Because it had been too long since we'd been on a trip, and because we're not always busy selling books, we decided to go to London this past summer. Naturally we ended up at the British Museum. We knew that Giovanni Belzoni (1778-1824), subject of a new biography by Ivor Noël Hume, had brought back from Egypt many of the museum's most prized artifacts, including the bust of Ramesses II. What we were not prepared for was the sight of Belzoni's name actually carved into those works (as the vacation photo to the left shows).
Aside from coming up with possibly the greatest haul of Egyptian artifacts ever to reach the West, Belzoni is perhaps most famous for sparking controversy among critics who feel this former circus "strong man" was more vandal than archaeologist. The Wall Street Journal notes this same contradiction in their new review of the Noël Hume biography : " in this entertaining and graceful account of Belzoni's adventures, Mr. Hume opens a window on the raffish days of early Egyptology, when an Italian giant towered over his competitors."