Narrative Of The Operations; co-written by Sarah Belzoni.
My sister enjoyed Egypt on Netflix and knew I would like it. I was fascinated by the two episodes on Giovanni Belzoni. I wanted to follow up with his book. It was long out of print, but also out of copyright ; so it is available on Archive.org.
Giovanni Battista Belzoni had an interesting life. He was a circus ‘strong man’ performing as The Great Belzoni. His fame was sealed after meeting with Henry Salt, the British consul in Egypt. He was hired to move the 7-ton bust of Ramesses II up the Nile and on to the British Museum, in London. This success put Belzoni on the path of a pioneer explorer and accidental archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities .
The full title of the book is, “Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia; and of a journey to the coast of the Red Sea, in search of the ancient Berenice, and of another to the oasis of Jupiter Ammon.” Each section of the book deals with his adventures in a different part of the country. And adventures they were. I’m surprised he got out of Egypt alive. The country was in turmoil. The English, the French, the Turks, the Arabs, and various native tribes were all trying to survive in this wild land. The natives were sure he was stealing ‘treasures’ because only a madman would go into the dessert to dig up rocks.
Often his money was worthless and he had to rely on his strength, wits, and guns. His frustrations were felt on almost every page. No one could be trusted. I wasn’t sure Giovanni could be trusted in his accounts either, but they were certainly entertaining. As an archeologist he left a lot to be desired, but the field was in its infancy. Belzoni wasn’t the first nor the last grave robber. At least his artifacts went directly to the British Museum instead of being recycled into other local structures or melted down for profit.
Belzoni isn’t the best writer. English is his second language. But Belzoni is a good observer and his portraits of the people and the land are interesting. Belzoni comes across as a very clever man. He was able to use his intellect to discover hidden tombs and hidden entrances. He used his knowledge of hydraulics and engineering to open and move antiquities using very primitive tools.
The final chapters of the book were written by Sarah (Banne) Belzoni. Although she accompanied Giovanni on many of his operations, there were times were it was too dangerous.. especially going deep into the desert where water was more valuable than gold. On those trips she stayed put in Cairo or went on a trip Jerusalem and had adventures of her own. Sarah wrote about the women and how they were treated: poorly.
The dangers were endless. The Europeans were often very sick. In 1823 Giovanni set out for West Africa, but died of dysentery in the Kingdom of Benin. Who knows what else he might have found if he went to Egypt instead.
Excerpts From My Kindle
Fortune sometimes brings troubles on mankind merely that they may taste the fickleness of her nature and uncertainty of the favours she condescends to bestow on them. My vexation was great, thinking all my efforts and exertion in bringing the bust to the Nile were to no purpose, and that very probably it would never reach England, as the underhand machinations against it were so powerful.
– location 2353–2356
The scene here was beautiful—the silence of the night, the beams of the radiant moonshining on the still water of the lake, the solitude of the place, the sight of our boat, the group of fishermen, the temple, which bears the name of Old Charon, a little way off, put me in mind of the Lake Acheron, the boat Baris, and the old ferryman of the Styx. I perceived this was the very spot where the poets originated the fable of the passage of the souls over the river of Oblivion. Nothing could be more pleasing to my imagination than being so near the Elysium, perhaps on the very Elysium itself. I thought that the plants, which appeared nearly petrified, have been the very ones when the souls were enjoying the happiness of their purity. I was thus strolling along the banks of the lake in solitary musing, not unlike one of these wandering souls waiting its turn to cross the Styx, while my old Charon with his semi-demons were preparing supper.I wish that I had been a poet, that I might sing in verse the beautiful ideas and sensations I felt on that occasion. I thought that night one of the happiest in my life, and myself out of the reach of evil mortals. Happy in the Elysian Fields, I feared not the malice and treacherous arts of envy, jealousy, spite, revenge,nor the thousand other snares of man. I nearly forgot I was living: and I suppose, that had I continued in my ecstacy, I should have verified that these waters had the power of oblivion.
– location 5151–5160
Egypt (2005) Episodes 3 and 4. Dramatization of the great discoveries of ancient Egypt, from the exploration of tombs in the early 1800s, to the unraveling of the Rosetta Stone to translate the ancient language on the tombs, to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Belzoni also expanded his investigations to the great temple of Edfu, visited Elephantine and Philae, cleared the great temple at Abu Simbel of sand (1817), made excavations at Karnak, and opened up the sepulchre of Seti I (still sometimes known as “Belzoni’s Tomb”). He was the first to penetrate into the second pyramid of Giza, and the first European in modern times to visit the oasis of Bahariya. He also identified the ruins of Berenice on the Red Sea. Wikipedia
While reading Belzoni’s descriptions of The Tomb of Seti I, I wanted to see this for myself. I found a very good 360-degree tour: Tomb of Seti I – KV 17.
The Tomb of Seti I, Valley of the Kings, Egypt with descriptions by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews, and La tombe de Sethi 1er, KV.17 photos by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra.