Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

Scholia Reviews (Review by Gabriela Portantier)

Scholia Reviews ns 18 (2009) 8.

Kasia Szpakowska, Daily Life in Ancient Egypt: Recreating Lahun: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
See the above page for the entire review

Kasia Szpakowska's book recreates the everyday life of the middle-class villagers of Hetep-Senusret -- now Lahun -- during the Late Middle Kingdom. Her approach intends to build up a picture of Egypt not as a monolithic, static culture (p. 8) but as a dynamic and lively society. Pursuing this, the narrative focuses on the experience of a young Egyptian girl Hedjerit and her gradual assimilation of the cultural values, beliefs, and practices of the Twelfth Dynasty. Right from the preface, the author explains that all the names used for the characters are actual names evidenced in Lahun. In the same way, Hedjerit's words at the beginning of every chapter reproduce the style of authentic Egyptian texts.

As a proficient Egyptologist, Szpakowska's work is based on several sources: from texts (medical, religious, legal, literary, and accounting documents) to archaeological finds, osteological analysis, and even paleopathological and DNA evidence. At the back, this readable book includes a full bibliography and an index reinforcing the abundant notes that close every chapter.[[1]]

The work begins with an explanatory chapter that informs the reader about the setting of Lahun. With interesting data about the homes and the village animals, it describes the historical, geographical, and social context of Hedjerit's background.

In Chapter 2, Birth (pp. 23-44), the author considers the delivery process using Hedjerit as a model. Although childbirth is not documented in detail, she complements the subject with ethnographic evidence that allows her to draw some reasonable conclusions (for example, the use of the squatting position). Child protection, infant, and maternal mortality, post-partum problems, and family size are also questions examined within this chapter.

Chapter 3, Close to Home (pp. 45-63), offers a comprehensive vision of the small daily world of a child on the basis that Ancient Egypt was a society that did not ignore its children, but acknowledged them as active and dynamic members of society.

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