Three Chapter Summary
Chapter one is stylistically written as a piece of prose that follows the birth of an Egyptian child. Child birth in Egypt was tied to the divine, and magic. To give birth, women squatted and stood on bricks, known as birthing bricks. After describing childbirth, she describes Egyptian art and how ancient Egyptians portrayed themselves. She claims that Egyptians portrayed the desired physical attributes of men and women. Women were depicted with small, firm breasts with narrow hips. Men were depicted with broad shoulders and flat abdomens.
After describing this, she warns the reader about the subjectivity of images and statues. Even the data that Egyptologists receive from mummies can apparently be skewed by preconceptions. She illustrates this issue by briefly describing the controversy about Queen Tiye. The issue of the “race” of Egyptians is a salient issue that Barbara Mertz finds unnecessary, convoluted, and driven by personal biases, which is a fair and rational stance in my opinion.
Barbara Mertz opens this chapter by drawing distinctions between “upper” and “lower” Egypt. She asserts that the separation was not just political, but also geographical, as shown in the references to “black” land, and “red” land. Red land was the dry, sandy areas where the desert was. The black land referred to the rich soil that provided fertile ground for crops. Lower Egypt, because the river flows from south to north, was where the dark soil, or “black” land was. Because it’s so moist, not many artifacts survived. Therefore, not much is known about lower Egypt. Conversely, artifacts and mummies have been well maintained in upper Egypt. Although the desert was barren of water and foliage, it was the home of jewels, minerals, gold, and copper. The mins that were created were significant to the wealthy, and prosperous Egyptian civilization. Barbara Mertz asserts that the pyramids were built using copper tools.
Children were valued in Egypt regardless of their gender. In the depictions she included in this chapter, the emphasis on family affection and bonding is evident. Pets were also a part of the Egyptian household. These included cats, dogs, and baboons, who were sometimes mummified. Mertz mentions a possible “coming of age” ceremony for boys, and admits to not knowing about any female equivalent. There was literature on love, but Mertz claims erotica was rare, although there are some exceptions. Also, it is unclear how homosexuality was viewed.