May 31, 1279 BC: Rameses II (The Great) (19th dynasty) becomes pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. "He is often regarded as Egypt's greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh. His successors and later Egyptians called him the "Great Ancestor". In the third year of his reign Ramesses started the most ambitious building project after the pyramids, that were built 1,500 years earlier. The population was put to work on changing the face of Egypt. Ramesses decided to eternalize himself in stone, and so he ordered changes to the methods used by his masons. The elegant but shallow reliefs of previous pharaohs were easily transformed, and so their images and words could easily be obliterated by their successors. Ramesses insisted that his carvings were deeply engraved in the stone, which made them not only less susceptible to later alteration, but also made them more prominent in the Egyptian sun, reflecting his relationship with the sun god, Ra. Ramesses constructed many large monuments, including the archeological complex of Abu Simbel, and the Mortuary temple known as the Ramesseum. He built on a monumental scale to ensure that his legacy would survive the ravages of time. Ramesses used art as a means of propaganda for his victories over foreigners and are depicted on numerous temple reliefs. Ramesses II also erected more colossal statues of himself than any other pharaoh. He also usurped many existing statues by inscribing his own cartouche on them."
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1819: Walt Whitman, American poet, was born. "Walt Whitman has been claimed as America's first "poet of democracy", a title meant to reflect his ability to write in a singularly American character. A British friend of Walt Whitman, Mary Smith Whitall Costelloe, wrote: "You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass... He has expressed that civilization, 'up to date,' as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him." Modernist poet Ezra Pound called Whitman "America's poet... He is America." Andrew Carnegie called him "the great poet of America so far". Whitman's vagabond lifestyle was adopted by the Beat movement and its leaders such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac in the 1950s and 1960s as well as anti-war poets like Adrienne Rich and Gary Snyder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti numbered himself among Whitman's "wild children", and the title of his 1961 collection Starting from San Francisco is a deliberate reference to Whitman's Starting from Paumanok. Whitman also influenced Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and was the model for the character of Dracula. Stoker said in his notes that Dracula represented the quintessential male which, to Stoker, was Whitman, with whom he corresponded until Whitman's death."
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May 31, 1860: Walter Sickert, painter, was born. "A German-born English Impressionist painter and a member of the Camden Town Group, Sickert was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects. He is considered an eccentric figure of the transition from Impressionism to modernism, and as an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century." Sickert is perhaps best-known today as the subject of several far-fetched theories which name him as Jack-the-Ripper.
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ON OUR SHELVES-
"The Quest for Immortality. Treasures of Ancient Egypt”
Edited by Erik Hornung & Betsy M. Bryan.
Published by the National Gallery of Art in 2002.
“From the beginning of their civilization, ancient Egyptians conceived of an immortal afterlife, devoting vast material resources and energy into preparations for eternity. This catalog, filled with vivid photographs of objects from Cairo's Egyptian Museum, discusses their continually evolving understanding of the afterlife in the period from the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC), when stability and prosperity fostered a flowering of cultural activity, to the Late Period (664-332 BC). More than 100 objects are shown in detail—coffins, tombs, masks, papyri, sarcophagi, and sculpture, some in multiple images or with full-page closeups—and the introductory essays are illustrated with some 75 additional color photographs.”