Synopses & Reviews
The Italian son of a barber. A failed hydraulic engineer. A giant who performed feats of strength and agility in the circus. Giovanni Belzoni (1778-1824) was all of these before going on to become one of the most controversial figures in the history of Egyptian archaeology. A man of exceptional size with an ego of comparable proportions, he procured for the British Museum some of its largest and still awe-inspiring treasures. Today, however, the typical museum visitor knows nothing of Belzoni, and many modern archaeologists dismiss him as an ignorant vandal.
In this captivating new biography, Ivor Noel Hume re-creates an early nineteenth century in which there was no established archaeological profession, only enormous opportunity. Belzoni landed in Egypt, where he was unsuccessful in selling a hydraulic machine of his own invention, and came under the patronage of diplomat Henry Salt, who convinced him to travel to Thebes in search of artifacts. Among the many treasures Belzoni would bring back was the seven-ton stone head of Ramesses II, the Young Memnon.
The book includes gripping accounts of Belzoni's wildly productive, and physically brutal, expeditions, as well as an unforgettable portrait of his wife, Sarah, who suffered the hardships of the Egyptian deserts and later bore the brunt of the disillusionment that came with the declining popular perception of her husband. Including numerous illustrations, many in color, this volume brings one of archaeology's most fascinating figures vividly to life.
"A giant for his time at six-and-a-half-feet tall, Italian-adventurer Giovanni Belzoni led a series of daring explorations in the early 19th century, doing more than anyone else to fill the British Museum with the jewels of the Nile. Here, archaeologist Hume (Martin's Hundred) meticulously unearths his predecessor's exploits. Employing scores of laborers, Belzoni spent years relentlessly levering, chiseling, dragging, and excavating anything that could be pried loose. European empires competed for influence in Egypt, and travelers recognized the potential value of the ancient monuments. As collecting mummies and sarcophagi became an important source of patriotic pride, Belzoni not only had to wrest his prizes from geographic impediments and local chieftains, he was constantly bedeviled by his French counterparts. More skilled at swash-buckling and self-promotion than archaeology, 'modern archeologists shudder at Belzoni's Philistine approach,' and benign neglect looks enlightened compared to the ravages he and his contemporaries committed in the temples of the pharaohs, such as knocking down walls to facilitate the transportation of the spoils. Perhaps most egregious, Belzoni felt the urge to chisel his name like a graffiti tag onto every object he discovered.
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