Chapter VII - Egypt (Part II)
"The House of Bondage"
Can you imagine a lighthouse three times as high as the Monument? The
Great Pharos set up by the second Ptolemy is said to have been about
that height; be this as it may-and it was one of the seven wonders of
the world--for long centuries the flare has been extinguished which
once guided the ships of the learned Greeks, the rich merchants, the
poor fishermen, safely into the double harbour of Alexandria. Moreover,
of the huge tower itself, not a trace remains.
But this same Ptolemy did succeed in sending beams of light along the
centuries, which will never be quenched, for it was he who caused the
Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, to be translated from the
original and difficult language, understood by comparatively few, into
Greek--a tongue destined to become the chief study of scholars.
Another light-giving work of this same king was his plan of setting an
Egyptian priest and scribe who [pg 111] had had a good Greek education
to write a history of Egypt and her religion in Greek.
Now, the actual records that Manetho put together from the information
he could glean all over the country have disappeared as completely as
the stones that built up Ptolemy's tower on the little island.
Fortunately other writers, who lived not very long after his time, have
copied from his works, and so we get, amongst other details, lists of
kings, and particulars of their reigns, which throw light on the great
and long past on the banks of the Nile.
On these banks themselves, as we have already seen, we have a direct
message from the Pharaohs to later days, for it was they who ordered
the inscriptions and pictures to be cut on the walls and columns of
tombs and temples, which we can read to-day.
Walk through the long Egyptian Gallery,
past the Rosetta Stone and other reminders of the Greek kings of Egypt,
onwards to the relics of earlier times. You will perhaps notice first
the lists of kings' names, standing out in new red, from the old
granite slabs of Bubastis, and also the lists from the fragments from
From these, and from many names monuments close by, it is easy to see
how the royal names are always written in what looks like oval loops of
knotted rope--cartouches--to keep them, as it were, apart from common
things. A little study, guide-book in hand, will show how often certain
signs are repeated; take, for instance those that stand Fa, ka, nefer,
mer; you will find the translation quite easy. [pg 112]
Besides the bare lists, there are the illustrated stories of the lives
and greatness of the kings of the "Double House," inscribed on the
columns, tablets, statues, all round us, also on the walls of temples
as shown in the stands of photographs.
But there are many blanks in our knowledge, and so there are many
differences of opinion among those who try to fit in the records of the
other ancient peoples who were Egypt's neighbours beyond the Isthmus of
A model canal has now been cut across this isthmus, with electric
lights on the banks; and the narrow channel is marked out by floating
buoys on the lakes through which it passes, now cut through rock or
As we stand before the map near the end of the gallery, we see how
protected Egypt was on the east by the Red Sea, and how the hundred
miles of country between it and the Mediterranean were as a causeway
between the continents of Asia and Africa.
There is a broad stony plateau between two of the lakes used by the
canal in its passage, which cost much labour to cut through. The old,
old name of this plateau is the Bridge of Nations, for it was here that
the huge armies from either side tramped across between east and west,
now in the pride of victory, now in the bitterness of defeat.
We will look more closely at these armies later. For the moment let us
call to mind four very familiar figures from the number of travellers
who have crossed this highway through the ages. [pg 113]
The first scene takes us to (perhaps) the seventeenth century B.C. A
caravan of wild-looking traders, with asses bearing the spices to Egypt
so much needed in making mummies, are crossing the isthmus, and in
their train is a handsome lad, torn from his father, sold by his
brothers to these traders, with nothing but slavery before him in an
unknown country. His eyes must have been sad, and his thoughts hard, as
he passed through this dreary land of rocky desert and biter lakes.
The second scene, equally familiar, belongs to some twenty years later.
We see a company of about seventy people--men, women, and children--led
by an old man, in whose eyes burn a trembling joy and excitement. He is
greatly honoured and cared for by the strong sons around him, and all
are thankful when the long dusty journey at last comes to an end in the
green, fertile country on the nearest side of the Delta. Some of the
party are in wagons--a new, exciting experience for the children--some
are on foot; there are asses, to be urged on, bearing loads; slow-going
sheep and cattle to be kept together. Who welcomed them?
