Demons, Disease and the Dead: The Darker Side of Egyptian Religion
This was a lecture linked to the Book of the Dead exhibition given by Kasia Szpakowska. She took us through the darker side of the cast list of the Book of the Dead - so she talked about the demons that hinder you (tho not all are malevolent), the fact that the dead aren't just the justified true of voice (those who pass the Judgement) there are also those who are condemned. And even the true of voice can cause problems for the living and must be placated (the offerings of food to the dead aren't just about keeping them fed, they're also about keeping them happy). One thing that particularly struck me from this part of the talk was that fire is often depicted as a snake! This was because the venom from a snake gives you a burning feeling, so when there are scenes with spitting snakes (for instance in the Book of the Dead) then it might well be a scene with fire. She moved on from there to talk a bit more generally about disease treatment in Ancient Egyptian society - primarily by talking us through the various things that might have been done to help someone suffering from bad dreams. The link between these two segments of the talk is that diseases of all sorts were thought to be caused by demons and the unjustified dead. The line between magic and medicine in Ancient Egypt was pretty much non-existant - for instance swallowing bread to dislodge a fishbone in the throat would be accompanied by ritual words, and they would have regarded both as essential. Szpakowska was a good speaker, but stumbled occasionally on her transitions from one section to another of the talk - I wondered if this was a cut down version of a talk she gives more often or a possibly an amalgamation of two talks. The lecture theatre was packed and it had sold out, the questions at the end made it clear it was a pretty broad audience with people's interest ranging from Egypt to demons (including one chap who was clearly there to add techniques to his demon fighting arsenal ...).
Hidden Treasures of Egypt
The second lecture of our weekend was at the Essex Egyptolgy Group meeting on Sunday. This was given by Dylan Bickerstaffe and he described it as "the closest he gets to a talk on 'what I did on my holidays'". In structure it was a collection of photographs of lesser known places just off the tourist trail in Egypt, or things you might not have noticed in places that are firmly on the tourist trail. All with a particular focus on Amenhotep III and Akhenaten (although not everything was from that era). Amongst (many) other things he showed us several cartouches that had been re-carved over the ages, which tell more about the monuments than maybe we would be able to learn if no Pharaoh ever usurped the monument of another. And he also talked about a set of black pillars that have several cartouches on, and he's not quite sure how come they bear the names of so many different kings (one of these is in the British Museum and J had noticed it before and been curious about it, so that was quite neat to hear about). As well as being an academic (I think) Bickerstaffe does tours of Egypt (both on his own and via Ancient World Tours) and one thing this talk definitely did was sell me on the idea that he'd be a good tour guide - interesting & knowledgeable.