Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ancient Egyptian dreaming - a passion since childhood

I am thinking a great deal about where it all began...

Something about ancient Egypt hit me as a child, as it does many thoughtful children, and little wonder, on reflection. Ancient Egypt is not only mysterious and incredibly 'other' to a child, but also, paradoxically, second nature.

Take a look at any young child's sketches and paintings. They're eerily Egyptian, capturing the visible essence of things. The human body is shown side-on in the Egyptian way, just as it appears in tomb paintings and carved on temple walls, the face turned sideways, with the eye, invariably larger than life, dominating the features, the shoulders turned to the front so that both arms are revealed and one foot placed ahead of the other.

Objects - tables, piles of food, animals, trees - float mysteriously in space with little regard for scale. Young people understand ancient Egyptian art and design perfectly. It's how they see the world - eternal, free of time.

A child's Egypt is enviable, I've come to believe. Only as a child can you truly enter the kingdom of Pharaoh, it seems. A child loves mummies, tombs, underworlds filled with fantastic creatures, temples shimmering in bright sunlight, pyramids terrifying in their size, smooth statues of pharaohs, queens and animal-headed gods.

Young people also have a sunny love of life, just as the Egyptians did, and yet both share a dark, hidden world of mystery and magic where animals can communicate and powerful forces outside of their control influence events. Children know a place that older people forget, a shadowy underworld of fearsome chimeras.

Young people love secrets and no civilisation was so steeped in secrets and mystery as ancient Egypt. From its hieroglyphs and hidden tombs to its mummies and spells for the afterlife.

When a small child goes to bed to its little death-sleep at night, doesn't it take its most treasured possessions with it on the journey, its toys and dolls, accompanying the child into an afterlife of dreams?

And what about the scale of Egypt, pyramids, stone pharaohs carved out of mountains, soaring temples... a place built, as if from a child's imagination, for giants.

With the average Egyptian dying in their twenties, a case can be made for saying that it was young people who built the wonders of Egypt.

Put a child in a sandpit and what will it build? A pyramid of sand.

And think of the scenes painted in Egyptian tombs, those painted passages that throw their lengths hundreds of metres into the cliffs, the decorated walls showing scenes of feasting, families fishing from skiffs on the Nile, flowers, fields and animals. They're not places of gloom like a modern graveyard. They're filled with scenes as bright and colourful as a child's nursery.

Ancient Egypt is a place of great wonders where anything seems possible. Little wonder then that so many young people fall in love with it for a lifetime...