Temples and Tombs: The Glory That Was Egypt

I am not surprised that some readers felt that my stories about our tour of Egypt and Israel were too downbeat.

As Florence Glick put it, succinctly: “Your recent trip sounds about as much fun as a hangnail.”

No, really, it was more fun than that. It was about as much fun as a stubbed toe.

And of course we experienced the glories of those two ancient countries as well as the hardships of the tour. My wife found it exhilarating, which is how she finds almost everything.


I will deal first with a couple of minor complaints about my diction.

Gary W. Fentress writes, “As a fellow survivor of the Music Center tour to Egypt, I was appalled , yea, appalled to see you refer to heiroglyphics , as the form of Egyptian writing. Jack, them ain’t heiroglyphics ; them be heiroglyphs , glyphics being the adjective.”

In the first place, the word is spelled ie , not ei -- hieroglyphics . Also, my dictionary defines hieroglyph as “same as hieroglyphic ,” and one of the definitions of hieroglyphics is “written in hieroglyphics.”

G. B. Tennyson, professor of English (what else, with a name like Tennyson?) at UCLA, comments on my phrase “Egypt is a desert transversed by the Nile . . . " as follows:


“Did the waters of the Nile also transverse Jack Smith’s colon after he drank local Coca-Cola, as surely he deserved? I allow you the inelegant ‘cultivable’ for ‘arable’; it is in the dictionary.”

So is transverse . And it means “to lie or pass across.” Is that not what the Nile does to the desert?

Arthur C. Luneau chastises me for declining to follow my intrepid wife into the inner chamber of the Great Pyramid: “I think you are a wimp and glad you were not in my company during WW II.” (If his company did any serious fighting I’m glad I wasn’t in it too.)

“Marco Polo you are not!” says Rebecca Lawrence Lee of Carlsbad. “However, Mark Twain No. 2 might do for you!” (I’d much rather remind someone of Mark Twain than Marco Polo.)


“Sorry,” she goes on, “but I can’t believe that anyone would travel all the way to Luxor, Egypt, without setting foot in that magnificent Temple of Karnak! At the very least you should have seen its splendid Hypostyle Hall, perhaps the largest hall of any temple in the world! It is said that Canterbury Cathedral could be set down in the midst of it with plenty of room to spare.”

Well, I have seen Canterbury. I’ll just try to imagine it inside Karnak.

In a letter to the editor, Robert D. Summers asks, “Could someone please tell me why Jack Smith bothered to go to Egypt?”

Well, yes. My wife bought the tickets, and I didn’t want to be a wimp.


He adds, “My late wife and I had some of the greatest times in our lives traveling Egypt: sights and experiences that will never be forgotten.”

If it will appease him at all, I assure Mr. Summers that my trip to Egypt likewise will never be forgotten.

Carl B. Pearlston Jr. of Torrance contradicts my suggestion that after a while all temples begin to look alike. He notes that some are Ptolemaic, while others are of the earlier Pharaonic periods. Well, yes, that’s true.

He also says that the hieroglyphics do reveal ancient history (I said the ancients left little history), as well as the myths of religion. “They tell about the conquests of the Pharaohs . . . court life, hunting, fishing, dancing, feasting, festivals and funeral practices.”


Yes, especially funeral practices.

Mr. Pearlston also insists that the Egyptians were monotheistic, though, as I pointed out, their hieroglyphics show them worshipping falcons, jackals and crocodiles, among other beasts. He says that they left only temples and tombs, because they were built for eternity. Other structures were made of mud brick and timber, and either eroded away or were destroyed by invaders.

No reason not to concede all those points. I don’t claim to be an Egyptologist, nor even a travel writer. I was merely trying to give an impression of what it was like for me, no great traveler at best, to keep up with my wife in the Land of the Pharaohs.

On the other hand, Kilbee Brittain writes: “The Egypt articles are delightful. They bring me back to the dusty sights and smells that we enjoyed a few years ago on a Swan’s two-week cruise on the Nile in a little boat that might have doubled for the one in the movie ‘Death on the Nile.’ ”


There were times when I thought that’s how my saga was going to end.