Some Words with a Mummy

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"Some Words with a Mummy" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in American Review: A Whig Journal in April 1845.

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins with the narrator at home, he complains of feeling unwell due to a symposium he had attend the night before. After eating a light dinner of four pounds of Welsh rabbit and five bottles of Brown Stout, the narrator heads to bed. He is awakened shortly after he falls asleep by the ringing of his door bell followed by knocking at his door. Shortly after his wife brings him a note from his friend Doctor Ponnonner. In the note Doctor Ponnonner invites the narrator to his home to take part in a mummy unwrapping at eleven that night. The narrator gets dressed and leaves for the doctor's home at once.

Upon arriving at the doctor's house he is met by an excited group of men waiting for the examination to begin. They begin by cutting into the first sarcophagus and removing it. At this point they make their first discovery, the mummy's name, Allamistakeo. They then remove the second and third sarcophagi revealing the body itself. Instead of finding the body wrapped in layer after layer of linen bandages as they expected, the body was placed in a papyrus sheath and then covered in plaster and decorated with painting and gold gilt. After removing this they examine the body. They find it to be in exceptionally good condition, although it does not seem to have been embalmed in the normal way as the skin is red and there are no incisions.

The narrator takes notice of the time as the doctor is laying out his instruments for the dissection and the men agree to adjourn for the night as it is already past two in the morning. As the men begin to disperse for the night, one suggests experimenting with a Voltaic pile. The excitement of using electricity on the body of a mummy dead for thousands of years proves too much of a temptation for the men and they begin preparations at once. They make incisions into the mummy's temple, big toe, and nose in order to apply electricity to the muscles underneath the surface. When electricity was applied to the temple the mummy closed its eyes, this disquieted the men but the doctor continued. When it was applied to the toe the mummy kicked the doctor with such force that he was thrown through the window. After collecting the Doctor from outside the men go back to work on the mummy. Electricity was applied to its nose. This caused the mummy to open its eyes and blink rapidly. It then sneezed, sat up and shook its fist at the doctor. It then turned to two of the men, Gliddon and Buckingham, and began talking to them in Egyptian. The mummy condemned the men for their abuse of his person. Thoroughly chastised the men make their apologies to Allamistakeo and explain to him why they dissect mummies and the scientific importance of it. Satisfied with the explanation and their apologies Allamistakeo shakes hands with the men, who then proceed to patch up the damage caused by their incisions. They then gather up proper clothes for Allamistakeo and sit down for cigars and wine.

As the men talk, Allamistakeo begins to explain how he came to be a mummy, ancient Egyptians had a significantly longer life span than modern men, about one thousand years, they were also able to be embalmed, this process arrested the bodily functions allowing them to sleep through hundreds of years only to rise and go on with their lives centuries later. Allamistakeo again chastises the men for their ignorance of Egyptian history. He then explains that throughout time man has always been monotheistic, the pagan gods were symbols of the various aspects of the one true god. The men also ask him, as he is over five thousand years old, if he knows anything about how the universe was created ten thousand years ago. Allamistakeo responds that no one during his time entertained the fantasy that the universe was ever created, but that it always existed, although, some believed that humans were created by spontaneous generation. This begins a debate amongst the men, the modern men attempt to prove that the Egyptians were inferior while Allamistakeo attempts to defend his people. The narrator asks Allamistakeo a series of questions. Allamistakeo answers them all, while one of the men beg the narrator to consult Ptolemy, Plutarch, and Diodorus Siculus as he asks the questions. At this point the Doctor butts in and asks Allamistakeo to consider modern architecture. The Doctor asks Allamistakeo to consider Bowling-Green Fountain in New York and Capitol at Washington, D. C., as they are prime examples of modern architectural marvels. Allamistakeo then tells the men of a "inferior" palace in Charnac, "He would not pretend to assert that even fifty or sixty of the Doctor's Capitols might have been built within these walls, but he was by no means sure that two or three hundred of them might not have been squeezed in with some trouble." The narrator then asks Allamistakeo what he thinks about railroads. He replies that they are ill-conceived and replies that the iron causeways Egyptians used for building were more than effective. He then told Allamistakeo about the benefits of steel use, to which he replied that the copper tools the Egyptians used were better. The narrator then criticizes Allamistakeo on his ignorance of steam, the same man that interrupted him before chastises him again and calls him a fool, telling him that the steam engine was based on a design by Heron. The Doctor comes to the rescue, asking Allamistakeo if ancient Egyptians had ever produced Ponnonner's lozenges or Brandreth's pills. To this Allamistakeo had to accept defeat and, in triumph, the men dispersed.

The story ends with the narrator sitting at home finishing his story. In the last lines he writes of his dissatisfaction with his wife, who he calls a shrew, and with the time in general. He plans on eating his breakfast and going back to Ponnanners to get embalmed for a few centuries.

Publication history[edit]

In January 1845, Columbian Magazine listed "Some Words with a Mummy" as scheduled for publication; Poe likely pulled the article when he was offered more money for it elsewhere.[1] It was ultimately published in the April 1845 edition of the American Review,[2] which also included Poe's revised poems "The Valley of Unrest" and "The City in the Sea".[3] The story was republished without changes shortly after in the November 1, 1845, issue of the Broadway Journal.[2]

Analysis[edit]

This story is a satire of two things. First the popular interest in Egyptology and mummies during the time that this story was written. Secondly the prevailing thought that in the West humanity had reached the height of civilization and knowledge due to the scientific and industrial revolutions.

Satire of Egyptmania[edit]

Poe is clearly poking fun at Egyptmania in this story. In the story a group of men gather together in the middle of the night to examine a mummy for the sake of "scientific discovery". During their examination they act like a group of children that just got a new toy. They poke and prod the mummy just to see what happens, this is evident when they decide to use electricity. The fact that this is going on at the Doctor's private residence and is attended by his friends only, even though they do not have any kind of medical expertise denotes this fact. Although it seems, in modern times, counterproductive to conduct a serious scientific examination in a party like atmosphere, this was commonly done at the time, a fact that Poe is ridiculing here. The mummy is also a method of ridicule here, right down to its name, Allamistakeo. Unlike serious mummy horror stories, the mummy is not scary, and the characters do not react to it as such. It is another device that Poe uses to censure the reader. Upon its resurrection, the mummy chastises the men for their abuse of himself and mummies in general.

Satire of science and knowledge[edit]

In their discussion with Allamistakeo, the men attempt to exalt their time as one of unprecedented knowledge and technology. Again and again, Allamistakeo is able to prove that the technology in his time was not inferior, and often superior, to the modern equivalents. The narrator, who at first is presented as an intelligent, educated man, is later revealed to be completely ignorant. He asks Allamistakeo a series of questions intended to prove that modern technology is superior and each time he asks questions that, ultimately, support Allamistakeo's argument. Even when one of the men tries to stop him and suggests that he consult historical texts before asking his questions, he continues. When the man mentions Ptolemy, the narrators response is "whoever Ptolemy is". In the end, the only reason the men can consider themselves the victors of the debate comes down to cough drops.

Adaptations[edit]

The story was adapted as a one-act opera, Allamistakeo, by Giulio Viozzi in 1954.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas, Dwight & David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987: 484. ISBN 0-7838-1401-1
  2. ^ a b Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001: 224. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X
  3. ^ Thomas, Dwight & David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987: 522. ISBN 0-7838-1401-1

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