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Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt (Penguin History) Paperback – September 1, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From the Back Cover
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Beyond legal matters, women's lives went unrecorded. Most records mention women only as adjuncts of the male head of household. Wives were usually buried in the tombs of their husbands. Tomb art shows the lives and activities of MEN with miniature images of women and children serving them, thus continuing women's subservient status into the afterlife. To find the women, Tyldesley took a close look at the information available and expanded the fragments through the magnifying glass of the lives of contemporary Egyptian women. The result is a credible extrapolation of how the women of ancient Egypt used their time, intelligence, talents, and freedoms in the shadows of Pharaoh/Father/Husband.
I found her analysis of political and religious titles to be the most unusual tool in her kit - the multiple, elaborately-worded titles of even men are overlooked by most researchers. Titles bestowed in ancient Egypt provide insight into daily duties to temple and community. By comparing titles across the dynastic periods, Tyldesley was able to determine which duties - and which gods, pharaohs, and ceremonies - remained important and which ones fell from use or favor. Titles also indicated the expanding popularity of a local deity, one that might become woven into the convoluted national pantheon, or the rising importance of a local leader, especially in times of political instability.
A particularly revealing segment looks at life in the lower levels of ancient society, at the wives and daughters that inhabited the mud brick farm villages strewn among the massive temples and palaces along the Nile like seed beads on a strand of large pearls. The farmers of ancient Egypt provided the real wealth that brought the kingdom's greatness: grain. It fed the pharaohs, armies, and builders and furnished a vital trading commodity. But those farmers wielded little power; their wives had even less. Despite four thousand years of global progress, very little has changed in the daily lives of the farmer's women, and many are deprived of rights their ancestors took for granted.
The pentultimate chapter on female pharohs was very good as well. Typcially, in disucussing women in ancient Egypt, the tendency is to pay more attention to these roles rather than the more "mundane" and less flashy experiences of the majority of women. The reverse is the case in _Daughters of Isis_. In examining women as king, Tyldesley explores six women rulers (two of whom may be more legend than fact), the bulk of the chapter discussing Hatshepsut and Nefertiti. That comparatively so little of the book is devoted to these women, however is a strength: while these women were unique and are fascinating, undue attention to them distracts and detracts from the other roles the majority of women played: as musicians, wives, daughters, in business, as midwives and in a myriad of other occupations.
In writing about these ooft unsung places of women, a broader social history of Egypt is also portrayed. For example, one can hardly discuss the various hats women wore as wives and mothers without also discussing gender roles, the nature of the Egyptian home and the social network women developed. This would be an excellent companion text with Growing Up In Ancient Egypt for anyone interested in a social history of the time.
My first thought as I started reading was that the book was very "wordy" but shortly after getting into the book I was hooked and the "extra" text was usually to explain her theory about a particular subject. That actually made it entertaining.
The great scope of this work manages to be laid out in an easy to read and understand format that is entertaining as well as informative. Interspersed throughout the text is quotes from various ancient translated sources that give an insight to daily life and beliefs. The book also is wonderful because it looks at both the wealthy Queens and the lowly servants, the slaves, the merchant's wives.
What did they wear? Why did they wear wigs and shave their natural hair? What jobs did women hold? How were marriages arranged? Did harems of women really exist? Which women ruled Egypt alone? What rights did women have in Ancient Egypt? What was day to day life like? Why was Ancient Egypt the very best society for women at the time? What did they eat?
It is all explained with supporting information, footnotes, and an extensive bibliography to advance your search for information after you've read this book. Highly recommended addition to your library!
Top international reviews
I class myself to be very lucky as I've been to the "Land of the Pharaohs" back in the 1990's and seen their great temples and places of worship. If you have ever been able to go there you'll know what I mean about them being an advanced civilisation with everything they built and what tool they had to use to do it with. I'm studying Egyptology with Exeter University and I'm in my second year.
It's a great book for people who just want to learn about great Ancient Egyptian women and their everyday life, and how they had equality between the sexes. Also great for anyone who is interested in studying this Egyptology.
Well done Joyce, I love your books keep up the fantastic work. :-)