Page images
PDF
EPUB

devoted to the great courtyard.

Denderah is as complete inside, but since it has no pro-pylon, and the courtyard is lost, and the enclosing wall is partly broken down, and partly obscured with Coptic débris, Denderah looks small beside Edfu.

The temple of Edfu is dedicated to the solar deity Horus, the son of Isis. The Greeks, who, like the Romans, had a passion for identifying the divinities of other nations with their own stock gods, chose to consider Horus as a variant of Apollo, and accordingly called Edfu Apollinopolis Magna. Up to 1864 the town, as usual, stood on the top of the temple which, filled with débris up to the roof, made an excellent foundation for the mud pastry of an Egyptian village. To clear it out was one of Mariette's first works after his appointment as conservator of monuments and director of excavations. Egyptian temples owe a good deal to Coptic débris. The paintings and sculptures were preserved by it with a freshness, which they would not otherwise have retained, and, where the masonry was cheap and Ptolemaic, the débris kept the buildings standing. It kept Edfu standing. We have proof positive of this, for, some years after it had been removed, the great wall on the west side collapsed and the whole roofing of the temple showed signs of following suit. Sir William Garstin persuaded Lord Cromer that it must be attended to, and Lord Cromer made the Government advance fifteen hundred pounds, at which cost M. Barsanti successfully restored it. It occasionally grows monotonous if you try to observe all the details of the victories with which Rameses II. and Rameses III. used to smother the masonry of their temples. But when the victories were entirely invented by Ptolemies, who were invariably beaten, they have not even a historical interest. Part of the temple of Edfu, which is devoted to the exploits of the Ptolemies, might perhaps be regarded as the earliest and most expensive form of the novel.

The Temple of Edfu-I fancy that it is expressed in the name, which means pierced, or something of the kind-commemorates the conquest and piercing of his uncle Set by

Horus to avenge the death of Osiris. This is how it sounds in dragoman English: "Horus fought very badly against his uncle Set because to kill Osiris-spearing the God of Evilthe Hippopotamus-very small hippo."

The dragoman did not mean that Horus fought badly, but that it was bad for Set. “Because to kill" was his usual form of pluperfect. The smallness of the hippopotamus implied the greatness of the victory; the greater an Egyptian wished to depict a victory, the smaller and weaker and more cowardly he represented his enemy. Egyptian ideas of victory have changed very little. Rameses II., to give future generations an idea of his courage, constantly represented himself as clubbing the heads of bunches of poor little enemies, who have their elbows tied tightly behind them, and are held by their hair. Egypt degenerated further in the time of the Ptolemies.

The dragoman said that he had met King Edward in this temple in 1809. Perhaps it was true, except the date. It seems not to have been the first time that His Majesty had met this illustrious person, for, as he emerged from one of the honeycomb chambers at the back of the temple, the King said to him, “ What are you doing here?" Dragomans are never at a loss for an answer; it is against the etiquette of their profession, so he replied, "Getting through a little door." If His Majesty really did see the Temple of Edfu, he saw such a place of worship as Alexander the Great himself might have officiated in, after the manner of the kings of Egypt. Its gigantic pylons open into a vast court of offerings with all its thirty-two columns standing. At the end of that, with a high stone screen connecting the columns of its façade, like Denderah, is the Khent Hall, with eighteen great columns, a chamber to the left, where the King purified himself before entering the temple, and a chamber to the right, which was a library, with a catalogue of its books still inscribed on its walls. Behind the Khent Hall is the Festival Hall, supported by twelve columns with small rooms opening from it for the use of priests and processions. This leads into the chamber of the altar, with a staircase conducting to the roof, and

another to numerous upper chambers and passages. This is divided by the Hall of the Repose of the Gods from the sanctuary, called also the Chamber of the Great Throne, from the beautiful grey granite naos, a shrine cut out of a single stone, which once contained a live hawk, the emblem of the god. Behind the sanctuary are more small chambers for ceremonial uses, like the Hathor chambers at Denderah. Here King Edward would have seen all the appendages and decorations of a Ptolemaic temple, the Nut, and a Zodiac on the ceiling ; the long passages and inclined staircases covered with coloured sculptures of processions and ceremonies; the kiosk at the side where the priests used to distribute bread on the first of the new year—a most beautiful little building; and the room where Osiris died and lay in state, of which our dragoman said in his delightful English : “Oh, he never existed. But still, that is the religion. They say this the room where they used to wash the body of God, and this where they put the clothes on the body of God.” He added: “The pictures where Isis fell in love-kissing business—were splendid business for the King."

