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SAKKARA AND THE SACRED BULLS
NE begins and finishes Egypt with
Starting with the Sphinx and Pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty, you work down through the Theban periods of the Upper Nile and then once more at Cairo, leap far back into the First period in a trip to Memphis, the earliest capital of Egypt, the beginning of all Egyptian things. After which, follows the Museum, for only after visiting localities and landmarks can that great climax be properly approached.
I think we were no longer very enthusiastic about ruins, but every one said we must go to Sakkara. There was yet another very wonderful statue of Rameses there, they said, also the oldest pyramids ever built, and the Mausoleum of the Sacred Bulls. It would never do to miss them.
I am glad now that I did not miss them, but I remember the Memphis donkeys with unkindness. The farther down the Nile the worse the donkeys. We thought they had been bad at Abydos, but the Abydos donkeys were without sin compared with those of Sakkara. Mine was named “Sunrise," and I picked him for his beauty, always a dangerous asset. He was thoroughly depraved and had a gait like a steam-drill. The boat landed us at Bedrashen and I managed to survive as far as the colossal statue of Rameses, a prostrate marvel, and the site of the ancient city of Menes-capital of Egypt a good deal more than six thousand years ago—that is, before the world began, by gospel calculation. I was perfectly willing to stay there among the cooling palms and watch the little children gather camel-dung and pat it into cakes to dry for fuel, and I would have done it if I had known what was going to happen to me.
It is a weary way across the desert to the pyramids and the tombs of those sacred bulls, but I was not informed of that. When I realized, it was too late. The rest of the party were far ahead of me beyond some hills, and I was alone in the desert with that long-eared disaster and a donkey-boy who stopped to talk with the children, beset by a plague of flies that would have brought Pharaoh to terms. It was useless to kick and hammer that donkey or to denounce the donkey-boy. Sunrise had long ago formulated his notions of speed, and the donkey-boy was simply a criminal in disguise. When we passed a mud village, at last, and a new brigade of flies joined those I had with me, I would have given any reasonable sum to have been at Cairo with the Reprobates, in the cool quiet of Shepheard's marble halls.
Beyond the village was just the sand waste, and not a soul of the party in sight. I didn't have the courage to go back, and hardly the courage to go on. I said I would lie down by the trail and die, and let them find me there and be sorry they had forsaken me in that pitiless way. Then for the sake of speed I got off and walked. It was heavy walking through the loose sand, with the sun blazing down.
Presently I looked around for my escort. close at my heels—on the donkey's back. I said the most crushing things I could think of and displaced him. Then we settled down into the speed of a ramheaded sphinx again. Everything seemed utterly hopeless. It was useless to swear; I was too old to cry.
I don't know when we reached the first pyramid, but the party had been there and gone. I did not care for it much. It might be the oldest pyramid in the world, but it was rather a poor specimen, I thought, and could not make me forget my sorrow. I went on, and after a weary time came to the Tomb of Thi, who lived in the Fifth Dynasty and was in no way related to Queen Thi of Tell al-Amarna, who came along some two thousand years later. There was an Englishman and his guide there who told me about it, and it was worth seeing, certainly, with its relief frescoes over five thousand years old, though it is not such a tomb as those of the Upper Nile.
I overtook the party at the Tomb of the Sacred Bulls. By that time I had little enthusiasm for bulls; or for tombs, unless it was one I could use for Sunrise. The party had done the bulls, but when I got hold of Gaddis and laid my case before him, he said he would find me a new donkey and that the others would wait while we inspected the bulls. So everything was better then, and I was glad of the bulls, though I was still warm and resentful at Sunrise and his keeper, and even at Gaddis, who was innocent enough, Heaven knows. In the tomb of the bulls everything unpleasant passed away. It was cool and dark in there, and we carried lights and wandered along those vast still corridors, which are simply astounding when one remembers their purpose.
This Serapeum or Apis mausoleum is a vast succession of huge underground vaults and elaborate granite sarcophagi, which once contained all the Apis or Sacred Bulls of Memphis. The Apis was the product of an immaculate conception. Lightning descended from heaven upon a cow—any cow--and the Apis was the result. He was recognized by being black, with a triangular spot of white on his forehead and a figure of an eagle on his back. Furthermore, he had double hairs in his tail and a beetle on his tongue. It was recognized that only lightning could produce a bull like that, and no others were genuine, regardless of watchful circumstance.
Apis was about the most sacred of the whole synod of Egyptian beasts. Even the Hawk of Horus and the Jackal of Anubis had to retire to obscurity when Apis came along, mumbling and pawing up the dust. When he died there were very solemn ceremonies, and he was put into one of those polished granite sarcophagi, with a tablet on the walls relating the story of his life, and mentioning the King whose reign had been honored by this bellowing bovine aristocrat. Also they set up a special chapel over his tomb, and this series of chapels and tombs eventually solidified into a great temple with pylons approached by an avenue of sphinxes.
The Serapeum dates from about 1500 B.C. and continued in active use down to the time of the Ptolomies.
The Egyptian Pantheon was breaking up then, and Apis was probably one of the first deities to go. A nation's gods fall into disrepute when they can no longer bring victory to a nation's arms, and a sacred bull who could not beat off Julius Cæsar would very likely be asked to resign.
There are sixty-four vaults in the part of the Serapeum we visited, and twenty-four of them contain the granite sarcophagi. The sarcophagi are about thirteen feet long by eleven feet wide, and eight high-that is to say, the size of an ordinary bedroom-and in each of these, mummified and in state, an Apis slept.
He is not there now. Only two of him were found when these galleries were opened in modern times. But I have seen Apis, for one of him sleeps now in a glass case in the Historical Library in New York City. I shall visit him again on my return, and view him with deeper interest and more respect since I have seen his tomb.