Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

09.28.12

The Land of the Dead

The fascination of Ancient Egypt

Apropos of nothing at all, this from James Lileks:

 Got sidetracked watching a documentary about Egyptian afterlife rituals and beliefs. It started simple - hey, you’re going to be heading to the other side, pack a lunch and bring beer - and within a few centuries it turned into an elaborate ritual that required beating your servants to death so you’d have someone to carry your luggage. They spent years micromanaging the details, like someone who spent half his life packing for a plane voyage he knew would crash on takeoff.

It’s remarkably detailed: in Hour Nine of the Pharoah’s voyage, he commands a serpent demon to torment the souls of his enemy. Isn’t that remarkable? You never find a moment in ancient Egyptian mythology where the King has to confront the souls of all the people he screwed over, and prepare his heard to be pierced by a Fanged God of Shame for eternity.

I mean, it all comes down to the dead king performing feats in the afterlife to make sure the sun comes up. And it works! Ergo it’s true.

It's fascinating, though. I love Egyptian documentaries, even if they mostly consist of underlit shakycam pictures of sweaty blank-faced people performing solemn rituals, interspersed with scenes of rubble. Why does it intrigue? Because Rome survived. Rome maintained. Rome passed along its culture in the form of ideas, sounds, and structures. Egypt evaporated and left a million bones.