Book Reviews by Heidi Boudro

King Tut

Reviewed by Heidi Boudro

King Tutankhamen was the forgotten boy king, dead at 19. His name was eradicated from Egyptian walls and records, as were the names of everyone else associated with his father Akhenaten, the "heretic pharaoh." Now, 3300 years later, Tut is the most famous of the pharaohs. His name is still spoken, his face can still be seen in painting and sculpture (and on television), and, alone among the pharaohs, his body still lies in its original tomb. By ancient Egyptian standards, he has achieved immortality.

His short life was dramatic, although mysteries remain. His father Akhenaten outlawed the Egyptian gods and replaced them with a type of monotheism. His stepmother Nefertiti was the beautiful queen portrayed in the well-known portrait bust (excavated thousands of years later, from the remains of its sculptor's workshop). After the deaths of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the priests of Egypt restored the old religion, changed nine-year-old Tutankhaten's name to Tutankhamen, and tried to control the boy pharaoh. Could they have murdered him?

Tut's teenage widow, his half-sister Ankhesenamen, wrote to the Hittite king; amazingly, we have these letters, cuneiform tablets excavated in Turkey. Ankhesenamen asked the Hittite king to send a prince for her to marry. "I am afraid," she wrote, but "I will never marry one of my servants." What happened to Ankhesenamen?

Bob Brier's well-written The Murder of Tutankhamen (1998) addresses these dramatic events with what is known, theories, and speculations. Brier, an Egyptologist and author of books on ancient Egyptian magic and mummification, has carried out the mummification of a cadaver to discover ancient Egyptian techniques, and has undertaken similar projects on other ancient Egyptian technology. He can frequently be seen on television documentaries on ancient Egypt.

He's a terrific speaker and an ideal instructor for The Great Courses The History of Ancient Egypt (2001), in my experience one of the best video/audio college lecture series of The Great Courses. He's an excellent storyteller and superb at pacing his lectures.

"The History of Ancient Egypt" covers ancient Egypt from prehistory to Cleopatra, with lectures interwoven on ancient Egyptian thought, magic, medicine, mummification, and other cultural topics. It is remarkably well-organized in the otherwise overwhelming task of presenting 3000 years of history.

Copyright © 2006 by Heidi Boudro