Tag Archives: University of California Press

How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs

How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teach Yourself by Mark Collier and Bill Manley, illustrated by Richard Parkinson, from University of California Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room. There is a more recently revised edition than the one in the collection.

Mark Collier Bill Manley How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs from University of California Press

“Can you imagine yourself visiting a vast Egyptian monument and puzzling over the hieroglyphs inscribed on its walls? Have you stood awestruck before an ancient tablet in a museum case, wishing you could read the inscription for yourself?

With the help of this practical step-by-step guide, museum-goers, tourists, and armchair travelers can learn the language and culture of ancient Egypt.

Mark Collier and Bill Manley’s novel and straightforward approach is informed by years of experience teaching Egyptian hieroglyphs to non-specialists. They use clear and attractive drawing of actual inscriptions displayed in the British Museum and concentrate on the kinds of monuments readers might encounter in other museum collections—especially funerary inscriptions, coffins, and tomb scenes. Each chapter introduces a new aspect of hieroglyphic script or Middle Egyptian grammar and provides practical exercises to improve reading skills.

The supporting notes led insight into the concerns, rituals, and daily experiences of the authors of ancient texts. The material touches on topic ranging from the pharaonic administration to family life in ancient Egypt to the Egyptian way of death. With this book as our guide, you will be able to confidently translate hieroglyphs found on Egyptian art and artifacts in museums around the world.” — back cover

Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol I

Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms by Miriam Lichtheim, from University of California Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Miriam Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol I from University of California Press

“The aim of the present volume is to provide, in up-to-date translations, a representative selection of ancient Egyptian literature in a chronological arrangement designed to bring out the evolution of literary forms; and to do this in a convenient and inexpensive format. It is meant to serve several kinds of readers: those who pursue studies within the broad spectrum of ancient Near Eastern civilizations; scholars in other humanistic fields and other readers for whom an acquaintance with ancient Egyptian literature is meaningful; and those who read ancient Egyptian. Translations serve two purposes. They substitute—inadequately—for the original works; and they aid in the study of the originals. It is my hope that this book of readings will be useful on both counts.”

“In preparing the translations I have of course made full use of existing translations and studies, especially the more recent ones, which are scattered throughout the scholarly literature. Evidently a book of readings is up to date only if it reflects the present state of the discipline. Those who are familiar with the texts, however, are aware of the limitations of our understanding, of the conjectural nature of much that is passed off as translation, and of the considerable differences between several translations of one and the same text. Hanec the ‘present state’ of the discipline is an intricate web of consensus and controversy. Agreeing sometimes with one, sometimes with another, interpretation of a difficult passage, I have frequently agreed with none and sought my own solutions. Only in certain cases are these departures from existing translations discussed in the annotations, for to discuss them all would have resulted in an all too heavy philological apparatus, which would not have been in keeping with the major aims of the work. […] If this calls for an apology, I offer the observation that the present state of academic learning is characterized by a vast expansion in the numbers of those participating in it, and hence calls for publications that attempt to reach beyond the confines of professional specialization while at the same time making a contribution to the specialized discipline.” — From the Preface

The Greeks and the Irrational

The Greeks and the Irrational by E R Dodds, the 1966 paperback from University of California Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

E R Dodds The Greeks and the Irrational from University of California Press

“Greek culture has long been identified with the triumph of rationalism. The role of primitive and irrational forces in Greek society has been largely glossed over or neglected even when it was obviously touched on by the Greeks themselves. In this volume, armed with analytical weapons of modern anthropology and psychology, Professor Dodds asks, ‘Why should we attribute to the ancient Greeks an immunity from ‘primitive’ modes of thought which we do not find in any society open to our direct observation?'” — back cover

Sexual Ambivalence

Sexual Ambivalence: Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity by Luc Brisson, translated by Janet Lloyd, a 2002 paperback from University of California Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Luc Brisson Janet Lloyd Sexual Ambivalence from University of California Press

“This fascinating book collects and translates most of the extant Graeco-Roman writing on human beings, divinities, animals, and other creatures who were both female and male. Luc Brisson provides a commentary that situates this rich source material within its historical and intellectual contexts. These selections—from mythological, philosophical, historical, and anecdotal sources—describe cases of either simultaneous dual sexuality, as in androgyny and hermaphroditism, or successive dual sexuality, as in the case of Tiresias (the blind Theban prophet), which are found through the whole span of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Sexual Ambivalence is an invaluable sourcebook that gathers this suggestive, yet hard to find, material in one convenient place.

In addition to including such familiar sources as the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Aristophanes’s myth of the origin of the sexes and sexuality in Plato’s Symposium, Brisson also discusses cosmogonic mythology in Hesiodic poetry, the Orphic Rhapsodies, Gnosticism, the Hermetic Corpus, and the so-called Chaldean Oracles. He presents the manifold variants of the myth of Tiresias, as well as many other sources.

These ancient stories deepen our awareness of how strongly the polarity of sexuality colors our entire perception of the world and are profoundly relevant to our thinking today.” — back cover


Mahabharata by William Buck, introduced by B A van Nooten, illustrated by Shirley Triest, a 4th printing of the 1981 paperback from University of California (Berkeley) Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

William Buck Mahabharata from University of California Press

“In 1955 Bill Buck discovered an elaborate nineteenth century edition of The Sacred Song of the Lord, the Bhagavad-Gita of Lord Krishna, in a state library in Carson City, Nevada. Immediately captivated, he plunged into a study of Indian literature which has resulted in this rendering of the Mahabharata, one of the Ramayana, and an unfinished manuscript of Harivamsa—unfinished because of the death of Bill Buck in 1970 at the age of 37.

His discovery of the Bhagavad-Gita moved Bill Buck to read the Mahabharata, and he would be satisfied with nothing but the full translation, an eleven volume set of which was then being reprinted in India. So determined was he that he subsidized the reprinting when it became apparent that the publisher had insufficient funds to complete his task.

Midway through his reading of volume 3, Buck decided the Mahabharata should be rewritten for a modern English-speaking audience. In his own words, ‘Mahabharat was about 5000 pages, and Ramayana much shorter. When I read these translations I thought how nice to tell the story so it wouldn’t be so hard to read. We talk about all the repetition and digression of the originals, but as you read all that endless impossible prose a very definite character comes to each actor in the story, and the land and times are most clearly shown. I wanted to transfer this story to a readable book.’

To this end, Bill Buck began years of reading and rereading the translations, studying Sanskrit, planning, and writing. One of his approaches to his task was to decipher all the elaborate appellatives used for heroes and gods, kings and princesses which were used in the original text, often in place of names. These were qualities related to the characters, of which Buck compiled lists. He later used the adjectives interlaced with descriptions to preserve the mood and meanings of the characters in his own renderings. He also read all available English translations and versions of the two great epics, later saying of them, ‘I have never seen any versions of either story in English that were not mere outlines, or incomplete, except for the two literal translations.’ He was always aware that the epics were originally sung, so reading aloud both the original translations and his own work became part of the Buck family life. But the writing was done in seclusion, many hours at a time, with only the finished chapters presented to the family.” — from Publisher’s Preface

The Secret Museum

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture by Walter Kendrick, designed by Steve Renick, from University of California Press.

Walter Kendrick Steve Renick The Secre Museum from University of California Press

Kendrick treats the history of the concept of pornography from its origins in the Enlightenment period to the “post-pornographic era” of the late 20th century. A central piece of his argument concerns the origins and development of the “Young Person” (a term taken from Dickens) who constitutes the hypothesized and hypostasized audience to be sequestered from pornography. It also treats the bifurcation of “pornography” and “art,” and the emergent and then vanishing textuality of pornography.

