Study Guide

The Red Pyramid Memory and the Past

By Rick Riordan

Memory and the Past

"Stay on the carpet!" Zia grabbed Sadie's hand and pulled her back toward the center of the hall. "You are seeing the Age of the Gods. No mortal should dwell on these images." "But…" Sadie blinked. "They're only pictures, aren't they?" "Memories," Zia said, "so powerful they could destroy your mind." (14.10-12)

Memories are serious business, yo. They hold the key to understanding the past, as Sadie realizes when she later returns to the view the images in the Age of the Gods… but they could also kill you.

"When Egypt fell to the Romans, my spirit was crushed. Thousands of years of Egyptian power and tradition toppled by that foolish queen Cleopatra, who thought she could host a goddess. The blood of the pharaohs seemed weak and diluted—lost forever." (28.24)

When Iskandar reminisces about the way Egypt was and how things changed with the Romans, it shows just how ancient and powerful Egypt was. Like, seriously, this place had a kingdom that lasted thousands of years… how many other political entities last that long?

A little help, I told Isis. Carefully, very carefully, I tapped into her strength. Doing so without letting her take over was like riding a surfboard over a tidal wave, trying desperately to stay on my feet. I felt five thousand years of experience, knowledge, and power course though me. (24.83)

One thing the gods offer their hosts is memory, and in this case, memory can be a very powerful thing. It lets Sadie tap into thousands of years of wisdom and select what's right for her situation. It's also dangerous, of course, since human minds aren't meant to handle so much memory. No wonder Sadie compares it to a tidal wave—you could easily get sucked under and not find the surface in time!

"All empires fall. But the idea of Egypt is eternal—the triumph of civilization, the forces of Ma'at overcoming the forces of chaos." (20.45)

Nut says that Egypt was an empire, sure, and like all empires, it fell. But Egypt is also an idea, and a pretty strong one at that. The idea of Egypt survives in all civilizations that, well, survive.

Zia looked at me blankly. "That's the problem, Carter. I can't remember. Iskandar tells me about my past. He gave me these pictures, explained what happened. But… I have no memory at all." (17.44)

Personal memories matter just as much as historical ones. Zia's troubled by her blank past, and it helps make her loyal to Iskandar and the House of Life. It's sort of like Iskandar is giving Zia an identity that she lost along with her memories.

"The Ancient Egyptians were excellent builders, Sadie. They picked shapes—obelisks, pyramids—that were charged with symbolic magic. An obelisk represents a sunbeam frozen in stone—a life-giving ray from the original king of the gods, Ra. It doesn't matter when the structure was built: it is still Egyptian." (19.98)

Here, Bast shares an insight about the relationship of architecture to the past, and she even manages to not make it sound too boring. Basically, the Egyptians realized that certain shapes hold power. It doesn't matter whether the structure was built in the past or is built in the present, because the power exists in the shape itself. Is this similar to the way language has magical power in the book?

"For eons, Ra's glorious sun boat would travel this route each night, fighting off the forces of Apophis… It was dangerous: every night, a fight for existence. But as he passed, Ra would bring sunlight and warmth to the Duat, and these lost spirits would rejoice, remembering the world of the living." (27.34)

Memory matters even to the dead: without it, they're just lost spirits. Egyptian mythology tells about Ra warming the dead with his sun boat and reminding them of their lives… but when Ra goes away, so does the sun's warmth in the underworld, and so does the reminder to the dead of the living world. In the Egyptian underworld, light and memory are necessary for existence.

"A legacy that powerful does not disappear. Next to the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans were babies. Our modern nations like Great Britain and America? Blinks of an eye. The very oldest root of civilization, at least of Western civilization, is Egypt. Look at the pyramid on the dollar bill. Look at the Washington Monument—the world's largest Egyptian obelisk. Egypt is still very much alive. And so, unfortunately, are her gods." (6.102)

Amos's speech pretty much says: Egypt is the oldest and longest-lasting Western civilization. Period. We think our modern civilizations are so great? We're infants and toddlers compared to ancient Egypt. In addition to being so very old, Egypt is also persistent: its symbols are alive and well today. Oh, and yeah: some other things—like gods—are alive today, too. For better or worse.

At Sadie's sixth birthday party, the last one we'd shared as a family, Sadie and I had a huge argument… I remember Dad rushing toward us, trying to intervene, but before he could, Sadie's birthday cake exploded… Later, they said we must've hit the cake by accident as we were fighting, but I knew we hadn't. Something much weirder had made it explode, as if it had responded to our anger. (6.168)

Having a magical experience when you're not expecting it apparently leaves a strong enough impression that you remember it, even though what happened was technically impossible. Or at least you do if you're from a magical family: it seems like most normal mortals block out or forget experiences that include magic. When Carter shares his memory here, he's demonstrating how intertwined magic and memory can be.

"You see gods have great power, but only humans have creativity, the power to change history rather than simply repeat it." (15.97)

Iskandar hits the nail on the head: this is why the gods keep returning to humans to host them and work with them over the course of history. Left to their own devices, the gods are really powerful, but they're doomed to repeat the past. Humans, when thrown into the mix, are just unpredictable enough to make things interesting, for better or worse. And that's exactly what happens when the Kanes get involved in this round of Order versus Chaos and gods versus magicians. It's the ultimate throw-down.