Page images

all Cairo shops. Of all early tombs the mastaba type is most interesting, partly because of the rapid development of tomb architecture during its prevalence, and partly because of the relation which it bears to the somewhat later pyramid.

In its best estate, the mastaba tomb consisted of a rectangular building aboveground, with sloping

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

sides and not of great height, in which was hollowed out the tomb chapel. The body itself was buried at the bottom of a shaft sunk deep into the earth below the mastaba proper, and carefully concealed by filling the shaft with rubble and sand. Still later the arrangement of subterranean rooms, or partially subterranean rooms, became complicated, the decoration most admirable, and the development of the architecture devoted itself solely to the interior arrangement of what outwardly remained a low, bench-like structure.

The development of the mastaba into the pyramid, so clearly shown by the Step Pyramid of Sakkâra,

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

needs no more than a word. The eye sees at a glance what followed the ambitious design of piling mastaba upon mastaba in a gradually narrowing scale. Even the drifting sands must have suggested the filling-in of the several terraces until the result was not a succession of steps but a smooth slope. The pyramid, therefore, is the legitimate descendant of the mastaba, just as the mastaba is the successor of the heap of sand. The pyramids, however, are too important in themselves to be considered in detail

here. Suffice it to say that in their case the body was laid to rest in the innermost depths of the mound of stone, while the service of the ka was transferred to a tomb-sanctuary entirely outside the pyramid itself, and even to a sanctuary that lay at a considerable distance from the imposing burial-place.

No such clear relation seems to exist between the mastaba-pyramid tombs and the cliff cemeteries. The latter seem to have sprung up as works of necessity at those points where the Nile cliffs offer steep faces of easily worked stone. In arrangement they are invariably much less complicated than the wholly subterranean tomb-chambers; but their decoration, while mainly painted instead of carved, is highly important and absorbingly interesting as throwing a strong light on the customs and sports of the living. The artist who decked these silent halls always filled their panels with scenes from the daily life, the life of the river and the field. There was no mournful note about it. If the Egyptian of old time spent this life in thinking about death, he hoped by way of compensation to spend his years of eternity in thinking about life as he had known it. And it is from these tomb-paintings that most of the modern learning as to customs in daily intercourse in old Egypt is derived.

Preferably, the tomb was hollowed out toward the west; for even as the sun sank in that direction, so also did the souls of men depart thither. In the rear of every tomb-wall, at the back of every mortuary chamber, was carved a representation of a door,indeed, the whole back wall represented as closely as possible the facade of a house, - and in that door the artist occasionally placed a figure of the deceased, returning from his interval passed in the world of shadows. And yet, despite the desire to "orient” tombs with reference to the occident, they soon became quite as common in the cliffs on the other side of the Nile, as those still to be seen at Beni Hassan bear mute witness.

Still another form was developed later in the time of Thebes, the most splendid epoch of older Egypt, under the Amenhôteps and their later successors, the Ramessids. This was the time when absolute secrecy had come to be even more essential than ever in order that the tomb be not despoiled. And to the end that no man should know the spot of the king's sepulchre it was hollowed out of the bare and rugged rocks of a deep, secluded valley on the west bank of the Nile

a valley practically inclosed on every hand by fierce and barren crags, in whose sandy bottom there was no life or vegetation, and whose every aspect was wild and forbidding. And it was here that tombbuilding reached its final perfection as a matter of extent if not of impressiveness or art. From a meagre entrance a long passage descended abruptly, often introducing sharp flights of steps to levels far below the surface of the ground, and deep in the heart of the mountain. Numerous lateral chambers were provided in the living rock, each decorated with a world of symbolical painting – much of it having to do with the abode of the dead, however, instead of as before with the life, activities, and sports of the living. Men had come to be anxious for the state of their souls in the dread passages of the nether world. An army of priests, slowly fastening their tentacles on the land, had fomented a host of superstitions in the minds of all, had invented a multitude of charms and incantations essential to eternal bliss, and caused the harassed mortal to care for nothing else than to be sure he knew and could remember at need the passwords and countersigns that Osiris and his train of lesser gods would demand. But the mummy was preserved as carefully as before and the service of the ka was kept up as of old — with the difference, however, that it was no longer necessary to have the mortuary temple hard by the cemetery itself.

Indeed, the care taken to conceal the entrances of these isolated royal tombs precluded any marking of their vicinity by the erection of visible shrines. It was quite as necessary to hide the body as to feed

« PreviousContinue »