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by one, using the methods and machinery of the Pharaohs, piling up mounds of earth round them, as they grow higher, in order to build the upper portions.
Whether you are there by day or by night, it is hard to tear yourself away from the contemplation of this hall of the gods, standing so marvellously perfect under the rainless sky.
When you do leave it, you pass out into a stormy sea of ruins, with Queen Hatasu's obelisk rising like a flagstaff of the gods from the midst. It took but seven months to cut this, the loftiest of all obelisks, in the granite quarries above the first cataract of the Nile, at far-off Assuan, and polish it, and sculpture it, and float it down the Nile, and set it up perfect in the Temple of Amon-Ra. We know its whole history. The Egyptians had a convenient habit of cutting the full history on every monument. They generally tell you not only who built it and why it was built, but what it was intended for. This Hatasu was the masterful Queen who gave Der-el-Bahari its splendour, the Queen Elizabeth of ancient Egypt, whose Raleighs went to the confines of their world in search of Eldorados and marvels and incense pure enough for the gods.
Already we are in the fourth court of the great temple; but court beyond court must be traversed before we get to its end, by the massive crude brick wall, with which some Pharaoh of the twenty-second dynasty surrounded the interminable sanctuary. In one of them there is that divinely beautiful head of Khonsu ; in another the two most beautiful columns in existence, flat-sided, destitute of capital, but perfect in their delicacy of proportion and their artistic simplicity, the columns of the Lotus and the Papyrus, of Upper and Lower Egypt. Hard by is that wonderful little temple or oratory, the most ornate in Egypt, of granite-an uncommon material for temples—with a coloured and sculptured frieze, which serves to remind us that the great Alexander was succeeded by a bastard brother, in whose honour it was built, though the dynasty passed away like a flower.
The temple might seem to end here, in the thickets of camel-thorn which have invaded and usurped what was once one of Egypt's most majestic courtyards; but at the far side rises, with its roof on and every column in its place, the banqueting-hall of the third Thothmes, who, when he had shaken off the apron-strings of his masterful mother-in-lawaunt, Queen Hatasu, grew to be the greatest of all the Pharaohs. Once, for centuries perhaps, it served as a Coptic church, which saved the hall of Thothmes. Antiquarians were not grateful : they have small respect for Coptic antiquities in Upper Egypt, but they could not banish the saints who had rested here, and the shadowy form of St. Peter is imprinted on one of the columns. On one side of the great banqueting-hall lies an exquisite little temple, whose sculptures have some of the grace of Greece; on the other there are low buildings called by the moderns King Thothmes's Zoological Gardens, since they bear the reliefs of the marvels of Nature, which his mariners found when they carried on the work of Queen Hatasu's explorers in the land of Punt.
Nothing about Karnak's monstrous temple surprised me more than that, after dragging itself out court beyond court, pylon beyond pylon, sanctuary beyond sanctuary, it should end sharply and clearly in an eastern gate. It gave me such a shock that I felt as if the end of the world must be beyond that gate, which is kept as religiously closed as the temple of Janus at Rome, when the torpor of the Pax Romana had fallen on the earth. Torpor is the quality of Karnak, when the chanteys of the workmen and the tiny boys, who are freeing the enormous sanctuary from the desert sands which had overwhelmed it, are hushed for the day. The Egyptian shouts at his work; he might be exorcising evil spirits by the persistence with which he raises his not unmusical voice. These temples were built by swarms of slaves; they cost just the price of the food that kept those slaves alive. As you watch a temple being excavated, it is not difficult to picture the slave builders working like ants; the excavators work like ants. There is no temple in the world larger than Amon-Ra's at Karnak; and from the time that the old gods of Egypt retreated sullenly before the edicts of Christian emperors, the shifting sands of the desert have been burying the corpses of the temples, some mutilated of all their fairness and proportion, others as they stood on the last day, when the white-robed priests of these Egyptian Trinities celebrated the rites, for whose embellishment Art and Civilisation had grown in one river-valley for thousands of years. How is the pall which the desert spread over the temples, which sprang from its dust and returned to it-how is the dust of fifteen centuries removed from these prodigious edifices? It is carried in baskets that hold a gallon or two, on the heads of hundreds of children, all the working day and every day. The “ant-system” has always prevailed in Egypt.