IN the third picture we see a long mournful processing wending its way
towards the land whence the old man and his family came years before.
He has seen the desire of his eyes, and has died, charging his sons to
bury him with his father. Sounds of wailing and sorrow rise from the
chief mourners and the friends who have come with them to do them
honour, as they pass over the Bridge of Nations with the stately
ceremonial of the times and the country. [pg 114]
The last picture belongs to the sixteenth century B.C. or later, and is
in sharp contrast with the solemn funeral procession we saw passing
across the isthmus. Now all is confusion, haste, terror, as a great
crowd of men and women and little ones presses to escape from the land
to which their forefathers had come in so much hope.
A great leader soothes and encourages and organizes the flight; in
every breeze and distant cloud of dust they seem to hear and see the
dreaded chariot wheels and thud of horses' hoofs, the rattle of the
horsemen, and their mocking shouts. Will they overtake and kill them,
or lead them back to the hard life they could no longer endure?
You know the end. Next morning when the golden sun rose above the haze
on the desert hills it looked down on the pursued safely encamped
beyond the water that had barred their way the night before, and on the
pursuers, all drowned and overwhelmed in their attempt to follow them.
You will recognize in the above the stories of Joseph and Jacob and of
the Exodus led by Moses.
The rulers of Egypt at this time were the Shepherd or Hyksos kings, who
were foreigners, without the prejudices of the native Egyptians against
those who tended cattle; hence the warm welcome to Joseph's shepherd
relations. These Hyksos kings rather destroyed monuments than made
them, so there are very few memorials to represent them in any museum.
The human face of the Sphinx in the Central
Saloon used to be thought to represent the Hyksos kings, but is
now believed to represent Amenemhat III., an earlier [pg 115] Pharaoh.
For vivid touches of the life of their courts, how they conducted
business, how they could reward faithful service, we must turn to the
story of Joseph and the settlement in Egypt of his father and brothers.
Most things changed so little in Egypt from century to century that we
may well borrow some of those belonging to an earlier or later date for
a background to our picture of the Hyksos times.
You can imagine Joseph sitting on the ground reading from a papyrus
roll to his master, as thousands of scribes did before and after his
time. Details of the storing of the wheat probably absorb him and
Apepi, who was supposed to be the Pharaoh who trusted to his advice as
he would to his own father's.
Apepi, seated on a throne like that in pictures in the Third Egyptian Room, is arrayed in
fine white linen, with handsome necklaces like those in the cases near
by, and wears a wig (like that fine one all curls and tiny plaits)
under the folds of his royal head-dress. You can find an ivory scepter,
such as he would have held in his hand, and you can also find furniture
for the palace.
The model of the granary in the case of toys gives some idea of the
storing and sealing up the bins as filled, and those baskets in the
wall-case remind one of the dream of the hapless chief baker.
Those country scenes painted on the walls of tombs--inspection of
cattle and geese, as seen in the Third
Egyptian Room--were everyday sights for centuries in Egypt, as
were also the entertainments--indoors and out--and the visits of
foreigners. [pg 116]
You can find Apepi's names amongst the scarabs (the form of the sacred
beetle) in the Fourth Room,
also those of his successors, some being unknown to history, others of
great renown. Take just a few of these names from the scarabs--Thothmes
(or Tuthmosis) III., Queen Hatshepsut, Amen-hetep III. and IV., Seti
I., Rameses II., Meneptah or Meren-ptah. They were all makers of
Egyptian history during the fourteenth to the twelfth centuries B.C.
The names may seem difficult at first, but if you can find and remember
the meanings, that is a great help; Mer-en-ptah means the beloved of
Ptah; other gods--Amen, Thoth, Ra--are to be found in the other names.
It will be of interest to find these names when you study the monuments
in the century to which they belong. You will soon discover how often a
later king erased the name of an earlier one and carved his own in its
Under the Hyksos kings all went well with the Children of Israel; they
tended their cattle and prospered in the pleasant land of Goshen by the
Then there arose kings "who knew not Joseph"; forgotten was the story
of his devotion to the country, and the way in which he saved it during
the dreadful famine years, and finally hard labour and bitter cruelty
became the of these Hebrew dwellers in the land.
Look again at the head of Thothmes III. in the lower Egyptian Gallery (his name you know
and his famous obelisk, now on the Thames Embankment). He was as great
a warrior as he was a builder (note his stele with the goddess Hathor,
Lady of the Turquoise [pg 117] Land), and he was one of the first
Pharaohs to lead armies across the Bridge of nations and conquer the
powerful nations beyond, both in the valley of the Great Rivers and in
the mountains of Syria.
Of his renowned sister, Queen Hatshepsut, we have but few memorials in
the Museum--the remains of furniture and some vases from her great
temple at Dair al-Bahri; some scarabs and gold rings; those brushes
look as if they could still be used.
As our Queen Elizabeth sent fleets to discover unknown countries, so
did Queen Hatshepsut send expeditions to the land of Punt or Puenet,
down the Red Sea, and interesting indeed is the account she has left of
the results, on the walls of the superb temple she built near Thebes.
We have there pictures of the Queen of Punt, her donkey, and the
endless beautiful and wonderful things that came back in the ships.
Hatshepsut tried to make herself look as much like a man as possible,
and it is not known whether the green slate head of a statue in the Fourth Room is of her or of Thotmes
But we must pass on to the next great name, Amen-otis or Amen-hetep
III., who lived in about the fifteen century. Here, again, we have
heads of colossal statues, also lions, tablets, and sculptures of every
kind. There are red granite lions of Tut-ankh-Amen too from the
fourteenth century B.C. The photograph of the Temple of Luxor helps us
to imagine these objects in their places; the beautiful pillars with
palm leaf and lotus-bud capitals!
Amen-hetep III. was the builder of the two colossi [pg 118] of Memnon,
so famed throughout history; you can see in the photographs how small
the man and the donkey look at the base of the nearest one.
Notice the large historical scarabs of this king; to keep in mind his
prowess in killing a hundred and two fierce lions in ten years. Another
of these scarabs tells of his interesting wife who came from a far
country and was so dutiful to her parents; she it was who strongly
influenced her son, Amen-hetep IV., to give up the worship of his
fathers for adoration of the sun's rays, but the priests of the older
gods prevented the new religion from gaining ground.
There are casts in the Museum from well pictures of King Amen-hetep IV.
Or Akh-en-aten, as he preferred to call himself--Splendour of the
Sun-disk. His wife--Nefertiti--has been famous for her beauty through
all the ages right up to our own time. You will find casts and pictures
of her in the Fifth Room.
And now we come to the kings of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties,
who reigned from the fourteenth to the twelfth centuries. There are
more monuments of this time in the Museum perhaps than of all the rest
Look around you in the Central Saloon;
you see the names of Seti and Rameses over and over again--huge heads,
statues, columns, tablets, seated and kneeling figures, in hard stone
or granite, and also wooden figures.
You will have already noticed the giant head from the north-west
staircase, and can place it in front of the temple in Nubia with its
three equally large companions, the photograph being on the stand. [pg
Many of the mummies in the Second
Egyptian Room are of priest and priestesses of Amen. While
examining the beautifully painted coffins and covers we get glimpses of
the dark and solemn mystery of their worship, and the multitude of gods
whom they reverenced. Notice how often the mother goddess, Nut of the
Night Sky, is painted as if stretching out her arms to protect her
faithful servant; how Osiris, Isis, Horus, Anubis, Thoth, occur again
Above the mummy cases, and also on the walls of the Second Room, run enlarged copies of
some of the chapters of the Book of the Dead. You can also study the
facsimile of the papyrus itself as made from the scribe Ani, probably
about the sixteenth or fifteenth centuries, on the stands in the Third Room.
All through Egyptian history it was the custom to write parts of this
book on the tombs, or the coffins, or on rolls to put on or near the
mummies, to serve as passports or reminders in some way for the soul on
its journey in the underworld. This copy, made for Ani, is one of the
longest known of the period.
Read his titles--"Veritable royal scribe, scribe and accountant of the
divine offerings of all the gods, the governor of the granary of the
Lord of Abydos, scribe of the divine offerings of the lords of Thebes";
he must have been an important and hardworked man; and, according to
the picture before us, his labours and anxieties by no means ended with
death. See, for instance, the critical moment when the heart of the
dead man is being weighed against the feather of the law; will the
result satisfy the scribe-god, that Ani [pg 120] may proceed on his way
to Osiris, or will an end be made of him by the Devourer ready waiting?
Think, too, of the strain of giving the right answers to all those
doorkeepers, and of making the ushabti
figures work in the underworld. You remember these little "answerers,"
buried with the mummy for this purpose.
You will find it well worth while to go carefully along the two stands,
reading the descriptions given, noting the designs of the signs of life
and stability with the scepter of power; rows of serpents sitting on
their tails; lotus flowers in every beautiful variety.
Do not miss the ladder by which the soul visited the mummy, the lovely
fields of peace watered by streams, the two-legged serpents, the
conceited-looking ram, the lions named Yesterday and The Morrow,
sitting back to back.
Every time you visit the collections, spend a little while on the Book
of the Dead; you will discover something fresh and interesting every
time to fit in with your knowledge as it grows. For instance, you will
notice perhaps that Ani is often accompanied by his wife Thu-thu,
holding the sistrum of a priestess in her hand.
Now, on the floor of the case of furniture from which we borrowed for
Apepi's palace, there is a square box with compartments, inscribed with
the name of Thu-thu. Look inside: there is a pair of dainty pink kid
slippers turned up with pointed toes, and some red elbow mats for the
fine lady! Also, there are bottles of toilet preparations for the skin,
and, most wonderful of all, a double tube with an ivory and a wooden
stick to [pg 121] apply the contents of the tubes to the eyes. Egypt
has always been a country trying to the eyes, and here Thu-thu, three
thousand years ago, has one powder to apply during the inundation, and
another to be used in hot weather against the sand and dust.
Or, again, you have noticed in the Book of the Dead, while Ani is
playing draughts, Thu-thu sits behind and appears to be only watching.
Now, underneath Queen Hatshepsut's bed (wrongly restored as a throne)
there is a beautiful draught-box, and on the winning square you can see
the sign for good luck.
Besides the enlarged scenes from the Book of the Dead, you will find on
the walls of the upper rooms pictures which illustrate the wars of the
kings, Seti and Rameses. There is quite a touching scene in the Third Room: a quiet Nubian village
suddenly disturbed; one man runs away, another hides in a tree, while
the women with children intercede with the king's soldiers before her
Many of the details as to fortresses, chariots, tribute, are very
interesting; amongst the latter, giraffes and ostriches! Opposite are
records of the great wars with the Kheta--very deadly and hated enemies
of Seti and Rameses--beyond the Bridge of Nations.
Great builders and warriors were these kings; but what made it possible
for them to attain this fame? The lives and hard labour of thousands of
soldiers and workmen. Think especially of the labour needed from
sunrise to sunset to rear all these temples, and to provide for all the
luxury of the gorgeous times, to build the great stone cities in the
Delta, the immense [pg 122] wall across the isthmus for defence (you
remember the Roman walls in Britain?) besides the always-needed
attention to the embankments and the canals, and the tilling of the
The thought of all this hard labour is pressed home by the names and
offices of those servants of the Pharaohs, which we can read on the
stelae along the walls of the galleries. Here are judges, princes and
governors, scribes, chancellors, naval and military officers,
superintendents and overseers of every trade, of the palace, of public
works, even the chief runner and messenger of the king is remembered.
