Mummy is Become Merchandise: Literature and the Anglo-Egyptian Mummy Trade in the Seventeenth Century

  • Philip Schwyzer


In Thomas Browne’s ‘Fragment on Mummies’, Egypt is represented as both ancient and amnesiac, quite incapable of giving any good account of herself or her former glories. The quoted passage couples a general meditation on the entropic power of Time with a specific comment on the state of Egyptian civility in the seventeenth century. As a meditation, it echoes and bears comparison to Browne’s Hydriotaphia, and some readers have held it in no less esteem. As a comment on Egypt, it is typically ‘Orientalist’ in the sense of the term developed by Edward Said. The ‘mumbling’, senile East cannot articulate, much less represent itself; it must be interrogated, deciphered, transformed into an object of knowledge by the (presumably) European ‘traveller’ who ‘paceth amazedly’ in the shadow of the pyramids. ‘Egypt itself is now become the land of obliviousness and doteth.’ Oriental forgetfulness serves as the starting point for an English project of selfless scholarly recovery that will eventually be used in turn to justify colonial rule.2


Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Dead Body Counterfeit Product English Writer 
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© Philip Schwyzer 2005

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  • Philip Schwyzer

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