2002-11-30: Egypt to the end of the Old Kingdom

Egypt to the end of the Old Kingdom  (1965)

by Cyril Aldred (1914-1991)

This book is a survey of the evidence illustrating the earliest part of Egyptian history and prehistory. It is interesting for providing some insight into how the characteristics of Egyptian culture were expressed in a pattern that was also influenced by Mesopotamia and the Aegean.

Aldred starts with a summary of the nature of northern Africa’s climate and animal life before the desertification that pushed many populations into the Nile valley.

On page 128, Aldred describes a relief that shows many aspects of Egyptian life, of commoners and aristocracy. He then says:

It is from these coloured reliefs that we gain so vivid and intimate a picture of country life in Ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom, a teeming busy life observed with kindliness and humour – the field sports in marsh and wadi, the incidents of pastoral life, the boating on the Nile, the country crafts, the good life on the estate, music, games and dancing. There is a transient zest for life in these reliefs which is in dramatic contrast to the eternal calm of a spiritualized existence evident in the representations of the owner and his family. The field-labourers may contend with the recalcitrant ass, but no such struggle accompanies the confident spearing of fish by their master. The boatmen may fight among themselves on the water; their betters gaze impassively on, following the precepts that the educated read in their books of instruction, for successfully cultivating the ideal of the ‘tranquil’ man – to be modest, patient and benevolent.

I would be interested to see some of the evidence for these “precepts” which sound similar to the advice of the taoists.

Aldred describes, very briefly, the process by which the Old Kingdom came to an end, but doesn’t describe its aftermath or the degree to which Old Kingdom ideas survived or revived in subsequent ages.

The book is only 132 pages, and more than half is occupied with pictures of sculpture and other artifacts.


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