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Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Narmer, Part One

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This is part of a Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt listen through. You can find this lecture series at The Great Courses. As of 7 Sep 2015, it’s on sale for $15.95 USD.

If you’ve been around here for any length of time you know about Nefertiti Overdrive. It’s a role-playing game I successfully Kickstarted set at the fall of 25th Dynasty Egypt. One of the reasons I chose Great Pharaohs as a listen through was because of its importance when I was writing. This course provided a jumping off point for researching the Nubian pharaohs. So as I go through this, I’m going to be making references to ideas and inspiration I drew from these episodes for both RPGs and fiction writing.

In the telling, this listen-through kind of grew, so I’m going to break it into two. I’ll post the second on Wednesday (9 Sep 2015). This might become the norm, considering the richness of these episodes.

As with all Great Courses, this one starts off with about three minutes of an announcer telling us all about the professor who will be delivering the lecture series. In this case, that’s Dr. Bob Brier. You can read about him on the page for the series, but I think his credentials show him to be more that suitable to deliver this lecture.

So let’s start with a word about Dr. Brier. I find him very engaging as a speaker. In general, I’ve found every series I’ve purchased – and I did purchase Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, it’s not a review copy – has been amazing in its content. What separates the courses for me is the delivery. There are probably fans of every professor on the site, but some I have found less engaging. Dr. Brier is someone I’d buy more lectures from – and spoiler alert, I picked up History of Ancient Egypt soon after finishing this series.

Dr. Brier has an idiosyncratic delivery style, but I think his enthusiasm and passion shine through on that. I imagine that he has a list of topics to cover rather than a script – although considering his history as a lecturer, there are probably lots of items about which he has an ingrained response, which is kind of like an internal script. I think your level of satisfaction with one of the Great Courses is going to be based on the lecturer, and if you are like me and enjoy Dr. Brier, I’m certain you’ll enjoy this course.

In the course opening, Dr. Brier explains why he has chosen this topic. He says he is breaking with common understanding of 2,500 years, which kind of amused me when I first heard it considering we have only recently broken with the “great man” version of history, and that sounds like what Dr. Brier is about to deliver. But, no, he’s not talking about the history of great men, he is talking about Herodotus. Back around 450 B.C., the Greek historian remarked “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” Dr. Brier doesn’t see it that way. His thesis is that Egypt is great because of its great leaders.

Now this is a survey course, meaning he’s not getting into the nuance of history, but this is where Dr. Brier almost lost me. I have a huge problem with his thesis because if it were true, Egypt would fail when it had bad rulers, and it – like all autocracies – had plenty of bad rulers. It’s also ridiculous to credit one feature with the success of a state that lasted for around 3,000 years.

Anyway, I found this easy to overlook because I believe Dr. Brier’s purpose is to engage his audience. This is a good way of doing it. Provide a simple thesis, a throughline the non-historian can follow. There is no doubt the great leaders Egypt had helped to define its own greatness, so as one of many causes for Egypt’s success, it is not wrong.

So that’s kind of all preparatory to a discussion of the episode itself.

You can find out more about Nefertiti Overdrive: High Octane Action in Ancient Egypt here.