Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

AN ASSUAN GALLEY AND THE ISLAND OF ELEPHANTINE, Taken from my bedroom balcony, in the Cataract Hotel. These galleys are of an ancient Roman pattern, hardly changed.

Lp. 380

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

had lasted another hundred years it might have exercised an important influence on the character of Egyptian Mohammedanism. For it was as early as 641 that Amr, the General of the Caliph Omar, effected the permanent conquest of Egypt by the Arabs.

Philæ with its water avenue of palm trees, Philæ with its processions of white columns mirrored in the inundation, looked like fairy-land on that winter morning.

We came back to Philæ on an afternoon just before Christmas. Eternal summer reigns in that island of the blest. The lotus-eaters must have lived in just such a warm, indulgent air. The galleys came to our ship's side, and we stepped on board. The rows of white robed Nubians in the forepart of the boat called out “ Hip, hip, hurry” and made the boat fly with their powerful strokes, until we were abreast of that kiosk of golden stone, and that pylon of the Roman Emperor. Then they calmed down so that we might drink in the effect of that classical vessel, with its web of oars, rowing into the temples of the Ptolemies. Seen closer by daylight, Pharaoh's Bed may disappoint some. It was never finished ; its columns are slight and support nothing, just as Hadrian's pylon shows no symptoms of being a gateway. The colonnades of Nectanebus, too, are two-thirds submerged. If the Nile could be kept down to their bases it would give a most lovely effect. But the Temple of Isis, which is on higher ground, rises nobly from the flood which laves its threshold.

I hardly knew which to be most annoyed with, Gregory XVI., Pont. Max., who had put up his name on the temple, as if it had been a baroque church at Rome, or the Nubians who pulled our sleeves and clamoured for bakshish, just as we were taking in the poetic loveliness of the Temple of Isis from the water, until Mr. Jordan silenced them with mother wit. " I'm coming back," he said ; "I can't swim.” The temple where the worship of Isis, and the child Horus, and her husband Osiris, lasted almost to the Mohammedan era has graceful and beautifully coloured capitals. The spot where the Egyptians believed that Isis found the remains of Osiris is now full of deep, clear water. The crosses of

Christianity are on the columns, while the goddess Nut spans the welkin on the ceiling above them; the winged sun of Horus is over every door; the soul-boat sails upon the walls ; surrounded by these, and a decoration of the key of life and power are announcements of Gregory XVI. and his emissaries, Camberini and Tosti. You almost regret that they escaped the fate of B. Mure, who also put his name on that wall, and has had the words stultus est added by an envious hand.

In the chamber of the death and resurrection of Osiris the lion-headed god Khnum is making a man upon a potter's wheel.

There was one thing in Egypt which tired me very quickly -the dragoman's explanation of the mythology on the walls of a temple or a tomb. I know that these explanations meant something to the dragoman, but they very seldom meant much to me. He had certain catch-words which he rattled off glibly, and I knew that he would not get any further. He pointed out the signs of life and power, or read a most ordinary cartouche, and gave us a date or twogenerally a correct date—but he never by any chance helped us to understand what it was all about.

The Arab loafer at Phila bores you to death by assuming the rôle of the guardian angel to extract bakshish in the face of Lord Cromer's proclamation. When you prepare to ascend the staircase to the roof of the Temple of Isis in broad daylight, he lights a candle, for you. When you are coming down its wide and easy steps he puts a hand under your armpit to steady you; he sings while he rows, and demands bakshish for doing it; he brings babies, who get in the way, and expects bakshish for that. And he goes through all these performances when you are endeavouring to look at something else. He is not even very good at carrying things. When you give him a camera to carry he lets it drop out of its case.

The view from the roof of the Temple of Isis at Philæ when the water is at its highest is very fine, for you are at the broad end of a lake a hundred miles long. Temples

rise from the water at your feet, and the horizon is bounded by palm grooves, or the fantastic rocks of Nubia, except on one side, where a long line of the crossed yards of the tall gyassas tells you that you are in the presence of the eighth wonder of the world—the Great Dam of Assuan. Even Shellal is made respectable by its background of desert. On the roof itself is the famous Osiris chamber, whose walls are covered with bas-reliefs of the death and resurrection of Osiris, which have great value to the mythologist, for all the shrines which contained the fourteen pieces into which Osiris was cut up were of different shapes, and they are all presented here. Isis and Nephthys, the great weepers, are keeping guard. Osiris is lying among lotus-buds, and other marsh plants emblematic of returning life. “Finally,” says Wilkinson, “he is represented with all the scattered limbs reunited to his body in the act of arising from his bier. Isis at his feet stretches out her arms to him, and Nephthys presents to his nostrils the breath of life." The date corresponding to A.D. 453 occurs in this chamber.

When the heightening of the great dam is completed, the triple Nilometer referred to by Strabo, the beautiful flood-wall built in ancient times, the Coptic town, and nearly all the temples will be engulfed, and the proud Temple of Isis will seem to rise from the bosom of a lake.

As Philæ was so soon to sink beneath the waters of progress, I saw it at sunrise, I saw it in the middle of the day, I saw it at sunset, and I saw it by moonlight. The ruins, like the ark of Noah on the face of the waters, are exquisite in the golden glow of the Egyptian sunrise and sunset. But the time to see Philæ is by the light of the serene Egyptian moon. Then Philæ is an island in a world of enchantment, for the Nile is all reflection, and the slender palms and silver columns have an unearthly beauty. To glide over still waters in such a scene, in soft, tropical air (for Philæ stands at the threshold of the Tropic of Cancer) is the climax of sensuosity. If the boatmen had the silence and the velvet touch of the rowers of Lake Como, everything would be perfect. But though they laugh, and splash, and

« PreviousContinue »