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A Thousand Miles Up The Nile
SIR – It may interest your readers to learn that at the south side of the great Temple of Abou Simbel, I found the entrance to a painted chamber rock-cut, and measuring 21 ft. 2 1/2 in., by 14 ft. 8 in., and 12 ft. high to the spring of the arch, elaborately sculptured and painted in the best style of the best period of Egyptian art, bearing the portraits of Rameses the Great and his cartouches, and in a state of the highest preservation. This chamber is preceded by the ruins of a vaulted atrium, in sun-dried brickwork, and adjoins the remains of what would appear to be a massive wall or pylon, which contains a staircase terminating in an arched doorway leading to the vaulted atrium before mentioned.
The doorway of the painted chamber, the staircase, and the arch, were all buried in sand and débris. The chamber appears to have been covered and lost sight of since a very early period, being wholly free from mutilation and from the scribbling of travellers ancient and modern.
The staircase was not opened until the 18th, and the bones of a woman and child, with two small cinerary urns, were there discovered by a gentleman of our party, buried in the sand. This was doubtless a subsequent interment. Whether this painted chamber is the inner sanctuary of a small temple, or part of a tomb, or only a speos, like the well-known grottoes at Ibrim, is a question for future excavators to determine. – I have the honor to be, Sir, yours, etc. etc.
KOROSKO, NUBIA, Feb. 16th, 1874._____________________________
1 This letter appeared in The Times of March 18th, 1874.
“THE deities of ancient Egypt consist of celestial, terrestrial, and infernal gods, and of many inferior personages, either representatives of the greater gods or else attendants upon them. Most of the gods were connected with the Sun, and represented that luminary in its passage through the upper hemisphere or Heaven and the lower hemisphere or Hades. To the deities of the Solar cycle belonged the great gods of Thebes and Heliopolis. In the local worship of Egypt the deities were arranged in local triads: thus, at Memphis, Ptah, his wife Merienptah, and their son Nefer Atum, formed a triad, in which was sometimes added the goddess Bast or Bubastis. At Abydus the local triad was Osiris, Isis, and Horus, with Nephthys; at Thebes, Amen-Ra or Ammon, Mut, and Chons, with Nieth; at Elephantine, Kneph, Anuka, Seti, and Hak. In most instances the names of the gods are Egyptian; thus, Ptah meant ‘the opener’; Amen, ‘the concealed’; Ra, ‘the sun’ or ‘day’; Athor, ‘the house of Horus’; but some few, especially of later times, were introduced from Semitic sources as Bal or Baal, Astaruta or Astarte, Khen or Kiun, Respu or Reseph. Besides the principal gods, several inferior or parhedral gods, sometimes personifications of the faculties, senses, and other objects, are introduced into the religious system, and genii, spirits, or personified souls of deities formed part of the same. At a period subsequent to their first introduction the gods were divided into three orders. The first or highest comprised eight deities, who were different in the Memphian and Theban systems. They were supposed to have reigned over Egypt before the time of mortals. The eight gods of the first order at Memphis were – 1. Ptah; 2. Shu; 3. Tefnu; 4. Seb; 5. Nut; 6. Osiris; 7. Isis and Horus; 8. Athor. Those of Thebes were – 1. Amen-Ra; 2. Mentu; 3. Atum; 4. Shu and Tefnu; 5. Seb; 6. Osiris; 7. Set and Nephthys; 8. Horus and Athor. The gods of the second order were twelve in number, but the name of one only, an Egyptian Hercules, has been preserved. The third order is stated to have comprised Osiris, who, it will be seen, belonged to the first order.” – "Guide to the First and Second Egyptian Rooms; Brit. Musæ." S. Birch, 1874.
The gods most commonly represented upon the monuments are Phtah, Knum, Ra, Amen-Ra, Khem, Osiris, Nefer Atum or Tum, Thoth, Seb, Set, Khons, Horus, Maut, Neith, Isis, Nut, Hathor, and Bast. They are distinguished by the following attributes:
Phtah, or Ptah: – In form a mummy, holding the emblem called by some the Nilometer, by others the emblem of stability. Called “the Father of the Beginning, the Creator of the Egg of the Sun and Moon.” Chief deity of Memphis.
Kneph, Knum, or Knouphis: – Ram-headed. Called the Maker of gods and men; the soul of the gods. Chief deity of Elephantine and the Cataracts.
Ra: – Hawk-headed, and crowned with the sun-disk encircled by an asp. The divine disposer and organiser of the world. Adored throughout Egypt.
Amen-Ra: – Of human form, crowned with a flat-topped cap and two long straight plumes; clothed in the schenti; his flesh sometimes painted blue. There are various forms of this god (see footnote, p. 341), but he is mostly generally described as king of the gods. Chief deity of Thebes.
Khem: – Of human form mummified; wears headdress of Amen-Ra; his right hand uplifted, holding the flail. The god of productiveness and generation. Chief deity of Khemmis, or Ekhmeem. Is identified in later times with Amen, and called Amen-Khem.
Osiris: – Of human form, mummified, crowned with a mitre, and holding the flail and crook. Called the Good Being; the Lord above all; the One Lord. Was the god of the lower world; Judge of the dead; and representative of the Sun below the horizon. Adored throughout Egypt. Local deity of Abydus.
Nefer Atum: – Human-headed, and crowned with the pschent. This god represented the setting sun, or the sun descending to light the lower world. Local deity of Heliopolis.
Thoth: – In form a man, ibis-headed, generally depicted with the pen and palette of a scribe. Was the god of the moon, and of letters. Local deity of Sesoon, or Hermopolis.
Seb: – The “Father of the gods,” and deity of terrestrial vegetation. In form a man with a goose upon his head.
Set: – Represented by a symbolic animal, with a muzzle and ears like a jackal, the body of an ass, and an upright tail, like the tail of a lion. Was originally a warlike god, and became in later times the symbol of evil and the enemy of Osiris.
Khons: – Hawk-headed, crowned with the sun-disk and horns. Is represented sometimes as a youth with the side-lock, standing on a crocodile.
Horus: – Horus appears variously as Horus, Horus Aroëris, and Horus Harpakhrat (Harpocrates), or Horus the child. Is represented under the first two forms as a man, hawk-headed, wearing the double crown of Egypt; in the latter as a child with the side-lock. Local deity of Edfu (Apollinopolis Magna).
Maut: – A woman draped, and crowned with the pschent; generally with a cap below the pschent representing a vulture. Adored at Thebes.
Neith: – A woman draped, holding sometimes a bow and arrows, crowned with the crown of Lower Egypt. She presided over war, and the loom. Worshipped at Thebes.
Isis: – A woman crowned with the sun-disk surmounted by a throne, and sometimes enclosed between horns. Adored at Abydus and Philæ. Her soul resided in Sothis, or the Dog-star.
Nut: – A woman curved so as to touch the ground with her fingers. She represents the vault of heaven, and is the mother of the gods.
Hathor: – Cow-headed, and crowned with the disk and plumes. deity of Amenti, or the Egyptian Hades. Worshipped at Denderah.
Bast and Sekhet: – Bast and Sekhet appear to be two forms of the same goddess. As Sekhet she is represented as a woman, lion-headed, with the disk and uræus; as Bast, she is cat-headed, and holds a sistrum. Adored at Bubastis.
DID the Egyptians believe in one eternal god, whose attributes were merely symbolised by their numerous deities; or must the whole structure of their faith be resolved into a solar myth, with its various and inevitable ramifications? This is the great problem of Egyptology, and it is a problem than has not yet been solved. Egyptologists differ so widely on the subject that it is impossible to reconcile their opinions. As not even the description of a temple is complete without some reference to this important question, and as the question itself underlies every notion we may form of ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptians, I have thought it well to group here a few representative extracts from the works of one or two of the greatest authorities upon the subject.
“The religion of the Egyptians consisted of an extended polytheism represented by a series of local groups. The idea of a single deity self-existing or produced was involved in the conception of some of the principal gods, who are said to have given birth to or produced gods, men, all beings and things. Other deities were considered to be self-produced. The Sun was the older object of worship, and in his various forms, as the rising, midday, and setting Sun, was adored under different names, and was often united, especially at Thebes, to the types of other deities, as Amen and Mentu. The oldest of all the local deities, Ptah, who was worshipped at Memphis, was a demiurgos or creator of heaven, earth, gods and men, and not identified with the Sun. Besides the worship of the solar gods, that of Osiris extensively prevailed, and with it the antagonism of Set, the Egyptian devil, the metempsychosis or transmigration of the soul, the future judgment, the purgatory or Hades, the Karneter, the Aahlu or Elysium, and final union of the soul to the body after the lapse of several centuries. Besides the deities of Heaven, the light, and the lower world, others personified the elements or presided over the operations of nature, the seasons, and events.” – "Guide to the First and Second Egyptian Rooms: Brit. Mus." S. Birch, 1874.
