Lisa Simpson Studies for her World Civilizations Exam

Lisa Simpson Studies for her World Civilizations Exam

Lisa will serve as a model for an ideal student preparing to answer the following examination question:

Explain why you think you would or would not have enjoyed living in ancient Egypt. Include in your answer art, architecture, customs, beliefs, literature. Give at least five specific examples. Do not include items that are common to all civilizations.

Thinks Lisa:

OK. What's going on here? Does he really care whether I would have enjoyed living in ancient Egypt? Maybe, but it looks mostly like he's trying to get me to tell him what I know about the civilization there, personalizing it to make the question more interesting. I'll explain briefly why each point about the culture attracts me or repels me, but I won't spend a whole lot of time on my own feelings.

That much is obvious. Hmm. He's asking for at least five specific examples, and he lists five categories (art, architecture, customs, beliefs, literature), so it's clear that he wants at least one from each category. The words "at least" show me that five is the minimum, so if I want to get an A I'll probably have to do more. Since this is a short exam, two in each category is probably a good number.

Let's start with the obvious category: architecture. Everybody knows about the pyramids, so I should probably mention them; but because everybody knows about them, I've got to go beyond. We talked a lot more in class about temples than about pyramids, so he must think they are important. The packet says we should be prepared to compare cultures, so the influence of the Egyptian pillars and post-and-lintel construction on the Greeks would be a good thing to mention. I'd better say something more specific about the pyramids than that they were big, too: where they were, when they were built, how they were built--something like that. Is there anything in the reader about architecture? Oh yeah, the writing by that scribe boasts that his work will last longer than the buildings of famous pharoahs. I'd better go back and look at that.

OK. Art. We know that he thinks art is a big deal because he shows us so many pictures. There are two kinds of art: sculpture and wall paintings (not counting jewelry and furniture from Tut's tomb) so I'm going to need to describe at least one of each. The sculpture of King Menkaure and his queen in Duiker is pretty good, but since I want to show I've done more than read the text, I'd probably better pick something different from my notes or the Web to talk about. The image we saw of the cat-goddess Sekhmet would be ideal because I can tie it to the hymn to Sekhmet-Bast in the reader.

We saw a lot of neat paintings: hunting, dancing, game-playing, harvesting, etc. I should probably describe a couple of those. Oh yeah, the point about paintings of people being rendered simultaneously from side view and frontal view was interesting. Remember that point doesn't apply to the sculptures, though they were intended to be viewed mainly from the front. I'd better say why I would have enjoyed taking part in the activities depicted in the paintings.

Customs. Since I'm a girl, I'm interested in the fact that the Egyptians treated women relatively well, though he did repeat a couple of times that they weren't full equals. Let's see, I tend to get Hammurabi's Babylonian laws on women mixed up with the laws applying to women in Egypt: I'd better study those especially in Duiker to make sure I don't talk about women running wine shops and stuff like that which really belongs to Babylonian civilization. Women could own property, sometimes were priestesses. For sure mention Hatshepsut, the famous female pharoah, maybe say a little about her achievements. Better practice writing her name. Anything in the reader? Oh yeah, that poem by a woman hoping her boyfriend will marry her. Poetry in a woman's voice is pretty unusual and worth talking about. Women seem to have been able to assert themselves more in Egypt than in most cultures. Should I mention that women were in charge of running the home and the rearing and education of children? Probably not because that's pretty universal and the question specifically says " Do not include items that are common to all civilizations."

Mummification is another obvious custom--maybe too obvious. If I mention it I'd better say something specifically class-related about it, like the mummy of Ramses II we saw in class. If I talk about Osiris being the god of resurrection I can use the hymn to him in the reader.

That's getting us into beliefs--religion. Better name a few specific gods and describe a picture or two of them and mention what their functions were.

Finally, literature. Since our teacher is an English professor and especially edited the reader to emphasize literature, this is going to be really important. I'd better try to talk about at least three literary selections. Duiker says the Egyptians wrote mostly records, not poetry and stories; but that's not a good reason to ignore what we do have. After all, modern Americans use writing a lot more for mundane uses like business letters than they do for creative literature too, but that doesn't stop it from being an important topic. I can use the love poems (and tie them into customs), the Dialogue of a Man with his Soul (belief in the afterlife, attitudes toward death).

I think I'm pretty set. There's a lot to say, so I'd better skip a fancy introduction and get right down to examples. Remember not to repeat points or make generalizations.

I'm ready.

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