Ramses II is not the only thing in the museum

Ramses II is an egotistical pharaoh, as our tour guide Eman pointed out, a ruler who might think his statue the most important of the more than 500,000 exhibits in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. But that can’t happen here. We will let Ramses the Great lead us through our continuing Egyptian journey. But ignoring what else is in the museum could be seen as bowing down to Ramses. That’s something we don’t want to do since so many people who did never got back up.

The museum offers much more — more than you can see in a day, week or years. There’s the room set aside for items found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 (photography prohibited in that room). But Tut’s chair/throne is open for viewing (see below). More statues of other pharaohs and ancient Egyptian gods. Mummies, of course, and my favorite: The 52-foot long papyrus scroll of the Book of the Dead, the instructions a dead person needs to get to his second life. The scroll shows my slavery to the printed page, but the images from the more than 2,000-year-old document are as clear as something that came off my printer seconds ago. I could not get far enough away or have a wide enough lens to take in the whole scroll displayed on a museum wall. But here are photos of illustrations and the hieroglyphics:

The god Ra voyaging in a boat, often buried with Egyptian dead as they will need transport to their next life.
The goddess Taweret, the protective goddess of mother and child during pregnancy and childbirth. She can call on many ways to protect the mother and child as she is made up of hippopotamus, crocodile, lion and human.

Below are King Tut’s throne made of wood covered with gold and silver, ornamented with semi precious stones and colored glass. Lions’ heads protect the seat while the arms take the form of winged serpents wearing the double crown of Egypt (Lower and Upper) and guarding the names of the king. Found in Tut’s tomb in 1922.

The most famous bust of Nefertiti (1370 – c. 1330 BC) has been hauled off to Berlin, but the Cairo museum has several representations of the royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, Tut’s father.

This statue of King Khafre (2558 – 2532 BC), below, was found at Giza, where the Great Pyramid sits. The second largest pyramid there was built by Khafre. The falcon god Horus sits behind Khafre’s head, providing protection and uniting earthly king with god.

Below is King Djoser (2667 – 2648 BC) who was buried in Egypt’s first pyramid, the world’s oldest monumental stone building.

The mummy below is that of either Yuya or Thuya, and shame on me for not marking down which one it is. Yuya was husband to Thuya (1390 – 1352 BC). They are the great grandparents of King Tut.

Hatshepsut (1473 – 1458 BC), Egypt’s most famous ancient queen. What about Cleopatra? She brought the Egyptian rule to an end; Hatshepsut kept it alive during her 20-year reign and built several temples. Note the beard. She portrayed herself in statues and paintings with a male body and false beard.

We’re so glad to meet you, Ramses II

We met Ramses II in Cairo at the Egyptian Museum, introduced to us by Eman, who was guiding us around her country.

An imposing figure, Ramses the Great looms over modern day humans as they enter the museum. His muscular arms are straight by his side, his left leg extended in front of him and his hands clasping bars. On the end of those bars, his identifying “cartouches” are stamped. He also has them on his shoulders and one on his belt. They are on the stand below him.

They are there so that when his soul comes to rejoin his body after he is dead, the spirit will be able to identify him.

Ramses ruled for 66 years, long before term limits. He lived to be 90 years old, which is remarkable at a time when the life expectancy was much less. High infant death rates brought down the average life expectancy to 19 years. Even those who survived childhood lived but 30 years for women and 34 years for men. Cleopatra died at age 38. Tutankhamun, who became king when he was 9, died when 19.

The Ramses II standing at the museum door is not the man at the end of his 90-year life. Why would you want your soul to finally show up and unite with a guy wearing Depends?

The Ramses we met is probably about 34 years old, said Eman. What age would you choose?

The museum Ramses II is very much alive. His arms stretch beside his body. If they were crossed in front of his chest, he would be dead. Legs together, same thing. His beard straight? Alive. Beard bent? Dead. Beard missing? It’s the Sphinx, whose facial hair was plucked and hauled off to the British Museum in London.

As was the Rosetta Stone, the piece of rock that deciphered the hieroglyphics used by the ancient Egyptians.

Not that Great Britain is alone in traipsing off with antiquities from Egypt. The famous bust of Nefertiti’s head and face? The one which seems to have an eye missing? (Not so, says Eman. The wife of Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 BC had an eye disease and the bust is accurate in how she appeared). I’d have a picture of it here except that Nefertiti is now in Berlin.

The missing obelisk from the Luxor Temple, the largest one erected by Ramses II, now stands in Paris. Seventy-five feet tall, weighing 250 tons and carted off in 1829. In return, France sent Egypt a clock that has never worked. If Ramses only knew what has happened to his obelisk, there would be more than a beard whacked off. Ramses was quite vocal, at least in stone, about what he liked to do to those who opposed him.

These thefts-by-agreements between those oppressed and those doing the oppressing are common in history. Twenty-four dollars for the island of Manhattan. Thirty pieces of silver for your Savior. Chances of ever getting the obelisk, Nefertiti or the Rosetta Stone back to Egypt are probably better than returning Manhattan to the Lenape Indians, but not by much.

Desecration was another form of wrecking the ancient structures of Egypt. Ramses II took stones from previous buildings to build his own, and scratching out the hieroglyphics, images and names of previous rulers made it easier to forget them and draw attention to those now in power.

Thievery and destruction didn’t start with the colonial period; grave robbing became a get-rich-quick scheme as soon as the tombs were sealed, pyramids built or temples erected. It was easier to steal limestone that once topped pyramids (see the top of the pyramid to the right of the Sphinx above) than to quarry new stones for the latest structure being built, whether another pyramid, a temple or a foundation for your new mud hut.

Egypt’s ancient treasures are now well guarded, which makes grave robbing difficult. But Egyptians are very good about using what been left behind by Ramses the Great and others to bring in new money. In 2019, 13 million tourists visited Egypt. In 2020, tourists spent $4.87 billion dollars in Egypt — during the COVID pandemic.

Much of that money goes to hotels, Nile cruise ships, food services and tour groups, but the man in the street — make that sand — has a chance to earn some too. At the Giza pyramids, you can buy rings, bracelets, scarves, scarabs, hats, T-shirts. You can rent horses, carriages. You can ride a camel — and we did (even though Kathy says they stink).

I took more than 850 photos and videos in our two weeks in Egypt, and my favorite one was taken by the person who usually holds the camel lead ropes except when he is snapping photos. Thank you, Mr. Camel Man.

(Coming some time: More on Ramses the Great)