Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Egpyt: Description of Egypt

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Egpyt: Description of Egypt

Article excerpt

Description of Egypt, by Edward William Lane. Edited and with an Introduction by Jason Thompson. Cairo: American University Press, 2000. xxxii + 507 pages. Supplement to p.574. Illustrations to p. 579. Bibl. to p. 588. n.p.

Reviewed by Afaf Marsot

Description of Egypt is a fascinating work, indeed a curiosity, having been written over a period of four years but started when Lane first arrived in Egypt in 1825. Although Lane finished a draft in 1831 and submitted it to publishers, who accepted it, for a number of reasons the book was never published until the year 2000.

Edward Lane, an engraver's assistant, was enthralled by things Egyptian, both ancient and modern. He learned Arabic, although no one quiteknows how and, being cursed with chronic bronchitis, he determined to seek better climes and sailed to Egypt. There he lived for a number of years, returned to Egypt a number of times thereafter, and even married an Egyptian woman. Oddly enough, his most famous published work, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, was written after his Description of Egypt, and cribbed many parts from the earlier work.

The Description can be described as a travel guide of Egypt and Nubia that not only depicts the monuments and curiosities of the region but also gives extensive historical accounts derived from Arab histories such as Maqrizi's Khitat, and Jabarti's Aja'ib al-athar. The text is based on personal experiences-for Lane chose to live as the native Egyptians did, eschewing the foreign enclaves-as well as on oral reports by Egyptians. …

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