« PreviousContinue »
Two huge statues lie prone amid the trees of the starveling village of Mitrahineh, which now occupies a little knoll in the midst of the plain and is the lineal descendant of the ancient capital. These two fallen images are all that at the present time remain to mark the site on which Memphis stood. They are portrait statues of Rameses II, and once rose on either side of the grand gate of the local temple — sacred to Ptah the Artificer, the city's local god. One of the colossi has been carefully roofed over and may be seen to advantage by mounting to a platform built above and looking down upon the great bulk of it - its haughty stare, its massive trunk, and withal its inspiring grace. It is a happy fate that has preserved these mammoth images of the great Pharaoh here, for none others like them are to be seen in Lower Egypt. One becomes almost weary of them in the region about Thebes, but in the neighborhood of Cairo — except in the museum - such things are rare indeed. Needless to say they are very late, as things go in Egypt, for Rameses reigned between 1292 and 1225 B.C., and died before Agamemnon was born — which, as we are coming to understand, was but yesterday and so hardly worth noticing.
I speak of the grace of these statues, and on the whole the word seems justified. Yet I can by no means share the enthusiasm of those Egyptologists
who affect to see in Egyptian sculpture at its best something surpassing the best work of the Greeks. The grace of Rameses lying under his poor modern roof in the groves of Mitrahineh is not the grace of Hermes at Olympia – yet it is grace. It has not the majesty of Zeus — yet is majesty. The face is at once mystic, cruel, and handsome. Men say, comparing it with the dead face of Rameses himself now preserved at Cairo, that it is an admirable likeness. It is, at all events, most serene, most impressive — indescribably august. One might readily accept that staring visage for the face of the emperor who oppressed Israel, but that we are forbid by those who now claim to know better.
It is a pity that the old temple of Ptah has perished. It would have been a splendid sight to see these great effigies erect and in their proper place at either side of the pylon. Nevertheless it is true that in their present location, prone on the earth under the shelter of the palms, they have a charm that is peculiar to the spot. Naught else of Memphis remains, save only her cemetery on the distant heights still several miles away to the westward. Toward these the Hakkim and I pushed on — our companions having disappeared on their pattering donkeys far away on the road that wandered along the back of the gisr.
We fancied we could see them just where the yel
low sands of the desert began to heave themselves up from the greenery of the level plain. Sakkâra now lay in full view, marked afar by the majesty of the Step Pyramid, whose terraces the drifting sands had partially filled, much as snow would have done. To the north and south other and more distant pyramids appeared, most notable of all being the curious one with the double angle at Dashur. On the brink of the desert sands toward the north appeared the modern house of the excavators in charge of the work at Sakkâra. We buckled to our walk afresh, facing a piping breeze that threatened later to develop into a sand-storm- a threat, alas, only too soon made good. However, travel along the dike proved to be easy and rapid, and in somewhat less than two hours from Bedreschein we found ourselves at the verge of the desert, facing the short but laborious climb over sands ankle deep to the summit of the bluffs near which lies the Step Pyramid. Our feet slipped and shuffled. It was very like walking in soft snow. But at the top the way became easier and we passed the pyramid close on our left hand with but a scant notice. In itself it has little to offer save its curious form and its claim to being the direct progenitor of the pyramid proper. Its interior is not now accessible
- and we have had one amply sufficient experience with the inside of pyramids, so that this circum