Page images
PDF
EPUB

the lofty farther bank, and continued their canter until it was time to descend to the causeway which ran across the rich plain of Thebes. When first we went to Thebes there was a wide lake on each side of this causeway ; but the wheat stood high where the face of the waters had been ere we sorrowfully rode to Thebes for the last time. Halfway along that causeway was one of the wonders of the world—the famous image of Memnon, which pilgrims visited and poets hymned before Christianity was born. To the Greeks and Romans this image, the less perfect of a pair of giants which rise higher than the great Buddha of Japan, was Memnon, Prince of the Ethiopians, who was killed at Troy, and sang to his mother Aurora, as the rays of the rising sun fell on his statue. To the rationalists of succeeding ages, the great image was so cunningly constructed that the wind whistling through it made melody. By the moderns the failure of the melody is blamed on the African Emperor, Septimius Severus, who repaired it by walling up the breaches—an eternal eyesore which might well be set right by the Department of Antiquities : for as you approach it, this takes away the dignity of the statue, which is so marvellously impressive from a distance, whether it looks down on the waters of the inundation or the waving green of spring. I do not know which way I like the giants best, though their effect, reflected on the waters, with the halo of the Egyptian sunset round them, is ineffably wonderful. In one respect they are unique even in this land of colossi, for their lower portions are sculptured again with figures in bas-relief, which play no part in their composition. In another respect they are not so extraordinary as they seem, for when King Amenophis III., whose name was corrupted into Memnon, erected them in the fifteenth century B.C. in his own image, they were not solitary in the midst of wide tilth or waters, but stood between the obelisks and pylons of the greatest temple constructed in his reign-the mortuary shrine for his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The temple has disappeared

The best idea of the colossi is conveyed by a picture in Walter Tyndale's “ Below the Cataracts.” (Heinemann.)

[ocr errors]

1

[graphic]

THE STATUE OF MEMNON AT THEBES.
It and its fellow are usually called the Colossi of Thebes. They are loftier than the great Buddha of Kamakura in Japan. The right-hand
Colossus is supposed to be " The Vocal Statue of Memnon." They stood outside the mortuary temple of King Amen-helep III., which has now
disappeared. At high Nile the land on which they stand is inundated.

(p. 326

[graphic][ocr errors]

THE VALI.EY OF THE TOMBS OF THE KINGS AT THEBES.
The rocks of the exterior, with their noble architectural effects, are little less marvellous than the tombs, some of them as long as a great cathedral, hewn
P. 3272
into the heart of the close white limestone, as finely grained as marble, and frescoed from end to end with the elaborate imagery of the Book of the Dead.

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 wise 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

[ocr errors]

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 set forth, 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

1

« PreviousContinue »