“This religion, obscured as it is by a complex mythology, has lent itself to many interpretations of a contradictory nature, none of which have been unanimously adopted. But that which is beyond doubt, and which shines forth from the texts for the whole world’s acceptance, is the belief in one god. The polytheism of the monuments is but an outward show. The innumerable gods of the Pantheon are but manifestations of the One Being in his various capacities. That taste for allegory which created the hieroglyphic writing, found vent likewise in the expression of the religious idea; that idea being, as it were, stifled in the later periods by a too-abundant symbolism.” – P. Pierret, "Dictionnaire d’Arch. Egyptienne," 1875. Translated from article on “Religion.”
“The god of the Egyptians was unique, perfect, endued with knowledge and intelligence and so far incomprehensible that one can scarcely say in what respects he is incomprehensible. He is the one who exists by essence; the one sole life of all substance; the one single generator in heaven and earth who is not himself engendered; the father of fathers; the mother of mothers; always the same; immutable in immutable perfection; existing equally in the past, the present, and the future. He fills the universe in such wise that no earthly image can give the feeblest notion of his immensity. He is felt everywhere; he is tangible nowhere.” – G. Maspero. Translated from "Histoire Ancienne des Peuples de l’Orient." Paris, 1876, chap. i., p. 26.
“Unfortunately, the more we study the religion of ancient Egypt, the more our doubts accumulate with regard to the character which must finally be attributed to it. The excavations carried on of late at Denderah and Edfu have opened up to us an extraordinary fertile source of material. These Temples are covered with texts, and present precisely the appearance of two books which authoritatively treat not only of the gods to which these two Temples are dedicated, but of the religion under its more general aspects. But neither in these Temples, nor in those which have been long known to us, appears the One god of Jamblichus. If Ammon is ‘The First of the First’ at Thebes, if Phtah is at Memphis ‘The Father of All Beings, without Beginning or End,’ so also is every other Egyptian god separately endowed with these attributes of the Divine Being. In other words, we everywhere find gods who are uncreate and immortal; but nowhere that unique, invisible deity, without name and without form, who was supposed to hover above the highest summit of the Egyptian pantheon. The Temple of Denderah, now explored to the end of its most hidden inscriptions, of a certainty furnishes no trace of this deity. The one result which above all others seems to be educed from the study of this temple, is that (according to the Egyptians) the Universe was god himself, and that Pantheism formed the foundation of their religion.” – A. Mariette Bey. Translated from "Itinéraire de la Haute Egypte." Alexandria, 1872, p. 54.
“The sun is the most ancient object of Egyptian worship found upon the monuments. His birth each day when he springs from the bosom of the nocturnal heaven is the natural emblem of the eternal generation of the divinity. Hence the celestial space became identified with the divine mother. It was particularly the nocturnal heaven which was represented by this personage. The rays of the sun, as they awakened all nature, seemed to give life to animated beings. Hence that which doubtless was originally a symbol, became the foundation of the religion. It is the Sun himself whom we find habitually invoked as the supreme being. The addition of his Egyptian name, Ra, to the names of certain local divinities, would seem to show that this identification constituted a second epoch in the history of the religions of the Valley of the Nile.” – Viscounte E. de Rougé. Translated from "Notice Sommaire des Monuments Egyptiens du Louvre." Paris, 1873, p. 120.
