Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Queens - of Egypt

The incredibly regal, beautiful carved chess pieces that stood next to the King from the earliest times weren't originally inspired by a male "vizier" you know, darlings (although a few of them were women, too). It was the King's consort - the Queen - who inspired the highest form of the divine art. Historian Marilyn Yalom hinted at this in her fine book "The Birth of the Chess Queen." But she was - okay, I won't call Yalom chicken, because I respect her too much - I'll call her "circumspect" instead :) She didn't say what needed to be said - that the Queen was ALWAYS present in the earliest forms of chess, and even though not necessarily physically present on the gameboard in the form of a piece, her presence was nonetheless always implicit. It's not your run-of-the-mill chess historian who will say such a thing, though - poor darlings - so many, so suppressed! Yes, I'm in your face about it - but really, even if it doesn't seem so, I am much kinder and gentler about ramming my beliefs down your throat than I used to be when I first started on this quest more than seven years ago... And so, the kinder and gentler Jan (ahem) starts out with an interesting lesson from ancient history. Learn about the real women who were queens in the game of life, not just a carved figure on a chessboard. Joyce Tyldesley's Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt (Thames & Hudson) covers from Early Dynastic times to the death of Cleopatra, a span of some 3000 years of royal ladies. Some of the queens, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Nefertari, and Cleopatra are household names. But here, in splendid detail, and extremely well illustrated, are the other royal ladies. The presentation follows the style of the reviewer's own earlier book on the pharaohs and is a very welcome pair to it - too often the royal ladies of ancient Egypt are sidelined to the greater glory of their husbands, the pharaohs, but here Dr. Tyldesley into the light, where their standing and often remarkable achievements are emphasised. When you learn about the roles of these women - not just the ancient Egyptian queens - and their connection to every aspect of ancient civilization, both religious and secular - and how integrated into the life of every person they were, it is then you will begin to suspect that they had a presence in every board game, despite having been boycotted by history for several thousand years.

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