergence of the First Dynasty signifies any sudden leap...into civilization"" since a mature heritage had been evolving all the while; indeed ""In his own eyes Hot-aha must have appeared to be the culminating figure of a great and ancient civilization, not as the forerunner of a new way of life."" Silverberg moves with commensurate orderliness through the Second, Third, and Fourth Dynasties, blending the evidence of excavation with the variously reliable written records to integrate social, political, and religious patterns of culture. Finally, Imhotep's creation of ""A House for the Ka"" (soul or spirit) of Zoser leads into ""Sphinx and Pyramids"" and the Sphinx and the Pyramids -- of Gizeh -- upon whose completion the neatly circumscribed study of earliest Egypt closes. Uninflected and self-sufficient, it's an excercise in synthetic scholarship, developmental and detailed at once, and mature.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1971
Publisher: Nelson