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the Complete Review
the complete review - history / archaeology / science


The Tears of Re

Gene Kritsky

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To purchase The Tears of Re

Title: The Tears of Re
Author: Gene Kritsky
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2015
Length: 127 pages
Availability: The Tears of Re - US
The Tears of Re - UK
The Tears of Re - Canada
  • Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt
  • With many black and white photographs and sixteen color plates

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Our Assessment:

B : attractive volume; solid overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 11/12/2015 Richard Benson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Kritsky marshals all this material with a simple, supple prose that at odd times lends the text the feel of a translated European novel (.....) Readable in a few hours, the book is the sort of unexpected delight one hopes to find in an old hotel, and it deserves to do well." - Richard Benson, The Independent

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Tears of Re takes its title from a 300 BCE passage describing how the tears of Re ("the preferred name for the deity [Ra] in recent Egyptological literature"): "fell on the ground / and turned into a bee". Beekeeping -- as opposed to mere honey hunting -- turns out to have been fairly widespread in ancient Egypt, and Gene Kritsky pieces together the evidence of when and in what form it was practiced in this monograph.
       Richly illustrated, Kritsky's book provides a tour of inscriptions, writing fragments, seals, reliefs, and other archaeological evidence that hint at and document the history of beekeeping in Egypt (and also inadvertently reminds readers how widely dispersed ancient Egyptian artifacts are (in museums and collections throughout the world), making for an odd sense of dislocation).
       Kritsky's painstaking attention to detail and attribution in his explanations is, on the one hand, welcome but also makes following some of this challenging. So, for example, the figure of Nykara, responsible for monitoring the harvesting of honey in the Fifth Dynasty (c.2513-2374 BCE) is certainly interesting but there's quite some material to wend through to get to the gist, beginning with:

     Nykara's tomb was discovered by C.M.Firth at Saqqara and likely mentioned in his report for his 1925-1926 field season. The tomb finds included a number of statues (Figure 2.6) and part of the tomb's false door (Scott 1952), an architectural element of the tomb often placed on in a western wall. The door functioned as the connection between the living and the dead and was where offerings were placed for the deceased (Shaw and Nicholson 1995, Wiebach-Koepke 2001). Nykara's false door is on display in the Cleveland Museum of Art (Figure 2.7). Only nine blocks survive: one forms the drum (the top of the inner section) and four blocks each form the left and right door jamb. The innermost section below the drum is missing (Berman 1999).
       That's a lot of information, only some of which is peripherally relevant to beekeeping and harvest-monitoring. Yet in so precisely tracking the evidence of beekeeping in the historical (archaeological) record, as he does throughout the book, Kritsky does offer a useful timeline and an interesting discussion of the evolution of beekeeping -- and as the record becomes clearer in later times the book soon doesn't get quite so bogged down in these sorts of details.
       As Kritsky notes: "Honey was the major sweetener in the ancient world, as sugarcane had not yet been introduced from Southeast Asia". From the grading system for honey of the time -- based on color and purity -- to its value -- honey was relatively expensive -- Kritsky helpfully describes its role and place in those times. So also its use for medicinal purposes -- it was: "a perfect medicine for the ancient Egyptians", he suggests, reminding also that with its very low moisture content and low pH it has useful antibacterial properties. (Oddly, however, the Egyptians don't seem to have developed mead -- noted by Kritsky but perhaps worth more speculation than the mere three lines he devotes to it.)
       There are very many -- and a wonderful variety of -- pictures in the volume, which naturally are more evocative than mere explanatory text. The vast majority are black and white, but sixteen color plates also brighten things up.
       The Tears of Re is more an introductory overview than a detailed analysis of beekeeping and its history in ancient Egypt, but it is thorough, and with its extensive references and bibliography constantly points readers to where they might find more detailed information about specific aspects under discussion. With its many illustrations, and at not too much more than a hundred pages, it can readily be enjoyed by the non-specialist as well (though s/he might be tempted (or advised) to skim over some parts, without missing too much).

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 November 2015

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The Tears of Re: Reviews: Gene Kritsky: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Gene Kritsky teaches biology at Mount St. Joseph University.

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© 2015 the complete review

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