Chapter VIII - Egypt (Part III)


"How great the perspective! Nations, times, systems enter and disappear like threads in tapestry of large figure and many colours."

So far, the treasures in the Museum have helped us to get, first, a glimpse of life in Egypt as it was in the days of the Greek Ptolemies, in those centuries just before the Birth of Christ, when the history of ancient Egypt was nearing its end-in fact, the last native kings were already dead and gone-and the history of our own country was about to begin.

Next we found much to interest us in the relics from a period of four or five centuries, about the middle of the long history of the country, the times of Israel in Egypt, so familiar to us in Bible story. During those years a family grew into a nation; that nation still holds together, though it is spread all over the world, and still honours the laws given to it, on passing out of the House of Bondage between three and four thousand years ago.

Now when Joseph made that sad journey to Egypt to be sold as a slave, he may have had some little idea of the country to which he was going, through stories [pg 127] that his father Jacob had had from his father Isaac, who in turn had heard them from his father Abraham. For "Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land."

He and his followers met with a kind reception, and settled down for a while in or near perhaps the great capital of Memphis, not far from the land of Goshen, where his descendants lived later. Abraham had seen great cities in his youth, but for years had been moving about in tents, so what a change must have been life on the busy Nile, under the shadow of the great buildings, and surrounded by the luxury and pomp of the times, after the constant moving on across wide stretches of lonely country, and the long, quiet, watchful nights under the starry sky! We do not know the name of the Pharaoh, his host, who was so kind and magnanimous to him, nor what he looked like. But it is believed by many scholars that Abraham visited Egypt toward the close of a very brilliant time, somewhat about the time of the great XIIth Dynasty.

Look around you in the Northern Gallery on the ground floor. You will notice how many kings there are whose names are Amon-em-het and Senusret, and their century is given as the twenty-second or twenty first. They were not only famous warriors, but wise rulers and builders. The third Amon-em-het engineered the great lake, called afterward Moeris, in the Fayyum (the Fayyum is the lotus bud if we draw a lily and its stalk to represent the Nile). He connected this lake with the river [pg 128] by a canal piercing the hills and fitted with sluice-gates, so that the surplus waters of the inundation could be stored there for use as needed. Herodotus describes the lake and the great building on its shores, which he thought even more wonderful than the Pyramids.

Tablets and statues of the servants of these great Pharaohs of the twenty-second and twenty first centuries B.C. stand all round them in the Northern Gallery. One can well understand that officials of every kind would be needed to help in the government of the kingdom and to superintend the great works.

The tombs of this time are particularly interesting, especially those cut out of the living rock, for on the walls of these rock-tombs were the most interesting pictures of the life and customs of the times of the Senusrets and Amon-em-hets. Look at the one near the end of the Northern Gallery from Al-Barsha, showing the funeral procession of Tehuti-hetep. There are his servants carrying his litter on poles and various other things of the great man used in life, and is supposed to need in the underworld.

A very faithful friend follows on four feet-his favorite dog-and his name is written above his collar. Look closely: there is the sign of life you know so well, called "ankh", and a bird which stands for "u". Whether Ankh-u would have pricked up these sharp ears of his, if we thus pronounce his name in calling him, is another matter. For no one now knows how the Egyptian language was sounded; the lips of the last who spoke it have been silent for centuries.

Next to it, from the same tomb, comes the picture [pg 129] of the peasants sowing corn, others are ploughing, the patient cattle looking out from the corner. The hoe in the hands of one of the labourers is of the same pattern as those in the cases upstairs, and this scene, as well as the pictures of much later times that we know already, of the inspection of geese and cattle, brings vividly to our minds the farming that has been going on in Egypt for thousands of years in much the same fashion from generation to generation.

The millions of workers who through the ages raised the great monouments attended to the embankments, made the canals, and kept them in order, and laboured from sunrise to sunset in the fertile fields-all had mouths which must be fed with bread of some kind. Fruitful Egypt, too, seemed generally to have enough to spare for a starving neighbor.

On other tomb walls about this date we see pictures of travellers from beyond the Bridge of Nations, led by their chiefs, bringing presents of various things valued by the Egyptians. The children of the party ride on asses, and all have bright and many coloured clothes.

