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Usertsens of the earliest Theban Dynasty had a hand in its building, and after them the other dynasties down to the Ptolemaic days. Thothmes III. and his aunt, the wonderful Queen Hatasu—the ablest woman of her time—were among its builders, and these two set up obelisks, erected pylons and vast columned halls. This was about 1600 B.C., when the glory of Egypt was at flood-tide. Two centuries later the mighty Seti I., whose mummied form sleeps to-day in the Museum at Cairo, began what is known as the great Hypostile Hall, finished by his still mightier son, Rameses II.; whose mummy likewise reposes in Cairo, father and son together. Rameses built other additions to Karnak, and crowded most of them with pictures and statues of himself and the sculptured glorification of his deeds. He was, in fact, not only the greatest king, but the greatest egotist the world has ever known, and in the end believed himself a god. It is said that he built more than seventy temples altogether, chiefly to hold his statues, and that he put his name on a number that had been built by his predecessors. It has been hinted that to his title of “The Great” the word “Advertiser" should have been added, and the fact that he is now on exhibition in a glass case must be a crowning gratification to him, if he knows it. It should be mentioned that Rameses II. is thought to be one of the oppressors of the Israelites, which may tend to arrange his period and personality in the Biblical mind.
I am wandering away from the subject in hand. I want to talk about Karnak, and I find myself talking of kings. But, then, one cannot talk about Karnaknot intelligently. One must see Karnak, and he will believe himself dreaming all the time, and he will come away silent. The Romans came to Karnak when the Egyptians had finished with their building, and by-and-by the early Christians, who could always be depended upon to pull down and mutilate and destroy anything that was particularly magnificent. Our old friend, the good Queen Helena, arrived, and the temples of Egypt crumbled before the blight of her fanaticism. But I must change cars again. I get a little rabid when I take up Queen Helena and her tribe.
We followed Gaddis from arch to pylon, from enclosure to sanctuary—we passed down colonnades that one must see to believe. There are two kinds of columns in Egypt, by-the-way, the Lotus and the Papyrus—the former with a capital that opens out like a flaring bowl, the cup of the lotus-flower; the other with a capital that is more like an opening bud. The lotus symbolizes the Delta country, Lower Egypt; the papyrus stands for Upper Egypt, the country of the Nile, where we now are.
Both are used in these temples, and here in Karnak there is a hall of Lotus columns--one hundred and thirty-four in number—twelve of them sixty feet high and twelve feet through!
That is the great Hypostile Hall of Seti I., and I wish the English language were big enough, and I on sufficiently good terms with it to convey the overwhelming impression of that place. Try to conceive an architectural forest of the size of a city block, planted with sculptured and painted columns and filled with sunlight—the columns towering till they seem to touch the sky, and of such thickness that six men with extended arms, finger-tip to finger-tip, can barely span them round. The twelve mightier columns form a central avenue that simply dwarfs into insignificance any living thing that enters it. You suddenly become an insect when you stand between those columns and look up, and you have the feeling that you are likely to be stepped on. The rest of that colossal assembly stretch away on either side and are only a degree smaller. All are painted with the four colors of the Nile-mellow tones of blue, red, green and yellow, signifying high and low Nile, green fields and harvest—imperishable pigments as fresh and luminous under this sunlit sky as when they were laid there by artists who finished and put their brushes away more than three thousand years ago. How poor are mere words in the presence of this mighty reality which has outlived so many languages—will outlive all the puny languages that try to convey it now!
Looking down the great central avenue of Seti's hall, we beheld at the end-standing as true to-day as when she placed it there—the graceful granite obelisk of Queen Hatasu.
“Set up in honor of father Amen,” she relates in her inscription on the base. She adds that she covered the tip with copper that it might be seen at a great distance, and tells how the monolith and its mate (now lying broken near it) were hewn from the Assuan quarries and brought down the Nile to Thebes.