Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Egypt

Egyptian Donkey Rental, Inc.

Have a drink with: your friendly ancient Egyptian donkey rental clerk
Wheeler-dealer, manure shoveler, debt collector

Ask him about: whether you want that rental insurance after all

EgyptCoke

Deir el-Medina was a village on the west bank of the Nile in Thebes, populated largely by the work crews who built the famous royal tombs and monuments.  The great monuments tell us about the theology and government of Egypt, the foundation and iteration of pharaonic society.  Deir el-Medina is more modest, but no less interesting: the site is a village of 120 some-odd houses intended for workers and their families (in that regard, not dissimilar to the “model villages” of Victorian England, or Eli Whitney’s Whitneyville development).  We know some of the residents by name thanks to written records, we can tell that some if not many of the villagers were literate, and can piece together their participation in a robust everyday construction economy.

In Deir el-Medina as elsewhere in the region, donkeys were what author Brian Fagan calls “the pickup trucks of history,” carrying merchant loads, provisions, caravan cargo and more.  They carried water and wood, drew plow equipment, carried food or goods for sale.  Donkeys were ideal: unfussy, strong, good over tough terrain and long distances.

In short, if you needed to carry something, you got a donkey.  But what if you didn’t own one?

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Akhenaten

Have a drink with: Akhenaten
Pharaoh, gender-bender, sun-worshiper, innovator

Ask him about: Starting your own religion in five easy steps

Akhenaten_Oct_14

It’s amazing that so much interest persists in the ancient Egyptian ruler Akhenaten, a king about whom precious little is clear: no one knows when he was born or when he died, why he made the sweeping theological and societal changes that caused many scholars to call him the world’s first monotheist, or even who his successors were.

Still, it isn’t hard to see why the story’s a sticky one, and not least because company loves mystery. John Ray, writing in History Today, tossed off just a few of the speculations over which history has loved to ponder Akhenaten: “the ingredients are rich: a tormented visionary, a misunderstood poet, a visual artist of genius whose mission went unheeded, the apostle of domestic virtue, an incestuous child-abuser, a political disaster, an insane bisexual pope or ayatollah suffering from pathological endocrine disorder, a man out of his time.”

If Egyptian rulers were musicians, this guy is Gaga in a meat dress.

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