On the left, a Coptic cross in the Temple of Isis, Philae, Egypt, and on the right, our Ethiopian Cross Necklace.
Photographing a beautiful little crescent moon finial atop a tiny mosque, I heard shouts and running footsteps approaching from the other side of the tall, chain-link fence. My Egyptian friend told me it was time to clear out, so we ran to a nearby road and hitched a ride back to our boat waiting on the Nile.
I learned a lot about the importance of symbols on that trip to Egypt years ago. Walking around Alexandria, another friend pointed out the cross identifying one of the Coptic Christian churches we saw there and in Cairo. More symmetrical than the familiar Christian cross, it’s a hybrid of the Egyptian ankh, an ancient hieroglyphic character meaning eternal life (and something I wore around my neck back when I was a hippy!).
This mixing up of emblems from two disparate philosophies might seem an irreverent compromise by modern Western standards, but it was once common. More than two millennia ago in his campaign to push the Persians out of Egypt, Alexander the Great employed such Shuffle Diplomacy as a way of winning over the locals. In Luxor I saw that cultural exchange documented in stone: his name spelled out in hieroglyphs and, nearby, Greek propaganda carved into the lintel of an ancient temple.