Generally these visitors came, like Abraham, on account of famine, but so many stayed that at last much of the Delta land was occupied by them, which fact made it easy later on for great hordes of their kindred folk to pour into Egypt and master it for a while; these masters were the Hykos kings, in whose time we place Joseph's eventful and brilliant career and the settlement of his family in Egypt.

But we have not yet done with the tombs of the [pg 130] Xith and Xiith Dynasties. In the Second Room, near the top of the north west staircase, are two huge outer coffins from Al-Barsha. One was made for Sen, an overseer of the palace of the king; the other for another high official called Gua.

The ornamentations are much the same on both, and in the rows of large blue-green hieroglyphs, which form panels as it were, we can easily recognize those we already know. They contain prayers for a happy burial and for abundance of funeral offerings. The two eyes of Horus, Utchats, stand out distinct, to give eternal protection to the deceased by the sky-god. Inside the coffins are painted chapters of early copies of the Book of the Dead.

The inner coffins of Sen and Gua which fitted into these are close by, and are beautifully painted in much the same fashion, both inside and out. Further, in the Third and Fourth Rooms, amongst other treasures you can find some of the funeral furniture belonging to Gua: the beautiful ivory head-rest and the funeral boat will make good illustrations for the period. There are wooden statues of other officials like Gua.

In the Fifth Room you will find the scarab and cylinder seals with the names of Senusret and Amon-em-het, also some vases from the fine collection in the wall-cases, to illustrate the shapes used from the twenty-sixth to the twentieth centruies B.C. One of the vases has part of a linen cover.

In the Fifth Room are the models of labourers' houses; you can find two or three of two stories, and [pg 131] a hut, in which to imagine those sowers and ploughmen in the models in the Fourth Room sleeping when night came at length. These models are also called "soul houses" and were put near the tombs as a shelter for the souls when they came to receive offerings.

In the Northern Gallery you will also find statues of the great Amon-em-het, who dug out the Lake Moeris, and built the huge labyrinth so admired by Herodotus seventeen hundred years later. You can also pick out many of the officials of the time of the XIth, XIIth and XIIIth Dynasties; especially notice the one whose beard of precious metal (gold or electrum) was fastened under the chin by pegs; in life these false beards were often fastened by straps behind the ears.

Some scholars think that the great Sphinx belongs to the time of the IVth Dynasty, and that the human face of the huge beast bears a family likeness to one of their kings, Khafra.

It has stood in the Desert, less hurt by the swirling sandstorms, constant and biting as their attacks have been through the centuries, than by the destructive hand of man. It seems to keep unwearied watch and ward over the great tombs of the century-the Pyramids.

You must now take your mind backwards from the Birth of Christ, past the years of the Ptolemies in Egypt, the beautiful times in Greece , past the age of the great Pharaohs, Seti and Rameses; past the days of the Amon-em-hets and [pg 132] Senusrets, and back farther to something like the thirty-first century B.C.



And who were the chief pyramid builders? The great pyramid, often called the Pyramid of Cheops, higher than St. Paul's, with a base as large as Lincoln's Inn Fields, is believed to be the work of Khufu of the IVth Dynasty. You will remember his name, so easily copied (two birds, a slug, and a shaded circle), on the lists of kings we have so often looked at on the walls and in the cases of scarabs. We can find it again in the Vestibule on the cast of the tomb of Khu-fu-ankh, one of his high officials, who was a priest and Clerk of the Works; on its sides are prayers and names of many festivals.

Imagine the enormous numbers of men needed to get the huge blocks for the Pyramid (quarried eight miles away and ferried across the Nile on barges) into place, the array of task-masters and higher officials, organizing and urging on the workers, while perhaps the Pharaoh himself and his family might be seated in state watching the progress of his great scheme.

The builder of the second pyramid was Khafra, whose name we can also easily distinguish in the lists of kings: but we can do more than this; we can stand before the cast of his lifelike statue in the Vestibule, just as those did who came into his presence so many centuries ago, to give reports of his buildings and the government of the country.

