In The Beginning
Of all the world's great civilisations, that of ancient Egypt probably still holds the most fascination for us westerners, fed as we are by an endless stream of new television documentaries on the subject. Through archaeology, many of its secrets have been revealed and we marvel at the scientific knowledge which the ancient Egyptians possessed, enabling them not only to construct such gigantic and complex structures as the pyramids, but also to build them to apparently precise mathematical and astronomical specifications - so precise that some suggest that their science must have come from outside the confines of our own planet. Furthermore, it has been put forward that these mystical people were also guardians of that most awesome of secrets - the key to all knowledge, past, present and future; a secret recently reported to be held in a chamber somewhere beneath the paws of the Sphinx and the discovery of which will herald the end of the world! Whether you consider such ideas credible or not, the very possibility of their truth appeals to our own seemingly unquenchable appetite for stories linking us to extra- terrestrial life. A part of us hopes them to be true and, perversely, really wants to discover that last elusive, dreadful secret, even if it does mean that by doing so we bring about our own doom.
Apart from the mysteries surrounding the science of the ancient Egyptians, their religion and mythology, so beautifully (perhaps even romantically) handed down to us in their writings and drawings, tantalise our imagination. The colourful characters of Amun-Re, the King of the Gods, Re, the Sun God, Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, Isis, wife of Osiris and Goddess of Magic, Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris and the falcon God of Kingship, Anubis, the jackal-headed God of Mummification and Guardian of Cemeteries, the cat Goddess Bastet - there is something intriguing in them which still attracts our attention even thousands of years after their heyday.
Then, there is the ancient Egyptians' preoccupation with preparations for life after death. The funeral rituals, the fabulous artefacts placed within the tomb to keep its occupant in comfort in the afterlife - and the mummification process itself; a grisly, but sacred, process which has ensured that many excellently preserved corpses have passed right down to our own times. One could almost say 'survived' down to our own times, since modern scientists have discovered body cells so perfectly preserved as to be still capable of life. Could a mummy, dead for thousands of years, really be brought back to life? Well, in the normal course of events the answer has to be 'no'. The mummification process involved the removal of all the internal organs of the body and the circulatory and nervous systems could not possibly be reactivated. Not by science. But, what if a dead ancient Egyptian had been denied the sacred rites and buried intact? Such a person must have led a particularly bad life or committed a crime of blasphemous proportions to be disallowed the blessings of the funeral rites. An evil person perhaps? And, from that premise, a single leap of the imagination associates 'evil' with 'curses' and, while science certainly cannot resurrect the long dead, the mystical forces governing curses would, logically, doubtless have that power. So it is that, in our mind's eye, we can see the accursed figure of an ancient Egyptian corpse, swathed in mouldering bandages, brought back from the dead by followers of forgotten sects as an instrument of vengeance against those who desecrate the tombs of the blessed dead. From these dark thoughts and, courtesy of even darker forces, a monster is born, an unstoppable, unassailable creature from the depths of Hell - The Mummy!
Ancient Egypt and the Mummy made various appearances during the cinema's silent era in films such as Melies' "Cleopatre" (1899), "'The Monster" (1903), '"The Vengeance of Egypt" (1912), but public interest really took off, thanks largely to press sensationalism, following some bizarre coincidences which occurred following the discovery of the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922.
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