Balk Like an Egyptian

Who knew? Egyptologist Peter Piccione reveals the ancient Egyptian roots of American baseball in a free lecture May 25 at SMU.

You could argue that during most of these long, hot summer baseball seasons, the Texas Rangers play like stiff-legged, bandaged-head-to-toe, eyeless, earless mummies. You know, with knees and elbows that hardly bend, growling and groaning on the way to first base, trailing muslin streamers and looking for all the world like their centuries-dead counterparts straight out of King Tut's tomb. Speaking of King Tut, wouldn't it be hilarious if the boys of summer dressed up like the boy king, à la Steve Martin's classic Tut take, and bounded onto the field while Martin's silly classic blasted from the loud speakers?

Clair Ossian got us thinking about parallels between ancient Egypt and American baseball. He's a professor of geology at the northeast campus of Tarrant County College; but, more significantly, Ossian heads up the North Texas Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt. He pretty much "digs" Egyptology and is bringing a noted, authentic and actual Egyptologist to Southern Methodist University on Saturday to lecture to his fellow chapter members. The general public is also invited, since, hey, it's a wacky and entertaining topic not limited to eggheads. "We're bringing Dr. Peter Piccione of the University of Charleston, South Carolina, to give a talk on his research involving the ball games of ancient Egypt and their relationship to modern baseball," Ossian says. "Dr. Piccione has discovered certain rituals in the religious practices of the pharaohs that relate to American baseball." The witty, if not nutty, professor is presenting "Pharaoh at the Bat: Of Egyptian Ball Games and American Baseball."

Piccione's life's work, so far, has focused on Egyptian games, sporting and athletics and aspects of medicine, medical practice and daily-life activities of the ancient society. He earned his doctorate in Egyptology and Near Eastern Studies in 1990 at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. As a grad student, Piccione gained recognition as the decipherer of the long-lost rules of the Egyptian board game Senet. He turned his doctoral dissertation into a money-making proposition by licensing the game for commercial distribution under the name "King Tut's Game."


"Pharaoh at the Bat: Of Egyptian Ball Games and American Baseball"

SMU's Fondren Hall, 3215 Daniel, Room 119

Presented by Peter A. Piccione, begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. Call 972-416-5211 for reservations.

A little more than a decade out of school, Piccione now spends his time directing the Theban Tombs Publication Project in which he is conducting an archaeological and epigraphic survey and physical conservation of two rock-cut tombs in the cemeteries of Western Thebes, located across the Nile from Luxor. He also works as a consultant on Egyptological issues to publishers, television production companies, government agencies, museums and educational activities.

What he'll be doing in Dallas, Piccione says, "is making serious but entertaining comparisons between sport as ritual in Egypt and the United States, including royal and divine icons of Egyptian ball and cultural icons of American ball. There are cosmological meanings attached to both games, for example, placating goddesses, destroying the eye of Apophis." Piccione will explain what that means and illustrate his talk with scenes of Egyptian ball-playing, equipment and venues, deities and kings. "I'll point to similar themes such as baseball as rites of spring, annual renewal, and touch on it during the Cold War and in Hollywood films." He'll end the presentation, he says and we believe he could be kidding, with a 72-line poem he's written, titled "Pharaoh at the Bat." "It's an imaginative pun on 'Casey at the Bat' which epitomizes the meaning of the Egyptian ball game." OK, he's not kidding. "The erudition is serious, but the presentation is entertaining," Piccione says.

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