Look well at his speaking face, at his easily posed figure; notice the folds of his linen head-dress, the sacred serpent fixed in front; and the sort of kilt that [pg 133] he wears, allowing free display of the limbs so finely modeled.



Examine too, the throne on which he sits, the arms ornamented with lions' heads, and on the sides of the papyrus and lotus plants of Upper and Lower Egypt, knotted round the hieroglyph of union emblematic of the joining together of the north and south kingdoms. You will find many variations of this subject on the monuments, and they help to explain the meaning of the expressions, double houses, double kingdoms, double crown.

Part of the tomb of Teta, the overseer of the pyramid of Khafra is almost within the touch of the great king's hand; while all round in the little Vestibule, and just inside the North Gallery, are memorials of the royal kinsmen and scribes, and other important persons who peopled the courts in that great and far-off time.

There is a short, fat, good-natured looking man standing just as he did in life in the times of the IVth Dynasty to inspect his farms and staff. His keen eyes (those of the original statue are made with black crystal pupils, with a gleaming silver point to show the light) would no doubt have soon detected and neglect or cheating.

A wonderful thing about this statue-remember it must be at least four or five thousand years old-is that when it was raised from the dust and rubbish in which it had long lain, the Arab diggers cried out, "The Sheik of the village!". So like is this old farmer-man to the modern Egyptian of his class. [pg 134]

To find the builder of the third pyramid we must mount the north-west staircase and stand by the case in the Second Room, which contains what are believed to be the remains of the battered coffin and mummy of Men-kau-ra. These remains were found in the third pyramid, and were wrecked at sea on the voyage to England; what lies before us is all that was recovered of the "just and merciful" king and his coffin.

Herodotus tells us that he gave liberty to the people; let us hope the Father of History is correct, but we must remember that Herodotus visited Egypt more than two thousand years after the the body of Men-kau-ra was hidden away, and the words were painted on the coffin which we can still read; "thy mother Nut stretches herself over thee in her name of the vault of heaven; she granteth that thou mayest exist as a God by destroying all thine enemies, O King of the North and South, Men-kau-ra, living for ever." These words come from a copy of the Book of the Dead, which was already very ancient when Men-kau-ra ruled over Egypt.

We must look again at the scarabs and read the names, Khufu, Khafra, Men-kau-ra, and many others made up of Ka, neb, nefer, ra, all the times of the great pyramid builders.

Their beautiful alabaster and stone vases are in the Third and Fourth Rooms: especially interesting is the handsome funeral stand of a priest and libationer of Khufu; you can easily distinguish the figure with a vase overhead, out of which the libation seems to be pouring of itself. [pg 135]

Look up, too, the complete set of beautiful alabaster vessels of the "chief reader," Atena; note his headrest and green stone bowl and slab for holding paint or ointment-seven kinds-also the bronze models of tools found in the same tomb.

Many of the amulets worn in life, or laid in the mummy for the sake of magical protection, also date from these early times. As you look at them, think of the prayers which were written on them, and the comfort the mourners felt in the belief that the dead were thereby kept safely.

The Buckle of Isis protected them from every form of evil; the Serpent's Head kept them from being bitten by snakes in the underworld; the Two Plumes were to make them enjoy light and air; the Cartouche was to make sure that their names would not be blotted out; the Pillow was to prevent their heads being carried away; the Papyrus Sceptre was to help them to regain the youth and vigour they had lost.

Do not overlook the Two Fingers; they may remind you of King Pepi I., in the twenty-sixth century, of whom it is written "that he hath gone quickly into heaven by means of the Two Fingers of the God of the ladder." It was Horus who is said to have stretched out his two fingers to help his father up the ladder from earth to heaven.

And now, after examining the earliest of the portrait statues, let us turn back several centuries before Khufu to the thirty-third century, and here note the name of Menes, called the first historical king of Egypt, the first king of the North and South, but he [pg 136] may have been a combination of three kings. His Cartouche in the lists and on the scarabs is a simple one; it is said that he built a huge dam across the Nile to divert the steam so as to make a better and safer position for his new capital-Memphis.

Year by year more discoveries are being made about these first dynasty kings and what went before, for even in the times of Menes, some thirty-three centuries B.C., we have not yet reached the very beginning.