The chronology of the original book ends with the Meese Commission report of 1986, and the author’s hope that it spelled a final denoument of the turmoil over pornography in US society. The 1996 afterword opens onto the vista of the Internet, and the renewed conflicts and ambivalence in the American pornographic milieu.

Although furnished with a scholarly apparatus, this book is a lucid, speedy read. It doesn’t have any salacious content; it is written to provoke reflections rather than erections! [via]


The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.


Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion by Hugh Urban from University of California Press:

Hugh Urban's Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion from University of California Press


In this lucid book, Urban provides an overview of the development of discourse about “Tantra” and “Tantrism” in India and the West from the 18th through the 20th century. He emphasizes the interplay of categories across cultural boundaries and in relation to political and economic change in the formation and development of the idea of Tantra. Although the book is informed by an awareness of post-colonial tactics of scholarship, it does not indulge in a simplistic narrative of imperial conquerors determining the identities of colonial subjects, but looks at more complex dialogues and dialectics.

The text includes studies of Tantra in religious, political, literary, scholarly, and commercial contexts. Figures treated include Sri Aurobindo, Arthur Avalon, Swami Vivekananda, Mircea Eliade, Julius Evloa, Oom the Omnipotent, Aleister Crowley, Osho, and others. Urban describes a trajectory “from a tradition associated with secrecy, danger, and occult power to one associated primarily with sexual liberation and physical pleasure.” (265) Unlike many other academics, he does not condemn or dismiss the more recent developments, but instead attempts to contextualize them with respect to a range of phenomena that have always been contested and subject to changes in valuation.

The book is divided into six principal chapters plus an introduction and conclusion, each of which is subdivided into a set of two-to-six-page essays, making it highly digestible. Each essay is headed with one or two epigraphs, which—while insightful and well-chosen—almost inevitably recur in the essays that they lead, often after prose intended to present the ideas that are then summed up by the quote. The overall effect of this process is to confront the reader with the same idea two or three times in succession, in basically the same manner, resulting in a halting sense of redundancy within many of the essays. Otherwise, the writing style is highly engaging.

In the chapter on “The Cult of Ecstasy” Urban observes the confluence of the traditions of European occultism and magic with 20th century neo-Tantra, pointing out incisively that “Tantra has increasingly been associated and hoplessly confused, not only with the Indian erotic arts like those of the Kama Sutra, but also with Western erotic-occult practices like those of Crowley and the OTO.” (228) But he himself contributes in some measure to the confusion when he writes, “Crowley’s practice is the clearest example of sexual magic combined (and perhaps hopelessly confused) with Indian Tantra.” (219) In fact, Crowley never identified any of his practices with Tantra. As Urban notes, Crowley referred in passing to “the follies of Vamacharya (debauchery)” in The Equinox. The claims of biographers Symonds and Sutin regarding Crowley’s supposed study of Tantra in Asia are unconvincing. “Tantra” and Tantric terminology are conspicuously absent from Crowley’s technical instructions for OTO initiates. That sort of synthesis had to wait for the “Creative Occultism” of Crowley’s student Kenneth Grant. Grant’s own interest in Tantra was probably to blame for the fact that Crowley actually got around to mentioning it in his last book-length work Aleister Explains Everything (published posthumously as Magick Without Tears). Even then, Crowley merely wrote vaguely of having studied “numerous writings on the Tantra,” among other sources of Indian lore. (MWT 232) Grant’s craving for Tantric instruction was finally satisfied by David Curwen, a full OTO initiate who had not received his Tantrism through OTO. This relation is documented in Grant’s correspondence memoir Remembering Aleister Crowley. (47-49)

In a topic as rife with controversy as the history of representations of Tantra, such points of dispute are sure to arise. Urban compellingly presents some of the reasons why Tantra is such a focus for contention, and how it deserves the continued attention of scholars in its popular and innovating manifestations as well as its elite and traditional ones. [via]



The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.