Page images
PDF
EPUB

theatre, in a horseshoe of the rocks overhanging the plain, may be taken as the centre of the tomb system. The tombs of the kings are to the right as you approach from the river; the tombs of the queens to the left, and all the intervening rocks are riddled with tombs of officials and nobles. You can see the entrances of many of them, on the hill-face, almost as distinctly as the Temple of Der-el-Bahari itself. Most distant, and most difficult to find, are the tombs of the kings which lie far up two gorges at the back of the Kurna temple.

We made several expeditions to the Tombs of the Kings, and I enjoyed nothing in Egypt better. It necessitated early rising; we used to send our donkeys over in advance, and cross the river about eight, so as to do the long ride to the Valley of the Kings before the sun was too high : it is one of the hottest places imaginable.

I know of nothing so psychologically appropriate as the approach to the Tombs of the Kings. It is a gorge a mile or two long, hemmed in between lofty, flame-coloured cliffs, which take the shapes of fortress bastions and the figures of giants. So fierce is the power of the sun in this valley of death that it contains never a blade of green, never a trace of animal life except stinging insects, vengeful serpents, and carrion-seeking vultures. The gorge has almost filled itself with fallen boulders; in places it is difficult for riders to pass; in others the path has been trodden flat by the feet of captive Israelites, and is marked with white stones, or strewn with glittering quartz, and flints tied into nodules, and bearing signs like the characters of ancient alphabets written on them by water in untold centuries.

The wrath of the summer sun in this guarded valley is terrible; the successors of the first Thothmes did well to choose its jealous cliffs to contain their tombs.

It was early when we rode there first, early in the day and early in the year ; even then the heat was in hospitable as we drew near the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the greatest of the Pharaohs hoped to secure a rest undisturbed in their long homes. At the gates of the Western

Valley we were greeted with the barking of fierce black dogs, who guarded the home of the chief of the excavators. We rode on, for most of the forty tombs of the Pharaohs, which were known in Strabo's time, and are now all known again, are in the Eastern Valley. Their square entrances below the level of the road, approached by Alights of steps, salute you on both sides; but in ancient times all traces of them were obliterated. The Pharaohs gave up having pyramids because even their gigantic masses did not ensure them safety from the tomb-robber. The experiment of Thothmes I. of having a tomb tunnelled into the cliff behind his mortuary temple was not more successful ; therefore later kings had their shrines for performing the rites of the dead out on the plain of Thebes ; but their tombs, correctly orientated with their shrines, separated from them by the mountains, which enclose the valley. They were of course made by forced labour : only the food of the workmen had to be considered ; but even thus they are absolutely marvellous. The tomb of Seti I., the most beautiful and perfect in point of workmanship, is driven into the hard limestone rock five hundred feet, and there are several over three hundred feet. Only our very largest cathedrals equal King Seti's tomb in length. They consist for the most part of long, narrow passages broken by stately, spacious, and richly ornamented halls. These passages are emblematical of the long valley of Tuat, supposed to run parallel to the Lower Nile, which was a kind of purgatory for the dead, and the night-abode of Osiris. The twelve hours of darkness were typified by two entrance chambers and ten divisions beginning and ending with dusk. The monsters which peopled them, the judgments which went on in them are depicted on the walls of more than one of these great tombs, notably that of Seti 1. They are rather crude. Ma'at, the Goddess of Truth, who had no temple in ancient Egypt, and certainly would not have one in modern Egypt if it were still pagan, is there with her feather and the ugly cynocephalus baboon, which is so often exhibited in Cairo streets; and Thoth, the God of Literature, takes his part.

Except to students the paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs are seldom interesting in subject ; but they are so complete that our knowledge of Egyptian mythology is considerable. In the Tombs of the Kings alone we have nearly the whole of three of the principal books of ancient Egypt--the Book of the Litanies of Ra, the Book of the Gates, and the Book of What is in the Under-world, besides some important chapters of the Book of the Dead. Dr. Budge, whose rendering of the Book of the Dead' is famous, gives the following account of the Tuat:

