Some Words with a Mummy
Doctor Ponnonner invites the narrator to his home to take part in a mummy unwrapping. They cut into the first sarcophagus, remove it and discover the mummy's name, Allamistakeo. The second and third sarcophagi are removed to reveal the body, placed in a papyrus sheath, 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 doctor lays out instruments for the dissection, but the men suggest using electricity on the mummy and they begin preparations for this at once. The amount of electricity causes the mummy to awaken and condemn the men for their abuse. The men make their apologies to Allamistakeo, 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 gather up proper clothes for Allamistakeo and sit down for cigars and wine.
Allamistakeo explains 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 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. To this Allamistakeo has to accept defeat and, in triumph, the men disperse.
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. It was ultimately published in the April 1845 edition of the American Review, which also included Poe's revised poems "The Valley of Unrest" and "The City in the Sea". The story was republished without changes shortly after in the November 1, 1845, issue of the Broadway Journal.
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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
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
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.
The story was adapted as a one-act opera, Allamistakeo, by Giulio Viozzi in 1954.
- 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
- Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001: 224. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X
- 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