« PreviousContinue »
Agamemnon, who lived before Troy's towers rose, or Greece was great, or even before Joseph was sold into Egypt by his brethren! When this proud figure was erect and powerful, no man knew the name of Homer, and many centuries must elapse before the light should dawn in Galilee. Of all the wonderful things that the hand of prying man has garnered out of the buried fields of Egyptian antiquity and housed in the museum of Cairo, nothing can compare with this taciturn file of monarchs dead and turned to clay, here present in the body as when they were laid to rest, and bearing on their blackened faces some image of the vanished soul.
Men may differ as they will in their estimates of Greek and Egyptian art. They may quarrel over the problems of chronology. They may question the reality of Abraham and query which was the Pharaoh of the Oppression. All must stand dumb and awed before these royal corpses stretched in silent majesty upon their bier. What if they could be endued with power to speak out? How speedily those dead lips might confute our modern wisdom with all its dogmatizing over what went on in Egypt three thousand years ago!
DEFORE proceeding to a consideration of the
older sites of Egypt it seems essential to acquire some general understanding of the ancient beliefs, especially of such as pertained to the future life and its relation to the earthly existence of mankind. It is by no means an easy task to reduce to convenient form the great mass of existing detail on this subject, yet it must be done, because without it an intelligent appreciation of the most impressive remains of old Egypt is impossible.
Two species of survival from the dynastic times have to be considered — namely, the tombs of various sorts, and the temples. Each species is so intimately connected with the religion of the ancient peoples and their ideas of the attributes of their gods that what is said of these things relates almost equally to both tomb and shrine as a preparation of the visitor to understand them.
By far the larger portion of the surviving relics of the remoter ages is made up of the burial-places. Such non-mortuary temples as remain, apart from the glorious composite at Karnak, date mainly from the Ptolemaic period and are therefore very late as compared with the general antiquity of Egypt. In only a few isolated instances, such as are afforded by the surviving walls of El Kab, or the fragmentary pavement at Tell el Amarna, have we anything left that in itself relates to the actual daily life of princes or people. Most of the current knowledge of that life has been derived from the paintings and reliefs on the walls of the tombs, thanks to the loving care that was lavished on their preparation and to the marvelous power of the climate to preserve their story intact.
The degree of care and amount of money spent on providing tombs, as well as upon preserving the earthly body against decay, are highly significant of the religious belief of the time. In the midst of life the Egyptian was in death — or at least his thoughts were so concentrated upon eternity that his chief end appears to have been to make adequate provision therefor. Naturally the most impressive works of this kind were those of the monarchs and of the wealthy
men who could afford the greater magnificence and the greater precaution against what the Egyptian dreaded most of all — failure to preserve the body which God had given and provide an eternal abode for it. But there is evidence enough to show that this care was not confined to the rich and great alone, and in some cases the poor laid effigies near the holy places in the pathetic hope that, since they could not afford magnificent graves there, some crumbs of eternal bliss might fall to them from the rich man's table.
In the resurrection of the body the Egyptian possessed a painfully literal belief. His theory was that man was born into this world with what we may call three essential elements : a body, a soul, and a sort of mysterious element which he called his “ka," perhaps best defined as the vital principle. At death, the functions of the ka were suspended, so far as concerned the earthly body, but it did not perish utterly. The soul winged its way to the western world, where abode the shades of the blessed, but hopefully only for a season, if Osiris should find it pure. In due time it should return to the earthly body, and the ka, kept supplied during the interval with a stated supply of food and drink, might then regain its ancient earthly tenement, to preserve which the most astonishing care was taken. That assurance might
be doubly sure, a second body was laid to rest in the same tomb with the mummy-a statue carved in all parts like unto the human body it accompanied, so that if all-destroying time reduced the original body to dust, the ka might still find ready to hand a replica of the former body which it could recognize and re-inhabit.
To this practice of providing a second body is doubtless to be ascribed the common but erroneous notion that the ka was a “double" of the person. That term is very commonly used, but the better opinion seems to be that it is improperly employed, and can be defended only as a matter of convenience. The only “double" was the secondary image provided, not as the ka, but for the ka's use in case the mummy perished.
This secondary image, wrought in many cases with remarkable fidelity and skill to resemble the subject himself, was sealed up in the tomb not far from the mummy, and the whole sepulchre was, as a rule, carefully sealed up in turn, to the end that it should not be rifled of its treasure. For inasmuch as the tenant would have need of much equipment in the world of shades, or in this world when his soul returned, a store of valuable things was commonly buried with him — furniture, chariots, jewelry, unguents, and supplies of needful food. Moreover, since