STARRED REVIEW
December 08, 2015

A startling new translation reveals the wonder of hieroglyphics

By Susan Brind Morrow
In The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, Susan Brind Morrow offers a new translation of the ancient Pyramid Texts that finds poetry, science and thought itself bursting from every line.
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The Pyramid Texts were written 4,000 years ago, and their discovery promised insight into the thoughts and ideas of the day. The first translations by Western Egyptologists sold the Texts short; presuming that they were written by a primitive people obsessed with mythology and utterly devoid of curiosity about the world around them, the earliest translations are a mishmash of monsters, legends and a surprisingly intense focus on the hindquarters of baboons. Susan Brind Morrow isn't having it: In The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, she offers a new translation that finds poetry, science and thought itself bursting from every line.

Morrow studied Arabic and Egyptology in college (at Columbia and Barnard) and worked as an archaeologist after graduation. She has traveled widely in Egypt and Sudan and wrote an acclaimed 1998 memoir of her experiences there, The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert. In her new book, Morrow reveals what she has learned in 20 years of studying hieroglyphs, showing line by line how the ancient pictorial writing can contain shrewd puns, onomatopoeia and a haiku-like sense of perspective, compressing grand ideas into their essential and smallest details. She comments that "far from being alien and incomprehensible, religious thought and with it, writing as high art in deep antiquity, is superbly lucid."

In the texts themselves, passages that situate the body within the cosmos and explore the meaning of the cycles of death and rebirth are beautiful, and also presage Christian thinking on similar subjects. Parallels to Buddhist thought and Tantra are also evident here, Morrow argues.

With subject matter so old, it's impossible to say with certainty whether her view is correct. Morrow nevertheless makes a strong case for her close line-reading as having more merit than the work of her predecessors. Rather than project assumptions about the authors, she follows the text, and in so doing has opened up a piece of the ancient world to our eyes and understanding. The Dawning Moon of the Mind is rich on every level.

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The Dawning Moon of the Mind

The Dawning Moon of the Mind

By Susan Brind Morrow
FSG
ISBN 9780374200107

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