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Bildatlas zum Sport im alten Agypten: Corpus der bildlichen Quellen zu Leibesubungen, Spiel, Jagd, Tanz und verwandten Themen, 2 vols.

This massive tome and its accompanying volume of plates are an encyclopedic study in text and image of scenes of sports and athletic activities from ancient Egypt. Decker has long been the leading researcher on ancient Egyptian sport, and much of the introductory text of this volume is a resumption and elaboration of his earlier works, Quellentexte zu Sport und Korperkultur (Sankt Augustin: Verlag Hans Richarz, 1975), Sport und Spiel im alten Agypten (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1987), issued as Sports and Games in Ancient Egypt (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1992). The present work, with its more detailed text and visual presentation of so many of the documents, supersedes the previous works.

The authors' definition of "sport" is broad, including archery, hunting, acrobatics, boxing, wrestling, stick fighting, chariot driving, board games, and running and jumping games. It also includes cult activities which one might expect to be outside the range of sport, such as the sed festival, a ritual of rejuvenation of the king, which incorporated a ritual run, jousting boatmen, mww-dancers, musicians, and swimming girls.

The authors not only champion the idea that the sporting tradition and pure sports are far older in Egypt than in Greece, tracing them to the Nile Valley in the third millennium B.C. (p. 12), but they suggest that Egyptian activities were the model upon which some famous classical contests were patterned. They cite in particular the Egyptian scenes of Amunhotep II as archer, which they take to be the inspiration for the tale of Odysseus in the Odyssey (pp. 141-42).

The authors' evaluation of whether an activity with a ritual or utilitarian nature is actually a "sport" is, as they themselves admit, not easy, or even always clear. For example, the authors argue that chariot driving scenes of the New Kingdom constitute sport, although there is no evidence of chariot racing in ancient Egypt. Such scenes are included on the basis of the many New Kingdom scenes of chariots which are associated with sports, such as archery (p. 191). They are careful to note the symbolic nature of many of the "sports," as diverse as dancing, jousting, and archery.

In spite of the size of the volume, its clear organization makes it easy to use. The activities are arranged by general topic (cult scenes, archery, chariot driving, hunting, combat sports, games, acrobatics and dancing, and water activities) and then grouped into more detailed categories. For example, "cult scenes" are divided into discussions of the sed festival, the erection of the shn pole in the festival of Min, the ball and bat ritual, and the ritual throwing of balls. Examples within each section are presented in chronological order. Each section is preceded by a narrative that discusses the nature of the sport and its cultural and ritual background. Egyptian texts are presented in both transliteration and translation.

Each document, whether it is illustrated in the plate volume or not, is given full documentation (location, date, material, and bibliography). The basic data are accompanied by a detailed description of the particular scene. This is very helpful to the non-Egyptologist who may be unfamiliar with traditional iconography and artistic conventions. The thoroughness of the volume's documentation helps to refine chronological parameters for certain sports. For example, the authors cite Late Period representations of the mhn snake game (documents Q 1.9-10), not mentioned in the basic work on the subject (Peter Piccioni, "Mehen, Mysteries, and Resurrection from the Coiled Serpent," Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 27 [1990]: 46), which states that the game was known only to the end of the Old Kingdom.

The text is augmented by appendices and indices of sites, monuments, divine, royal, and private names, and museum collections. This is followed by a chronological outline of Egyptian history and a series of maps keyed to the topographic and chronological distribution of most of the categories of sports (pp. 966-1007). These valuable summaries should not be overlooked by the reader.

As the authors warn (p. 18), the plate volume cannot be used alone, for the captions are very abbreviated, omitting basic information such as source and date.

It is hard to find fault with such an ambitious and successful undertaking. However, considering the highly organized manner of this work, the inconsistent cross-referencing of scenes is curious. This is very obvious in scenes which incorporate several types of sport. For example, category G (general scenes of archery), category I (scenes of chariots and horse training), and category J (hunting in the wild), share subject matter and are, in some instances, illustrated by the same scene. Thus document G45 is the same as I14, and document G32 is identical to J73. In the plate volume, these scenes are arranged according to their I and J categories respectively, and even the table giving the source of illustrations (vol. 1, pp. 945-63), lacks cross-references to the text of section G. It would have been a service to the reader to position the plate in order of the first category under which it is discussed and to give references to additional text categories on the plate itself. This would have made it possible for the reader who leafs through the plate volume to track down all relevant discussions of the plate; for a single scene may be described, with quite different emphasis, in several sections of text. This lack of cross-referencing is especially puzzling, considering that the plates for section Q (plates 355-57), which are treated in several different text entries, have the references to each discussion of the image. So too, one wonders why plates 446-50, of archery equipment (all category F), are found at the back of the plate volume rather than in their proper order. Although the authors do note this anomaly (p. 19, n. 23), it seems like a shortcut in an otherwise finely produced book.

One should exercise care using the bibliography, for some entries appear out of correct alphabetical order (for example, p. 906: Pieper, Piccione, Pillet).

The authors' broad definition of sport has allowed them to catalogue a great number of different and significant genres of Egyptian scenes of daily life, and of ritual and funerary activities. The sheer bulk of material, brought together in such a clear and detailed manner, makes this an invaluable and multi-functional resource for historians, Egyptologists, art historians, and those with an interest in ancient religious ritual. It supersedes the other compilations of such scenes, such as Jacques Vandier, Manuel d'archeologie egyptienne, 5 vols. (Paris: Editions A. et J. Picard, 1952-69), and the brief topical indices in the second edition of the standard Egyptological reference, Bertha Porter and Rosalind Moss, Topographic Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Painting, vols. 2, 3 (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1972, 1974). The authors state that their goal in producing this massive work was to stimulate interdisciplinary research on sports (p. 2). Clearly, that goal has been exceeded, for these two volumes now stand as the basic reference for Egyptian sports and related ritual activities.

EMILY TEETER THE ORIENTAL INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
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Author:Teeter, Emily
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1996
Words:1179
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