" I used to tell lies," said the dragoman. “Now I got bad rheumatism-I have the judgment."

The historical and processional pictures at Edfu are endless, and make the interior very rich. But they are often neither graceful nor classic. It is really rather a relief-after tramping with candles and magnesium wire through acres of passages and chambers, where the vampires nearly knock you down with their odour and stampeding flights--to get out on to the pylon and the roof. As is usual in Ptolemaic temples, you can walk all over the roof, gazing down into colonnaded courts, or outwards at the village and the river. From the pylon-top you have a noble view. The great temple in all its perfection is spread out like a map at your feet. Up and down you see the broad champaign, with the blue ribbon of the Nile winding through it, and a background of the pink Arabian hills fading into the distance. Almost encroaching on the temple is the village which once stretched over it

a honeycomb of mud walls, with reeds or straw laid across them for roofs. Goats and sheep and Arab dogs wander along the tops of the walls or plump through the ceilings of that village. I saw several executing this manæuvre, and wondered how the inhabitants enjoyed goats coming down on the angeribs, where they were waiting for eternity, in a conflict between indolence and vermin. On the pylon we were so far above the village that we only saw its roofs and its pigeon-towers, and not many of them. We saw little but mud huts covered with reeds and straw; there was not even a mosque or a larder. Cleanliness is not often so far from godliness in a Mohammedan town. Edfu, apart from its temple, is a city of dreadful dirt.

But Edfu's old enemy, Komombo, is a delightful contrast. Its temple is not so perfect, but it is far more beautiful, and has a special interest. As you approach it on the Nile it is the most charming of all the temples of Egypt. It stands up grandly on a bluff over the river like a castle on the Rhine. It has the advantage of being near an English station for the reclamation of the Nile lands. It has huge engines for pumping up the Nile water. You do not notice the enginehouse much, and, if it does disfigure the landscape a little, this is more than atoned for by the prosperous and orderly appearance of the whole neighbourhood. Here there is no village to speak of; there are no professional curio-sellers, though there are a few Nubians guilelessly offering the banalities of Assuan, the orange-handled knives in crocodile-skin cases, and native drums made for sale to Europeans. Komombo is generally regarded as the northern border of the Nubian population. You see the difference directly you get here. The skins are much darker, and the people have the negro tendency to laugh. A walk across a few fields takes you from the landing-place to that charming temple, which has the grace of Greece, as you see it silhouetted against the blue sky with its soaring, airy columns.

This temple is a composite affair. It looks fairly ordinary outside, except for the beauty of its proportions and the rich colour of its masonry. Nor do you notice its extraordinari

ness when you get inside. But in reality it is two temples in one.

For here they worshipped the two contending principles, Sekket, the god of darkness, and the god of light -Horus. The temple had a single containing-wall, but nearly everything else was in duplicate. There were duplicate pylons, duplicate entrances to the Hall of Columns, to the inner colonnaded hall and the three other halls, which intervened before the shrines of the God of Light and the God of Darkness were reached, lying side by side. I shall not describe the charming sculptures and paintings of this exquisite temple, many of them on fragments. This is not a guide book, and to the uninitiated, as my friend Mr. Jordan said, Egyptian names are so fierce. It would not make people in England see the glory of Komombo, the sunny, airy court, the noble architecture any better. Komombo must be seen to be appreciated.

But for the English, half of it would be under the Nile by this time. The bluff on which it stands was yielding rapidly year by year to the floods of the great river when the English came and underpinned it, and embanked it. All except a shell of the Birth-house, so dear to the architects of Ptolemaic temples, and the chapel of Hathor, which stood in front of the western end of the temple, had already fallen backwards into the water.

Ruin of another kind had overtaken the outworks of the fane itself. But its centre and loftiest parts have been preserved by the accretions of a hill of débris. This time it was surmounted not by a town but by a fort of the English erected by Lord Grenfell, to hold in check incursions of the Dervishes, in the days when Assuan was the frontier city of the dominions of the Khedive, and the Mahdi might any day be at its gates or slip past it. When Lord Grenfell was here, he knew there was a temple underneath, and he was an enthusiastic excavator, so whenever a man in his force had to be punished, he was set to work to excavate.

Komombo stands on the site of a temple of the eighteenth dynasty, the Thothmes and Amen-hetep epoch. But it was rebuilt in the time of the Ptolemies. The elegant passage

« PreviousContinue »