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The Historian as Party Animal

History: On learning from and writing history

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1Urquhart
Edited: Aug 31, 2011, 11:29am Top

I love reading history and books about history, however, I believe it is extremely rare that I run across historians that have a real palpable joy in their topic and desire for sharing it. While many people seem predisposed to use knowledge and facts as a means of erecting a pedestal for themselves or carving out a cudgel, I believe it is extremely rare to run across an author who just vibrates with their joy of the topic and the desire to share it.

Herewith, two examples of same:

1-Wendy Doniger (O'Flaherty),
------Doniger holds the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Chair in History of Religions at the University of Chicago; She gained her first Ph.D. from Harvard University in June 1968,
----The book that I have read of hers is the The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin Press, 2009. 789 pp.
----She is an authority who not only knows her stuff but also obvious is her desire to share it.

2-Barbara Mertz
------Has a Ph.D from the University of Chicago in Egyptology,
------Has written two books on Egyptology that I have read:Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt and Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt in addition to a very large number of detective novels that I have also read.
------

An example of not taking oneself too seriously can be found in her book Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt; p. 316,
------
Those of us who are interested in Egyptology engage in this sort of guesswork all the time; it is going to be a blow to us if Akhenaten's mummey ever does turn up, because we enjoy our fantasies immensely, particularly when we label them "theories" and get into exciting arguments with other archaeologists."
------

Both authors write on topics about which I know absolutely nothing, and yet the manner of their writing and their eagerness to share the joy are unique in my experience, and understandably very infectious.

Do you know what I am talking about and can you name other authors that are really able to communicate their joy of history?

Ur.

Edited to include example with quote.

2lawpark
Aug 30, 2011, 8:54pm Top

I happen to have read more than half of Doniger's book - I agree with your comments. BUT, on say Amazon, she somehow got very bad reviews. Somehow her "willingness to share her thoughts" style is read by some as "Hindu-hating"!!!

Among history books - my all-time favorite is Marshall Hodgson's The Venture of Islam. He is very professorial but also very thoughtful / analytical. Clearly he is passionate about the topic, but somehow it is hidden behind his intellectual brilliance.

I just recently bought a book by F.W.Mote named Imperial China 900-1800. He is old school, but on reading just the first two chapters he does have some of the characteristics of what you are talking about - exudes enthusiasm in his subjects. (Though his judgment on one particular issue I find a little bizarre.)

3Cynara
Sep 6, 2011, 1:43pm Top

Ah, I love Mertz - both her fiction and her non-fiction work as Michaels and Peters. Red Land, Black Land and Temples, Tombs, and Heiroglyphs are superbly readable. If they hadn't been written, I would want to write them myself (not that I could).

4Judith_Starkston
Sep 6, 2011, 4:12pm Top

I've always enjoyed Mertz's fiction and I'm glad to know her book on Egypt is lovely. I know next to nothing about ancient Egypt but own fiction writing may gradually lead me in a direction that I'll need to fill in that deficiency at least a little bit, so thanks for the wonderful endorsement. Passionately told history is a delight.

5Judith_Starkston
Sep 6, 2011, 4:13pm Top

By the way, I went to Mertz's website, and there's a great photo of her sitting in front of the great pyramids. That's the life!

6Urquhart
Sep 6, 2011, 4:41pm Top

If you enjoy Elizabeth Peters you will definitely enjoy Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium it provides great context for the series as well as the Egyptology of the day. Having read it you will be able to understand how she is using the context of the time to shape her characters.

If ever there was a person who loved and revelled in a time in history and who wanted to share that joy, surely Mertz is unmatched in her powers of seduction to do just that.

In many ways she rivals Charles Dickens. Really.

Ur.

7Urquhart
Edited: Sep 6, 2011, 5:16pm Top

A little something special for those with an appreciation of Ancient Egypt.......

http://www.quizland.com/hiero.mv
or this
http://www.eyelid.co.uk/hieroglyphic-typewriter.html

Can anyone tell me if it is for real?

Ur.

8Cynara
Sep 6, 2011, 10:22pm Top

It is, as far as it goes. All the forms of ancient Egyptian used a huge catalogue of hieroglyphs, but those two sites (like most of the kids' stamping sets, etc.) use most of the 'alphabetic' signs. The Egyptians used then for writing foreign names and in combination with all the bisyllabic, trisyllabic, ideographic, etc. signs. They're essential to know when you begin reading the language.

The "translate" site is really more of a transliterating site, just typing it up the way the "hieroglyphic typewriter" does. For greater authenticity, write phonetically! I like the typewriter best.

9BruceCoulson
Sep 7, 2011, 12:45pm Top

Adam Hochschild's books (any of them).

10Urquhart
Sep 7, 2011, 1:26pm Top

Thanks Bruce,

1-Adam Hochschild is a new name for me. Will have to add him to my list.

