Scholar remembered for masterful lectures that made 'complex topics easy to understand'
Prof. Robert K. Ritner Jr., a world-renowned Egyptologist and beloved teacher who spent decades at the University of Chicago, died July 25 after a yearslong battle with kidney disease and leukemia. He was 68 years old.
Remembered by colleagues for his devotion to Egyptology in his professional and personal life, Ritner wrote The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, one of the most influential volumes in the study of ancient Egyptian religion, magic and culture. First published by the Oriental Institute in 1993, the book launched a renaissance in the field and remains an OI bestseller even now in its fourth printing.
"Ritner's use of original source materials added unique perspective to his groundbreaking work," said OI research associate Foy Scalf. "He studied the original language from different periods and desired to have the Egyptians speak for themselves to gain an unfiltered view of ancient Egypt in his work." Those translations include The Libyan Anarchy: Inscriptions from Egypt's Third Intermediate Period (2009) and The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition (2011).
The inaugural Rowe Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute and in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), Ritner, PhD'87, influenced many colleagues and students. A skilled lecturer who often spoke without referring to notes, Ritner used colorful slides to engage audiences in the classroom, at academic conferences and in the public.