Who Wrote These Notes?

A friend lent me a book. Not in itself unusual. The book, an English translation of Pirandello, Il fu Mattia Pascal. The late Mattia Pascal, came from a used bookstore, so my friend was not the first to read it, although it is in pristine condition. I do have Pirandello in Italian and I had used his short stories to help me learn the language when I first came to Italy in 1955. As I leaf through the pages of this translation, two slips of paper fall out. Covered densely with handwriting – oh my, I think, someone still takes notes by hand. The writing is in English, most of it fairly legible. 

The slips of paper don’t seem to have anything to do with Pirandello, though. As far as I know he wasn’t interested in the Egyptians and wrote about his Sicily and the human condition.  

At the top of one note is GEB (the earth) NOUT (the sky) and a wavy line going from Osiris to Isis to Seth to Nephthys, followed by a considerable amount of text, mostly regarding Isis.  On the back is a quote from Flaubert “to write a book about nothing”. What a fascinating idea.

On the top of the other piece of paper, we have Hymen Mamluk and Abu Simbel.  As I scan the page, there are references to other individuals, all having to do with Egypt, including King Fouad. Richard Monckton Milnes, the Life of…John Keats, Giovanni Belzoni, Champollion, Hermetica.  Milnes (I have to look him up) was, I find, an English poet and seems to have known everyone of any importance. Belzoni, with whom I’m acquainted from my Grand Tour studies, ransacked Egypt and brought much back to Italy, Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphics. Then there is mention of Farouk and “the rebellious Pope Pius IX” (Ok, why rebellious?).

Here too on the back are quotes from Flaubert – one on “the glorious corpse of the spirit which had gone out and animated the wide world”. I had read that Flaubert was fascinated by Egypt, and traveled along the Nile in 1850, curiously enough at the same time as Florence Nightingale although their paths never crossed. Aside from their visits to the temples, their chief interests were at opposite poles.

I come to the conclusion that whoever wrote these notes wanted to know more about Egypt (had perhaps seen Egyptian objects in the museum?). I think it must be a she who wrote these observations although later it turns out I was wrong.

There is something tantalizing about all this. Pirandello is in a sense only an intermediary but Flaubert, Pirandello, the unknown writer of these notes on Egypt, whoever had the book in the first place, are all part of a chain of which I am now the latest link.

3 thoughts on “Who Wrote These Notes?

  1. Certainly there is something tantalising about this! And not only historically: now you have to decide what to do with these notes – their destiny is now in your hands!


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