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The Gift of the Nile

Hellenizing Egypt from Aeschylus to Alexander

Phiroze Vasunia (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 360 pages
ISBN: 9780520228207
December 2001
$63.00, £53.00
The Egyptians mesmerized the ancient Greeks for scores of years. The Greek literature and art of the classical period are especially thick with representations of Egypt and Egyptians. Yet despite numerous firsthand contacts with Egypt, Greek writers constructed their own Egypt, one that differed in significant ways from actual Egyptian history, society, and culture. Informed by recent work on orientalism and colonialism, this book unravels the significance of these misrepresentations of Egypt in the Greek cultural imagination in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E.

Looking in particular at issues of identity, otherness, and cultural anxiety, Phiroze Vasunia shows how Greek authors constructed an image of Egypt that reflected their own attitudes and prejudices about Greece itself. He focuses his discussion on Aeschylus Suppliants; Book 2 of Herodotus; Euripides' Helen; Plato's Phaedrus, Timaeus, and Critias; and Isocrates' Busiris. Reconstructing the history of the bias that informed these writings, Vasunia shows that Egypt in these works was shaped in relation to Greek institutions, values, and ideas on such subjects as gender and sexuality, death, writing, and political and ethnic identity. This study traces the tendentiousness of Greek representations by introducing comparative Egyptian material, thus interrogating the Greek texts and authors from a cross-cultural perspective. A final chapter also considers the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great and shows how he exploited and revised the discursive tradition in his conquest of the country.

Firmly and knowledgeably rooted in classical studies and the ancient sources, this study takes a broad look at the issue of cross-cultural exchange in antiquity by framing it within the perspective of contemporary cultural studies. In addition, this provocative and original work shows how Greek writers made possible literary Europe's most persistent and adaptable obsession: the barbarian.
Editor’s Foreword
Chronology of Ancient Egypt
Framing the Issues
Sources—and a Blueprint
Historical Background

1. The Tragic Egyptian
Splitting the Danaids
Egypt as Locus for Male Fertility
Blackness and Death
Marrying the Egyptians
Doubles in Helen
To Die For

2. Space and Otherness
The Pharaoh’s Space
Mapping Egypt
Symmetry and Inversion
The Traveler’s Eye
Egyptian Space

3. In an Antique Land
Absolute History
The Legacies of the Past
Egypt and the Trojan War
Egyptian Time
In an Antique Land

4. Writing Egyptian Writing
The Tyrant’s Writ
The Gods of Writing
Plato’s Grammatology
Egyptian Writing
Writing and Control

5. Reading Isocrates’ Busiris
Busiris the Egyptian
Reading Isocrates’ Speech
The Paradox of Parody
Isocrates, Plato, Athens

6. Plato’s Egyptian Story
A Graphic History
From Isocrates to Crantor
Athens and Atlantis

7. Alexander’s Conquest and the Force of Tradition
Greeks and Macedonians
Homer and Alexander
Herodotus and Alexander
Aristotle and Alexander
The Conquest of Egypt

Appendix: Fragmentary Greek Historians on Egypt, to 332 B.C.E.

Illustrations follow page xxx.
Phiroze Vasunia is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“This is a very, very stimulating book.”—Kveta Smoldarikova Archiv Orientalni

Outstanding Academic Title for 2002, Choice

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