Page images

stance can cause little regret. Its degree of preservation is notably good, especially in contrast with the half-ruinous condition of other "real pryamids” in the vicinity. But it remains a thing to view from afar, and other things at Sakkâra demand a much greater amount of time with a correspondingly greater reward in interest.

I have spoken of the mastaba tomb briefly before. It is now time to gain a more definite understanding of its plans and the manner of its use

for the mastaba tombs of Sakkâra are the most interesting things to be seen there. The name “mastaba," as I believe I have already said, is applied to this type of tomb because of its outward resemblance to the little benches which in Cairo are likely to be found before shop-doors and which are called by the same termmastabas. The sloping sides of the ancient tomb structure, or rather superstructure, suggested the comparison at once. A plan and cross-section of a simple mastaba are given on pages 99 and 100.

It should be understood, however, that the visible portions of the mastaba tomb were not for the purposes of burial at all, but were intended to serve as a house for the ka, or vital principle of the owner, which was supposed to persist in the vicinity of the body after death, and which required to be appropriately housed and nourished with food convenient for

it during the absence of the soul. The actual burialvault was generally a deep shaft beneath the mastaba, cut into the solid rock and terminated by a subterranean vault in which the mummy of the deceased was laid. Once the coffin had been placed there, however, the shaft leading to it was commonly filled with rubble and a heavy stone portcullis let down to bar all future entry. Thereafter the living were concerned only with the service of the ka, or manes of the dead; and the mastaba rose chiefly for the purpose of affording a mortuary chapel where services could be held, as well as a “serdab," or cellar, wherein to deposit the“ double,” or exact replica of the body in wood or stone, which was always provided as a substitute lest the mummy perish before the soul should return from Osiris and the ka resume its wonted tenement.

The mastaba, then, in its simplest form, consists of three essential parts: a subterraneous grave, a blocked-up chamber for the image, and a chapel, or series of chapels, to which the priests and relations of the dead might repair on stated occasions to conduct the prescribed rites and offer food and drink for the benefit of the ka. It appears that the mastaba chapel was regarded in effect as the ka's house, and considerable pains were spent on making it attractive and as much like a home as possible.

[graphic][merged small]

Now Sakkâra has several very fine examples of the mastaba tomb, which are easily accessible and are typical of the best tomb-architecture that ever prevailed in Egypt. The art of painter and sculptor never attained a higher lever than is revealed by the discoveries made in these early burial-places. Note, for example, the appended illustration of sculpture in the round, of the Fifth Dynasty period - a seated scribe, in the act of writing from dictation. Could anything be more natural, more true to life? The eyes, apart from a slight exaggeration in size, are wonderfully real. The mastery of detail is revealed in the triple curve of the mouth-a matter which it took the Greek sculptors centuries to learn, although Egypt had worked out the problem ages before. It is such instances as this that make Egyptologists enthusiastic for the Egyptian sculptor as compared with the Greek; and if such statues as the extraordinary scribe from Sakkâra were at all numerous, there is much to be said for the Egyptian artist — as a realist, if not as an idealist.

Two of the Sakkâra tombs now open to general inspection afford the finest examples to be found in all Egypt - the tombs of Ti and Ptah-hôtep. Yet neither of those worthies was a king. Each was a man of substance and power, doubtless high in the royal confidence and possessed of high official stand

« PreviousContinue »