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Except to students the paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs are seldom interesting in subject ; but they are so complete that our knowledge of Egyptian mythology is
considerable. In the Tombs of the Kings alone we have nearly the whole of three of the principal books of ancient Egypt—the Book of the Litanies of Ra, the Book of the Gates, and the Book of What is in the Under-world, besides some important chapters of the Book of the Dead. Dr. Budge, whose rendering of the Book of the Dead' is famous, gives the following account of the Tuat: “One of the commonest religious views of the Egyptians was that the Tuat or Under-world was a long, narrow valley which ran parallel with Egypt, and was neither above nor below the level of this earth. It had a river flowing through the whole length of it. This valley began on the west bank of the Nile, ran due north, bent round towards the east when the Delta was approached, and terminated at the place where the sun rose. It was divided into ten sections, and at each end was a sort of vestibule or chamber. The ante-chamber, at its beginning, was called Amentet, and was a place of gloom. As the passenger through this valley went onwards each of the first five sections grew darker and darker, until at the end of the fifth section the darkness was absolute. As the passenger moved on through the last five sections the darkness grew less and less dense, until at the end of the tenth section he entered the chamber, the gloom of which resembled that of the chamber at the beginning of the valley. The whole night, which was supposed to consist of twelve hours, was occupied in passing through the Tuat; and the two chambers and the ten main divisions of it were traversed each in one hour. The Tuat was a difficult place to pass through, for portions of it were filled with hideous monsters and horrible reptiles and a lake of boiling and stinking water. Religious tradition declared that the sungod had made his way in it seated in his boat, but that he was only enabled to do so by employing his words of magical power, and by the exercise of the functions of deity, ' Pages 662-4.
The priests declared that they possessed the knowledge of such words of power, and people believed that if they learned them, and learned to recognise the various divisions of the Tuat, and the beings in them by means of the pictures which the priests provided, they could make the journey through the Tuat in safety, and would rise in the next world with the sun. “The priests of Amen, who promulgated this view, which was based upon an older system of indigenous belief, presided over the building of the royal tombs in the eighteenth dynasty, and made each tomb to resemble the long narrow valley of the Tuat by providing it with long corridors. When the body was deposited in the tomb the priests repeated the words of power which Ra was believed to have uttered, and performed ceremonies in imitation of those of the acts of the god; in fact, made very full use of sympathetic magic; and the worshippers of Amen believed that their kings would surely and certainly pass safely through the dark valley, and would overcome all their foes, and would rise together with the sun to a new life in the next world. Now, the sun-god traversed this valley each night in his boat, and, of course, rose each day; the aim, then, of every one of his worshippers was to secure a passage in his boat, for, if only this could be obtained, resurrection was certain. The doctrine of the sun-worshippers and the priests of Amen taught that the souls of all who died during the day made their way to Amentet, where, provided that they were equipped with the knowledge of the necessary “divine words, they entered the boat of the sun-god. When they arrived at the kingdom of Osiris at midnight they were judged, and the blessed were rewarded, and the wicked were annihilated ; this done, the boat of the sun-god passed on towards the east, where, having destroyed all the nature-powers of night and darkness, i.e. cloud, mist, rain, etc., he rose on this world in glorious strength, and the souls who had chosen to stay with him rejoiced in renewed light and were happy.” There is a copy of the Book of the Litanies of Ra on the walls of the sloping corridor of the tomb of Seti I. Many of the scenes in the Book of the Gates are inscribed on the beautiful alabaster sarcophagus of this monarch, which is no longer in the tomb, but in the museum of Sir John Soane in London. There are selections from the Litany of Ra, the Book of What is in the Under-world, and the Book of the Gates in the tomb of Rameses III., and selections from the Book of the Dead in the tomb of Rameses IV., to quote the most obvious instances. But there are more interesting pictures than these in the tomb of Rameses III., which is called the Tomb of the Harper—scenes from everyday life in war, agriculture, and so on. To me the pictures in the Tombs of the Kings were not generally so interesting as those in the tomb of Thi, because they relate to the mythological life of the under-world and not the human life of ancient Egypt. Still, the sculptures in the tomb of King Seti I. are marvellously attractive, for after those in Seti's temple at Abydos they are the most exquisitely executed in all Egypt. I never