Thoth's 9th festival: Exploring the days between Petosiris and Taha Hussein

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 6 Nov 2023

Thoth annual heritage and culture festival celebrated on 27-28 October the 50th memorial anniversary of the renowned cultural figure Taha Hussein (1889-1973) in New Hermopolis, Minya.

professor Mervat Abdel Nasser opens thoth's 9th festival in New Hermopolis, Menya. (Photo by amira noshokaty)


The annual festival was founded by Professor Mervat Abdel-Nasser, a consultant psychiatrist, an Egyptology researcher, and an Egyptian writer who came back to Egypt in 2007 to revive the village of creativity concept, like that of the city of Hermopolis, in her New Hermopolis.

This year's edition is dedicated to the cultural icon Taha Hussein who was born in Minya. The festival included a visit to Tuna El-Gabal necropolis.

"This is the place where the temple of Thoth was set and it was the central point of intellects and writers such as Petosiris; it is a centre for knowledge creation. Ancient Egypt had two centres for knowledge creation, Heliopolis and Hermopolis the city of Thoth, the lord of divine words, thought, knowledge, and wisdom," explained Professor Abdel-Nasser in her opening speech.

Thoth, the symbol of wisdom and the author of the Book of Eternal Wisdom (first century AD), is known in ancient Egypt as the lord of divine words who invented the hieroglyphs and is also the author of the Hermetica philosophical writings written in Hermopolis.

 Hermopolis, which is a few kilometers away from New Hermopolis the eco-village and cultural and heritage hub founded by Professor Abdel-Nasser, dates back to the old kingdom, "Which was a prototype of the cosmic city where different cultures and races could meet and cohabit peacefully. This state of cultural fusion is beautifully depicted on the walls of the famous Petostris tomb in Tuna El-Gabal, where the scenes show Egyptian, Greek, and even Persian influences,” stated Abdel-Nasser in her latest book titled "The Path to the New Hermopolis," second edition (Rubedo Press 2020). The Hermetic philosophy had its impact on the whole world, a thing that inspired Abdel-Nasser to create a New Hermopolis to revive such a thinking tank once again in its original place.

"The one who returned everything to its original glory"

The passage between the olive trees and sycamore led to an open yard where a lotus pond was the centre. The pink bougainvillea colored up the horizon as we walked past the pond and to the setting of the opening ceremony of Thoth's ninth festival held at New Hermopolis.

The ceremonial opening of Petosiris Culturama Film and the archive memorial exhibition of Taha Hussein were done in collaboration with CULTNAT. Petosiris was one of the earliest full tombs in the necropolis of Tuna El-Gabal, Minya; it also became a pilgrimage site during the second and third centuries AD.

It was followed by a monologue by El-Warsha troupe member Ali Abdel-Latif accompanied by the oud tunes of Marwan Khater.  "Here lies Osir, the one who returned everything to its original glory," said Abdel-Latif, in his short monologue translated from English to Arabic by Professor Abdel-Nasser and directed by El-Warsha's director Hassan El-Geretly.  The opening ceremony ended with the enchanting voices of the children's choir of the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development. The children sang the lyrics by renowned poet Sayed Hegab of the classic television series Al-Ayam (The Days), based on the autobiography Taha Hussein wrote himself.

Ancient Egyptian literature and our contemporary culture

Like Petosiris, Taha Hussein's impact on Egyptian culture is quite remarkable. The young visually disabled boy who illuminated the nation remains one of the enlightening figures in Egyptian history. What made Hussein unique is how he believed that Egypt's future lies in reconnecting with its ancient Egyptian origins. Adopting the same line of thought was the talk of renowned Geoarcheologist professor Fekri Hassan, who explained that reading ancient Egyptian literature reveals a lot of misleading information due to the element of translation that did not always reveal the Egyptian culture into perspective, like the excessive usage of puns and metaphors for example.

Taha Hussein, the One Who Saw  

The festival sessions opened with writer Hamdy El-Batran's seminar on enlightenment in Taha Hussein's discourse. "Taha Hussien, the One Who Saw" was the title of the seminar and also one of the books that El-Batran wrote on Taha Hussein.

The brilliance of Hussein is in his persisting soul. "Being the blind child in the family, he was forced into seclusion, as he had to eat alone and spend a lot of his time away from any gathering, for his family was not particularly proud of him at that age." Being blind heightened his listening capacities and drew him to the divine voices of Inshad. He was eager to move away from the darkness, so he learned how to recite the Quran in order to join Al-Azhar. He succeeded in joining Al-Azhar and even became a columnist at Al-Garida Newspaper. However, in one of his news articles, he criticized the behaviour of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar back then, leading to his dismissal from Al-Azhar. He sought knowledge at Cairo University, where he applied for a scholarship to study philosophy at Sorbonne University in Paris. He managed to study the French language, which was a pre-requisite to his scholarship; he even learned Latin when he was in Paris, explained El-Batran.

Taha the alchemist

Renowned novelist and poet Alaa Khalid referred to Hussein as the alchemist.

"I grew up surrounded by the books of Taha Hussien through his dad's library," he explained how he found out the relationship of Hussein with Egyptology, his relationship with Egyptologist Sami Gabra, and the famous rest houses of both of them set at the entrance of Tuna El-Gabal. "The main idea is an enchanting syra (epic) because it starts from zero to reach an exceptional status in Arabic thought. Poverty, blindness, shyness, and asceticism that created the psychological aspect of the child would enable him to surpass and reach his prime," Khalid explained.

Hussein and vernacular language

"When Professor Abdel-Hamid Younis wanted to launch the section for folk literature at the Faculty of Arabic Literature, Taha Hussien initially refused because he stood strongly against the vernacular Egyptian language. This was until Abbas Mahmoud El-Aqqad convinced Hussein that this section was not about vernacular Egyptian language, but about folk literature, so Hussein approved the course," explained Professor Mostafa Gad, former dean of the High Institute for Folk Arts. 

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