I spoke about the world’s fascination with Ancient Egypt in my last blog. I did not talk about why we are so fascinated with a culture from so long ago. Why are these myths and images so enduring? Stephen Gardiner a famous architect said, “In Egypt the living were subordinate to the dead.” Perhaps this obsession with death and immortality is the answer.
There are certain people whose names remain a part of our culture and group conversation long after their death. In England kings and queens are remembered by citizens as well as historians. The period of their reign is referred to by name. A piece of furniture may have been made in the “Victorian” period or the “Georgian” period. Elvis was remembered well after his death as “the King of Rock and Roll”. George Washington is remembered as “the father of our country”.
We remember the names of of famous people for their accomplishments. The accomplishments may be minor or major. Arnold Palmer mixed lemonade and tea (although, I doubt he was the first to do so). Edison invented…well a lot of stuff. Tesla also did a lot with electricity but did not have the fame of Edison. Although the car brand is certainly bringing his name back into the vernacular.
Who is remembered sometimes has less to do with their accomplishments than the perception of those accomplishments. I have little doubt more people are familiar with Brittany Spears than Julies Oppenheimer. Also, the first to do something is more memorable than the second. I am sure more people can identify Neil Armstrong than Buzz Aldrin.
Does it matter if your name is remembered? It is more important that something you did is remembered? Not, anything about you but something important. I know Elvis liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I know nothing of his character or his essential nature. I know Arnold Palmer liked lemonade and tea and played golf. Again, that tells me little about him as a person. I know even less about kings and queens. Their images were crafted by the people of the time for purposes often unrelated to reality. Politics rather than truth framed the understanding of who they were.
We remember the names of plenty of people for negative reasons. I can remember the names of Charles Manson and Jeffery Dahmer. Have they succeeded in some form of immortality? To become infamous is hardly a legacy worth preserving.
When I die I suspect my family will be impacted. They will know to some degree who I am and what I believed in. They can read my books and go through my possessions and talk to people I have known. Yet, like a game of telephone with each generation the image of who I was will be less accurate. In truth it is unlikely anyone will care about who I am past my children or if I am lucky my grandchildren.
That is part of our obsession with the Ancient Egyptians. They believed in immortality, a world beyond death. Perhaps, this is the appeal of all religions, the promise of things to come after we are dead. Yet, in Ancient Egypt it was not “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. In fact you could take it with you.
In many ways we know more about King Tutankhamun’s life than we know about Elvis’s or Edison’s. Yet, King Tut died well over a thousand years before Jesus was born. We have a golden mask of his face so we can see what he looked like. We can look at his mummy and know his height and have a general idea of the condition of his health. We know about his family and advisers. By examining the writings and contents of his tomb we know about his way of life.
I don’t claim to have the answers about what will come of us when we die. Yet, King Tut has come as close to immortality as there is within the the collective conscious. The fascination with Ancient Egypt does not seem to have slowed down. When I look at movies like, Stargate or videos like Katy Perry’s Darkhorse or books like The Fraternity of the Soul Eater it is hard to believe we will ever forget this ancient civilization.