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before the floods of thirty centuries and the depredations of Arab builders ; these most interesting of the colossi of Egypt, the rivals of the Sphinx in literature, reign in solitude, guardians of an abstracted charge.
I always dismounted when I rode up to them, to photograph them in some new aspect, or to gaze first at their mighty proportions, and then at their beautiful bas-reliefs; I liked to handle them, as so many from all countries must have handled them in the past; and, when I remounted, because I had spent so much time, we galloped on to Thebes with our eyes fixed on the noble group of temples, called MedinetHabu, rising above the palm-trees and the Pharaonic city, the farthest south of the great monuments on the west bank.
Medinet-Habu does not consist of one temple but of several Long before you come to the chief temple you think you must have finished ; it is nearly a hundred yards behind the others. When you say good-bye to your donkey you have the temple of an Ethiopian lady named Amenartas, who was the wife of King Piankhi II., and the sister of King Shabak, on one side, and on the other a composite temple which begins with its end as far back as the eighteenth dynasty, and ends with a pylon as near as the time of Antoninus Pius. This, with its great Ptolemaic columns, though late and debased in repute, has great beauty of form. It looks like the realisation of the ambitions of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The charming little squat temple of Thothmes III., which lies behind a Ptolemaic pylon, is also worthy of His Majesty's; and there are various courts, covered with beautifully chiselled and gaily coloured bas-reliefs, some of them very entertaining, relating to what our dragoman called, “The kissing-business between Thothmes and a goddess." King Thothmes's temple is divided from Queen Amenartas's by the pavilion of Rameses III.
This has been lauded as the only important specimen of an ancient Egyptian dwelling, but no one knows really if it was a dwelling or no. The chief argument in its favour is that instead of being decorated with pictures of gods and religious ceremonies, the King is here represented among the
ladies of his harem, who present him with flowers, or fan him with a flabellum, like those carried on each side of the Pope when he goes in state to St. Peter's. The favourites, unless they are being caressed, or helping the Pharaoh to beguile his leisure with draughts, are obliged to stand while the King is seated in a gorgeous chair; the Queen is not there. This seems rather slender evidence for pronouncing the building to be a royal palace; it is much more like the gatehouse of an English sixteenth-century fortified mansion, even to the windows. I should describe it as the remains of an Egyptian castle, in which capacity it is quite imposing, with it massive masonry and soaring architecture. Its rooms certainly have the appearance of living-rooms, for they have excellent windows, and are light, and bright, and gaily painted.
I determined to believe that Rameses III. really had used this as a pavilion when he came to regale his eyes with a view of the national cemetery, as the Irish servant-girls in New York go to Brooklyn. It was not a cheerful subject, but it is pleasant to picture ancient Egyptians in any way outside of a tomb. They spent their lives in preparing their tombs, and when they built a temple it was generally merely as an adjunct to their future mausoleum. Of course they improved as they went on.
Rameses III., who lived 2,500 years after Cheops, did not spend his entire reign, and all the resources of his kingdom, on erecting a pyramid. He varied the monotony of such an existence with victories over the Philistines and others, as
th, with appropriate mutilations, on the walls of the adjoining temple. It was pleasing to go into a real room where he lived, and moved, and had his being, and to picture to oneself the life of that far-back time, as we know it from the paintings in the tombs of officials who were not considered worthy of mythological surroundings and attentions from goddesses, but were merely allowed representations of the properties and luxuries they had enjoyed on earth for the edification of their ka's—their doubles which did not die. It was a very pleasant room, with its square, Jacobean
windows and its reliefs inside and out. Some of the rooms had balconies; the corbels which supported them, consisting of female busts in gaily coloured clothes, are still there. But these rooms were kept locked-I almost expected to be told that the locks were original.
There were birds singing outside for all they were worth; they were not conspicuous birds—I hoped that the Pharaohs had something finer, something more like parrots or birds of paradise, brought from the land of Punt with other curiosities.
I supposed that, when Rameses III. lived there, the houses of the Pharaonic town round Medinet-Habu were not quite so simply mud. The Egyptians knew so much about stucco and wall-paintings that they may have been as gay as a tomb; but, mud as they are, they make a fine effect against the pink cliffs of the Sahara and the cobalt sky behind. And they too were once filled with that extraordinary life which we know so much better than we know anything about Greece or Rome.
