The first capital of Egypt was Memphis, which today lies in complete ruination just twelve miles south of Cairo. Legend holds that the city was founded by the pharaoh Menes about 5000 years ago. Some modern scholars maintain that Menes and King Narmer were one and the same man and that this man, whatever his name was, was the one who united Upper and Lower Egypt. The uniting of warring factions into a single nation seems to have been a primary function for the heroes of Civilization.*
Lower Egypt ran from Memphis to the Mediterranean. The boundary for Upper Egypt was just a little farther up the Nile (to the south). Amazingly, there is an early Hollywood movie about Menes (he is called Amenes). Finding this movie was for me like discovering the tomb of a long lost pharaoh.
This film is called The Loves of Pharaoh (1922) and it is a potboiler melodrama probably inspired by Griffith’s re-creation of Babylon in Intolerance (1916). The central event in the movie is Menes’ war with King Samlak of Ethiopia. It gets pretty silly but the spectacle is impressive for its time.
An even more stunning Egyptian discovery came for me at the end of the year 2002, when I unearthed a VHS copy of Land of the Pharaohs (1955) at my local Hollywood Video store. This was in the dimly remembered time before wide use of Netflix streaming and YouTube. Called a “Sword-and-Sandal” movie, it was an early epic presenting a fictional treatment of the building of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. William Faulkner is listed among the screenwriters.
The Old Kingdom saw the building of the three pyramids at Giza, which almost everyone will recognize, but there is a less famous prototype just south of Giza, dating to circa 2700 BCE. Called Saqqara (say Sock-ara), it is a step pyramid (above) and very much resembles the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. For the curious visitor, it is a milestone of Civilization, and emblem of the monumentalism to come.
*Go to FAQ for use of the term post-paradigm and capitalization of Civilization.