Ancient Egypt has been a focus of awe and fascination from its beginnings in the Age of the Pyramids to the present day. In Egyptomania Ronald H. Fritze takes us on a historical journey to unearth the Egypt of the imagination, a land of weird gods, murky magic, secret knowledge, marvellous pyramids, enigmatic sphinxes, monumental obelisks, immense wealth and mystifying mummies.
Egypt has always exerted a powerful allure in popular and high culture, and an array of personalities have been attracted to and repelled by the idea of Egypt. Medieval Christians considered Egypt a land with many connections to the Bible, while medieval Muslims were intrigued by its massive monuments, esoteric learning and hidden treasures. Scholars of the Renaissance, the Baroque and the Enlightenment pondered the mysteries of hieroglyphs and Hermes Trismegistus. Even the practical-minded Napoleon dreamed of Egyptian glory and helped open that antique land to the West. Fritze goes beyond the examination of Egyptomania in art and architecture to reveal its impact on religion, philosophy, historical study, literature, travel, science and popular culture. All those who remain captivated by the ongoing phenomenon of Egyptomania will revel in the mysteries uncovered in this book
‘A broader interpretation of the subject, going back to the Greek historian Herodotus and forward to Cecil B. DeMille and Tutankhamen . . . Fritze reminds us that what fascinated later artists and their public was not what Egyptologists considered important. Largely self-nourishing, Egyptomania was often detached from its original sources, and the stream of dime novels and films about mummies and their curses have, according to scholars, more to do with Western guilt over imperialism than with the supernatural. Even the artifacts exhumed from Tutankhamen’s tomb with great fanfare beginning in 1922 did not, in fact, add much to our knowledge of ancient Egypt, although they were responsible for the museum world’s first blockbuster traveling exhibition . . . Document[s] an enduring fascination with its subject, based, as the author points out, “on the fact that it is both comfortably familiar and intriguingly exotic.”’ – The New York Times
‘The richness, distinction and diversity of ancient Egyptian culture has fired imaginations for millennia. Here, historian Ronald Fritze examines “Egyptomania” in detail and through time. As Herodotus and other classical scholars extolled Giza’s pyramids and the great lighthouse at Alexandria, Egyptian cults and esoteric tracts seeped into Greece and Rome – to later fascinate and befuddle medieval and Renaissance scholars. The cracking of hieroglyphs, discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and “mummymania” from the nineteenth century onwards ensured that the craze persists almost unabated today.’ – Nature
‘Ronald H. Fritze proves himself an expert guide on this journey through the history of our fascination with Ancient Egypt in all its forms – ranging from the serious study of Egyptology to its more bizarre manifestations in popular culture . . . an entertaining, enlightening work.’ – Minerva Magazine
‘Fritze has used this amazingly fertile field to produce a well-researched and comprehensive history of enthusiasm for all things Egyptological, from ancient times right up to the twenty-first century, spanning the whole spectrum. It is a remarkable achievement and makes for a fascinating read . . . there is a rich mine of factual material here which could repay detailed study.’ – Ancient Egypt Magazine
‘Fritze surveys the bewildering variety of “Egyptian” rites dreamed up by the Rosicrucians, Freemasons and Theosophists, and takes us on an entertaining tour of fringe and alternative history set in the Land of the Nile.’ – Fortean Times
‘The particular craze that’s the focus of veteran historian Ronald Fritze’s new book Egyptomania is one of the oldest intellectual fads in the history of mankind: the fixation with ancient Egypt that’s been felt by the rest of the world for so long that it actually started when ancient Egypt wasn’t even ancient . . . Fritze’s narrative is dense with historical detail and frequently sparkles with wit. Anyone who has ever felt the touch of Egyptomania . . . will find plenty in these pages to feed their curiosity.’ – Open Letters Monthly
It’s an enormous subject, and Fritze works his way through it all with a thoroughness no other account has ever quite matched . . . [the book] delves into how the realities of Egyptology have been reimagined or misinterpreted as sources of hermeticism, portals to another reality, or tokens to confer knowledge and respectability . . . Fritze’s entertaining and enlightening work does well in separating ancient Egypt’s actual legacy from the pseudo-history of occultists and assorted charlatans.’ – Publishers Weekly
‘From Medieval Christians and Muslims to Napoleon, a detailed but readable account of how Ancient Egypt has been a focus of fascination throughout history, capturing our imagination through its strange gods, murky magic, secret knowledge, immense wealth and mystifying mummies.’ – The Bookseller
‘a fascinating read for any who are interested in Egyptian culture.’ – Decatur Daily
‘Ron Fritze has an enviable ability to dig deep into the worlds of popular history. Well written, his new book, which goes right up to date, is wide-ranging, both chronologically and thematically. Fritze covers the pyramids, archaeology, film, popular fiction and a wide range of concerns and forms. Deserves wide attention.’ – Jeremy Black, author of Contesting History
‘Egypt has long captivated people’s imagination. Ronald Fritze has produced a smart, thoughtful, and engagingly written study of the history of Egypt . . . But the book is more than this, as it also explores the myths that have developed around Egypt from the medieval period to the present . . . For those interested in the curse of the mummy, it is a fascinating read.’ – Carole Levin, Willa Cather Professor of History, University of Nebraska, and author of Dreaming the English Renaissance and The Heart and Stomach of a King
‘When then-candidate for the Republican nomination Ben Carson insisted that the pyramids had been built to store grain, the media made him a laughingstock. What they did not note, and what Ron Fritze’s exhaustively researched, fascinating book illustrates, is that Carson’s pseudo-theory is hardly the first fiction to pass itself off as “knowledge” of Egypt. From the accounts of Hebrews and Greeks up to mummy-movies and Cleopatra-inspired fashion, our cultural obsession with Egypt, both scholarly and pop, has been a history of myth and fantasy. In highly accessible chapters abundantly laced with illuminating details, many of them little-known until now, Fritze deconstructs the ideas that have formed this ever-changing but enduring “Egyptomania”. Fascinating!’ – Susan Bordo, Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at University of Kentucky and author of The Creation of Anne Boleyn
Ronald H. Fritze is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Athens State University. He is the author of many books including Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions (Reaktion, 2009).