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===Early Interest in Ancient Egypt===
right|“Pyramids of Gerzah” Lithograph by David Roberts, 1838-9]]
Although the ancient Egyptians wrote about their own history, the first true critical analysis of ancient Egyptian history was conducted by the early Greek and Roman historians and geographers. The fifth century Greek historian, Herodotus, is perhaps best known for the in-depth treatment he gave to pharaonic history in Book II of <i>The Histories</i>, which influenced others, such as Diodorus and Strabo, to follow with their own observations of the Nile Valley. The accuracy of the classical accounts of ancient Egyptian history could vary widely. The further back in time the accounts went, the more likely that the chronologies were garbled and facts were simply wrong. The reason for these problems is directly related to the fact that even the most educated Greeks and Romans never took the time to learn the ancient Egyptian language so they were often forced to rely on the Egyptian priests for translations and explanations of texts. The priests were only human, which meant that some parts of Egyptian history were sacrificed for others they believed more important. <ref> Krebsbach, Jared. “Herodotus, Diodorus, and Manetho: An Examination of the Influence of Egyptian Historiography on the Classical Historians.” <i>New England Classical Journal.</i> 41 (2014) pgs. 98-99</ref> The classical historians were able to more critically examine events closer to their own period, though, because many of those events were already written about in Greek.
While medieval Europeans viewed ancient Egyptian civilization through the lens of the Bible, but with some emphasis on the culture’s more arcane aspects, the people who lived in the pyramids shadows also offered their explanations for the once seemingly great but lost civilization. The Muslim Arabs who conquered Egypt in AD 642 saw ancient Egyptian monuments and particularly the Pyramids of Giza, as simultaneously being “monuments of ignorance” and therefore an affront to Islam, but also as sources of wisdom and power, During the Middle Ages in the Middle East, a number of fictional tales were written in Arabic and Persian where the Pyramids of Giza played a central role. In one legend, an Egyptian king named Surid was said to have built the pyramids as both a tomb – which was the purpose of pyramids – and as a repository of ancient wisdom. In another Islamic legend, the pyramids were said to be tombs of ancient Yemeni kings. Many medieval Islamic sources also give credence to the legendary figure, Hermes Trismegistus, and how he ordered the construction of the pyramids to preserve ancient esoteric knowledge from floods. <ref> Dykstra, Darell. “Pyramids, Prophets, and Progress: Ancient Egypt in the Writings of ʿAli Mubārak.” <i>Journal of the American Oriental Society</i> 114 (1994) pgs. 57-58</ref> Although medieval Muslims were correctly able to deduce that pyramids were tombs, their lack of understanding of the ancient Egyptian language kept them from understanding the depth of pharaonic civilization.
The curiosity that Europeans felt toward ancient Egypt during the Middle Ages began to evolve into a genuine desire to view pharaonic culture more objectively during the Renaissance. While Renaissance artists were influence by Greek models to create some of the finest pieces of work in the history of Western Civilization, some scholars began looking at ancient Egypt from beyond the perspective of the Bible. By the fifteenth century, most educated Europeans knew that pyramids were used as tombs, not granaries as they had previously believed. <ref> Curran, Brian A. “The Renaissance Afterlife of Ancient Egypt (1400-1650).” In <i>The Wisdom of Ancient Egypt: Changing Visions through the Ages.</i> Edited by Peter Ucko and Timothy Champion. (London: University of London Press, 2003), p. 103</ref> The interest in ancient Egypt began to permeate throughout some of Europe’s oldest universities, but the key to understanding all aspects of pharaonic culture were still unknown – the language. Some Renaissance scholars were able to correctly surmise that the enigmatic hieroglyphic script contained both phonetic and idiomatic elements, but it may as well have been a script from another planet because its decipherment still remained far out of reach. <ref> Curran, p. 108</ref>
===The Enlightenment and Ancient Egypt===