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230 × 155 × 35 mm
448 pages
50 illustrations
11 Jan 2021

Egyptomania A History of Fascination, Obsession and Fantasy Ronald H. Fritze

Now available in paperback, Egyptomania takes us on a historical journey to unearth the Egypt of the imagination, a land of strange gods, mysterious magic, secret knowledge, monumental pyramids, enigmatic sphinxes and immense wealth. Egypt has always exerted a powerful attraction on the Western mind, and an array of figures have been drawn to the idea of Egypt. Even the practical-minded Napoleon dreamed of Egyptian glory and helped open the antique land to explorers.

Ronald H. Fritze goes beyond art and architecture to reveal Egyptomania's 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 Tutankhamens 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 Fritzes 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 . . . 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 H. 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

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Ronald H. Fritze is Professor of History and Religion at Athens State University, Alabama. His previous books include Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions (Reaktion, 2009).


Part One: Egyptomania through the Ages
One: The Real Egypt
Two: Ancient Egyptomania: Hebrews, Pharaohs and Plagues
Three: Classical Egyptomania: The Greeks and Romans
Four: Medieval Egyptomania: From St. Augustine to the Renaissance
Five: Egyptomania from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
Six: Napoleon’s Expedition to Egypt and the Birth of Modern Egyptomania
Seven: Nineteenth-century Egyptomania to the Discovery of Tut
Eight: The Rise of Mass Egyptomania: Tutankhamun, Tutmania and the Curse of the Mummy

Part Two: Varieties of Modern Egyptomania
Nine: Occult Egyptomania
Ten: Egyptomania on the Fringe of History
Eleven: African American Egyptomania
Twelve: Egyptomania and Fiction

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements