Monday, 14 July 2014

Review: Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners, by Bill Manley

I bought this some time ago, largely because I'm interested in the possibility of using ancient Egyptian for inspiration when it comes to fantasy names, and also in the structure and approach of hieroglyphs as the basis of a fictional language/realm.

The approach of the book is very engaging. Instead of starting out by looking at certain words or Egyptian culture in the abstract, the author presents a fairly simple genuine engraving depicting a character from ancient Egypt, and slowly guides the reader through what it means.

Gradually, an increasing number of hieroglyphs and ever more complicated carvings (all genuine) are shown, and it's quite cool to glance at the book's cover and recognise the signs of Osiris, or that the 'ankh' in Tutankhamun means 'life'. It's well-paced, and does not assume any prior knowledge of hieroglyphics.

The sheer number of hieroglyphs, repetition of sounds and odd unique occurrences that you either know or you don't (not unique to ancient languages, the verb 'to be' is irregular in most modern ones) mean that it may take a little while to get into the swing of things. On the other hand, the use of a formula for the 'offering which the king gives' and the use of cartouches to indicate royal names, as well as other little linguistic habits, do give handy signposts to new carvings.

In terms of background information on Egyptian culture, there is a reasonable amount. That's not the primary purpose of the book, of course, but I did learn a fair amount about how Egyptians viewed their gods, pharaohs and the relationship between life and death. Tidbits are provided here and there, and by the end of the book it helps to inform the context of many carvings, as well as being interesting in and of itself.

It should be stressed that the book is an introduction to hieroglyphs, so if you want to become 'fluent' (as it were, it's a written, not a spoken, language) you will need other books which the author helpfully recommends. As an introduction, I think it works extremely well, and if you're interested in this sort of thing I would advocate buying it.


No comments:

Post a Comment