My Favourite Anubis

While I was writing the month-long series of posts about my novel, SHADOWBOX, I came across the marvellous online archive at the Griffith Institute, part of Oxford University.

Significant among the archives is Howard Carter’s complete excavation records for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact…’ – Howard Carter’s telegram to Lord Carnarvon on 5 November 1922

The treasures Carter uncovered during that excavation need no introduction. They’ve toured the world in exhibitions everywhere, including the current Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Countless reproductions and imitations made out of everything from tatty plastic to solid gold are available online and in the street markets of Luxor. The treasures of Tutankhamun inspired whole movements in art and architecture, film and fiction and fashion.

That influence haunts us yet.

Besides the golden sarcophagi and jewelled collars, the life-size statues, the mummified husks of his stillborn children, the ceremonial ostrich-feather fans, the evidence of his early life as Tutankhaten, one item stood out for me as I browsed the online archive of Harry Burton’s photographs:

Niche containing recumbent figure of Anubis; Burton photograph: p0884

Niche containing recumbent figure of Anubis; Burton photograph: p0884; © Copyright Griffith Institute, 2000-2014

More so than the little statues of Nephthys and Selqet and Isis and Neith which stood guarding the corners of the sarcophagus, this little statue of the god Anubis has a charm that reaches out across the centuries.

Wrapped in linen, tucked carefully into a niche in the tomb wall, the statue was placed by a member of Tutankhamen’s funerary gathering in 1323 BCE the way you’d tuck a child’s favourite teddy under his quilt as he fell asleep.

Harry Burton’s photograph shows us that moment frozen in time.

Twice.

Just as I wrote about the earliest photographs in First Light On Paris, the photograph is an artefact in itself.

Look closer. See the crack?

Curving from top to bottom, just to the right of the statuette’s hind quarters, a black line showing where the original glass negative has been broken. And parallel to this black line, as straight as tram-lines in Cairo, twin edges showing where sticky-tape held the glass together.

Layers of time, overlapping, each of which tells a story of its own.

Don’t you wonder who dropped Harry Burton’s glass negative – and stuck it back together with tape?

And don’t you wonder what the person thought who placed that statuette there, 3337 years ago?

Don’t you wonder who they were, he or she, who wrapped the statue of Anubis so carefully in linen as though it were a charmed memento, to accompany the tragically-young pharaoh into the afterlife?

I certainly do.It’s why many people are drawn to archaeology as a profession – to tell the stories of other people, long ago, from the remnants they leave behind.

But only fiction can give us the answer.

Published in: on August 20, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Shadowbox: All Roads Lead To The River

The Great Sphinx (and) Pyramids of Girzeh (Giza) July 17, 1839, by David Roberts.

The Great Sphinx (and) Pyramids of Girzeh (Giza) July 17, 1839, by David Roberts.

This short story was written after I published THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, but a couple of years before I began to write SHADOWBOX.

An additional episode in the life of Louis Beauregard, this fits somewhere in between both novels, and I haven’t changed any details within the short story since I wrote it.

I do wonder whether it still makes sense in light of what I know about Louis now.

However, as one of the first short stories I wrote in the Cuckoo Club series, it’s one of my favourites and one I’m still pleased with. Let me know what you think.

The sample below should give you a flavour of the story. Details of how to get the whole story for free are at the bottom of the post, after the sample.

P.S. AUTHOR’S NOTES

Louis encounters two real-life 19th Century explorers within the short story:

     John PETHERICK: (1813 – 15 July 1882), Welsh traveller, trader and consul in East Central Africa. In 1845 he entered the service of Mehemet Ali, and was employed in examining Upper Egypt, Nubia, the Red Sea coast and Kordofan.

AND

     Charles Piazzi SMYTH: (3 January 1819 – 21 February 1900), was Astronomer Royal for Scotland from 1846 to 1888, well known for many innovations in astronomy and his pyramidological and metrological studies of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Both characters are used fictitiously for the purpose of the story. Their real lives were so much more interesting than anything I imagined.


 

ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE RIVER

The night before he first beheld the Nile, Louis Beauregard slept in the Libyan desert on the plateau above Giza, tense with anticipation, listening to dogs whining far off in the darkness under the crackling stars.

The climb was slow, fascinating and dangerous. Now and then one of the couriers would cry out a warning as a tiny black serpent skated across the stone and wriggled like a cut limb into the safety of some dark crevice.

Winged beetles erupted from the cracks between the stones and hustled into the hot air in front of them, their iridescent wing-cases blinking like the spirits of the dead. Scorpions came out from under overhanging ledges with the onset of shade to bask in the heat pouring from the surface of the blocks, and they scurried off at the men’s approach, or froze in combat pose, eyes hard as garnets.

Louis felt as if the whole edifice was crawling with poisonous life.

