Volume II, Number 8 August 1st, 2001
Letters from Egypt
A Journey on the Nile
Selected and Introduced by Anthony Sattin
Grove Press New York 1987 Review
By Mary Kay Radnich
The name Florence Nightingale conjures up a vision of the marvelous, caring woman who gave legitimacy to the profession of nursing. Before that stage of her life, young Florence was the daughter of well-to-do parents, with a particularly social-climbing mother, and so, Florence was well bred, well educated and well traveled. Young Florence, having determined in 1837 that she had received a call to service from God, spent the next ten years trying to determine the nature of that call. Throughout this time, she discovered that her gift was in caring for the ill and infirm. Her parents, however, disapproved as nurses were known then for their drunkenness and promiscuity. The final blow to her parents came when she turned down a marriage proposal from a socially prominent young man. Charles and Selina Bracebridge, close family friends who were childless, suggested an extended trip to Egypt, to see the antiquities and perhaps to find herself, to use a contemporary phrase.
And so, Florence and the Bracebridges embarked on their cruise up the Nile in the fall of 1849. They traveled by boat, a dahabiyah, and this was their home, once they departed Cairo.
At that time, travel by dahabiyah was the way to see Upper Egypt and Nubia. Steamer travel was only acceptable between Alexandria and Cairo. Florence was a prolific writer throughout her life and her letters are colorful, opinionated and entertaining. Her observations of life among the fellahin, life on board the boat, the food, travels in the desert, are all engaging and provide an accurate picture of mid-19th century life in Egypt. Her language and spelling, influenced by her British background, is also creative, particularly her interpretation of Abu Simbel, which, from Florences ear to her pen, becomes, Ipsamboul.
Regarding pyramids, she wrote:
"We passed two groups of ugly pyramids, the two at Gizeh still kept their pertinacious points up, on the horizon, then came a group of three, those of Abusir, rough and shabby, -- then another group of three, those of Sakhara, one the largest in steps, having been stripped of its filling up stones then the two at Dashoor, scarcely smaller they are than the great Gizeh fellows, stood out like overgrown extinguishers. I could not get up a single feeling about these objects from first to last. There is nothing beautiful about them, nothing picturesque the ruinous ones of Abousir and Sakhara look like exaggerated beehives the others, like stray tents."
Upon her arrival at Thebes, New Years Day, 1850:
"And how she opened before us! The wind deadened to a perfect calm, the river spread out to a perfect lake; not, as before, with a current, but a glassy breathless lake; the Arabian hills retreated and hid themselves, as if in terror to approach the bed of death. Karnak and Luxor came in sight on the eastern bank; the head of the Colossi and the Ramesseum appeared out of the Libyan suburbs; there lay the imperial corpse of the spirit, which had gone out and animated the world. Hail to thee, poor glorious Egypt! Let our tears and our silence, and our reverence, be thine: for are no words to celebrate such a death as this. There she lay, in the stillness of death, -- even the sun had veiled his light, -- and she looked the metropolis of the world, as if herself ready to be ferried over that glassy lake to the Hades beyond. Nothing can equal the first impression of seeing Thebes."
In illustrating this volume, Anthony Sattin has wisely chosen the illustrations and sketches of the period by David Roberts, as well as oil paintings from the Mathef Gallery.
Lastly, the appendices of this book list the gods of Ancient Egypt, the Kings and Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt and the 19th Century Character mentioned in the letters. A veritable whos who of the many characters mentioned in the book. This is followed by a glossary, explaining the various Arabic terms that Florence uses, a bibliography and lastly, the index.
This is a very, very charming book, for anyone with an interest in 19th Century Egypt or Florence Nightingale, and would make a good addition for your library or that of your favorite Egyptomaniac. The bad news?? Although I purchased my copy this spring at the local Borders Bookstore, the book is actually out of print. It is available through used book services and book search services online.
The Search For Omm Sety
By Johnathan Cott
Review by Liz Bishop
I have just finished a most interesting book about a most interesting woman, Dorothy Louise Eady, aka Omm Sety, born in England in 1904. Omm Sety means mother of Sety, and Dorothy had a son named Sety from a brief marriage to an Egyptian.
Omm Sety was the "Ultimate Egyptomaniac." After a near fatal fall at the age of three, she came to the realization that her "real home" was not
England. By the time she was six, she concluded that her "real home" was The Temple of Sety I at Abydos, Upper Egypt.
Omm Sety remembers a past life as a virgin priestess named Bentreshyt (Harp of Joy) at the temple of Sety I. At the age of fourteen, she was in the temple garden and for the first time came face to face with the fifty three year old Sety I. One thing led to another and even though it was forbidden, they had an affair and she became pregnant. The temple priests forced her to confess. To save Sety I from this scandal Bentreshyt committed suicide.
For 3,000 years, Sety I searches for her and finds her again when she is fourteen. She doesn't see him again until after she is married. Then, his visitations continued until she passed away in 1981
She kept diaries and some of their conversations and experiences are included in the book. They met both on the physical and the astral plane. She tells of her out of body experiences and meetings with Ramses II, the son of Sety I.
All the while the book remains very grounded in the present. Omm Sety moved to Egypt, married an Egyptian, had a son, got divorced. She was the first woman ever to be hired by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities as a draftsman. She worked for the world famous Egyptologist Selim Hassan. Omm Sety developed her research, drawing and archaeological skills.
After 20 years in Cairo she got a transfer to Abydos and worked at the Temple of Sety I. Omm Sety spent the rest of her life here at the temple. She was totally devoted to it. Even her relationship with Sety I changed because she was once again a priestess and intimacy was again forbidden. She worked very hard to restore and take care of the temple. She always removed her shoes upon entering and brought offerings and said prayers.
She also gave tours and socialized, wrote papers. The village people even came to her for cures because they believed that she knew the secrets of Ancient Egyptian magic and healing. She was very respected for her great knowledge and experience. She made very little money, she lived in poverty, for her, this was truly a labor of love.
The book has lots of history, archaeological finds, well known characters in Egyptology circles, plus the ultimate love story that spans thousands of years. The epilogue has an interesting discussion of psychology, the occult, astral projection and reincarnation.
Omm Sety's life reflected the characteristics of a wonderfully colorful character and a very headstrong, independent woman. An Egyptian in every cell of her body, she was quick witted and didn't let anyone push her around. She was an animal lover that even fed the cobra at the temple as well as a healer and a magician. Not to mention her accomplishments as an Egyptologist that are well documented in the book.
I highly recommend this book, as there is something for everyone, no matter what your interest in Egypt is.