Sep 212012

When I first heard that Ambassador Theatre was mounting Egyptian  plays my mind immediately began swimming with imagery: the    stereotypical pyramids, but also palms, gold, perfume, mud-brick, mummification, and the hard-beating sun. Egypt is a place and a culture which I have only ever read about – never visited or studied in depth – and that got me terribly excited.  

What would a play about or set in Egypt be like? What time period were the one-acts from? How much of what I already knew would I find in the text, in the story, in the characters?

By way of background, when I think of ancient Egypt, I think of Herodotus’ Histories. In Book II, the author builds Egyptian culture up piece by piece for his reader; its origin myths, the nature of the annual floods, manners and customs, the genealogy of their gods, and a few secrets on how the pyramids were constructed are all included. Herodotus gathered his information from interviews of the local people, their leaders, and even high priests.

As he writes:

- The Egyptians in agreement with their climate, which is unlike any other, and with the river, which shows a nature different from all other rivers, established for themselves manners and customs in a way opposite to other men in almost all matters…
- …no woman is a minister either of male or female divinity, but men of all, both male and female: to support their parents the sons are in no way compelled, if they do not desire to do so, but the daughters are forced to do so, be they never so unwilling…
-  The priests of the gods in other lands wear long hair, but in Egypt they shave their heads: among other men the custom is that in mourning those whom the matter concerns most nearly have their hair cut short, but the Egyptians, when deaths occur, let their hair grow long…

He cites a number of other examples after these, but the overall impression Herodotus leaves with his reader is one of ‘otherness.’ Egypt, he suggests, is an older and (to a Greek mind) stranger culture than any on Earth.

So we shall see…

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