Paradoxes of the Idea of Progress and Cultural Memory in Ancient Egypt: an answer to Vladimir Emelianov

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Associate Professor, Department of ancient world history, faculty of history, Lomonosov Moscow State University; associate Professor, School of historical Sciences, National Research University «Higher School of Economics»
Lomonosov Moscow State University
National Research University «Higher School of Economics»
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameVostok. Afro-Aziatskie obshchestva: istoriia i sovremennost
EditionIssue 6

The article discusses a postulate of the leading Russian Sumerologist Vladimir Emelianov (Voprosy filosofii 2011, No. 8). He states that only the modern scholarship since the eighteenth century has developed the method of “archaeological penetration” into the ancient history that allowed seeing in its epochs the reflections of here-and-now. Its background was the feeling of historical process. The division of history into big epochs was totally absent, according to Emelianov, in early antiquity and in Ancient Egypt. Here he strongly opposes the idea of Jan Assmann that each new epoch of Egyptian history addressed the “cultural memory” of the past to position itself as a return to it. However, the analysis shows that the Egyptian sources, i.e. the Royal Canon of Turin and the work by Manetho, as well as the reception of Egyptian historiography by Classical authors reveal conceptualized division of the past into big periods. Addressing ancient archives, researching and restoring ancient monuments was an important practice for Ancient Egyptians. This idea is expressed in the Papyrus Westcar, the first cycle of Setne Khamwas, the Famine Stela, the activities of the historical Prince Khaemweset etc. The ideological concept of return to the great past is exemplified best of all in the Renaissance of the Saite time (the seventh and the sixth centuries BCE). However, earlier epochs of Egyptian history also give similar examples, for example, the aspiration of kings in the late First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom to return capital to Memphis, i.e. in a sense, to return to the Old Kingdom. Thus, Emelianov’s postulate reveals an impressive ignorance of real evidence.

Keywordsantiquity, Orient, Egypt, historical memory, Vladimir Emelianov
AcknowledgmentThe Publication was prepared in the course of the research (№17-05-0051) within the framework of the Program “Scientific Fund of the National Research University “Higher School of Economics” (HSE)” in 2018 and within the state support of the leading universities of the Russian Federation “5-100”.
Publication date27.12.2018
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