2-Strange that history and learning is so seldom mentioned as being a really fun exercise, as well as work. Usually when people talk history things get really serious and really competitive. My sense is that the people in this group really get it, but most of the time elsewhere people view it differently.

Ur.

11BruceCoulson
Sep 7, 2011, 5:32pm Top

Early education; people are taught that history is names, dates and places, and the rote memorization of those facts. All but the rote memorization is important in history; but without any story attached to those facts, history is as enthralling as the multiplication table.

12Cynara
Sep 8, 2011, 3:44pm Top

W. B. Yeats wrote that education is "lighting a fire, not filling a bucket." I do as little bucket-filling in the classroom as I can. That doesn't mean you ignore the data, but you start with the fire - then make the kids fill their own buckets, if I'm not overburdening the metaphor.

13BruceCoulson
Sep 8, 2011, 7:29pm Top

Unfortunately, with the current trends in education dictating 'teaching to the test', it's becoming harder and harder for teachers (even dedicated ones) to avoid drilling students in the rotes answers that they'll need to pass. I realize that the problem originates far above the classroom, but it's still a problem.

14quicksiva
Edited: Nov 8, 2011, 8:43pm Top

>7 Urquhart:

A little something special for those with an appreciation of Ancient Egypt.......

http://www.quizland.com/hiero.mv
or this
http://www.eyelid.co.uk/hieroglyphic-typewriter.html

Can anyone tell me if it is for real?

Ur.
=======
Ur,
Thanks for info on the two sites. There may be problems with the online translator. It seemed to identify the folded cloth hieroglyph as the R sound. Am I correct here folks?

Playing with the typewriter suggested these thoughts.

Why does the Egyptian word SNN “image” translate as both son and sun in modern English? Do the hieroglyphs folded cloth-water-water, suggest anything?
Does the fact that Egyptians called God NTR and wrote NTR with the hieroglyphs water-bread-mouth, suggest anything?
Why does the expression "Osiris is the sun of nature" = "Jesus is the Son of God" on a phonetic and a symbolic level.

On a more mundane level, I think the hieroglyphic-typewriter would prove a useful and enjoyable teaching tool for both phonics and introducing young children to Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the ancient past my own children enjoyed playing with the Egyptian Hieroglyphic stamp sets almost as much as I did;)

15Cynara
Edited: Nov 8, 2011, 8:59pm Top

While the Egyptians certainly could have written nTr with phonetic signs (though by the way, it would be water-hobble rope-mouth, with the appropriate determinative), they generally used the pennant flying from a pole. It looks a bit like an axe to modern eyes - it's Gardiner R8 on his sign list. See the text all over Tut's stuff: "beautiful god, lord of the two lands", etc - it always starts with the nfr heart-and-trachea and the pennant.

About snn, good old Faulkner only includes the meaning "image" - they had another word for son ("sA", written with a goose) and other words for sun, most commonly ra, or perhaps even itn. By the by, thanks for the excuse for dragging out my Middle Egyptian texts! They're quite neglected.

I would totally reject any idea of a particular symbolic meaning being present in the purely phonetic signs. There might be interesting bits to pull out of the more obscure religious ideograms, though.

16LamSon
Nov 9, 2011, 5:40pm Top

Keith Nolan has written several books about the Vietnam War. When I finish one of his books, I feel like I have slogged through a rice paddy. He doesn't do the 'Complete History of the Vietnam War' type of books; he focuses on specific events, like the battle in Hue during TET.

17quicksiva
Nov 11, 2011, 1:10am Top

>15 Cynara:
Cynara
I am using Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt by Eric Hornung
Chapter 2 is titled: Egyptian Terms for God and Their Use
The first line reads: NTR and its basic meaning p.33
“Nothing, of course can be more absurd if the Egyptians attached the same meaning to the word God that we do. But there may perhaps be a sense of the word which admits of its use for many as well as for one. We cannot do better at starting than endeavor to ascertain what the Egyptians really meant when they used the word nutar (NTR), which we translate “god.” Le Page Renouf. Lectures p.92

As I understand it, German Egyptologists transformed the “T” into a prepalatal stop giving it a “ch” sound. Hornung, p.33.
Hurnung quotes from two sources on (NTR).

