« PreviousContinue »
long and gradual staircase in the massive thickness of the wall, you may gaze far out over the billowing desert to infinite distances under the glare of the sun, or back toward the river over that carpet of vivid green. Besides, you get a better idea than before of the massiveness of the temple with its roof of solid stone. In one corner of the level roof there is also a tiny and graceful shrine sacred to Isis and Osiris, for one might not ignore those potent deities even in joyous Dendera. And in the inclosure below there lies in abject ruin, half buried in the intruding débris, a so-called “birth house" devoted to the children of the goddess.
Everybody goes down to the crypt, — or nearly everybody, — although the way thither is very narrow and excessively steep, not to say fearsomely dark. Our Seventy had a difficult time deciding which should go first, for the dragoman would admit no more than fifteen or twenty at a time, owing to the constricted quarters below and the difficulty of seeing well what decoration remains. Our party descended in successive squads with many squeals. By the light of magnesium wire we were allowed to view some very ancient paintings on the stone walls which are as fresh and fair as if laid on yesterday ; but it is the freshness that is chiefly remarkable. Merely as art, neither the paintings nor the carvings on the walls
of Dendera rank with the magnificent work at Sakkâra, whatever shall prove to be true of the kindred temples we are daily approaching in the South. In short, it is not the detail that one finds most impressive at Dendera, but rather the grand ensemble of the temple, especially when seen from within as one gazes down its vistas of dark aisles amid the forest of massive columns. The one bit of detail that seems to have impressed everyone is the incised carving of Cleopatra and her son Cæsarion, - the great Julius was his putative sire, — which are still to be seen on the rear outer wall of the shrine. It should be remembered, however, that these are by no means “portraits," so that not much historic interest is to be awakened by them. They are simply huge and rather grotesque carvings representing a world-famous queen and her son.
The Professor, Katrina, and I rode leisurely back to the ship together, rejoicing in having seen at last something that spoke of joy and life. Hitherto we have been shown almost nothing but tombs and mummified remains, and the shadow of it had fallen across our otherwise blithe spirits. There really is something rather gruesome about traversing a mighty cemetery, hundreds of miles in length, marked only by empty tombs hewn out of the eternal rock, without a vestige of the cities and abodes of the living
men of that past day. Dendera has given us something new -- a glimpse of the worship of that joyous goddess whom the Greeks identified with their own deity of love and delight.
We left at noon. Late in the day we came to rest at the long landing-stage of Luxor, the goal of many dreams; and to-night we lie moored safely below the long line of glittering hotels. We are away ahead of time, because, as Raschid says of our pilots, "they are very skilled men, very smart; they have not stuck on no sand-bars !” Of the lions of the place — the temples we have of course seen little as yet. That is reserved for to-morrow and the days thereafter. Sufficient unto the day has been the wandering through Luxor's narrow streets and the inspection of the deep gardens of those famous hostelries, where grows real grass !
Besides, there is the prospect of a moon - and moonlight visits to Karnak are said to be among God's last best gifts to man.
ARCH 7. It seems difficult to realize that this
smiling plain which spreads out to the northeast was once the site of a teeming city. Surely there is nothing in the Luxor of to-day to recall Thebes of the Hundred Gates. It is a small town, remarkable for nothing but the number and excellence of its hotels. Such of its bazaars as we have visited are of little or no account, consisting of a mere open market place for the vending of produce. The shops along the water front are numerous, but have been spoiled by the sowaheen, and the attempts at extortion far surpass the practices at Assiut.
Of ancient Thebes, once the proud capital of Egypt, the resort of poets and philosophers, the home of mighty princes, the chief abode of priestcraft, nothing now remains save the ruins of temples so magnificent as to dwarf all other similar monuments in the land. And even these seem to have lain for ages only half suspected — buried deep under
such an accumulation of débris that the huts of the peasantry actually stood on the very tops of the columns, just as was the case at Dendera.
There is a story that a Luxor peasant, who had somehow come into the possession of a little money, undertook to hide it according to custom in a hole in the floor of his hut. He scraped out the earth and dropped his coins in, but was amazed to hear them fall to a considerable distance and clatter on a stone floor far below. Attempting to recover the money, he fell through himself - and was later rescued with much toil from what proved to be the paved court of a buried and forgotten shrine. Excavation has since removed almost every trace of this superimposed hamlet, and has bared the temples in all their magnificence to the light.
This day has, indeed, been one to mark with a very white stone. It has afforded us our first view of the stupendous temple of Karnak, which divided with the temple of Luxor the honor of being the chief shrine in ancient Egypt — indeed, the chief shrine of the world. And although we gave up our morning to it alone, what we had of it was but the most cursory view,-like what Baedeker calls an "orientation drive," - to be filled out and supplemented later on repeated visits devoted to considering its wealth of detail.