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from wells. Abdallatif boiled some from the Nile; “but that only made it worse, and when he let a portion of it stand in a narrow-necked bottle, and had taken off the scum, he found the water, though clear, as fetid as ever. This lasted in that terrible year all through June, July and part of August; and beside the putrid vegetable matter, there were worms and other creatures that swarmed in the stagnant waters."
For four centuries previous to A. D. 966, the river had only six times failed to reach fourteen cubits; and about twenty times only it stopped at fifteen cubits. In 966 it rose only to twelve cubits and seventeen digits; in 1199 only four cubits higher. In June of this last year people were already greatly alarmed by the indications on the sluggish stream. Through July the unfavorable signs increased ; in August, alarm was giving way to despair; on the 9th of September it was announced that the water was subsiding. All hope was gone!
The other scenes of this year we give in the words of Abdallatif: “Under these circumstances, the year presented itself as a monster whose wrath must annihilate all the resources of life and all the means of subsistence. There was no longer any hope of a further rise of the Nile; and already therefore the price of provisions had risen; the provinces were desolated by drought; the inhabitants foresaw an inevitable scarcity, and the fear of famine excited tumultuous commotions among men. The inhabitants of the villages and country estates repaired to the great provincial towns ; large numbers emigrated to Syria, Magreb, Hedjaz and Yemen, where they dispersed themselves on every hand, as did formerly the descendants of Saba. There was also an infinite number who sought retreat in the towns of Misr [Old Cairo] and Cairo, where they
1 “Eastern Life.”
experienced a frightful famine and mortality; for when the sun had entered Aries, the air had become corrupt, pestilence and a mortal contagion began to be felt; and the poor, pressed by a continually increasing famine, ate carrion, corpses, dogs, and the dung of animals. They went further, even devouring little children. It was not an uncommon thing to surprise people with infants roasted or boiled. ...I myself saw in a basket an infant that had been roasted. It was brought to the magistrate, and with it a man and woman who were said to be its parents, and whom the magistrate sentenced to be burned alive. ....
“When the poor began to eat human flesh, the horror and astonishment caused by the practice were such that these crimes were the material of every one's conversation, and the subject seemed inexhaustible; but afterward people became so accustomed to it, and such a relish began to spread for this detestable food, that some came to make it their ordinary meat, to eat it as a treat, and even to lay in a stock of it; different ways of preparing this flesh were made known; and the use of it being once introduced, the custom extended to the provinces, so that there was no part of Egypt where it might not be met with. Then it no longer caused any surprise; the horror which it had first inspired ceased to be felt; and people spoke and heard of it as an indifferent and ordinary thing. ....
“ There were children of the poor, some in infancy and some growing up, who had no one to look after them, spread through all the quarters of the city, and in the narrowest streets like locusts that are beaten down in the fields. Poor people, men and women, lay in wait for these wretched children, carried them off and ate them. It was rarely that they could be detected in the very act, and when they were not on their guard. . . . In the space of a few days as many as thirty women were burnt [for this], every one of whom confessed that she had eaten several children. .... “This frightful calamity, which I have just represented, extended over all Egypt; there was not a single inhabited spot where the practice of eating human flesh did not become extremely common. ....
“As for the number of the poor who perished from hunger and exhaustion, God only knows what it was. What we shall say of it must be regarded only as a slight sketch which may convey some idea of the fearful excess reached by this mortality. One thing of which I may speak, as having seen it myself, at Misr, at Cairo, and in the neighboring places, is, that wherever we went, there was not a spot in which one's feet or one's eyes were not encountered by a corpse or a man in the agonies of death, or even a great number in this dreadful state. Day by day, from one hundred to five hundred dead bodies were taken from Cairo to be carried to the place where they might have funeral rites. At Misr the number of the dead was incalculable. They were not buried, but merely cast out of the town. At last there were not enough living left to carry away the dead, and they remained in the open air among the houses and shops, or even in the interiors of dwellings. .....
“ As for the suburbs and villages, all the inhabitants perished except a small number, of whom a portion quitted their abodes to go somewhere else. We must scarcely except from what I have now said the capitals of the provinces and the largest villages. . ... A traveller often passed through a large village without seeing a single living inhabitant. He saw the houses standing open, and the corpses of those who had lived there stretched out opposite one another-some decayed and some recently dead. Very often there was a house full of furniture, without any one to take possession of it. What I am now saying has been communicated to me by several persons whose narratives confirmed each other. One of them said as follows:- We arrived at a village and there found no living thing on the earth or in the air. .... From thence we went to another village, where we were told that there had been till now four hundred weaving-shops; and it presented to us the same scene of desolation as the first. We saw the weaver dead in his loom-pit and all his dead family around him. . . We then proceeded to another village, where we found things just in the same state ; no creature living, and the inhabitants all become the prey of death.' ....
“According to the testimony of a great number of witnesses, the road between Egypt and Syria was like a vast field sown with human bodies; or rather like a plain which had just been swept by the scythe of the mower. It had become as a banquet-hall for the birds and wild beasts which gorged themselves on their flesh; and the very dogs that those fugitives had taken with them to share their exile were the first to devour their bodies."
ALL over Egypt, then, as the time for the annual rise A drew nigh, there was a nervous excitement, an anxiety, a wide hope, a universal dread. Dread was strongest, and the horror about such a famine as had been predicted often swallowed up every other thought.
We can well suppose also that, amid all this, there were great jealousies at work respecting Joseph himself and his vast honors, especially in the court; enmities among the wise men and magicians; scorn among the priests at his religion ; while everywhere busy tongues, of their own accord or put in motion by others, were trying to do him harm, and to counteract his influence in the government. But Pharaoh was with him; and, what was far better, God was on his side.
June, so eagerly looked for, came at last; and with it, the flood, now the subject of so many inquisitive thoughts. The river soon swept along, bearing on its swift waters all green slime and scum; the signs for a fruitful season quickly became of the most decisive kind. Fourteen cubits were before long officially reported at the Nilometer, and from mouth to mouth all over the country; then fifteen ; then sixteen. The sluices were now all open, the land was fast becoming entirely submerged ;—all except the usual island-like spots of safety for their villages and herds, and also at the banks.
Seventeen cubits now! There could have been a fear in some hearts that their gods would take offence at the elevation of this foreigner of another religion, and have taken vengeance by a failure of the river ; but no! they were not angry, but were giving full tokens for a most abundant season.
“Eighteen cubits!” Joy and sorrow came with the annunciation ; a bright certainty; and with it a deepening dread; for here in these indications of a most abundant season,-just what the interpretation of the dreams had predicted,—was an intimation that the horrible prediction of the seven years' famine would also prove true. They dared not let themselves think of this latter. They would have preferred to have the flood stand still at the lower figures, even although it was now to give them a more than a two years' abundant supply.
But would it remain at this? or go higher yet? The gods, offended, might show their anger by drowning their land in an excess of the favorite boon, and indeed this would be no unworthy manner of showing their resentment!
But no! The waters had begun to subside. After