Egypt On Screen for September, 2002
by Carolyn Patricia Scott
Besides the residents of New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, who experienced the catastrophic events of September 11 first hand, the rest of the world saw and heard the tragedy on the small screen--on television. Television, whether it captures its signals as impulses in the air, or takes its directions from a fiber optic cable or captures its signals from satellites orbiting in the heavens, has changed the way that event and contemporary history is recorded and remembered.
And yet, technology notwithstanding, it remains for the heart to synthesize and make sense of the sound and images that will be endlessly revisited during this month. As it is suggested in an ancient text, this is a month when what we see and hear, should be reported to the heart:
"The sight of the eyes,
the hearing of the ears, . . .
they report to the heart.
It is this which causes every completed (concept) to come forth, . . ." *
And as life and death, tragedy and beauty are to be considered and weighed in the heart, so too are the histories of the world.
FOX TELEVISION NETWORK
The National Geographic Channel partners with Fox Television to make history with PYRAMIDS LIVE: SECRET CHAMBER REVEALED. One of the mysteries of Egypt begins in the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza, where stone meets sky.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's antiquities, along with renowned American archaeologist Dr. Mark Lehner, will serve as the expedition's leaders as cameras ascend into the secret passages deep into the heart of the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World--the pyramid of Khufu. The program promises that Egypt's oldest intact sarcophagus, discovered by modern archaeologists, will be opened in live time. The program examines the role of an ancient high-ranking official, who may have played a vital role in the logic-defying construction of the Great Pyramid. And the scientists will offer answers to two of history's most perplexing mysteries - how the Great Pyramid of Giza was built and who executed the awe-inspiring enterprise.
THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL
Following on the National Geographic special on the Great Pyramid, THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL reprises a program that follows engineers and astronomers as they attempt to discover how and why pyramids were built and what significance these massive structures held in MYSTERIES OF THE PYRAMID.
Then the channel features two excellent television documentaries: WOMEN PHARAOHS and THE LOST MUMMY OF IMHOTEP. WOMEN packs a compelling survey of the lives and impact of such Queen/Pharaohs as Nefertiti, Nefertari, and Hatshepsut into a single hour. These women became icons of beguiling beauty and power that once dominated ancient Egypt. The film covers the territory between these legendary queens and the lesser known Nubian queens all the way to the last pharaoh, Cleopatra. Dr. Salima Ikram of the Egyptian Museum is one of the Egyptologists that reveal some of the secrets of the queens' charms.
The second of the pair of documentaries is THE LOST MUMMY OF IMHOTEP. This hour is the tale of Egyptologists quest to find the tomb of the vizier of King Djoser, Imhotep who designed the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Saqqara. Imhotep is considered by historians to be the first genius, a brilliant physician and surgeon, as well as, a healer. So respected for his craft, so renown was his reputation that he was made a god and worshipped for centuries. In contemporary time Imhoteps legendary powers were coopted into the story lines of the film The Mummy (1933) and of course in the famous films reincarnation The Mummy 1999 where the scientist was portrayed as a high priest.
THE HISTORY CHANNEL
One of the most ambitious documentary projects of recent times is EGYPT: BEYOND THE PYRAMIDS. In fact, the first 2 of this 4 hour documentary feature some extremely compelling scholarship and dramatic photography of both ancient artifacts and sites, as well as, scenes from contemporary Egypt. In part I, MANSIONS OF THE SPIRITS and part II, THE GREAT PHARAOH AND HIS LOST CHILDREN the documentary visits the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, the tomb KV5 in the Valley of the Kings and with Egyptologist Kent Weeks examines evidence that it may be the burial place of the sons of Rameses II. Next the film takes viewers to one of the most beautiful monuments in the world--Queen Hatshepsut's tomb at Deir el Bahari, and her Red Chapel, a smaller temple near Karnak. Filmmakers then travel into the inner sanctuaries of the Great Temple of Karnak, and epigrapher William Murnane shows how the art and decoration contributed to its holy power and political prestige. Finally the film visits the Ramesseum, Rameses the Great's funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile.
The second 2 hours while not as compelling as the first, is nonetheless well worthwhile. In DAILY LIFE OF ANCIENT EGYPTIANS and JOURNEY TO IMMORTALITY host Peter Woodward in fact becomes part of the documentary, acting out various roles and providing far too much chit chat that purports to be commentary. Still the examination of hieroglyphics reveals details about the life of Egyptians. Then the cameras go to a cache of mummies in the Valley of the Kings. At the ancient port city Mendes, archaeologist Donald Redford, discusses his findings. Next the focus turns to the ancient craftsman's village Deir el Medina in the Valley of the Kings. Then the documentary goes to the cemetery of the pyramid builders in Giza and on to the Valley of the Golden Mummies in Bahariyya Oasis.
The series SECRET PASSAGES has two interesting documentary segments this month, one SERAPEUM examines the underground tunnels of the Serapeum in Saqqara. Known as the Serapeum, the tomb's meaning remains as mysterious as its construction. But what is known is that the tunnels were the burial site for mummified Apis bulls. Next the lens is turned on the oldest pyramid in Egypt, the step pyramid of Saqqara, lies a massive cemetery that grew over thousands of years as the final resting place for animals as well as people. Another hour is simply titled DENDERA. Dendera, of course is the wonderful temple to Hathor north of Gourna on the west side of the Nile. The temple is perhaps the most impressive and well-preserved ancient temples in Egypt--the 12 secret crypts underneath the complex were found empty of treasure, perhaps looted by ancient robbers. But it was completely by chance that a guard who was cleaning out a crypt noticed that a stone was slightly askew. He moved the stone easily and discovered behind it two three-foot statues--one of Hathor and one of Horus, both made of solid gold and silver. On the outer walls, grand carvings of Cleopatra as pharaoh, obviously commissioned by that regent, are still clearly visible.
In RAMSES THE GREAT, the channel reprises its documentary chronicling the life of Ramses II, who ruled Egypt in the 13th century BC The most prolific builder of ancient Egypt was noted for his military prowess and his consolidation of the kingdom and its riches, this great king reigned for more six decades.
Then on MODERN MARVELS: THEN AND NOW, Egypts PYRAMIDS: MAJESTY AND MYSTERY is a repeat showing of the program which--what else--marvels at the pyramids, standing majestically for centuries. Leading experts and historians explore the engineering genius that created some of the largest structures on the planet.
A History Channel special is the 2-hour documentary, INSIDE ISLAM. Touches upon some aspects of contemporary Egypt and on the larger religious themes that impact the modern country and the world. This examination of the major world religion includes the connection between Islamic faith and politics; and the role of women. Muslim leaders are interviewed about the world's second largest religion, yet its beliefs and teachings are often misunderstood by the West. Any serious appreciation of Egypt must consider Islam from its roots in the Hebrew Bible to its revelation during the life of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century AD
There isnt much in the way of original programming for children this month. Of course, children can appreciate many of the documentaries listed above. And older children can be entertained, if not educated by MUMMY the animated, weekly cartoon on the WB network. This series features characters from the film "The Return of the Mummy" follows the adventures of an 11-year-old boy searching for a sacred scroll.
* from an ancient text translated by James B. Pritchard, "The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1," 1958.
Dr. Hawass: Fox Television
Lost Mummy of Imhotep: Providence Pictures
Nefertiti: The Berlin Museum
Dendera Temple photos: Carolyn P. Scott
Interior, Mosque of Mohammed Ali: Carolyn P. Scott