Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ancient Curses 3: Egyptian Curses

'Hello! My name is Buffy. Ask me about curses.'

- Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  episode 1, season 6

Welcome to Buddha's Black Dog, my blog on curses and spells: for what it's about  (and my other blogs).  see 

Buddha's Black Dog is  organised thematically, and older posts will be linked to  after each post.

Hollywood and popular fiction have a great time with Egyptian curses; the one thing everyone knows about Egyptian tombs is that they are best left undisturbed. Lord Carnarvon, for example, led the expedition that discovered Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt's 'Valley of the Kings' in 1922, and the boy king's  fabulous grave goods; unfortunately there was an ancient curse associated with the tomb to discourage graverobbers, and Carnarvon died a few months after the tomb was finally opened in February 1923.

However, his co-excavator, Howard Carter, who did most of the work and opened the tomb personally, and was the first person (for millenia) to see Tutankhamun's sarcophagus, live happily until 1939 dying at the age of 64 (and is buried in Putney). The majority of the expedition members, indeed, lived normal spans. There was no curse, and in fact, robbers have been merrily plundering Egyptian tombs for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, mummies were collected and shredded for their presumed medicinal value.

The first Hollywood movie about mummies to make a big impact was The Mummy (1932), with the great Boris Karloff playing the mummy, but there had been several preceding silent films that dealt with the subject, a notable example being Vengeance of Egypt (1912), which involves Napoleon, a stolen ring and a mummy with glowing eyes. As Michael Delahoyde has pointed out (see, such tales go back into the depths of the 19th century - they probably reflect some sort of colonial tension regarding the mysteries of the colonised in general, as well as that of Egypt in particular. The tales could be used for comic effect, as in Edgar Allan Poe's short story (of 1845!), 'Some Words with a Mummy', but we are now habituated to mummies being menacing instead of a source of laughs (and doubtful remedies).

See What the Past Did for Us (2004), Adam Hart-Davis, for a brusque dismissal of the 'ancient curse' myth.

ANCIENT CURSES 2: Otzi the Ice Man
CURSES THAT WORKED 1: the Curse of Shakespeare's Tomb
My other blogs are

A Glasgow Album - a photoblog drifting in a melancholy manner around the city


a series of photographs of dogs tied up outside shops and other places (not too melancholy)

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