Poetry and Culture in Middle Kingdom Egypt: A Dark Side to Perfection.

Author:Quack, Joachim Friedrich
Position::Book Review
 
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Poetry and Culture in Middle Kingdom Egypt: A Dark Side to Perfection. By RICHARD B. PARKINSON. New York: CONTINUUM. Pp. xxii + 393. [pounds sterling]95.

The study of Egyptian literature has made a great deal of progress in the last few years. Especially in regard to Middle Kingdom literature, there has been a clear tendency towards general interpretations going beyond the editing and providing of commentary for single compositions. Within this line of research, the book reviewed here certainly represents a landmark. It is the first monograph devoted to an integral study and interpretation of the entire corpus of literature preserved from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom.

The quality of the book is quite high, owing to several factors. The author is well aware that a study of literature cannot afford to work exclusively from the Egyptian materials; therefore, a consideration of recent theoretical frameworks in general literary studies is essential. At the same time, he has clearly seen that not all models used for modern literature are equally appropriate for ancient Egyptian literature. Therefore Parkinson keeps a critical distance and uses a rather flexible approach. He has also made the happy choice to use early modern (especially Tudor) literature as a point of comparison, thus creating an effective bridge between modern perceptions of literature and ancient ways of composition. References to the context and manuscript transmission of Latin literature also prove to be a useful point of comparison.

In addition--and here lies the specific strength of this publication in comparison to other Egyptological literary studies--Parkinson is also well versed in the intricate details of philology and the necessary basic work. In fact, all known literary compositions from the period under consideration are enumerated in detail with a very complete bibliography (pp. 293-319), and they are drawn upon extensively. Such a well-founded work is essential, given the relatively small corpus of attested compositions, and many earlier studies have drawn risky generalizations from a very restricted body of well-preserved texts. The author is to be praised for this careful method which has, in several places, resulted in important new insights. While one might still quibble about some details of translation and interpretation, very few of these criticisms affect the general argument.

Some tendencies and general lines are obvious in Parkinson's presentation. First and foremost, he argues strongly for an essentially poetic understanding...

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