The group stopped to rest and Louis sat carefully on the edge of a stone block to gaze out across the river. He actually shivered.

The higher they climbed, the more exposed he felt. A mile away the great Nile crept, lazy as a glutted crocodile. It frightened him.

It showed him his insignificance on the face of the world and it frightened him. He shook his head, speculating on the strength of the Pharaohs who had stamped their feet on this nation for so long. He felt awe for the god-men of old.

The man whose tomb lay behind him was a giant to have conquered such a place.

(c) Lee McAulay 2011

Hoskins MSS 1.139, © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford. Pyramid-field of Gîza, George Alexander Hoskins

Hoskins MSS 1.139, © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford. Pyramid-field of Gîza, George Alexander Hoskins


ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE RIVER is available for free on Smashwords by using the discount code: ZY43B. It’s also available on Amazon, Kobo and Nook, but you’ll have to fork out for it there.


Next: the last post in the SHADOWBOX series: Adieu.

Journey’s End.

Published in: on June 29, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  
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Shadowbox: Anubis Awaits

The Questioner of the Sphinx (1863) by Elihu Vedder

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies…
Shelley, Ozymandias

For centuries, the lure of Egypt on the European imagination has been strong.

Giovanni Belzoni had excavated the tomb of Seti I and broke his way into the Great Pyramid of Khufu to leave his name in foot-high letters on the wall of the Great Chamber.

Lord Elgin had moved on from looting Greece to bring back the treasures of the Acropolis of Athens, and persuaded the government (of which he was part) to build the British Museum in which to display his ill-gotten gains.

Elgin Marbles, or Parthenon frieze, east pediment (British Museum). Image at wikipedia commonsPart of this was the direct result of the Napoleonic Wars, still resonating across the French Empire almost twenty years later in 1832.

Bonaparte may have ended his rule in ignominy after the Retreat From Moscow, but he took the French Armies across north Africa before he over-reached himself. The prize in his cross-hairs was Egypt.

The greatest prize in all history.

Inside the temple of Aboo-simbel by David Roberts (1848)

Inside the temple of Aboo-simbel by David Roberts (1848)

Egypt remained semi-autonomous [within the Ottoman Empire] under the Mamluks until it was invaded by the French forces of Napoleon I in 1798. After the French were defeated by the British, a power vacuum [led to] a three-way power struggle that ended in 1805 when Muhammad Ali Pasha siezed control. – Wikipedia

But Europeans had already gone crazy for the place (much like we did in 1922, when Howard Carter announced the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun).

The extent of the extinct Egyptian civilisation was one attraction.

The mystery of its fall was another.

How could an nation, so great that it split the Roman Empire into civil war, just… disappear?

The key to unlocking this mystery lay in the untranslatable hieroglyphics which festooned every surface of the ancient Egyptian landscape.

Jean-Francois Champollion, by Leon Cogniet (1831). Champollion is buried in Paris, in the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery

Jean-Francois Champollion, by Leon Cogniet (1831)

Untranslatable, that is, until the arrival of Jean-Francois Champollion, polymath, genius and Frenchman.

Using classic code-breaking technique, Champollion took the Ptolemaic Greek texts on the Rosetta Stone and applied those translations to the hieroglyphics.

Genius.

Other Egyptologists followed. Soon, the entire fascinating history of Ancient Egypt began to emerge from the pictures. History was rewritten.

Mythology, too.

The kings of Ancient Egypt strode out from the statues and tomb carvings and into popular culture with the same pervasive assurance as quack medicines and elixirs with exotic-sounding names and ground-up mummies listed in the ingredients.

And the gods of Ancient Egypt found new life breathed into their stories, like the new life breathed into Osiris in his voyage through the underworld.

Rebirth.

So sacred to the Ancient Egyptians it became the keystone of the Osiris Myth, their earliest and most primitive gospel.

From the watercolours and drawings by George Alexander Hoskins (1832) in the Archive of the Griffith Institute, University of OxfordSo sacred that each pharaoh became the living embodiment of Osiris, guaranteeing the return of the Nile floods to feed the population in a re-enactment of the deity’s sacrifice and regeneration, risking the wrath of the goddess if he should fail.

The sacred king.

Le Roi Sacré.

Just like Louis Beauregard, Consort to the Last Rhinemaiden.

“The boat of the dying sun god Ra, tacking down the western sky to the dark river that runs through the underworld from west to east… will tomorrow reappear, bearing a once again youthful, newly reignited sun. Or, …a vast motionless globe of burning gas, around which this planet rolls like a pellet of dung propelled by a kephera beetle. Take your pick… but be willing to die for your choice.” – Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates


Next: the penultimate post in the SHADOWBOX series: All Roads Lead To The River.

And journey’s end draws nigh.

Published in: on June 28, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Shadowbox: Anubis Awaits  
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