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Book Review: Treasury of Egyptian Mythology
Publisher: National Geographic
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Illustrator: Christina Balit
Pages: 192 pp
Price: $24.95 US
"The God Ra sprang to life with a word already in his mouth. More bubbled up. Words now crowded his mouth. They trampled his tongue and pushed against his teeth, his lips. He had so many words to enunciate. The need hammered at him. ...."
I have loved Egyptian mythology since I was a child. So many great and beautiful Goddesses. So many fascinating, wonderful names. So many amazing tales filled with magic and adventure. For quite a while there, I wasn't sure if I would end up Kemetic or Hellenic. While I do identify today as Hellenic, I still find myself writing poems for and dreaming about the Gods of the Nile.
I was thrilled, then, when I found out that the creative team behind Treasury of Greek Mythology -- one of my favorite books and one I highly recommend -- was releasing a companion volume about Egyptian myth, I think I squealed. Out loud. Yep, pretty sure there was a squeal.
It does not disappoint. Treasury of Egyptian Mythology is both entertaining and educational; the Preface, for instance, uses the name of Djehuty/Tehuti/Thoth to explain the evolution of Egyptian Deity names and how they came to be translated into Greek, then English. Another chapter discusses Egyptian funerary rites, while an extensive bibliography will point curious readers to more sources.
The majority of the book is composed of sixteen separate chapters which profile individual Deities, while simultaneously weaving the sometimes disparate and competing elements of Egyptian myth into a complex, coherent whole. For instance, the chapter on Ra includes the creation of Hut Heru/Hathor and her role as his eye, which is referenced in the chapter on Hut Heru herself, which in turn leads directly into the chapter on Sekhmet/Sachmis; this allows the creative team to explore the relationship between Ra and Hut Heru, her evolution into Sekhmet, and finally the nature of ma'at.
"Hut-Heru walked forward, the gentle one, Ra's trusted eye. But Sekhmet existed now -- the other aspect of Hut Heru -- the fire-spitting eye of Ra, the solar lady of flame that seared everyone at midday. This Sekhmet was the abyss of all fears since the beginning of time, while Hut Heru was love incarnate. That duality felt natural to Sekhmet-Hut Heru; together they were a balance of nature, as Ma'at preached. At the call of divine justice, Sekhmet could spring forth as lioness, ever-ready to protect Egypt against enemies from within or without. But she would also appear just because she wanted to. That was the beauty of existence. Random, rogue, freak."
Napoli's text is sing-song, rising and falling, images flowing one into the other, beautiful and terrible. Balit's illustrations perfectly match the text. For instance, Set with his desert-red skin and claws and sharp teeth and snarling snout, clutching at his belly as it burns with envy and hate; Inpu/Anubis with his blue-black jackal head highlighted in gold; Tehuti crouched at the front of Ra's solar barque with scribal tools in his hands, the sun and moon behind him. I particularly love the two-page spread of Khnum kneeling before his potter's wheel, the multi-colored jar which sits atop it spouting water which becomes the Nile.
Two final qualifications; or maybe, cautionary notes. First, devotees of Set may be disappointed; while honored as a God of strength and willpower by the modern Kemetic community, Set is presented here as a God consumed by hate and anger and jealousy. Secondly, Napoli offers a coherent vision of Egyptian myth; as such, she has smoothed out many of the rough edges and inconsistencies which were a natural part of the ancient, indigenous, locally-born spirituality.
Despite those qualifications, I highly recommend Treasury of Egyptian Mythology. It would make a fantastic addition to any public or personal library, or a great gift to anyone interested in the subject.
Now ... when can we expect the volumes about Norse, Celtic, Chinese, Hawaiian, Japanese and so on and so forth mythologies? Please?
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