Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small]

on Nebo's lonely mountain — nor one more secret from the eyes of the profane.

The tombs of this valley were dug with terrible secrecy. It was Thutmosis I, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who set the fashion, for his tomb is the earliest now known to have existed there. His architect records with much pride in an inscription that he "superintended the excavation of the cliff tomb of his Majesty, alone, none seeing, none hearing.” Did they kill the poor slaves who did the work, I wonder? Did Thutmosis reward his architect, after the manner of Sultan Hassan, by striking off his hand?

Thus from about 1550 B.C. to the year 1000 did the kings of the Theban period contrive their burialplaces in the desolate valley; and so successful were they in keeping the tombs a profound secret that we possess to-day most of their mummies, although it is true that robbers have partially looted almost every one of these recovered sepulchres in ages past.

At least one of these ancient potentates — no less a personage than Amenhôtep II -- still lies in the very spot and in the very coffin provided for him when he was laid to eternal rest in 1420 B.C. The other mummies have been removed to Cairo. I shall therefore consider here only the tomb that is still tenanted by its august builder, for it was this one which impressed me most of all despite the fact that others in the vicinity are agreed to be much more magnificent. Here at least was one Egyptian monument of vast antiquity largely undesecrated by the hand of the spoiler, though robbed of much of its incidental treasure in the long ago. The body, at least, was still there, and wrapped in its original cerements.

Constant passage of men bearing smoky torches through the subterranean corridors of all the greater tombs has led to the installation of one rather startling modern improvement — the electric light. It has been deplored with Byronic fervor by many a writer, but I cannot bring myself to echo their complaint. The smoke blackened the roofs so badly as to impair the paintings which adorn the walls and ceilings, and it seems to have been a choice between losing the decorations altogether and devising some innocuous method of illuminating the tombs. Let us, then, endure the electricity with the more equanimity, incongruous as it is to see an incandescent bulb shining over the forehead of a monarch who died three centuries before the sack of Troy.

To Amenhôtep's grave we descended in silence. It was fearfully hot and musty, like the interior of the pyramids. The passages were vast and gloomy despite the scattered lamps. There were long successions of corridors and occasional steep flights of wooden steps leading down to still other corridors with side chambers, until at last we reached the burial-vault in the very bowels of the mountain. Wonderful as had been the painted decoration of the passages, interesting as were the long incantations and selections from the Book of the Dead which adorned the sloping halls, we forgot them all in the presence of the body of the king.

There he lay, garlanded as on the day when he was buried. His accessories were gone - stolen by vandals, no doubt. There was nothing left of the gold and ornaments. No respondent statuettes stood ready to do his bidding in the nether world. But the important thing was that he himself lay there in his original sarcophagus of sandstone, his face charged with some degree of majesty still.

Of course this was not such a tomb as we had seen before — not a combination of sepulchre and ka temple for the service of the shade. It was a burial vault alone, with the ka temple far away in the smiling plain across the desert spurs. Apparently by Amenhôtep's time the dual arrangement of the old mastaba had: been definitely split. The subterranean tomb was the survival of the old hidden burial-shaft, immensely enlarged and handsomely adorned with all sorts of inscriptions designed to help the awakened soul in

« PreviousContinue »