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Before we mounted our asses again to ride home we climbed the ramp to the top of the great pylon of Karnak. The view from it by moonlight was incomparable. At our feet lay the vasty ruins of Amon-Ra's temple--the most gigantic of all the houses which men have built for gods since the beginning of the world, with line after line of columns to mark successive courts and buildings. In the Hall of the Columns two white-robed watchmen had built a fire of blazing sticks in the silvery sand, which lit up the story of the myths of eld with its ruddy glare. In the moonlight the pylons and groves of the Temple of Mût seemed as if they would never end till Luxor with its modern civilisation cried Halt!
The long line of the Nile gleamed like a mirror ; the edge of the Sahara beyond the templed plain of Thebes was a faint pearly line against the lantern-hung sky. The dogs barked in untiring chorus, broken once by the thunder of a train which tore past, breathing fire all along its line of carriages. The ruins of the Pharaonic city below were dwarfed. But I reflected that once they were full of people like us, to whom this Karnak in the moon meant so much more than ever it could to us.
We gazed and gazed, and then went down very quickly, and bestowing piastres on the patient watchmen, passed out between those sleek, gleaming Sphinxes of the Avenue of the Dead, and mounted our white asses, and rode through the palm groves to Luxor-some of us laughing and talking with the exuberance of people coming out from church; others, like myself, dropped behind for silence, to let our thoughts travel down the long avenues of the forty centuries of Karnak.
I much regret that the wonderful presentation of False Gods, by Sir H. Beerbohm Tree, at His Majesty's Theatre, did not take place before I went to Karnak. I should have grasped its significance better; the great scene, in which the Hall of the Columns in the Temple of Amon-Ra (which typifies Lourdes in the original French play) is filled with the diseased and paralytic crying out for a miracle, brought back, with marvellous realism, to me the days when the ancient religion was in full swing in the temples of Karnak. It is so difficult to grasp that a temple like Amon-Ra's at Karnak could ever have been crowded : the impression of emptiness is so profound when you stand in it to-day. The scene-painting of the Egyptian buildings was so fine that they seemed to stand before me again.
The impression of a service conveyed was, of course, quite incorrect; neither dramatist nor actor would claim that Egyptian services were anything like what they presented. But seeing that play peopled the temple in my imagination. Before this the ruins of Karnak were like the dry bones of the Vision of Ezekiel to me.
The Tombs of the Pharaohs at Thebes
TH in their way
HE tombs of the Pharaohs at Thebes are as wonderful
in their way as the Pyramids. What we call Thebes to-day was only the City of the Dead in ancient Thebes, though the Pharaohs had palaces and parks on the outskirts. The pavilion in the Temple of Medinet Habû is the most complete example we have of the dwelling of a Pharaoh ; and south of it are the remains of a pleasure-lake and a pleasurehouse of the great Queen. -- But most of hundred-pyloned. Thebes is on the east bank among the ruins which we call Karnak and Luxor now. Thebes, as we know it to-day, has no multitude of pylons, but Karnak has half a hundred still.
The City of the Dead was twofold ; there were no tombs in what we may call the rich Memnonian plain, where the two colossal images look down now on the waving fields of wheat. The Egyptians were so accustomed to bury treasure with their dead, so haunted by the fear of tombrobbers, that they tunnelled their tombs in the rocks on the edge of the desert and concealed their entrances in a manner which would have been impossible on the open and annually submerged plain. They only built the temples which served the royal tombs out on the plain, where the ground was above the food-mark; many of them are standing, little injured, to-day; and there were others of which we know, though they have perished, like the temple of which the Colossigiven an importance not their own by the Greeks and Romans--were mere adjuncts. The Temple of Der-el-Bahari, cut almost like a Greek 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 Aints 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 inhospitable 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 I. 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 stilt 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.