Page images



had : “Rameses beloved of Amen-the great son of Ptah
elected by Ra—the son of the sun-Amen beloved of Ra.”

And while I was examining the gay colours on the
smooth, fine limestone he bubbled on: “Rameses beloved
of Amen."

The colours and the paintings were delightful, and there were such pretty people in the processions. I liked everything about this sumptuous temple.

While I was photographing the place where the minor Abydos tablet, now in the British Museum, was cut off, in the way they had in the good old days when finding was keeping and anybody who liked could help himself to ancient monuments, Mohammed began again.

“ Ladies, ladies and gentlemen, here is Osiris in the Hades accompanied by Isis, Nephetes, and Amnte-one, two, three-receiving the homage. The homage is of a rather practical kind."

I, your son Seti I., am burning incense before you, and I pray you to give me a good Nile." The figure of Seti was gloriously dignified and beautiful. Mohammed was witheringly sarcastic to a lady who ventured to suggest that Seti's hands were in rather a strained position. “Madam-hands not wrong-if artist makes any mistakes Seti will cut his head off."

But the temple of Rameses II. will not bear comparison with that of his father Seti 1., which may be called the finest in Egypt; for it is comparatively perfect, and no temple is comparable to it for the beauty of its sculptures. Whether because he was afraid of having his head cut off, or for another reason, Hui, the chief sculptor of King Seti I., carved glorious bas-reliefs, beautiful in conception and portraiture, delicate in outline, supremely dignified. This temple is on a different principle from that of most Egyptian temples. The first and second courts have been destroyed; the third and the fourth are hypostyle halls of great size and magnificence. In both the columns are sculptured in low-relief, and the sculptures in the second are Hui's masterpieces. But these two great halls, whose lofty columns are covered with the


figures of gods and men, the best which ancient Egypt has given us, are subservient to an arrangement of chapels, seven in a row, arranged for all the world as the choir and its chapels, right and left, are arranged in a great friars' church like Santa Croce at Florence. These are dedicated to the King himself, to Ptah, Harmachis, Amen, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. There is a door for each in the first hall of columns, though six of them have been blocked up, and each of them is blazoned with the story of its patron in emblems. Their vaulted roofs are hollowed out of stones of immense thickness, laid from architrave to architrave. From the left of the inner hall of columns runs a passage, with its walls and ceilings covered with emblematic sculpture. This is the passage of the kings, which contains the major tablet of Abydos, giving a list of the sixty-six most important Pharaohs from Menes to Seti. Seti, holding the incenseburner, which seems to have given the idea of the tobaccopipe, stands pointing to the inscription-a gigantic figurewhile Rameses II., that is to be, stands in front of him, on a smaller scale, making offerings. We owe this tablet, which, in connection with the table preserved by Manetho the chronicler, gives us a list of the early Kings of Egypt, to a prayer for the dead which runs something like this: "The accomplishment of the prayer for the dead that Ptah-SekkerOsiris, Lord of the Grave, who dwells in the Temple of Seti, may augment the offering for the Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt by King Seti." The said offering consisted of a thousand portions of bread, beer, beef, and so on.

This tablet is about fifteen feet long and six feet high, made of the matchless, fine-grained white limestone used for the best Egyptian bas-reliefs. The figures of Seti I. and Prince Rameses are gloriously lovely. The workmanship of the tablet looks like carved ivory. The long, narrow-roofed passage in which it is set up is a most inadequate setting for it. From it you enter, on the right, another passage, from which a staircase leads, through a picturesque round arch, to the palace of Rameses II., which consists of a number of chambers of colossal stonework badly carved.

I have resisted the temptation to give more detail about this wonderful temple of Seti, because one cannot impress its loveliness on the ordinary reader by giving details of its architectural and sculptural chefs d'æuvres. I have already written much about it, and yet I have said nothing to emphasise how marvellously beautiful and interesting it is.

In the shadowy hall, whose columns were painted and sculptured for the great Rameses, we sat down to a luxurious hotel luncheon, waited on by Arabs in white and scarlet, as Orientally robed as the servants of Rameses in the decorations. There was much popping of the corks of iced sodawater, for the ride was long and the day was hot, and the dust of thirty dynasties surrounds the lost Osiris-Sepulchre of Abydos.

Afterwards, while the incense of cigarettes was rising to the painted roof, I wandered off into the buildings attached to the great temple on the other side of the Hall of the Tablet-the sacrificial chamber-an abattoir with its story painted on its walls ; the room where the sacred barks were kept which were carried in the processions, with the benches, on which they rested, still lining the walls ; the vast subterranean Osirion, and the uninviting palace where the builder of so many gorgeous monuments resided, when he came to Abydos.