On the shelves near the outer coffins of Sen and Gua are pictures of a king named Narmer, killing, and then inspecting, his enemies; his sandal-bearer is an interesting person named Ur-hen. In the cases you have already seen you can match the sandals he is carrying.

There are also very animated companies of most curious looking monsters; do not miss the one standing up like a man, with a very long front tail, as well as a back one, nor the sketches of boats and animals on a vase. The animals might have been drawn from any Noah's Ark in any nursery of the twentieth century A.D.

We have now at last reached the time of the Pre-historic Man in his model grave opposite Men-kau-ra. For long centuries, even before the age of Menes, he lay undisturbed in his cramped sandy grave, covered over securely by large boulders. He and his people evidently believed there was a life to follow the short one he had led by the banks of the Nile, for see the stone implements for his use, and the simple pots which still hold the dust of funeral offerings. [pg 137]

He had fair skin, light hair, and tapering fingers unused to hard work, and he lay like that on the edge of the desert all through the centuries during which we have watched the multitudes of rich and poor passing up and down the long narrow country, farming and building, sorrowing and rejoicing, just as real human beings as we are ourselves, with just the same wishes and difficulties and feelings.

But perhaps you will say, "We have seen the children's toys and dolls, the shoes they wore, the mirrors that reflected their faces, the furniture of their houses, the belongings of their parents; but the portraits in stone, and in the pictures, are so stiff, so unreal, we cannot imagine the people alive and warm and speaking." There is much truth in this. The Egyptian sculptures are, for the most part, stiff and expressionless, while those light-as-air sea-maidens of the Nereid Monument (just behind Ramese II.) might as well be your partners in the dance, and the Tanagra maidens your play-fellows, while there is no mistaking Demeter's grief.

There are many explanations given to account for this difference; one is this, that the Greeks looked upon their models as a whole, as they saw them, and reproducing their impressions, made their spirit live in marble. The Egyptians worked on each detail of feature and limb by itself and then put them together as certain rules and customs dictated.

Look, for instance, at any of the profiles in Egyptian sculpture or painting, and notice how the eye is drawn as an eye (full front), and then put into the face already [pg 138] made up in profile of nose, mouth, and chin, regardless of how it looked.

So, too, with the feet and legs, and arranged on the completed body according to rule, but not to walk with.

Sometimes the artists flung away the bands that fettered their powers, and studied nature instead of following what was considered a correct and reverent expression of it, and then we get speaking likenesses like those in the Vestibule, and living action on the pictured walls of the tombs.

It is difficult for us to understand and enter into the feelings of the Egyptians in this matter; there was the intense reverence for religion and the gods, and the belief that the Pharaoh was one with the gods, and could do no wrong.

A large part of the artists' work consisted of portraits of the gods and kings, for which the priests laid down certain rules of style to express their solemn and unapproachable nature. It would have seemed too familiar, indeed irreverent, to use any easy everyday methods, and so arose this holding back, this keeping to old ways which cramped the art of the Nile for thousands of years. So do not be discouraged by the Egyptian stiffness, but try to feel that the man, woman, child, animal, are really there behind a sort of veil.

If you were to go to Egypt you would see labourers in the fields, and in the villages, with such a strong family likeness to their far-away ancestors, that as you watched them use their limbs in active work, you would [pg 139] feel that the stiff and expressionless faces and forms here before us in stone and fresco had come to life again.

Perhaps you have noticed that you have seen nothing so far to illustrate the years between the Exodus (sixteenth century) and the visit of Herodotus (fifth century). Shall we now try to bridge over these years? On the whole, it was a sad time in which Egypt was steadily declining and becoming less prosperous and happy, though here and there we shall find great names that shine out in the gathering darkness.

Rameses III. did his best in the twelfth century to keep up the glory of his great namesake; his face looks a strong one in the photograph of his mummy in the Second Room, and his prowess shown on the walls of his great temple (see the photograph stand) might well make the nations round "tremble as the mountain goats before a bull who stamps with his foot, strikes with his horns, and makes the mountains shake as he rushes on whatever opposes him!" He had a gentler side too, and one likes to hear that "over the whole land of Egypt he planted trees and shrubs to give the inhabitants rest under their cool shade." We have often noticed how prominent were the priests of Egypt, how great and rich were the temples of the gods they served; at last the day came when the high priest passed from being next in power to the king, to be king himself, and a dynasty of king-priests followed.

The mummies and coffins of the priests, priestesses, [pg 140] doorkeepers, incense-bearers, prophets, scribes, give us some idea of the importance of a great religious college. The coffin cases are generally beautifully painted, and amongst the faces on them are portraits, such as that of the priestess Katebet; notice the breastplate, scarab, ushabti figure on her mummy, and also that of the incence-bearer, Hu-en-amen, with the inlaid eyes. You will recognize many of the paintings of gods and scenes from the Book of the Dead.

In the case of blue glaze, which is one of the glories of the Museum in colour, you will find a few ushabti figures of the families of these kings.

Later, from a dynasty of foreigners, a man of action stands out in the tenth century; the Bible calls this king of Egypt, Shishak-you remember him as the friend of Jeroboam? He entered Jerusalem and stripped the beautiful new temple-so like in plan and construction to those by the Nile-of its treasures, as you can read in 1 Kings xiv.

We can find the gold ring with his name in the Fifth Room and also a pair of black lion-headed goddesses in the South Gallery. Reminders of his son, Osorkon I., are close by, and of Osorkon II., who was not the only king of Egypt who cut his own cartouche on other people's work.

Of the times when the kingdom was breaking up into petty states, we have no important remains, nothing flourished, the outlook became darker and more and more hopeless till, at last, in the eighth century, during the rule of another dynasty of foreigners (the Ethiopians) the storm burst. [pg 141]

The great kings, whose names and forms we shall get to know quite will in the Assyrian galleries, now attacked Egypt on her own frontier and led vast armies from the land between the rivers, over the prostrate Syria, towards the Bridge of Nations.

One tragedy of the time you will know-the mysterious destructino of Sennacherib's army at a most critical moment. Later his son overran Egypt, from the mouths of the Nile to the island of Philae, many times in a few years.

The harvests were spoiled, the people were starving, and fighting, and being carried away captive. Temples and cities and old monuments were ruined and allowed to fall into decay.

It is the conquerors who tell us all this, as they relate their dreadful deeds with pride, and describe the articles they carried away. We can find some like them in the Third and Fourth Rooms. That roll of fine linen, for instance, is inscribed with King Piankhi's name; of those alabaster jars and vases, one bears the name of Shabaka. Those statues of the gods, those gold and silver, turquoise and ivory treasures of centuries, which lie here in numbers before our eyes, all represent the spoils of the Assyrian conquerors.

Egypt revived for a little under the kings who made Sais, their capital, especially the two Psamatiks, and Nekau, and we have several examples of the fine and delicate work of this time; notice the draughtsmen of Nekau in the Toy case.

But in spite of all efforts and the help from Greek soldiers, the country was ravaged again from end to [pg 142] end, and had to submit to the Eastern Empire till that, too, fell under the new great power that arose in Asia-the Persians.

The Egyptians thought it a good opportunity to revolt when the news came of Marathon; it was between the second and third revolts that Herodotus saw Egypt, saw the mighty Nile, the battlefields, and the great monuments, in his quest for information to set down in his history of the Persian wars.

It will be a good thing to go round the galleries several times and mark off the names of the "Sons of the Sun" that you know, and to look again at the treasures that hail from their times. You can then recall as you go the pictures which they suggested.

One picture will be this: a widely flowing river, by whose brink a woman's figure stands out against the sky, as she gazes with tear-filled eyes at a little cradle of lotus flowers hidden amongst the water-reeds.

Or you may picture the important official anxiously watching the rising Nile, and giving certificates to the men who had worked for five days on the embankments; while his wife put away the ointment she had been using for her eyes while the land was parched, and got out the ointment she would use during the inundation.

Or, again, it may be the fresh scent of the lotus flowers, held by the guests at the gay parties, that comes to you across the centuries, or, from further back still, you may catch the soft patter of Ankhu's feet.

(typed by Lisa Vos)
 



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