To be honest, I can’t remember when my curiosity and interest in Egypt began. One of my first lessons in Egypt came from a ballet classmate. Her name was Allison, and she was obsessed with ancient Egypt. We were in ballet together for several years when we were young. When I spent the night at her house, we sat in her cubby under the stairs (much like Harry Potter), and she taught me about mummification, Canopic jars, and the ancient Pharaohs. She showed me her books with photographs of the Great Pyramids, the vast Egyptian desert, and the famous King Tutankhamun. I remember she wore a leotard to ballet class that was covered in hieroglyphics. She was so thrilled to have found a leotard that she could wear to class that helped her express her love for all things Egyptian.
I have a vague memory of being Cleopatra for Halloween when I was in grade school. I honestly think this was more my mother’s idea than it was mine. She had a great time dolling me up for a school function. I had the typical black eye makeup, some sort of headdress (a fringed necklace that we put on my head), and a black wispy garment that I wore over a black leotard and pink tights (from ballet class). Honestly, I think the wispy over-tunic was some piece of my mother’s lingerie. Is that weird? It feels weird now to think about it.
Speaking of my mother, she taught college-level Shakespeare, Greek mythology, English as a second language, and English Literature. She had a thing for Cleopatra. My brother’s middle name is Antony, if that tells you anything. She fashioned herself after Elizabeth Taylor slightly, as the two actually looked a bit similar. She insisted on pronouncing Cleopatra as Cleo-PAY-tra. Not as more normal folks do Cleo-pa-tra. I will never forget this (silent eye roll).
The call of Egypt and the Middle East has always been a whisper in the back of my mind. Even though Egypt is in Africa, it is considered both African and Middle Eastern. One of the things that intrigues me most about Egypt is that it’s one of the oldest places on earth. Over 700,000 years old! There is much ongoing debate about ancient Egyptian history, but it’s believed that the fertile plains along the Nile River were first inhabited around 700,000 BC. (According to The Great Courses class The History of Ancient Egypt taught by American Professor and Egyptologist Bob Brier.) Another staggering fact is that the Great Pyramids were already 2,000 years old when Cleopatra (69 – 30 BC) when to see them. The Great Pyramids were once covered in white limestone. Can you imagine seeing them in the blazing heat of the desert? The massive white hot structures would have been blinding to the eye.
The first time the Treasures of King Tutankhamun came to Seattle was in 1978. I was four years old, and my parents took me. Again, I don’t think it was for me, per se. More specifically, my mother wanted to see it. I remember standing in a long line with a bazillion other people outside the Seattle Center, utterly bewildered as to why we couldn’t go in. Finally, we were allowed inside. I remember a lot of gold things in glass cases, highlighted even more so by the dark environment. I do remember seeing the famous gold nesting coffin as well as the uber-famous gold death mask. Everything really seemed to glow golden under the lights. The treasures wouldn’t make it back to Seattle for another 34 years. I am excited for the chance to be reacquainted with many of the items when we go to them in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
My recent fascination with ancient Egypt began after reading two different historical novels about Cleopatra. One by Margaret George and the other by Stacy Schiff. Upon finishing, Audible had a list of suggestions; among them was The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, written by UCLA Professor and Egyptologist Kara Cooney. This book truly got my attention and piqued my interest in female rule and power in ancient Egypt. I then went on to read Professor Cooney’s When Women Ruled The World. About six ancient Egyptian women who either ruled or were in positions of power.
When listening to Professor Cooney, to say I felt validated as a woman is an understatement. The plethora of parallels that both the ancient world and modern-day woman continue to face, as well as the endless list of double standards, was staggering and yet confirming. I felt an instant rapport and an unspoken sister-like bond with the six Queens from antiquity. History tends to cast aside women, their contributions, their knowledge, and their skills, as well as their achievements and gifts to humankind and the world in general.
Side note: I wrote the above portion of this post a while back, and now after rereading it, I realize I have not yet said that my husband and I have booked a trip with National Geographic to visit Egypt in October of this year (2023). So, needless to say, I am ecstatic to be going to Egypt. I simply cannot wait!
Photo Credit: National Geographic
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