There was much more which I wished to examine there were tombs of kings almost as vast and grand as their real tombs at Thebes, but never used and never intended to be used. In Egypt, the land of make-believe, it confered sufficient merit on the dead to have a tomb near the tomb of Osiris : it did not signify whether he used it or not.

One king (after consultation with his sister-wife) even erected a sham pyramid to his grandmother. Explorers went on trying to excavate it till Mr. Curelli discovered documentary evidence (on a stone), confessing that it was an honorary affair, the grandmother being safely buried at Thebes. The inscription began with a sort of dialogue between the King and his wife (and sister): "The one spake to the other, seeking to do honour to those yonder.”

I should like to have examined more carefully what the Arabs call the Shunet-ez-Zebib, the Store-house of the Grape, because it was the nearest they could get to the sound of the real name, which meant “ The Store-house of the Jars of Ibis Mummies."

Mr. Ayrton found the jars still there when he excavated it. This was the castle with double walls, now a mere forty feet high, where the early Pharaohs stayed when they came to Abydos. Some of the Ibises, as recorded on the jars, were mummied under the second dynasty more than 4000 B.C. In the adjacent “ Mother of Pots,” the most ancient necropolis of Abydos, are the tombs, real or honorary, of Menes, the shadowy founder of the Crown of Egypt, and his immediate successors, which were explored a few years ago and yielded the richest find in the Cairo Museum of precious objects of the first and second dynasties.

The glorious temple of Seti I. itself was a funerary temple. It was built for his ancestors as well as himself—-to which we owe the good fortune of its containing the tablet of Abydos, and a similar catalogue of the "great and small cycle of the divinities of the sacred places of the north and of the south," a hundred and thirty in number.

The bas-relief in this temple (the Mnemonium of Strabo) of Seti I., offering a statuette of Ma'at, the Goddess of Justice, to Osiris, is generally considered to be the chef d'æuvre of ancient Egyptian sculpture: the face, the figure, and the execution are marvellously beautiful. Hui, King Seti's sculptor, had such an inimitable delicacy of line.

The chief sculptures have lost their colouring ; one doubts if they could ever have looked more lovely than they do now, in the exquisite purity of that fair white limestone. But some of the chapels have colouring as rich as any that has come down to us from ancient Egypt-due to their having been completely buried prior to their excavation.

The legend -of Osiris will perhaps be most intelligible to the ordinary reader as told untechnically by Ebers.

"Osiris, conjointly with Isis, who was his sister and wife, was king over the Nile Valley, gave it laws, and taught the world, which he journeyed all over, the arts of peace. At a feast after his return he allowed himself to be persuaded by his hostile brother Typhon to lie down in a chest which was ready for the purpose. Hardly had he got into it, when seventy-two conspirators, the accomplices of Typhon, flung down the lid, locked it, nailed it down and tied it up, and threw it with its living contents into the Tanitic mouth of the Nile, which carried it into the sea. It was borne to Byblos, on the Phænician coast, and stranded close to an Erica shrub (a heath). The noble plant quickly grew round the chest, and became such a magnificent tree that the King of Byblos afterwards caused it to be cut down, and used as a beam to prop up his house. Meanwhile Isis travelled all over the country in search of her husband, found his coffin, revealed herself to the royal owner, removed the chest from the Erica, lifted it, weeping, on to her shoulders, and bore it away in a ship. As soon as she reached Egypt, and was in solitude, she opened the chest, and laid her face, bathed in tears, on that of her dead husband, and kissed him. At last she quitted the body to seek her son Horus, who was brought up in Buto, and to rouse him to vengeance. During her absence Typhon discovered the corpse, tore it into fourteen pieces, and strewed them all over the Nile Valley. As soon as Isis learned this, she gathered together the beloved fragments, and wherever she found one she erected a monument to her husband. Hence, as some say, there are many tombs of Osiris in Egypt, but others assert that all the limbs of Osiris were laid together in one place, and that Isis erected monuments where she found them, only to mislead Typhon when he should endeavour to discover the real tomb. The most important of these tombs, even under the Pharaohs, was that of Abydos, where the head of Osiris was said to be buried.

" While Isis was lamenting for her husband, and attending to his obsequies, Osiris had remained in the under-world, and his son Horus had strengthened and armed himself

A furious struggle took place between him and Typhon, which lasted four days, and resulted in the

[merged small][ocr errors]

for revenge.

« PreviousContinue »