« PreviousContinue »
it looked up there; we would go in, certainly. Was it really a tomb? No wonder those old kings looked forward to such a place.
It was merely an entrance to a tomb-a tunnel, truly, and of such size that I believe two railway trains could enter it side by side and two more on top of them! I think most of us had the idea-I know I did—that we would go down ladders into these tombs, and that they would be earthy, cheerless places, more interesting than attractive.
They are the most beautiful places I ever saw. The entrances-vast, as I have stated-go directly in from the hillside; the rock floors are dry and clean, while the side-walls and the ceilings are simply a mass of such carving and color as the world nowhere else contains. An electric dynamo set up in a tomb that was never finished (that of Rameses XII., I believe) supplies illumination for these homes of the kingly dead, and as you follow deeper and deeper into the heart of the mountain your wonder grows at the inconceivable artistic effort and constructive labor that have been expended on those walls. Deeper, and still deeper, along a gradual decline that seems a veritable passage to the underworld. Here and there, at the side, are antechambers or avenues that lead away—we wonder whither.
Now and again Gaddis paused to explain the marvellous story of the walls—the progress of the King to the underworld-his reception there, his triumphs, his life in general in that long valley of spirits which ran parallel with Egypt and was neither above nor below the level of the earth. It was this form and idea of the underworld that the shape of these tombs was intended to express, while their walls illustrate the happy future life of the King. Chapters from the “Book of the Underworld” (a sort of descriptive geography of the country) and from the “Book of the Dead” (a manual of general instruction as to customs and deportment in the new life) cover vast spaces. Here and there a design was not entirely worked out, but the sketch was traced in outline, which would indicate that perhaps the King died before his tomb (always a life-work) was complete.
Now, realize: This gorgeous passage was nearly five hundred feet long, cut into the living rock, and opened into a vast pillared and vaulted chamber fully sixty feet long by forty wide and thirty high-the whole covered with splendid decorations that the dry air and protection have preserved as fresh and beautiful as the day they were finished so many centuries ago. This was the royal chamber, empty now, where in silent state King Seti I. once lay. We are a frivolous crowd, but we were awed into low-voiced wonder at the magnitude of this work, the mightiness of a people who could provide so overwhelmingly for their dead.
I do not remember how many such tombs we visited, but they were a good many, including those of Rameses I. and II., the father and the mighty son of Seti I., all three of whom now sleep in the Cairo Museum. Also the tomb of Rameses IX., one of the finest of the lot. In some of the tombs the sarcophagi were still in
place, but all are empty of occupants except one. This was the splendid tomb of Amenophis II., of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who lived in the glory of Egypt, 1600 B.C., a warrior who slew seven Syrian chiefs with his own hand. Gaddis had not told us what to expect in that tomb, and when we had followed through the long declining way to the royal chamber and beheld there, not an empty sarcophagus but a king asleep, we were struck to silence with that three thousand five hundred years of visible rest.
The top of the sarcophagus is removed, and is replaced by heavy plate glass. Just over the sleeper's face there is a tiny electric globe, and I believe one could never tire of standing there and looking at that quiet visage, darkened by age, but beautiful in its dignity; unmoved, undisturbed by the storm and stress of the fretful years.
How long he has been asleep! The Israelites were still in bondage when he fell into that quiet doze, and for their exodus, a century or two later, he did not care. Hector and Achilles and Paris and the rest had not battled on the Plains of Troy; the gods still assembled on Mt. Olympus; Rome was not yet dreamed. He had been asleep nigh a thousand years when Romulus quit nursing the she-wolf to build the walls of a city which would one day rule the world. The rise, the conquest, the decline of that vast empire he never knew. When her armies swept the nations of the East and landed upon his own shores he did not stir in his sleep. The glory of Egypt ebbed away, but he did not care. Old religions perished; new gods and new prophets replaced the
gods and prophets he had known-it mattered not to him, here in this quiet underworld. Through every change he lay here in peace, just as he lies to-day, so still, so fine in his kingly majesty-upon his face that soft electric glow which seems in no wise out of place, because it has come as all things come at last to him who waits.
In a sort of anteroom near the royal chamber lie the mummies of three adherents of the King, each with a large hole in the skull and a large gash in the breast-royal slaves, no doubt, sent to bear their liege company. I remember one of them as having very long thick curly hair-a handsome fellow, I suppose; a favorite who could not, or would not, be left behind.
A number of other royal mummies were found in the Tomb of Amenophis II., so that at some period of upheaval it must have been used as a hiding-place for the regal dead, as was a cave across the mountains at Der al-Bahari. Perhaps those who secreted them here thought that a king who in life had slain seven chiefs with his own hand would make a potent guard. They were not mistaken. Through all the centuries the guests of that still house lay undisturbed.
We paused, though briefly—for it was fairly roasting outside—at the excavations of our countryman, Mr. Theodore M. Davis, who has brought to light so many priceless relics in this place; after which we bought an entire stock of oranges from an Arab who suddenly appeared from nowhere, sucked them ravenously, and set out, leading our donkeys up a broiling precipitous path over the mountains, for the house of Queen Hatasu, which lies at the base of the cliffs on the other side.
It was not very far, I suppose, but it was strenuous and seemed miles. We were rewarded, however, when we reached the plateau of the mountain top. From the brink of the great cliff we could look out over the whole plain of Thebes, its villages and its ruins, its green cultivation and its blazing sands. Once it was a vast city—“the city of a hundred gates and twenty thousand chariots of war.” Through its centre flowed the Nile, a very fountain of life, its one outlet to the world. To the east and the west lay Nature's surest fortifications, the dead hills and the encompassing sands. It is estimated that the city of Paris could stand on this level sweep and that Thebes overspread it all. As at Ephesus, we tried to re-create that vanished city, but we did not try long, for the mid-day sun was too frying hot.
So we descended to the rest-house of Der al-Bahari, where we created a famine in everything resembling refreshments, liquid or otherwise, in that wayside shelter. Then out on the piazza we swung our flybrushes, beat off the sellers of things, and tried to assimilate our half-baked knowledge.
We were in a mixed state of temples and tombs and dynasties and localities—of sacrificial processions, and gods of the “Underworld.” The sun had got into our heads, too, and some of the refreshments had been of strange color and curious brands. It is no wonder that we drifted into deliriums of verse. I