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Synopsis

The wonders of Egyptian archaeology are the latest and most precious harvest of scholars and explorers. From Belzoni to Flinders Petrie there has been a succession of discoveries in the valley of the Nile with which it is hard for ordinary students to keep pace. Our knowledge of Egyptian life to-day is far clearer and more complete than Bentley's or Porson's acquaintance with the antiquities of Greece and Rome, and we have far more complete access to the treasures of Egyptian literature than Dante or Thomas Aquinas had to the remains of Attic poets and mystics. We know exactly how an Egyptian of the twelfth dynasty dressed; what was the position of women in Egypt; and what uniform was worn by the Egyptian soldiers who took part in the campaign against Khitasis. We can see Rameses II riding in his war-chariot; we know the very names of the horses by whose side his tame lion is running and thirsting for the blood of his master's foes. We know all about the domestic animals, the funeral customs, the trades, the gods, the agriculture of the Nile valley thirty centuries ago. We see the whole many-sided civilization portrayed in the brightest colors in the poetry, the books of ritual, the hieratic inscriptions, the tablets, papyri, and hieroglyphics which day by day come to light in exhaustless abundance from the mounds and ruins of that fertile plain that stretches from Thebes to the Mareotic lake. For instance, we can learn exact particulars about the mode in which Rameses II made war, from the poem of Penta-Our, a Theban writer of the fourteenth century b.c. It is only by a figure of speech that this poem can be called an epic; it is rather a historical narrative couched in terms of poetic exaggeration with the object of flattering the royal vanity of Pharaoh.

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