made any attempt to follow the pictures in one of these tombs systematically: the interpretation of each tomb would fill a book. It was better to admire the superlative loveliness of the outlines of, say, the bark of Osiris, or King Seti's own figure. What are they like, the world's chief tombs, the subterranean cathedrals, not built, but hewn by hands You enter them by a descent of steps from the road, and you are striking for ever downwards towards the under-world, perhaps in parable; sometimes they have sculptured entrances; they often have pictures of striking beauty the moment you cross the threshold. A long narrow passage, generally broken by steps, may lead you for a hundred feet before you come to any of the state chambers. The steps are often modern ; you have only to go into a tomb not yet prepared for the public, like that of Thothmes IV., to know that the approach to the actual grave is by no means simple even when you have entered the tomb. A mummy-shoot is a most distressing thing to descend, unless you have feet like Arabs and flies and one of these semi-precipitous descents over slippery limestone with sharp edges may very well end in a booby-trap set for robbers by the builders of the tomb—a well several feet wide and anything up to a hundred feet deep. In the prepared tombs the shoots are covered with wooden staircases and the wells are bridged. As you proceed, you pass through chamber after chamber, with their lofty ceilings painted to represent the night sky glowing with stars and sometimes crowded with ghostly figures. All these chambers have their ceremonial uses. To detail them would weary rather than inform the reader. The chief interest to the sight-seer in almost every tomb lies at the end where once the Pharaoh, exquisitely embalmed, gloriously jewelled, wrapped in fine linen, cased in cedar and gold, and enclosed and guarded in a mighty sarcophagus of limestone or granite, began the serious business of his existence, the life beyond the grave. In all the forty tombs of the Pharaohs of three dynasties which honeycomb the cliffs of the Valley of the Kings, there is only one royal mummy in the place where it was originally laid; only one sarcophagus in all its pristine beauty and perfection. More than one of the sarcophagi is preserved in the world's collections, the finest, that of King Seti I., in a museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The bodies of many of the Pharaohs, among them the very greatest, Thothmes III., Seti I., Rameses II., and Rameses III. are preserved in public museums; and the world is familiar with the lineaments of the faces of the men who carried the marvellous civilisation and art of ancient Egypt to its zenith. There is nothing of the ancient world that we know so well as Egypt: the desert embalmed her art and her monuments as surely as the expert with spices and bitumen embalmed the bodies of her kings. And the superstition of the ancient Egyptian, that no one without a name could enter into life after the grave, made him attach a definition in his longundeciphered hieroglyphics to each person and object on the pictured walls of his tombs. Therefore we have countless illustrated encyclopaedias of the life and religion and history and art of the dwellers in the Nile Valley for fifty centuries and more, and nowhere have we these encyclopaedias so numerous, or on so stupendous a scale as in the Tombs of the Kings of Thebes. In spite of the high temperature which, even in winter, was often over 80° Fahrenheit, I went many times into the Tombs of the Kings, always with a feeling of exultation as well as wonder. I loved to think that the pictures and sculptures upon which I was looking were there in the youth of the world, as long before the dawn of our era as we are after it. I loved to study the beautiful face of King Seti, the Lorenzo de Medici of Egyptian art. I loved the long vistas of walls glowing with processions and progresses. The whole atmosphere was superhuman. And this feeling reached its zenith in the sepulchral chamber of Amen-hetep II. and Mer-en-Ptah II. Amenhetep II., whose mummy is the only one suffered to rest where its owner willed it, was another of the mightiest Pharaohs. He was the Amenophis who carried his successful arms twenty miles beyond Shendi, almost to the gates of Khartúm. The story of the discovery of his sarcophagus is most interestingly told by Mr. John Ward in his “Pyramids and Progress.” He was riding through the valley when he noticed a little knot of men, who proved to be Government officials specially sent for the purpose from Cairo, and saw them open the tomb of Amen-hetep II. “The coffin was unopened, and was covered with wreaths of olives, and flowers strewn on the floor and on the coffin were still perfect. The jewels and wrappings of the King's mummy were as when buried with him. When this unique ‘find' is shown it will be interesting indeed. On the floor of the tomb a strange spectacle presented itself—three naked corpses, their throats cut and their breasts gashed, lay across the entrance. They had not been mummified, but the dry air of the vault had perfectly preserved them. It was conjectured that these had not been killed on the spot, but were possibly the corpses of malefactors thus mutilated and placed there to terrify any violators of the tomb ; and this gruesome * Page 16o.