" Like the author of the Instruction for Merikare, who gives practical instructions for behavior before "god" in the cult, Ani does not mean by (NTR) a "god of the philosophers," that is, one who is unknown to the masses, but a specific god with solar attributes who is worshiped in the cult and visible to all in processions; it need not be the old sun god Re, because in the New Kingdom, Amun, Ptah, Osiris, Khnum, and most of the other great gods and even goddesses of Egypt can be understood as solar deities. In the late instruction text in the Brooklyn papyrus the NTR seems clearly to be Re," and Amenemope uses several times the name and various epithets of the sun god. In the demotic Instruction of Ankhsheshonq there is a litany in column 5, "If Re is angry with a land, then ... ," which uses the old name of the sun god more than ten times in succession. pp.54-55

"Since there are no grounds for assuming that Ani or one of his predecessors introduced a completely new usage of the word (NTR) "god," it is possible that in the earlier instruction texts NTR conceals the sun god Re or another creator god (from the late Old Kingdom on, all creator gods have solar attributes and epithets). One must then, of course, ask why the wisdom teachers normally call him only "god," "your god," or "god of this land," and not Re, Amun, or Ptah. Vergote answers ("La notion de Dieu," 167) that for them the various gods with their individual names are only hypostases or manifestations of the One whom they call (NTR). But if we admit this answer we must assume that the concept (NTR) is ambiguous, because it would then refer on the one hand to the deity worshiped in the cult (Ani, Instruction for Merikare, Papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.135), and on the other to the unique divine essence that revealed itself in the cult."

"So long as we consider only the instruction texts, Vergote's answer and interpretation, ....seems quite possible. The idea that all gods are fundamentally manifestations or hypostases of another god occurs a number of times in Egyptian theology and religious poetry". Hornung. pp. 55-56.

18Cynara
Nov 11, 2011, 7:38am Top

Yeah, I've read Hornung, too, but I think we're talking at cross purposes. The question of who or what they meant by nTr is an interesting one. I'm just saying that 1) they didn't happen to write nTr with the alphabetic symbols, 2) I'm not sure who's finding the meanings 'son' or 'sun' for snn, and 3) I wouldn't look for any mystic meaning in the appeareance of the alphabetic symbols (e.g. the bread is just there because they needed a symbol for a "t", and "ta" is what they called bread.)

19quicksiva
Nov 12, 2011, 11:12am Top

>18 Cynara:
Cynara,
Ancient Egyptians taught that " "Human beings are also "images of god"; rare but unambiguous references show that this is true of all human beings. In the stories of Papyrus Westcar even a criminal condemned to death is one of the "sacred herd" of god." In the Instruction for Merikare (first intermediate period, c. 2060 B.C.) mankind, this "herd of god," is said to be "his likenesses (SNN) who came forth from his flesh,"" and for the teacher Ani of the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, "Men are the equals (SN-NW) of god (because of) their custom of listening to a man who brings a plea. Not only the wise man is his equal, as if the rest (were) so many cattle .... "" Thus all men may be god's children from birth (Merikare), or may prove by their actions that they are images of god; the man with knowledge is also said elsewhere to be a "likeness (MJIJ) of god"'" and sons "images" of their fathers;'" in these cases what is meant is not a simple similarity but a fundamental kinship of action, nature, and rank. Hornung, p.53.

I searched for years among Western languages for the earliest origin of the words "son" and "sun". Oddly, both words came into English meaning "ice". This makes no sense. I claim an Afro-Asiatic origin for both words, until I see better evidence for another theory.

The Egyptian scribe never used a hieroglyph soley because they needed a symbol. The bread symbol is most important as a female determative.

The Egyptian Coptic Church still calls their God "Noute", which is a form of NTR.

I don't have my texts with me right now, but I believe the Rosetta Stone and other Ptolemaic documents follow this usuage. But I don't consider Ptolemaic Egypt, Ancient Egypt.
.

20quicksiva
Nov 12, 2011, 11:30am Top

>18 Cynara:
Cynara,
Ancient Egyptians taught that " "Human beings are also "images of god"; rare but unambiguous references show that this is true of all human beings. In the stories of Papyrus Westcar even a criminal condemned to death is one of the "sacred herd" of god." In the Instruction for Merikare (first intermediate period, c. 2060 B.C.) mankind, this "herd of god," is said to be "his likenesses (SNN) who came forth from his flesh,"" and for the teacher Ani of the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, "Men are the equals (SN-NW) of god (because of) their custom of listening to a man who brings a plea. Not only the wise man is his equal, as if the rest (were) so many cattle .... "" Thus all men may be god's children from birth (Merikare), or may prove by their actions that they are images of god; the man with knowledge is also said elsewhere to be a "likeness (MJIJ) of god"'" and sons "images" of their fathers;'" in these cases what is meant is not a simple similarity but a fundamental kinship of action, nature, and rank. Hornung, p.53.

I searched for years among Western languages for the earliest origin of the words "son" and "sun". Oddly, both words came into English meaning "ice". This makes no sense. I claim an Afro-Asiatic origin for both words, until I see better evidence for another theory. BTW, what English word does (MJIJ) sound like?

The Egyptian scribe never used a hieroglyph solely because they needed a symbol. The bread symbol is most important as a female determative.

The Egyptian Coptic Church still calls their God "Noute", which is a form of NTR.

I don't have my texts with me right now, but I believe the Rosetta Stone and other Ptolemaic documents follow this usage. But I don't consider Ptolemaic Egypt to be "Ancient Egypt."

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