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Friday, November 12, 2010

Set Them Free! But keep the Kaiser's copy ...

We invite you to stand a while, and think.
Stand on the embankment of the Thames on a sunny weekday afternoon, Big Ben at your back, the Thames to your right, and watch the crowds scurrying past the twin Sphinxes standing guard over Cleopatra's Needle. Observe how people stop and stare at the two giant statues, and then let their gazes drift upwards, to the small pyramidion on top of the obelisk.
Or stand on the plaque marking the spot where the guillotine first tasted blood during the French Revolution, and watch the cluster of people beneath the beautiful obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, and then let your gaze wander from them to the huge fountains with their leaping waters, and on past them along the most attractive street in the world, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, up to the proud Arc de Triomphe.
Or stand before the uncarved beauty of the obelisk in St. Peter's Square in Rome, and see how the colonnades sweep outwards to embrace the granite spear.
And think of these monuments, torn from their desert homeland and moved to these foreign spots.
By what moral right are they kept there?
The sight of these lonely giants, standing lost in the peace of millenia amidst the hustle and bustle of the huge cities they now find themselves in cannot but move you.
They moved us.
And so as part of our novel Obelisk Seven, we are hoping that we can add to a movement to Set Them Free. To return them – along with the bust of Nefertiti now in her new Berlin prison – to Egypt.
We are proud to join the company of H. Rider Haggard (1856 – 1925), the famous author of She, and King Soloman's Mines, in calling for their return.
Haggard, whose book She sold an incredible 83 million copies, wrote his first novel while struggling as a newly admitted lawyer, and established a genre of lost worlds. Haggard wrote She in a "white heat", he said, in February and March 1886.

In The Days of My Life, Haggard describes his meeting with Budge (click here for our earlier post introducing the Budge Snippets):
Only ought not the thing to stop somewhere? For my part I should like to see the bodies of the Pharaohs, after they had been reproduced in wax, reverently laid in the chambers and passages of the Great Pyramids and there sealed up for ever, in such a fashion that no future thief could break in and steal.
Haggard writes poignantly about the scene which E.A. Wallis Budge (1857 – 1934) found in one ancient tomb he had opened:
Dr. Budge told me of a certain tomb which he and his guide were the first to enter since it had been closed, I think about 4,000 years before. He said that it was absolutely perfect. There lay the coffin of the lady, there stood the funeral jars of offering, there on the breast was a fan of which the ostrich plumes were turned to feathers of dust. There, too, in the sand of the floor were the footprints of those who had borne the corpse to burial. Those footprints always impressed me very much.
H. Rider Haggard
In Obelisk Seven our hero,  Kate, argues for the return of the obelisks to Egypt. She suggests that one way to do this is for the current host countries to provide the funding for Egyptian carvers to cut out of the granite quarries on the banks of the Nile new blocks of stone, and – using the old techniques – to carve exact copies of the obelisks. These copies the host countries could move to London, and Paris,  and Rome, and New York, and then return the originals to their rightful places in Egypt.
We have a suggestion for the bust of Nefertiti. It, too, should be returned to Egypt. However, there is a copy already in existence – the one made in 1913 for James Simon when the bust was taken to Berlin in 1912 and gifted to Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Why not let Berlin keep the Kaiser's copy, and return the original Nefertiti bust to her homeland?

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