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I should like to have examined more carefully what the Arabs call the Shunet-ez-Zebib, the Store-house of the Grape, because it was the nearest they could get to the sound of the real name, which meant "The Store-house of the Jars of Ibis Mummies."
Mr. Ayrton found the jars still there when he excavated it. This was the castle with double walls, now a mere forty feet high, where the early Pharaohs stayed when they came to Abydos. Some of the Ibises, as recorded on the jars, were mummied under the second dynasty more than 4000 B.C. In the adjacent “Mother of Pots,” the most ancient necropolis of Abydos, are the tombs, real or honorary, of Menes, the shadowy founder of the Crown of Egypt, and his immediate successors, which were explored a few years ago and yielded the richest find in the Cairo Museum of precious objects of the first and second dynasties.
The glorious temple of Seti I. itself was a funerary temple. It was built for his ancestors as well as himself—to which we owe the good fortune of its containing the tablet of Abydos, and a similar catalogue of the “great and small cycle of the divinities of the sacred places of the north and of the south,' a hundred and thirty in number.
The bas-relief in this temple (the Mnemonium of Strabo) of Seti I., offering a statuette of Ma'at, the Goddess of Justice, to Osiris, is generally considered to be the chef d'æuvre of ancient Egyptian sculpture: the face, the figure, and the execution are marvellously beautiful. Hui, King Seti's sculptor, had such an inimitable delicacy of line.
The chief sculptures have lost their colouring ; one doubts if they could ever have looked more lovely than they do now, in the exquisite purity of that fair white limestone. But some of the chapels have colouring as rich as any that has come down to us from ancient Egypt-due to their having been completely buried prior to their excavation.
The legend of Osiris will perhaps be most intelligible to the ordinary reader as told untechnically by Ebers.
“Osiris, conjointly with Isis, who was his sister and wife, was king over the Nile Valley, gave it laws, and taught
the world, which he journeyed all over, the arts of peace. At a feast after his return he allowed himself to be persuaded by his hostile brother Typhon to lie down in a chest which was ready for the purpose. Hardly had he got into it, when seventy-two conspirators, the accomplices of Typhon, Alung down the lid, locked it, nailed it down and tied it up, and threw it with its living contents into the Tanitic mouth of the Nile, which carried it into the sea. It was borne to Byblos, on the Phænician coast, and stranded close to an Erica shrub (a heath). The noble plant quickly grew round the chest, and became such a magnificent tree that the King of Byblos afterwards caused it to be cut down, and used as a beam to prop up his house. Meanwhile Isis travelled all over the country in search of her husband, found his coffin, revealed herself to the royal owner, removed the chest from the Erica, lifted it, weeping, on to her shoulders, and bore it away in a ship. As soon as she reached Egypt, and was in solitude, she opened the chest, and laid her face, bathed in tears, on that of her dead husband, and kissed him. At last she quitted the body to seek her son Horus, who was brought up in Buto, and to rouse him to vengeance. During her absence Typhon discovered the corpse, tore it into fourteen pieces, and strewed them all over the Nile Valley.
as Isis learned this, she gathered together the beloved fragments, and wherever she found one she erected a monument to her husband. Hence, as some say, there are many tombs of Osiris in Egypt, but others assert that all the limbs of Osiris were laid together in one place, and that Isis erected monuments where she found them, only to mislead Typhon when he should endeavour to discover the real tomb. The most important of these tombs, even under the Pharaohs, was that of Abydos, where the head of Osiris was said to be buried.
“ While Isis was lamenting for her husband, and attending to his obsequies, Osiris had remained in the under-world, and his son Horus had strengthened and armed himself for revenge.
A furious struggle took place between him and Typhon, which lasted four days, and resulted in the
overthrow of Typhon. Horus gave over the foe in bonds to his mother, Isis ; she, however, granted him his life, and was reunited to her husband, Osiris.
“Under the image of husband and wife, this pretty legend very subtly represents the course of the phenomena of Nature in Egypt—the circuit of the sun, and the fate of the earth, the illuminating power of the sun, the fundamental principles of human life, the ultimate triumph of goodness and truth, as figured by Osiris, are apparently assailed and vanquished by Typhon—that is, by drought and the encroachments of the desert, by the darkness of night, mists, clouds, and storms; by death, by lies, and all the evil and restless stirrings of the soul ; but as soon as the diminished flow of the river swells again, the young crops grow green, a new sun lights and cheers the world, and disperses the mists, the human soul rises again in the other world to a new and everlasting life, truth triumphs over falsehood, and good conquers evil. Horus has overthrown Typhon, avenged his father, and restored him to his throne. Isis, the mother, is the feminine and sympathetic element, formative, not begetting, the conceiving element of Plato, overflowing with love for the first and highest essence, which is goodness itself, though it must use that which is base and evil as its material and vehicle, even while it hates and shuns it. In this myth of the Divine family, which is amply illustrated by the monuments, every Egyptian saw a figurative representation of the fate of his own soul, and every dying man believed in a resurrection like that of the risen god. No wonder, then, that the grave of Osiris attracted all the pious souls in the country, and that devout princes and citizens commanded that their bodies should be brought to Abydos to be consecrated or interred under the shadow of the sanctuary. The vast cemeteries in which Mariette Pacha found graves of every period of Egyptian history from the very latest up to that of the builders of the Pyramids, are the asylums where the dead, who were always conveyed by water, hoped to find eternal rest.”
Thus Ebers, who scorns stops, and, ordinarily, wallows in
his learning, though he has such a fund of erudition and picturesqueness.
It was very regretfully that I turned my donkey's head from Abydos for the ride back to Baliana, through the waving green of the wheat, which, as we drew near the river, was bathed in the ineffable glory of the Egyptian sunset. All the way we met the Procession of Egypt; once, twice, thrice, there was a Good Shepherd followed by his flock and carrying the weakling in his arms. The workers of the fields lived, it was clear, not at Baliana, but at the villages round the Sanctuary of Osiris.
Baliana is not famous for good citizens. But Baliana itself, as it stands on its high bank, towering over the Nile and the inundation lands, at sunset might take its place in the Arabian Nights, with its mosques and its fantastic mansions embosomed in groves.
Crossing the Libyan Desert to the Great Oasis WE
E made no expedition in Egypt, to which we looked
forward with such excitement as our visit to the Great Oasis. It is expected to prove popular with English travellers. It very well might, considering that it only rains three days a year there, and then not enough to be called a mist by a Scotchman. It used to take soft people six days to get there, though surveyors have done it in two. It now only takes the inside of a day after you leave the base at Kharga Junction on the line between Cairo and Assuan. We were the first tourists who ever went by the Western Oasis Railway, though a certain number of celebrities had been taken up for the opening a few weeks before, for which palms were especially planted in the sand round the rest-house, though they looked a little sorry when we saw them.
They were not necessary. The fertility of the Oasis is sufficiently obvious without them, to eyes which are attuned to Egypt, where the same piece of land may be covered with rich deep verdure one year, and go back to bare desert the next, according to whether it has been irrigated or not.
We started with great excitement, because this would be our first experience of staying in an Egyptian rest-house. We had crossed a much more extensive desert on the Sudan Railway. Our visit to the oasis naturally divides itself into two chapters. If I attempted to deal with the getting there and the sights of the oasis in a single chapter both subjects would get lost in detail.