We have been moving among the oldest monuments reared by man, and they make the rest of the world seem young. In Japan a Buddhist temple, built twelve hundred years ago, impressed us with the youthfulness of American institutions; in China we were shown temples that had stood for twenty centuries and were told of customs and laws even older; in India we found a pagoda some twenty-five hundred years old, and visited the site of a city whose foundations were probably laid more than three thousand years ago; but here we see the mummied forms of human beings who lived two thousand years before Christ was, born, inspect the handiwork of men who laid down the chisel before Abraham appeared upon the earth, look upon colors that have withstood the changes and defied the elements of forty centuries, and handle wheat that grew upon the banks of the Nile long before Joseph built granaries for Pharaoh. The guides count centuries as trippingly on the tongue as a treasury expert or an insurance magnate handles millions. They discuss dynasties that rose and fell when Europe was shrouded in darkness, before the light of history dawned upon the Ganges and the Yangtse ; they decipher hieroglyphics that kept their secrets for ages and lead one among ruins that astonish by their immensity as well as by the artistic skill which they reveal.
Back in the misty pastin the prehistoric periodthere were two Egyptian kingdoms, one occupying upper, and the other lower Egypt. This was prior to 2,500,B. c., and from the stirring scenes engraved upon stone, one can imagine the conflicts which took place along the fertile valley of the Nile before Menes, the earliest known ruler, united the two kingdoms, assumed the title, Lord of Both Lands, fashioned a double crown for himself, and adopted the lily, or lotus, and the papyrus as symbols of his consolidated empire. We are probably indebted to certain natural peculiarities of Egypt for the preservation of the unique evidences of ancient civilization found here. First, there is but a small area of tillable land stretched along the most wonderful of rivers and guarded on either side by a barren waste that offers greater protection than a wall. Second, the climate of Egypt is dry, and there are no drenching rains to deface and no violent changes of temperature to disintegrate. Third, the temples and tombs are so massively built as to discourage the vandal; and fourth, the sands of the desert have drifted in and concealed for a hundred generations many of the most valuable of these relics of a bygone age.
There is such a wealth of archæological treasures here that one scarcely knows where to begin or how to condense the most important things into the space allotted to a newspaper article. I shall not attempt to describe things chronologically, because some of the temples have been added to by different kings and dynasties, until they represent the art and life of many hundred years. The temple at Karnak, for instance, bears the impress of Egypt’s rulers from Thutmosis to the Rameses, and from the Rameses to the Ptolemies, a period of some twelve hundred years, and the building of the numerous pyramids covered even a longer time.
As the tourist usually begins a trip through Egypt with a visit to Cairo, he is likely to find the great Egyptian museum, the Museum of Gizeh, a fitting introduction to his subsequent investigations. Here one finds samples of all the antiquities of the country, excepting the pyramids and the temples, and there are mummies, sarcophagi, statues, carvings and hieroglyphics from these. A considerable space is devoted to mummies, some from the tombs of kings, but many of more humble rank. The early Egyptians believed that man was composed of several different entities. First, there was the body, and second, the doublea sort of invisible form reproducing the features of the body. Next came the soul, represented as a human-headed bird and then a spark of the divine fire called Khu, which has been translated as “the Luminous.” It was to prevent the departure of these attending forms that embalming was resorted to. By suspending the decomposition of the body, they thought that they could preserve the connection between it and the Double, the Soul and the Luminous, and by prayers and offerings these could be saved from the second death. This is the explanation of the mummy given by archeologists. The Double, it was supposed, never left the place where the mummy rested, and the Soul, while it went away to commune with the gods, returned from time to time, and for this reason rooms were made for the reception of the Soul and for the habitation of the Double.
One can hardly believe as he looks upon the shriveled forms that they were interred so long ago. I will enclose with this article a photograph of the mummy of Egypt’s great builder, and known as “the Pharaoh of the Oppression,” who died more than three thou-sand years ago. The hand no longer sways the scepter; the eyes look no more upon the gigantic statues which he scattered along the Nile, and the voice does not now demand the making of “bricks without straw,” but the mortal remains of this famous ruler vividly recall the days of Israel’s bondage.
With the mummies are many mummy cases, some covered with hieroglyphics, some ornamented with pictures in colors, and most of them covered with a lid upon which are a face mask and an outline of the form of the occupant. The process by which these bodies have been preserved is still a mystery, but the fact that they have outlived dynasties and survived the countless changes of so many centuries gives to them a lasting interest. The collection of statues and images of gods, human beings, beasts and birds runs up into the thousands. Some of these are heroic in size, others are not more than an inch in height; some are strong, some beautiful and some grotesque. Granite, both red and black, alabaster, stone, iron, bronze and clayall have been brought into requisition for this work. Some of the bronze has, upon analysis, been found to contain practically the same combination of metals as the bronze now used. There are even statues in wood, and one of thesea photograph of which I securedattracted my attention because the head and face bear a resemblance to the late Senator Hanna. It is called “Sheikh el Beled” or Village Chief ; that it should have resisted decay for more than forty centuries is little less than marvelous.
While the excavators have been searching for historical records, they have occasionally found treasures of great pecuniary value. A considerable quantity of gold and silver in the form of jewelry has been unearthed, and the museum contains specimens of exquisite workmanship which not only display the skill of the artificers but portray the habits and customs of the early Egyptians.
The museum also contains enough of cloth, found with the mummies, and of pictures of looms, to show that weaving was an industry with which the people of those days were familiar.
But we must leave the museum and proceed to those masterpieces which are too large for any roof, save that formed by the vaulted skies. I am, however, constrained to offer one criticism of the museum in passing. It is under the control of a French society, and the only catalogue obtainable is printed in French. While most of the exhibits bear a brief description in both French and English, some are labeled in French only and a few not at all. As there are no guides to show a visitor through the numerous rooms and point out the principal objects of interest, those who are unable to read French are at a great disadvantage. Considering the number of English and American tourists it seems strange that more attention should not be paid to their accommodation.
But to the temples. We reached Egypt after the regular tourist season was over and could not visit all the ruins. We selected the most famous, those of the two ancient cities, Thebes and Memphis, and they alone would repay a visit to Egypt. The present city of Luxor, four hundred and twenty miles from Cairo, covers a small part of the vast area once occupied by “Hundred-gated Thebes.” In the very heart of the city a mammoth temple has been found where kings worshiped through many reigns. It was built during the eighteenth dynasty (n. c. 1500) on the site of a still older sanctuary and dedicated to Ammon, his wife, Mut, and their son, Khons, the Moon-god. Some of the columns are twelve feet in diameter, more than forty feet in height, and support great blocks of red granite twenty feet long and four feet in width and thickness. Some of the columns represent clustered papyrus and have capitals shaped like the lotus bud. In the temple are a number of statues of Rameses II, some sitting, some standing. One of these statues is forty-five feet in height, and another of less dimensions was unearthed only about a year ago. When excavations were begun houses were serenely resting on the top of the temple, and it is believed that further excavations will disclose an avenue leading to other temples two miles away.
In front of the Luxor temple is an obelisk of pink granite, a part of which is still under ground. Obelisks were always erected in pairs, and the companion of this one was removed some years ago to Paris. These great monoliths come down to us from the period when the Egyptians worshiped the sun, and they were intended to rep-resent his rays. The oldest Egyptian obelisk is at Heliopolis, not far from Cairo, and is sixty-six feet in height. It is supposed to have been erected 2000 to 2200 B. C., but it is in an excellent state of preservation and bids fair to bear testimony for ages yet to the reverence felt by the ancients for the sun. At one time Heliopolis was a thriving city and is referred to in the Bible as “On,” but to-day the obelisk stands alone in the midst of cultivated fields, all the buildings having disappeared.
While the obelisk at Heliopolis outranks all others in age, the one at Karnak, in the suburbs of Luxor, has the distinction of being the tallest one yet remaining. It is eight and a half feet in diameter at the base and ninety-seven and a half feet in height (eight and a half feet less than the obelisk at Rome).. The obelisks were cut in a single shaft, most of them from granite quarries near Assuan. These quarries are more than five hundred miles south of Cairo, and it is supposed that the obelisks were transported on the Nile to the places where they have since been found, but how they were handled or placed in position no one knows.
The temple of Ammon, at Karnak, is generally regarded as the most interesting of temple-ruins in Egypt. It is the work of many kings, one adding a sanctuary, another a pylon, another a court, etc.each placing his cartouche, or seal,. upon his work. This temple, which was officially styled the Throne of the World, covers an immense area. One pylon, or gateway, is more than three hundred feet wide, nearly a hundred and fifty feet high, and has walls sixteen feet thick. One court covers almost a thousand square yards, and one aisle leads between pillars sixty-nine feet in height, about twelve feet in diameter and supporting ‘capitals of eleven feet. The stones used in this temple are of enormous size, and they were probably raised to their positions on scaffolding of earththis being also the method employed where attempts have recently been made to restore fallen columns.
The hieroglyphics upon the walls, the columns, the obelisks and the statues, after remaining a puzzle for ages, have been deciphered and woven into a consecutive history. This was made possible by the discovery, in 1799, of what is known as the “Rosetta stone” (now in the British Museum) at the mouth of the Rosetta arm of the Nile by a French engineer named Bouchard. This stone bears a decree inscribed in three languagesancient Egyptian, modern Egyptian and Greek, and furnishes the key to unlock, the secrets of ancient history.
The pictures represent sacrificial ceremonies, domestic and industrial scenes, battles, triumphal processionsall phases of life, in fact. One wall contains, in hieroglyphics, the treaty of peace which Rameses II concluded with the Hittites, while another wall represents Rameses III holding a group of prisoners by the hair and raising a club as if to strike. Close by, the god Ammon is delivering to him chained representatives of different vanquished nations, the faces being so true to life that the Israelities brought from Palestine can be easily distinguished from the Ethiopians and Nubians of the south. One of the heads seen often in the drawings resembles “the yellow kid,” and the donkeys are exactly like those seen today.
