3 comments on “scenes of the Nile in Italy

  1. I find it amazing how different the modern conception of Egypt is to its image in antiquity. When people think about Egypt today, what first comes to mind is an arid land dotted with pyramids. We think of the Nile, but just as a single river that goes through the middle of it; we don’t think of lush vegetation or any wet environment. The image is always tan, sandy, and very very dry. However, in antiquity, the image of Egypt was almost completely opposite, a land rich in vegetation and flowing water, as portrayed in their art. The mosaics we saw in class all had water and water imagery at their forefront; it was not just water itself, but also its interaction with the community, with boats, fishing, and game hunting of aquatic birds. One of the mosaics was, apparently, even built so that water would seep through, wetting the entire image, and enhancing the perception of this water environment.
    It was not just through art that this conception of a “wet Egypt.” It is also seen in their vernacular. In ancient Greek, the word for Egypt in the masculine denotes just the river; it is only the word for Egypt in the feminine denotes the entire fertile land, highlighting their emphasis on Egypt as a water environment.
    So then, my question is, when did that change? Why do we think of Egypt as being only arid and practically lifeless, where antiquity thought of it as lush and full of vegetation. There is no emphasis on the engineering feat of the pyramids or mummies or sarcophagi, or really anything that modern day associates with ancient Egypt. They see it as an oasis. Why don’t we?

  2. I believe that Herodotus best summed up Egypt when he famously said, “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” He quite literally meant that Egypt and everything in it is possible because of the Nile River and its annual flood. I took an Egyptian history course last semester and what never ceased to surprise me was how much in Egypt as an empire and a culture was able to accomplish depending on just the Nile. Egyptian kingship in a nutshell is based on the pharaoh ensuring and taking responsibility for the annual flood which produced the water and rich silt that the facilitated the agriculture in the valley.
    I think Hadley, the short answer to your question is that the ancients saw Egypt as the “Land of the Nile” and literally meant the Nile river valley and the Nile delta. The large rectangle of desert that we now associate with Egypt would mean nothing to the Ancient Egyptians. I think that our conception of Egypt is a product of our modern concept of geopolitical borders as defined by lines in the sand, and that the ancient conception of Egypt was a product of their identification of their empire with a single body of water and the landscape immediately surrounding it.

  3. Our modern conceptions regarding the landscape of historical Egypt are certainly distorted by our current geopolitical viewpoint. That is to say, we far to often attempt to apply our current conceptions on the role of water in our daily life to our understanding of Egypt. In many ways, this mosaic highlights the vital importance of water that is quite often ignored in modern discussions.
    To start, examine the composition of the image, and see how water is the dominant force within all sectors of the mosaic. Indeed, it quite literally touches everything. It sates the thirst of both animals and men alike, it permits nautical transportation, it shapes the very topography of the landscape in which the egyptians inhabit. Through this display, this image is a tribute of sorts. It demonstrates the shaping power of the Nile, and the life-giving importance of Earth’s most abundant resource.
    Hadley, you question why our modern understanding of Egypt differs from the highly aquatic culture it was. Why do we think of an arid desert and not the lush landscape depicted here? I believe the answer lies with our greater understanding of the role of water within society. Members of a developed nation can easily choose to ignore the importance of water, for it has now been relegated to the role of a commercialized product, with its significance for trade and economy hidden behind the scenes. It is for this reason that our visualization is flawed; we do not have the proper contextual understanding of water to see the historic role it played in shaping countries and landscapes.

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