"One of the commonest religious views of the Egyptians was that the Tuat or Under-world.was a long, narrow valley which ran parallel with Egypt, and was neither above nor below the level of this earth. It had a river flowing through the whole length of it. This valley began on the west bank of the Nile, ran due north, bent round towards the east when the Delta was approached, and terminated at the place where the sun rose. It was divided into ten sections, and at each end was a sort of vestibule or chamber. The ante-chamber, at its beginning, was called Amentet, and was a place of gloom. As the passenger through this valley went onwards each of the first five sections grew darker and darker, until at the end of the fifth section the darkness was absolute. As the passenger moved on through the last five sections the darkness grew less and less dense, until at the end of the tenth section he entered the chamber, the gloom of which resembled that of the chamber at the beginning of the valley. The whole night, which was supposed to consist of twelve hours, was occupied in passing through the Tuat; and the two chambers and the ten main divisions of it were traversed each in one hour. The Tuat was a difficult place to pass through, for portions of it were filled with hideous monsters and horrible reptiles and a lake of boiling and stinking water Religious tradition declared that the sungod had made his way in it seated in his boat, but that he was only enabled to do so by employing his words of magical power, and by the exercise of the functions of deity.

| Pages 662-4.

The priests declared that they possessed the knowledge of such words of power, and people believed that if they learned them, and learned to recognise the various divisions of the Tuat, and the beings in them by means of the pictures which the priests provided, they could make the journey through the Tuat in safety, and would rise in the next world with the sun.

“The priests of Amen, who promulgated this view, which was based upon an older system of indigenous belief, presided over the building of the royal tombs in the eighteenth dynasty, and made each tomb to resemble the long narrow valley of the Tuat by providing it with long corridors. When the body was deposited in the tomb the priests repeated the words of power which Ra was believed to have uttered, and performed ceremonies in imitation of those of the acts of the god; in fact, made very full use of sympathetic magic; and the worshippers of Amen believed that their kings would surely and certainly pass safely through the dark valley, and would overcome all their foes, and would rise together with the sun to a new life in the next world. Now, the sun-god traversed this valley each night in his boat, and, of course, rose each day; the aim, then, of every one of his worshippers was to secure a passage in his boat, for, if only this could be obtained, resurrection was certain. The doctrine of the sun-worshippers and the priests of Amen taught that the souls of all who died during the day made their way to Amentet, where, provided that they were equipped with the knowledge of the necessary .divine words, they entered the boat of the sun-god. When they arrived at the kingdom of Osiris at midnight they were judged, and the blessed were rewarded, and the wicked were annihilated ; this done, the boat of the sun-god passed on towards the east, where, having destroyed all the nature-powers of night and darkness, i.e. cloud, mist, rain, etc., he rose on this world in glorious strength, and the souls who had chosen to stay with him rejoiced in renewed light and were happy."

There is a copy of the Book of the Litanies of Ra on the walls of the sloping corridor of the tomb of Seti I. Many

of the scenes in the Book of the Gates are inscribed on the beautiful alabaster sarcophagus of this monarch, which is no longer in the tomb, but in the museum of Sir John Soane in London. There are selections from the Litany of Ra, the Book of What is in the Under-world, and the Book of the Gates in the tomb of Rameses III., and selections from the Book of the Dead in the tomb of Rameses IV., to quote the most obvious instances, But there are more interesting pictures than these in the tomb of Rameses III., which is called the Tomb of the Harper-scenes from everyday life in war, agriculture, and so on. To me the pictures in the Tombs of the Kings were not generally so interesting as those in the tomb of Thi, because they relate to the mythological life of the under-world and not the human life of ancient Egypt. Still, the sculptures in the tomb of King Seti I. are marvellously attractive, for after those in Seti's temple at Abydos they are the most exquisitely executed in all Egypt.

I never made any attempt to follow the pictures in one of these tombs systematically: the interpretation of each tomb would fill a book. It was better to admire the superlative loveliness of the outlines of, say, the bark of Osiris, or King Seti's own figure.

What are they like, the world's chief tombs, the subterranean cathedrals, not built, but hewn by hands? You enter them by a descent of steps from the road, and you are striking for ever downwards towards the under-world, perhaps in parable ; sometimes they have sculptured entrances; they often have pictures of striking beauty the moment you cross the threshold. A long narrow passage, generally broken by steps, may lead you for a hundred feet before you come to any of the state chambers. The steps are often modern ; you have only to go into a tomb not yet prepared for the public, like that of Thothmes IV., to know that the approach to the actual grave is by no means simple even when you have entered the tomb. A mummy-shoot is a most distressing thing to descend, unless you have feet like Arabs and flies and one of these semi-precipitous descents over slippery lime

« PreviousContinue »