Chapter VII - Egypt (Part II)

"The House of Bondage"

[pg 110]

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 Abydos.

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 Suez.

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 stony desert.

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 place.

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 Delta.

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 III.

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 put together.

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 119]

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 and 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 hut.

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 fields.


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 Egyptians."

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 Commandments.

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)

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter