Much of the literature on ancient Egypt centers on pharaohs or on elite conceptions of the afterlife. This scintillating book examines how ordinary ancient Egyptians lived their lives. Drawing on the remarkably rich and detailed archaeological, iconographic, and textual evidence from some 450 years of the New Kingdom, as well as recent theoretical innovations from several fields, it reconstructs private and social life from birth to death. The result is a meaningful portrait composed of individual biographies, communities, and landscapes.
Structured according to the cycles of life, the book relies on categories that the ancient Egyptians themselves used to make sense of their lives. Lynn Meskell gracefully sifts the evidence to reveal Egyptian domestic arrangements, social and family dynamics, sexuality, emotional experience, and attitudes toward the cadences of human life. She discusses how the Egyptians of the New Kingdom constituted and experienced self, kinship, life stages, reproduction, and social organization. And she examines their creation of communities and the material conditions in which they lived. Also included is neglected information on the formation of locality and the construction of gender and sexual identity and new evidence from the mortuary record, including important new data on the burial of children. Throughout, Meskell is careful to highlight differences among ancient Egyptians--the ways, for instance, that ethnicity, marital status, age, gender, and occupation patterned their experiences.
Readers will come away from this book with new insights on how life may have been experienced and conceived of by ancient Egyptians in all their variety. This makes Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt unique in Egyptology and fascinating to read.
"Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt is a happy example of a synthesis of factual knowledge and theoretical questioning. It has much to say, both about a particular and well-documented society and about the nature of the suppositions that a modern scholar needs to bring to such a society to make sense of it... [It] brings together an impressive range of material, sets this material sensibly in context and uses the testimony of an ancient society to remind us what it is to be human, and how life's challenges and limitations need to be met."--John Ray, Times Higher Education Supplement "Drawing on extensive archaeological and textual evidence ... Meskell draws a richly nuanced picture of life in an Egyptian village in New Kingdom Egypt, using the concept of human life cycle as her organizing framework."--Choice "For [general readers] the book will clearly be an extremely useful source for understanding the private lives of the Egyptians at this time. For Egyptologists it should provide a unified, up-to-date view of this aspect of the subject and Lynn Meskell has done scholars a service in writing it."--Helen Strudwick, Antiquity "Informative, well researched, entertaining, and [it] makes an important contribution to the field."--Ellen Morris, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology
Illustrations and Tables xi Acknowledgments xv Conventions xvii CHAPTER ONE: The Interpretative Framework 1 CHAPTER TWO: Locales and Communities 17 CHAPTER THREE: Social Selves 57 CHAPTER FOUR: Founding a House 94 CHAPTER FIVE: Love, Eroticism, and the Sexual Self 126 CHAPTER SIX: Embodied Knowledge 148 CHAPTER SEVEN: Cycles of Death and Life 178 Postscript 208 Notes 211 Bibliography 215 Index 233