When I was there the children, looking like mummy-beads in their blue cotton shirts, were emptying the baskets filled by the excavators into a little lake, a creation of M. Legrain and the Nile, which had served its purpose. Here he had located a treasure-trove of the temple's statues—a hundred and fifty of the lion-or cat-headed goddess alone—buried to save them from the Persian invader or the Christian iconoclast. The choicest decorate the Cairo Museum; the least valuable sit in solemn conclave in a desolate court of the derelict temple of Mût by the southern lake.
After M. Legrain came the Nile, turning this vast pit into a well, percolating through its banks in some mysterious way. In most places near the Nile you can strike water by sinking to its level, though the ground above may be the most aridlooking desert sand; but here, as in the sacred lake beyond, the Nile rises of its own accord to the river level.
The sacred lake of Karnak is very gracious and mysterious; it is surrounded by thickets of thorn and reed and palmetto, and loved of water-birds, which give it the charm of the wild. Once, on high processional days, it bore the sacred golden boats of the sun-god, now it is abandoned to the dragon-fly, the kingfisher, and soberer birds; but at its edge you can still see a Nilometer made by the priests, which tells the stature of the inundation as truly as the Nilometers on the islands of Roda and Elephantine.
Here doubtless in the summer the serpent, who seeks the protection of ruins and basks by the edges of still waters, gives further impressions appropriate to the scene. In the winter he hides in the vaults of Amon-Ra and Mût.
The temple of Mût at Karnak should have been the temple of the Goddess of Oblivion. Lethe could want no fairer or more forgotten-looking shrine; it is overgrown with a palm grove as lesser ruins might be overgrown with the flowers of the field or the grass of the graveyard. It is entered from the temple of Amon-Ra by a hall of colossi—maimed colossi but half-disinterred; it has an avenue of sphinxes buried in a wood; its end is surrounded on three sides by a lake, and has seated all round it, like a conclave of cardinals, images, cut in black, hard stone, of the dreaded Sekket or Pasht, lioness or cat.
But the temple of Mût is famous above all for its gigantic pylons; there may be a dozen pairs of them towering over the palm-trees in which the lesser ruins are lost.
As seen from the roof of the temple of Amon-Ra they look as if they might have been the work of the Djinn. It lies on the south side of Karnak, where the graves of the pre-historic men are being found. On the north side beyond a thicket of camelthorn, used as a storehouse for the fragments of the temples, till they can be restored to their own places, lies that mysterious little temple of Ptah, where the moon shines through the roof.
Close by is the northern gate of the sanctuary, beyond which lies another temple almost razed to the ground, and the ruins of the city of Rameses II., for all the world like the ruins of Egyptian houses of to-day, though they have been there three thousand years or more.
And this is Karnak, the most splendid and complex temple of the world's most enduring capital. For Thebes was the chief city of the world's chief nation for more than a thousand years. Never was a temple so fabulously rich : its priests waxed and waxed in power till they displaced their effete sovereigns and became the Pharaohs themselves—a prelude to the downfall of their country.
Here in the grand temple of Eastern Thebes we have the handiwork of all but one of the greatest of the Pharaohs, of Hatasu, the Queen-King, of the third Thothmes, the first Seti, and the second and third Rameses.' Here is the exquisite oratory built by the first Ptolemy in honour of Alexander the Great's imbecile brother and successor, who never set foot in Egypt. Here, thanksgiving must have been offered up to the Trinity of Thebes with incomputable hoards of gold and myrrh and frankincense for every great event in the days of Egypt's glory. They are all set forth as they befell on the imperishable manuscript of the temple walls. Not a detail is lost; we know them as we know no event in the golden history of Greece, but they leave us as cold, as the semi-mythical exploits of the Mikados leave us cold. And why? Because human beings count for nothing. The history of Egypt is the history of gods. The Pharaoh, albeit born of woman, is a vengeful Apollo who has but to launch his darts. If only gods had fought in Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey would be as forgotten as the annals of the boastful Rameses. Even Homer could not make Apollo live, though Hector and Helen still have the power to move the world to tears.