Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Boy King

No, not Arthur -- Tutankhamun. I spent this morning with my wife and children at the Art Gallery of Ontario seeing the Tutankhamun exhibit and enjoyed myself greatly, as did my wife and daughter. My seven year-old son, however, was bored to tears, which, while unfortunate, was not unexpected. The exhibit was crowded, a situation made worse by the use of audio tour devices that encouraged people to stand around for many minutes in front of artifacts while they listened to recorded descriptions of them and their context. Consequently, it took us about 90 minutes to make our way through the exhibit, which displayed about 80 artifacts, more than half of which were from Tut's tomb. Alas, the golden burial mask that everyone associates with the pharaoh -- and that was included in the last major tour when I was a child more than 30 years ago -- was not present, its being judged too fragile ever to leave Egypt again.

As I mentioned in my post on the Romans, the Egyptians are the other ancient civilization that fascinates me and for many of the same reasons. If one is looking for exotic splendor, Egypt certainly provides it in large quantities. As a lover of pulp fantasies, Egypt pretty much establishes the template for colossal architecture, opulent royal courts, and equally rich tombs (complete with traps!) that you see in many of those stories. More precisely, Egypt is the template for antiquity itself, at least in the Western mind -- hard not to when you're talking about a civilization that encompasses three millennia of history, from the foundation of the Old Kingdom to the death of Cleopatra VII.

Of course, nowadays, whenever my thoughts turn to Egypt, they soon turn further toward Tékumel. Professor Barker's world isn't all that similar to ancient Egypt in content, but many of the setting's elements, especially its antiquity and its mystery, strikes me as somehow "Egyptian." Likewise, the way the rulers of Tsolyánu are treated and govern, the influence of the various priesthoods, and similar things all bring the Nile kingdom to mind, at least for me. Likewise, when I try to give a rough real-world analog to Tékumel, I often use ancient Egypt. The details aren't right, as I said, but at least it gives people something on which to hang their hat.

At present, there's no Egypt-equivalent in my Dwimmermount campaign world. I'm not sure there's really room for one. Still, I suspect that future levels of my megadungeon will benefit from my having seen the artifacts in the exhibit, both in terms of how I present them and in their actual contents. It'd be hard not to do this. I don't want to overstate anything, but I couldn't help but feel the immensity of history while viewing these artifacts, beautifully worked by human hands 3500 years ago. People are fond of pointing out that North American history is barely 500 years old, a drop in the bucket compared to the histories of Europe or Asia. But Egyptian history is even longer; few other civilizations can compare to it (this is not an invitation to cite them in the comments). It's heady stuff. I'm glad I had the chance to view these artifacts and even more glad that my children did, even if my son likely won't appreciate it until later.

23 comments:

  1. > As a lover of pulp fantasies, Egypt pretty much establishes the template for colossal architecture

    aside: There's a rather nice Ancient Egypt in SF&F list at http://www.egyptomania.org/aef/EgyptSFF.html , James. :)

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  2. I too was disappointed the mask was not present, but it was far better but a number of orders of magnitude than the Egypt exhibit that toured the museum of civilization last summer in Ottawa/Hull, though ironically enough at the same time they had a nifty exhibit on mythological monsters scaled up to as if they were real creatures.

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  3. Saw this exhibit when it stopped over in Indianapolis--thought it was stunning. The miniature coffin is unbelievably intricate. Did they have the large wooden coffin there? In Indianapolis, you could walk around it and see just how thorough the craftsmen were in carving every portion of it.

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  4. I hope it has a stop in Los Angeles this time. I still kick myself for missing the first visit, years ago.

    Tangent: I see the Lord Darcy book in the sidebar. I love those stories.

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  5. "Born in Babylonia, had a condo made of stone-a!"

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  6. I was reading about Egypt on Wikipedia, and then saw this post.

    I too have an interest with Rome, though I prefer the Republic over the Empire. Never been too much of a fan for RPG Egypt though.

    I don't like that RPG worlds have moved away from being more influence with European influences. I'm so sick of Anime/S&S fantasy hybrids (among others).

    I'd like to see a game world where the influence is what might had been had the Republic not fallen. So there weren't knights and kings. There were what might have been in 900 AD had there never been a feudalism. And an original take on Egypt would be the Mamluk inspired one. Egypt would be the one with feudalism, kinghts, and kings.

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  7. @Anthony: They came to L.A. a couple years (4?) ago. It was a fantastic exhibit, but I don't know if it will be coming back this way.

    @J.M.: Did you get the coffee table book? I certainly hope you did. While it looks great in my living room, it has also proved to be quite useful for adventure design.