Luxor and Karnak are on the east bank of the Nile, but Thebes required both sides of the river for her great population, and the west bank is also rich in evidences of ancient civilization. The Rameseum is here and would attract more attention if it were not overshadowed by larger temples; here also are the “Colossi of Memmon,” one of them known to literature as the singing statue. This is described by Strabo and Juvenal and bears many inscriptions in Latin and Greek made by those who visited it under the Roman rule. Hadrian looked upon it 150 A. D., and a poetess of his day declares that the statue greeted the emperor. It is supposed that the sound which for many years issued from the head of the statue just after sunrise was caused by the change in temperature, the granite having been cracked; at any rate, the sound ceased when the statue was repaired. It now sits silent, and with its companion gazes upon the barley field that reaches out in every direction from their feet.
But more interesting than the Rameseum or the Colossi are the tombs of the kings, some forty-two of which have already been discovered. At this point the west side of the valley of the Nile is walled in by a range of limestone hills, one of which bears a striking resemblance to a pyramid. (Could it have suggested the idea of a pyramid for a tomb?) Leaving the valley of the Nile about two miles north of this pyramidal hill, there is a small dry valley which wends its way back through the hills and terminates at the foot of steep walls just west of the hill mentioned. Here are the tombs, hewn in the solid rock, the most elaborate of which is the tomb of Sethos, or Seti, the father of Rameses II. This tomb burrows into the hill to the depth of three hundred and thirty feet, a flight of steps leading down through different levels and different chambers to the final vault. The walls are covered with figures in colors representing the king in the act of making offerings to the various gods. There are also drawings illustrating scenes in this world and life as it is supposed to be in the next world. Some of these pictures portray a hell where the wicked are punished with fire, and there are also drawings which have been interpreted to represent the resurrection and judgment.
Not far away is the tomb of “the Pharaoh of the Exodus” which contains a granite image of the king, and close by this tomb is another in which the mummied form of a Pharaoh still reposes. Grave robbing, however, was so popular an amusement in those days that the bodies of nearly all the kings had been removed for safety to a secret vault, which was so carefully concealed that they were not found until the nineteenth century.
At Memphis, which is only about eighteen miles from Cairo, there are tombs of less importance, colossal statues of Rameses II and the sarcophagi of the sacred bulls. In one of the tombs or Mastabas, as tombs of this style are called, are some of the drawings that have been most widely reproduced. In one place a boy is fattening geese by the stuffing process; in another, cranes are being fed; here, rams are treading in the seed, and the cattle, horned and hornless, are being driven through a river. Agriculture, ship-building, carpentering and other industries are minutely pictured. While the human figures are stiff and angular, the birds and beasts are so exactly like what we see today that one could easily believe them to have been drawn by a modern artist.
The sarcophagi of the sacred bulls, twenty-four in number, are hollowed out from single pieces of granite and are covered with immense slabs of the same kind of stone. Each is large enough to contain a good sized animal, and some of them are covered with hieroglyphics giving the pedigrees of the blue-blooded occupants. These caskets of the royal line rest in subterranean vaults hewn out of rock and connected by spacious halls.
Still nearer to Cairo, only six miles away, in fact, are the great pyramids of GizehCheops and Khephren. These have been described so often that any elaborate comment upon them might weary the reader. We climbed to the summit of the largest, and by doing so not only gained an idea of the immensity of this three million cubic feet of stone, but obtained an excellent view of the green valley on the one side and the yellow plain of shifting sand upon the other, for these pyramids stand upon the dividing line between Egypt’s far famed fertile lands and one of the most barren of earth’s deserts. We also followed the narrow passage which leads to the center of the pyramid and peered into the empty granite sarcophagus which, for more than four thousand years, kept the body of the builder concealed from the sight of man, and when we came out, half crawling and half climbing, each assisted by two Arabs, our muscles as well as our memories testified that we had seen all of this stupendous pile.
At the foot of these two pyramids stands the silent Sphinx, and near it a granite temple almost as old. The Sphinx itself is a little disappointing because photographs often show it in the foreground and the pyramids behind it, and it thus appears relatively larger than it really is. It represents the body of an animal with a human head and is cut from a huge stone that juts out into the valley. It was a grand conception of the brain of one long ago forgotten and is the oldest product of the chisel of man. It has outlived unnumbered generations and seems to mock at time. Its position by the pyramids is a fitting one, and looking upon it and them one is awed by the sense of their antiquity and recognizes the appropriateness of the lines of the lecturer, Stoddard :
Eternal Sphinx; The pyramids are thine; Their giant summits guard thee night and day; On thee they look when stars in splendor shine, Or while around their crests the sunbeams play; Thine own coevals, who with thee remain Colossal genii of the boundless plain. Eternal Sphinx!