SSoP Podcast Episode 30 — Egypt: Ancient Antiquities, Fiery Djinn, and the Lure of the Nile

SSoP Podcast Episode 30 — Egypt: Ancient Antiquities, Fiery Djinn, and the Lure of the Nile

Monday, 8 November, 2021

Egypt was one of the world’s first civilizations, with a history that reaches back 5000 years through the sands of time. It’s where writing and two-dimensional drawing and paper began. The god Amun-Ra personified the sun shining down on the deserts — and Osiris, the god of death, inspired a belief in the afterlife that led to the construction of the pyramids.

Life in Egypt clings to the green ribbon of the Nile River that snakes through the country with humans and animals along its length. It’s home to hippos, the Nile crocodiles, and the asp — the poisonous snake that may or may not have sealed Cleopatra’s doom. It’s also a stopover for millions of birds migrating from Europe to Africa.

Egypt has also been the crossroads for human invaders for centuries: Ottoman invaders, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the British. In the past few decades, there’s been rising tension and violence between religious conservatives (see: the Muslim Brotherhood) and secular factions.

But the Egyptian people you’ll meet on the street? They’re friendly, welcoming, and eager to show you the country they love. And with good reason. In addition to the massive shrines in the desert, there’s a world-class museum with the largest collection of ancient artifacts in the world and mosques decorated with breathtaking mosaics. You can also sail on a romantic felucca (Egyptian sailboat) along the Nile, scuba in the Red Sea, navigate the sci-fi calcium formations in the White Desert, or simply enjoy a cup of tea while watching the hustle of daily life.

In this episode, we explore Egypt’s dynamic dynastic history, enjoy the antics of King Farouk, dish about The Mummy, and lots more. Then we recommend five books we love that took us there on the page: a fantasy about the djinn, a photo-rich guide to Egyptian antiquities, a novel about sisters navigating the Arab Spring, and two fictional approaches to history that cast a spell on Mel.


Read the full transcript of Episode 30: Egypt: Ancient Antiquities, Fiery Djinn, and the Lure of the Nile.

The Visitors

buy | read review

The City of Brass

buy | read review

A Pure Heart

buy | read review

The Illustrated Guide to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

buy | read review

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

  • The intro music in this episode is the traditional Egyptian song ‘Ya Henna’ played by 30 young musicians from around the world at Ethno Catalonia 2016.
  • Could we do an episode about Egypt without mention Steve Martin’s song ‘King Tut’? No, we could not. Sorry.
  • Fun fact: The 1999 movie The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz (as the world’s most adorkable librarian Evelyn) was shot in Morocco, not Egypt. We don’t care; we love it anyway.
white rock formations in egypt's white desert
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
white rock formations in egypt's white desert
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
  • Now seems like a good time to just eyeball some other pretty stuff:
gold mask of king tut
King Tut's mask. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
pyramids of giza
The pyraminds of Giza. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
entrance to the luxor temple with massive statues
Entrance to the Luxor Temple. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
enormous statue of ramses at the luxor temple
Ramses statue at the Luxor Temple. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
the great sphinx in egypt
The Great Sphinx. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.

two truths and a lie

  • Statement 1: In 1967, a chain of 15 ships got stuck in the Suez Canal. They remained stuck there for eight years. TRUE! Here’s a video of the worst traffic jam ever.
  • Statement 2: Cary Grant was denied entry into Egypt. The king thought he was too good-looking. LIE! King Farouk was a bit overwhelmed by his sudden responsibilities. As his biographer wrote, ‘none was as unprepared to rule. Here was a completely sheltered, virtually uneducated sixteen-year-old, expected to fill the spot of his wily, politically astute father in a loaded tug-of-war between nationalism, imperialism, constitutionalism, and monarchy.’ His wiki page.

black and white photo of king farouk in a military uniform

  • Statement 3: Ancient Egyptians invented plastic surgery. TRUE! In 1862, an American antiquities dealer named Edwin Smith bought a papyrus that turned out to be a medical treatise. It describes how to treat different injuries, fractures, wounds. In hieroglyphics. And one of the things that it covers is rhinoplasty. Edwin’s wiki page.
black and white photo of mena house entrance
Guests arriving at the Mena House, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Mena House.
  • S.A. Chakraborty is the author of The City of Brass. Here she is in conversation with another author we love, Victoria Schwab.
  • Rajia Hassib is the author of A Pure Heart. Here she is doing a reading and talking about her book for the Gaithersburg Book Festival.
  • You can read The Illustrated Guide to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in its entirety online. Feast your eyes here! Or take a video tour through the museum before it closes when the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza opens.
  • The new Grand Egyptian Museum is set to open in 2022. Read all about it.

  • The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by features the Geniza of Cairo. Princeton University, Cambridge University, and the Friedberg Genizah Project all have extension resources about the Geniza online.

  • From Cairo to the Cloud is a documentary about the Geniza. It includes interviews with 40 experts who chart the discovery and scholarship of rare random that make for a rich ‘medieval Facebook.’ Here’s a discussion with the director from the Seattle Jewish Film Festival in March 2021.


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