What an insight we gain into the organization and bitter life of the
times--"bitter hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick," and of the
pressing need for thousands of hands to carry out the work. There were
hands to use those tools of every description that we see in the Fourth Room (some are models, but
the wooden mallets were accidentally left by the workmen), hands to
work in quarries and move material as directed by the architects and
artists, hands to make and place those bricks in the same room.
Look at the brick with the straw so much in evidence stamped with the
name of the Pharaoh, Rameses II., in the thirteenth century. It used to
be thought that he was the great oppressor who issued the cruel order
to drown the baby boys, and that it was his daughter who rescued and
brought up Moses, and had him educated in "all the wisdom of the
Though it is now thought that Moses lived three centuries earlier, yet
as you look round the cases in the [pg 123] Third and Fourth Rooms their
contents will help you to imagine how his early years may have been
spent. Did the little boy, when he first came to the palace from his
own mother, play with other children, perhaps in a delightful garden
like that one with the pond full of ducks and fish? Were their toys
such as those in the case?
Look at the cat with movable jaw, the spotted cow, the little rider who
sits up so straight on his elephant, and the wooden doll with clay
beads for hair.
If he heard music it must have been of a very tinkling kind, from
instruments such as those in the case--cymbals, sistra, flutes, and
harps. The tortoise-shell pierced for strings will remind you of the
wily Babe Hermes.
Surely Moses must have enjoyed going in boats on the river, like the
child in the picnic party where the father is fowling, the mother
gathering flowers, the cat retrieving the birds, three at a time.
Later on he must have learned to write, one would think, with reed
pens, red and black paint, palettes, and papyrus, such as one sees in
the case below the trial sketches and scale models of the pupils.
There are poems, maxims, stories for him to read, besides extracts from
the Book of the Dead. Probably he had to learn by heart that chapter
cxxv., in which is the list of the forty-two offences which must not be
committed. It seems likely when one compares some of them with the Ten
As one looks at the cases of sacred animals, and the multitude of
images of gods and animals used as objects [pg 124] of reverence, one
can well understand the necessity for the solemn setting forth of the
first and second commandments to the Hebrews.
And now, if you want to see even more plainly than the faces and forms
set in hard stone can show you, what manner of men these awe-inspiring
Pharaohs, Seti and Rameses II., really were, or what was the shape of
their faces and heads, of their noses and chins, then you must look at
the photograph of their mummies by the door of the Second Room. Can you realize that
they are more than thirty centuries old?
On our way back to the scarabs to find that of Rameses' son,
Mer-en-ptah, a glance at the cases of gold rings and ornaments, at the
metal mirrors and other treasures will remind us of the "spoiling of
the Egyptians," and the use to which the treasures were afterwards put.
As you go down the staircase, you may remember the stories of the ten
plagues, and the picture will rise before you of the weak undecided
tyrant who ordered the Israelites to find the necessary straw
themselves, and yet make the same excessive number of bricks.
You will find Mer-en-ptah's name again on the beautiful reed column set
up by Amen-hetep III. Like his father, he had a habit of having his
name cut on monuments which he had not set up. On the back of a stele
of Amen-hetep III. at Thebes he caused a Hymn of Triumph to be cut, in
which he mentions the Israelites as among the peoples of Palestine whom
he conquered. They were therefore a settled people about 1230 B.C., and
Mer-en-ptah could not have been [pg 125] the Pharaoh of the oppressions
or the Exodus as has been thought. The reed and the palm leaf columns
in the Sculpture Gallery will
make you think of the riverside that suggested the ideas to the
artists, and the artists fashioned them with bright gold and deep
purple colours on the buildings they once adorned.
(typed by Dawn Taylor)