Dr Joyce Tyldesley provides a detailed exploration of the religious and other beliefs that both reflected and shaped the culture of ancient Egypt.
In Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt Dr Tyldesley pieces together the fragmentary evidence of Egyptian religious, cultural and funerary practices to build a detailed picture of Egypt’s dynastic period. She shows how beliefs changed over time and from place to place and explains how the myths and legend influenced culture. The stories were, in return, influenced by the Pharaohs as they sought to confirm their authority.
An initial introduction explains how Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt came together and the research needed to pull together the sources. With a largely oral tradition the stories and practices of ancient Egypt are limited and fragmentary so it was major piece of scholarship to collect and analyse the information that Joyce Tyldesley presents in Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt.
Part I – Creation
Part I explores the creation myths from Atum and the divine twins, gen and Nut to alternatives that arose across time and across the Kingdom. It goes onto explain the story of Re and the voyages.
Part II – Destruction
This covers, amongst other matters, the Osiris myth and the legal disputes between Horus and Seth. It looks at the beliefs around the journey to the afterlife and the end of all things
Part III – The Great Goddesses
Goddesses figure large in the Egyptian myths and reflect the equal role that women played in Egyptian culture. Perhaps the best known is Isis who is associated with the resurrection of Egypt and fertility giving flooding of the Nile.
Part IV – Heroes and Villains
The earlier myths were set either in very much earlier times at the beginning of time or far in the future at the end of time. However the myths had a common message reinforcing the divine right of the king to rule. The Kings therefore were part divine, part human and expected to fully become gods on death. This section chronicles their lives and events.
There are also a few remaining takes of heroism described in Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt. Whilst mostly about gods and kings, the last part also explores the mythology of some commoners, albeit those in positions of authority, such as the pyramid builders Imhotep and Amenhotep.
Finally, the book touches very briefly on Cleopatra and the evidence for her death by the bite of a snake, an asp. Whether true or not it is a suitably appropriate death for a Queen and demonstrates how myths continue to develop, even today.
Finally as would be expected from a serious academic book there are comprehensive, notes, bibliography and index. There is also a list of the characters featured in the many stories which provides a quick reference to the extensive cast that inhabited the stories and history of ancient Egypt.
A Serious Work for the Serious Egyptologist
Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt is not the lightest of reads but its academic tone addresses the needs of the serious student of ancient Egypt. For those fascinated by the dynastic period of Egypt’s history this will be a welcome, and valuable, addition to the bookshelf. For the more casual reader it may be rather hard work but it will provide an insight into a fascinating part of the history of the ancient world.
Dr. Joyce A. Tyldesley – Author and Scholar
Dr Joyce Tyldesley is Lecturer in Egyptology, Fellow of the Manchester Museum and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool. She is an archaeologist who studied for her degree at Liverpool University and her doctorate is from Oxford University.
Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt (2010, ISBN: 978-1-846-14369-4) by Dr. Joyce A Tyldesley is published by Allen Lane in hardback at £25 (Can$49).
First appeared on Suite101