Our dragoman would not countenance this weakness for long; he wished us to get on, to look at the square pieces of desert surrounded by columns, with duplicates of Osiris leaning their backs against them, which constitute the ordinary Theban temple. This particular temple which he sprang upon us, when we thought we had seen everything at MedinetHabu, is one of the largest and best preserved in Egypt. The osirids, which greet you as you enter it, are really charming, and a long history is incised and painted on its walls, beginning just inside the gate with a battle which reminds you of Michael Angelo's " Last Judgment.” Only in this instance the lost ones are the enemies of Egypt, and Rameses III. with his horses takes up as much room as all the prisoners do put together. The Egyptians, instead of representing their kings performing miracles of valour against a race of giants, always represented their enemies as dwarfs. This was supposed to act as a deterrent on the inhabitants of Ethiopia, who were unruly, and probably far too much for them in the open field when the Egyptians were not in
overwhelming force. The formidable blacks of the Sudan fought with spears and two-handed swords at Omdurman. They must have known almost as much of the art of war in the days of King Piankhi. If we read Sudanese for Ethiopian, it helps us to understand the conquest of Egypt by the blacks, when the future protagonists of the Mediterranean-Rome, and Carthage, and Syracuse-were just newborn.
Once upon a time, six or seven centuries before Athens was heard of, in this great court, where the birds of Egypt were twittering so deafeningly, and in the other great court behind it, every column had its Osiris, gigantic, benevolent, carrying the signs of life and power, looking down on great processions like that which is pictured so gloriously on the walls of the inner court. We even know what line the processions took, for the paving stones in the court are worn through by priestly feet.
In this temple one can picture processions well, for there is a vista through it from end to end.
Its decorations are noble, their materials are costly, they are graciously sculptured, and the colour is hardly dimmed, but the back part has been scalped of its roof and the upper portions of its walls and columns. The Copts established a church, which has now been taken out, in the middle of these ruins. The ruins are all the better for it, because the Copts forgot to destroy the pictures before they plastered them over, and so preserved them. There are some vivid touches among them, such as that of the six clerks counting the hands and other parts which Rameses III. had cut off from his enemies. Our dragoman said that he had counted the hands in one heap, and that there were three thousand ; but we afterwards discovered that this was stated in the hieroglyphics. Dragomans are a specious class.
At the back of Medinet-Habu are two fine groups of statuary and enough small chambers for a bee-hive. But you cannot describe everything in an Egyptian temple. This part of it was as cheerful as the other scalped temple, that of Rameses II. at Abydos.
The temples of Thebes would not be half as enjoyable if they were not so far from each other. When you have spent an hour or two examining a temple which is a regular museum and picture-gallery like Medinet-Habu, it is a relief to mount a fine spirited ass and listen to the wise foolishness of donkeyboys as you gallop off to the Ramesseum, or the Tombs of the Queens. As you fly over the sand, or (if you prefer it, pick your way among the mud ruins of the subjects of the Rameseses) you are pursued by tomb-robbers, or still greater villains who have not even robbed tombs, but bought their goods from antiquity fakers, worrying you to buy the mummy heads of Pharaohs, courtiers, and priestesses ; or the blue beads which reposed on their bosoms; or the little Ushapti images which were to do the duties of slaves for them beyond the grave; and, of course, coins and pottery. It does not matter how fast you ride, they can keep up. A man ran beside me for a mile holding up a beautiful mummy head, which he wished to sell me for four shillings. As I never raised my offer beyond a shilling he then dropped off. When I had ridden another two miles I went back for it: I felt that I must become the possessor of that noble and beautiful face of one who was alive before Moses, which, if it were only made of bronze, would fetch a thousand times what he asked. I have it now in the place of honour in an eastern room.
I cannot describe the Tombs of the Queens: it all takes space, and the Tombs of the Kings are so much more important. But they are full of interesting and brilliant paintings, and there is something quite pathetic about the tombs of two little princes, sons of the great Rameses, just beside themsuch pretty boys, monumentalised with such human touches. Here too is the gracious little temple of Der-el-Medina scribbled over by ancient Greek 'Arries; but I must not even give the names of all the temples of Thebes.
The tombs of this plain are countless. What a spectacle it would be if every one were to rise, as the Scriptures have foreshadowed, in the semblance that he wore on earth, when the graves give up their dead as the Archangel's trumpet blows the last post !