September 8, 2003

One more week to see Ramesses

Eric Rangus

The door will close on “Ramesses I: The Search for the Lost Pharaoh” on Sept. 14, but the 3,000-year-old Egyptian ruler’s effect on the Carlos Museum should be felt long after he returns home in late October.

I think this has gotten so many people excited, and it’s also highlighted the public’s interest in ancient Egypt,” said Betsy Teasley Trope, assistant curator for the permanent collection. “People have loved having a royal mummy here, and our hope is to maintain a lot of that momentum.”

One thing is definite: A lot of people have already come out to visit. According to Catherine Howett Smith, associate director of the museum, the Carlos draws about 100,000 in attendance each year. Since the exhibit opened in late April, more than 70,000 people have walked through the Carlos’ doors.

“We brought in many visitors who hadn’t been to museums before, just to see the mummy,” Smith said. “Our hope is that they also saw the African collection, the Greek collection, and that they felt comfortable coming to a museum. Maybe the mummy drew them in, but maybe they will come back.”

The direct effect of Ramesses’ stay—increased attendance—is easy to see. But down the road, the sensitivity toward Egyptian history and culture shown by Emory has the potential to pay off in many more ways.

“By repatriating the pharaoh, we were without question doing the right thing in terms of ethical museum practices,” said Smith, adding that some pieces from the tomb of Ramesses’ son, Seti I, already have been returned. “If you’re an educational institution and responsible for public trust, you have to ask yourself: Is it better to have these pieces out of context in a glass case in Atlanta, or is it better to think globally, and put them back in their context so scholars, visitors and students can benefit?”

Smith said that, in no small part because of Ramesses, the Carlos Museum’s relationship with Egypt is “wonderful” and that several future partnerships are in the works. For instance, a team from the museum including Trope, Director of Educational Programs Elizabeth Hornor and Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern Art Peter Lacovara will be scouting Egyptian sites for a future website that will offer live webcasts from archaeological digs.

“Operating in the Middle East is not like operating here,” Trope said. “If someone doesn’t like you—if you rub somebody the wrong way—they will blacklist you.”

With the exhibit closing in less than a week, Ramesses, even more than he has been, will be the museum’s focus.

On Sept. 9–12 and Sept. 14, the museum will be open from 10 a.m.–9 p.m. to accommodate last-minute visitors (because of Bacchanal 2003, the museum will have regular hours, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., on Saturday, Sept. 13). Normally, guided tours are available at certain times, but all have been booked for the remainder of Ramesses’ stay. Self-guided tours, however, are just as fulfilling.

On Sept. 13, the museum’s Bacchanal 2003 will have an Egyptian theme, “Farewell to the Pharaoh.” Hors d’oeuvres, live music and “pharonic tonics” will be the order of the evening as attendees will be able to tour the exhibit and the rest of the museum after visiting hours are over. Tickets are $70 each for the public ($60 for alumni) and include a six-month museum membership and all the benefits that go along with it.

On Sept. 14, the exhibit’s final day, Trope and William Fred Scott, artistic director of the Atlanta Opera, will discuss “Aida: The History and the Music.” Part lecture, part musical performance, Trope and Scott will explore not only opera’s characters—who are based on Nubian pharaohs—but how Egyptologist Auguste Mariette helped create the opera’s libretto.

Even after the Ramesses exhibit closes, the Carlos does not push Egypt aside. “Travelers in an Antique Land: Artists and Ancient Egypt,” a current display of of Egyptian-themed watercolors, prints and drawings, will be open until Jan. 11, 2004; and “Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From the Nile Valley,” opens Oct. 18 and will feature works of art and papyri dating from 525–402 B.C., a time of Jewish settlement in Egypt.

As part of the celebration of Ramesses return, Zahi Hawass, director general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt, will give a lecture and book signing, Oct. 22 in Glenn Auditorium. Later in the month, Hawass, along with a five-member team from Emory (with several media members in tow), will escort Ramesses home to Cairo.