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  8. If you're interested in tomb maps, the Theban Mapping Project has an atlas of the Valley of the Kings: http://www.thebanmappingproject.com

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  9. When reading this I was reminded of a friend who while studying for her Master's in Mediterranean Archeology, specialty in Egyptology, was telling me that she had to decipher a coffin, which was quite unimportant and not deciphered. Apparently she was the first person to do so in a very long time and its pair, it was a part of a set of 2, was in an Eastern European country translated by another scholar.

    In real life this is cool but mundane. In a pulp sense this could be embellished into an interesting story. Finding and decoding a long forgotten casket. Realizing there is a pair in a far off land and having to find it to finish some type of riddle before an apocalyptic event occurs.

    Just a thought. Take the idea if you like, just let me know how it turns out.

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  10. For those of you who like Rome; I present to you this podcast:

    http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/the_history_of_rome/

    Just thought I would share.

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  11. Love the ancients. Last campaign was suppose to be ancients, well Roman. although there was a nice Yuan-ti / Egyptian civilization. [2nd Theban Mapping Project recommendation, used them for temple maps] It's real hard to impose setting constraints in 3.x when players expect all sorts of hinky, splatbook gear, races, classes, skills & feats to be available.

    In general players expect Tolklienized pseudo medieval fantasy. If you tell them they got a bronze short sword, a spear and there's no horses they look at you like you asked them to play Rolemaster. [I say pseudo medieval cause most couldn't handle a real medieval (aka Harn) setting.]

    Incans, Aztecs, and friends is what EPT seems like to me.

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  12. "Incans, Aztecs, and friends is what EPT seems like to me."

    I agree. EPT seems secondarily like Egypt, and thirdly like India.

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  14. > I agree. EPT seems secondarily like Egypt, and thirdly like India.

    As originally conceived Tékumel's primary real-world cultural analogs are Ancient Persian and Babylonian; Medieval Arab, Indian, Mongol, Scandinavian/Northern Germanic and Anglo-Saxon (albeit some of the latter are rather well hidden by the general Orientalism).
    Nothing explicitly Egyptian although similarities are referred in other non-cultural contexts (borrowing of physical representation in the "Seal" Emperors of Tsolyánu vs. "Great House" = Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt) and can see the similarities in-the-minds-eye, of course. There's probably a little bit of everything in there, somewhere. :)

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  15. I hate those audio guide things with a passion. I always ask for the printed version for hearing impaired folk instead.

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  16. I was always intrigued by Velikovsky's work on redating the Egyptian chronology (which had for many years been the gold standard for considering any ancient history). [Although the astrophysical arguments that follow on from this are controversial to say the least.] But it's something I can see a priesthood doing – inflating their historical pedigree.

    I always imagined Tekumel to be closer to the Cambodian of Angkor Wat and other ancient South-East Asian societies. Possibly with a touch of very early Southern Indian. Bay of Bengal, mostly.

    All of which are woefully neglected by popular Western historians because they don't really impinge on either Rome, Greece, or Egypt (the countries from which the Western Classicists consider that "civilization" arose).

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  17. That's a great exhibit, I got to see it in Florida years ago and have been thinking of seeing it again (Toronto's only an hour or so from here).

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  18. I have seen the famous Tut mask in Cairo back in 1989, but the experience wasn't great - you end up in a tiny room surrounding the piece but aren't allowed to stop. Any time you look as if you are not stepping forwards you get shouted at by an Antiquities policeman with a gun. Literally a case of straight in, walk around rubber necking, the flow takes you out of the room after about 20 seconds and that's yer lot.

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  19. Did they have the large wooden coffin there? In Indianapolis, you could walk around it and see just how thorough the craftsmen were in carving every portion of it.

    No, they didn't. Or, if they did, I somehow missed it, which is possible, given the large crowds there.

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  20. Did you get the coffee table book? I certainly hope you did. While it looks great in my living room, it has also proved to be quite useful for adventure design.

    I didn't, mostly because I have several similar books already.

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  21. In general players expect Tolklienized pseudo medieval fantasy.

    They do, which is why I try to aim for a slightly more "ancient world" feel to my games, when possible, if only to shake things up a bit.

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  22. (Toronto's only an hour or so from here).

    Well, if you do make your way to the city, let me know. I'd love the chance to meet up for a few hours, if we can swing it.

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  23. I saw the exhibit in Dallas and also agree the crowds were horrific. Still, I'm glad I saw it because it may be another 30 years before it comes through again - and I'll be in a wheelchair by then :-)

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