Life and Death in Ancient Egypt: Scenes from Private Tombs in New Kingdom Thebes. (Reviews of Books)

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Life and Death in Ancient Egypt: Scenes from Private Tombs in New Kingdom Thebes. By SIGRID HODEL-HOENES; translated by DAVID WARBURTON. Ithaca: CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2000. Pp. xii + 329, illus. $49.95.

The private rock tombs of ancient Thebes comprise an important corpus for the study of ancient Egyptian life as well as of the genius of New Kingdom painting. This work presents a selection of these tombs with interwoven commentaries on history, theology, and esthetic theory. Originally appearing in German as Leben und Tod in alten Agypten (Darmstadt, 1991), the English version has been expanded and brought up to date to include the most recent bibliography for the subject. The author describes her audience as "those who wish to learn more about the Theban private tombs" (p. vii), implying that the reader is expected to bring some background to the text. This allows more depth to the presentation than that found in the tourist guide.

A general introduction (pp. 1-27) is followed by a survey of eleven tombs, comprising the acknowledged "highlights" of this corpus. After briefly touching on the theological and historical context of the tombs, the separately named areas of the Theban necropolis are described. The layouts of the tombs are then covered in more detail with informative drawings facilitating an understanding of the tombs as architectural structures.

Under the subheading "The Excavation and Decoration of the Theban Rock Tombs" (pp. 16-22) both the technical and artistic qualities of the tomb are described. The process by which the tomb was cut is presented, as well as some basics of Egyptian art and the way it was produced. The standardization of proportions through the use of the grid is included in this discussion. A survey of the pigments employed and the symbolic system behind the choice of colors is also found. The last section in this chapter, "The Purpose of the Decoration and Contents of the Tomb" (pp. 22-26), deals with the Egyptian view of the pictorial as a means of preservation. The tomb equipment is related to the goal of satisfying earthly needs in the next life. The introduction concludes with a more detailed discussion of the Book of the Dead as a significant source of the information required by the Dead to reach the next life safely.

The individual tomb descriptions are presented in number order, grouped according to the area in which they are found. This also gives a chronological sequence. The first six tombs are found in Sheik al-Qurna. Consisting of Nakht (TT 52), Ramose (TT 55), Userhat (TT 56), Menna (TT 69), Sennefer (TT 96), and Rekhmire (TT 100), these tombs date from Tuthmosis III (TT 56 and 100) to Amenhotep IV (TT 55). Three tombs are found in El Khokha: Neferhotep (TT 49), Khereuf (TT 192), and Samut (TT 409) and chronologically overlap the youngest from Qurna, with Kheruef dating to Amenhotep III-IV; Neferhotep, Aye-Horemheb, and Samut to Ramses II. The two remaining tombs are Ramesside and found in the necropolis area of the workers' village Deir el Medina: Sennedjem (TT 1) and Inherkha (TT 359), dating to Seti I-Rameses II and Rameses III-IV respectively.

Each chapter supplies approximately the same basic information. Some biographical information is given for the tomb owner, and the excavation history of the tomb, including original publication, is outlined. …