Excerpt from The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Egyptologist

A Novel

by Arthur Phillips

The Egyptologist
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 400 pages
    Jun 2005, 400 pages

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Print Excerpt

December 3, 1954

Dear Mr. Macy,

I am in receipt of your letter of the 13th November and I'm delighted to make your acquaintance, if only by post. I'm sickened to hear of your lovely aunt Margaret's passing. It's my dearest wish that she thought of me fondly now and again. We met in times of crisis, high drama. You never forget those, I can tell you. She was a beautiful, vibrant woman when I saved her back in '22. I never saw her again after I brought to justice the man who caused her suffering.

I'm certainly most intrigued by your "small request to tap into [my] no doubt excellent memory." True enough, sir, it is still excellent, and I'll make an extra effort to prove it to you. In my day, I was known for having perfect recall.

I might also add that you're no insignificant sleuth yourself to have tracked me here to this hellhole of a pensioners' house, this human wastebin, thirty years after the facts, young Mr. Macy. Should the investigative field ever interest you professionally, I think you well-suited, and that's high praise, that is, coming from me. Of course, maybe you're the sort of fellow who doesn't have to work at all, eh?

To answer your first question, which maybe was only politeness showing off your breeding, even in a letter to a stranger, but nevertheless, the answer is: bored. Bored nearly to death, thanks, which I suspect is the idea behind these places. Drink up the last of our savings and then bore us to death to open up the narrow, sagging bed and one of the few stinking pots to piss in, 'cause the next old fellow's crossing his legs for it.

A Glossy of Terms Used in The Egyptologist

Atum: In Egyptian religion, the creator-god who created the next generation of gods by masturbating onto fertile soil.

Atum-hadu: "Atum-Is-Aroused", the king of Egypt who named himself for the moment immediately prior to the creation of the universe (see Atum).

Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon: Partners (technical and financial) who in November of 1922 discovered the nearly undisturbed, intact tomb of King Tutankhamun ("The Living Image of Amun"). It was one of the most extraordinary finds in the history of Egyptology.

Antiquities Service: The bureaucracy of the Egyptian government responsible for the issuing of permits to archaeologists, and the distribution of their discoveries. In 1922, the Service was under the direction of a Frenchman, Pierre Lacau.

Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, and Demotic: Three written versions of the same spoken language, Egyptian.

The XIIIth Dynasty: More or less the final dynasty of Egypt's "Middle Kingdom," ending about 1650 B.C., when the kingship collapsed into internal and external strife, a time known as the "Second Intermediate Period."

Admonitions: A common form of Egyptian literature, in which a king gives advice in morals and leadership to his successor. In the case of Atum-hadu, the Admonitions comprised eighty possibly rhyming quatrains though, as no one knows for certain how to pronounce Egyptian, the rhymes may be illusory.

AIF: The Australian Imperial Force, the main body of Australia's military force in World War I.

Deir el Bahari: An area west of the Nile approximately 500 miles to the south of Cairo. The temple to Queen Hat-shep-sut is the centerpiece

Gallipoli/The Bosporus: A military action of the First World War, 1915-16, in which the Australians and New Zealanders (ANZACs) suffered terrible losses in a misguided effort to invade Turkey.

The Tomb Paradox: The dilemma faced by Egyptian kings facing death and wishing to secure their immortality. Immortality required that the king build a significant and well-stocked tomb, which attracted tomb robbers, who could disturb the physical remains of the late king, thus preventing his achieving immortality. Alternately, a secret tomb might mean that the living would not continue to perform the rituals commemorating the late king, also preventing his achieving immortality.

Excerpted from The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips Copyright© 2004 by Arthur Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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