Scotsabroad's Weblog

February 11, 2011

How the Mighty Fall

Filed under: Books,visits — scotsabroad @ 6:58 pm

Before the Egyptian people’s demonstrations against President Mubarak started,  I got the opportunity to look for the pieces of a few (more ancient) fallen idols and some historical graffiti. I have just finished reading a brilliant book written by Stanley Mayes in 1959 all about Giovanni Belzoni – the circus strongman who discovered Egypt’s treasures in the early 1800s. Belzoni was an Italian who moved to London due to Napoleon and was able to use his great size to gain work in theatres as an actor and with shows-of-strength. There is record of him touring Scotland and getting a hard time from a Glasgow audience for not being affectionate enough to his on-stage mother in a scene – his mother being played by a very bad-tempered, but very real, bear. While in England he became interested in water pyrotechnics and invented his own hydraulic machine. He was convinced his machine for pumping water was much more efficient than those used abroad and set out to convince those of influence. He travelled eventually to Cairo and met an agent of Muhammad Ali, Pasha of Egypt. He was allowed an audience and an opportunity to demonstrate his machine but the Pasha was not interested. Belzoni then met up with the new British Consul General in Cairo, Henry Salt. They decided that there was money to be made from gathering artifacts from ancient Egypt on behalf of the British Museum.


Circumstances last month, a job interview and a marathon, allowed me to follow in the footsteps of the Great Belzoni.


The head of Thothmes 3 in the British Museum was taken from the Ramesseum where the body still rests. While in the museum, I went looking for the colossal granite head of the Young Memnon, brought to London in the early 1800s by Belzoni. Again this was taken from the Ramesseum.

The head and shoulders of the colossus of Ramses 2, toppled and smashed, inspired the English poet Shelley to write Ozymandias. Belzoni had a habit of chiseling his name quite blatantly on many of the temples he visited and on many of the artefacts he discovered. I traced this traveller’s name with my finger on the base, by the left foot, of the colossal seated statue of Amenhetep 3rd  in the British Museum and then just a week later on the walls of the Ramesseum. We are in Glasgow this week and a statue (probably acquired by Belzoni) in the Kelvingrove Museum displays the name Salt.

A significant date today…..

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Egypt. Great history. Great country. Great people. A Great future I hope.

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