Barbells & Bios: Giovanni Belzoni, Strong Man Egyptologist

Barbells & Bios: Giovanni Belzoni, Strong Man Egyptologist

Published by Colin Clair in 1957, Giovanni Belzoni – Strong Man Egyptologist is a dramatized account of one of the nineteenth century’s most fascinating characters. An early strongman by trade who travelled around Britain and Ireland, Belzoni made his fame as exploring Egypt and reporting back to the British press. Based primarily on Belzoni’s own travels accounts, produced in the 1820s, Clair’s short monograph attempts to recreate, oftentimes with a fine sense of exaggeration, the danger, mystique and adventure which dominated Belzoni’s life. At first glance, this small monograph appears an odd creation. Few individuals have heard of Belzoni and dramatizations of strongmen’s lives usually fare poorly. Unperturbed, Clair’s monograph provides a fascinating and page turning account of Belzoni’s unlikely transition from theatre strongman to swash-buckling explorer. Clair’s closing paragraphs mark my favorite from the work – ‘We thus come to the end of the story of Giovanni Belzoni, surely one of the most remarkable personalities of his time. He represents, one might say, the last of a long line of eighteenth-century adventurers. He was born a wandered as others are born poets or musicians…’ The book, less than 200 pages in total, tells a story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. 

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