That the religion, whether based on a solar myth or upon a genuine belief in a spiritual god, became grossly material in its later devlopments, is apparent to every student of the monuments. M. Maspero has the following remarks on the degeneration of the old faith:
“In the course of ages, the sense of the religion became obscured. In the texts of Greek and Roman date, that lofty conception of the divinity which had been cherished by the early theologians of Egypt still peeps out here and there. Fragmentary phrases and epithets yet prove that the fundamental principles of the religion are not quite forgotten. For the most part, howver, we find that we no longer have to do with the infinite and intangible god of ancient days; but rather with a god of flesh and blood who lives upon earth, and has so abased himself as to be no more than a human king. It is no longer this god of whom no man knew either the form or the substance: – it is Kneph at Esneh; Hathor at Denderah; Horus, king of the divine dynasty, at Edfu. This king has a court, ministers, an army, a fleet. His eldest son, Horhat, Prince of Cush and heir-presumptive to the throne, commands the troops. His first minister Thoth, the inventor of letters, has geography and rhetoric at his fingers’ ends; is Historiographer-Royal; and is entrusted with the duty of recording the victories of the king and of celebrating them in high-sounding phraseology. When this god makes war upon his neighbour Typhon, he makes no use of the divine weapons of which we should take it for granted that he could dispose at will. He calls out his archers and his chariots; descends the Nile in his galley, as might the last new Pharaoh; directs marches and counter-marches; fights planned battles; carries cities by storm, and brings all Egypt in submission to his feet. We see here that the Egyptians of Ptolemaic times had substituted for the one god of their ancestors a line of god-kings, and had embroidered these modern legends with a host of fantastic details.” – G. Maspero. Translated from "Histoire Ancienne des Peuples de l’Orient. Paris," 1876, chap. i. pp. 50-51.
“THE chronology of Egypt has been a disputed point for centuries. The Egyptians had no cycle, and only dated in the regnal years of their monarchs. The principal Greek sources have been the canon of Ptolemy, drawn up in the second century A.D., and the lists of the dynasties extracted from the historical work of Manetho, an Egyptian priest, who lived in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, B.C. 285-247. The discrepancies between these lists and the monuments have given rise to many schemes and rectifications of the chronology. The principal chronological points of information obtained from the monuments are the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, B.C. 527, the commencement of the reign of Psammetichus I, B.C. 665, the reign of Tirhaka, about B.C. 693, and that of Bocchoris, about B.C. 720, the synchronism of the reign of Shishak I with the capture of Jerusalem, about B.C. 970. The principal monuments throwing light on other parts of the chronology are the recorded heliacal risings of Sothis, or the Dog-star, in the reigns of Thothmes III and Rameses II, III, VI, IX, the date of 400 years from the time of Rameses II to the Shepherd kings, the dated sepulchral tablets of the bull Apis at the Serapeum, the lists of kings at Sakkarah, Thebes, and Abydus, the chronological canon of the Turin papyrus, and other incidental notices. But of the anterior dynasties no certain chronological dates are afforded by the monuments, those hitherto proposed not having stood the test of historical or philological criticism.” – S. Birch, LL.D.: "Guide to the First and Second Egyptian Rooms at the Brit. Museum." 1874, p. 10.
As some indication of the wide divergence of opinion upon this subject, it is enough to point out that the German Egyptologists alone differ as to the date of Menes or Mena (the first authentic king of the ancient empire), to the following extent:
Mariette, though recognizing the need for extreme caution in the acceptance or rejection of any of these calculations, inclined on the whole to abide by the lists of Manetho; according to which the thirty-four recorded dynasties would stand as follows:
To this chronology may be opposed the brief table of dates compiled by M. Chabas. This table represents what may be called the medium school of Egyptian chronology, and is offered by M. Chabas, “not as an attempt to reconcile systems,” but as an aid to the classification of certain broadly indicated epochs.
A VERY important addition to our chronological information with regard to the synchronous history of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia has been brought to light during this present year (1888) by the great discovery of cuneiform tablets at Tel-el-Amarna in Upper Egypt. These tablets consist for the most part of letters and despatches sent to Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV by the kings of Babylonia and the princes and governors of Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia; some being addressed to Amenhotep IV (Khu-en-Aten) by Burna-buryas, King of Babylonia, who lived about B.C. 1430. This gives us the date of the life and reign of Amenhotep IV, and consequently the approximate date of the foundation of the city known to us as Tel-el-Amarna, and of the establishment of the new religion of the Disk-worship; and it is the earliest synchronism yet established between the history of ancient Egypt and that of any of her contemporaries.
From these tablets we also learn that the consort of Amenhotep IV was a Syrian princess, and daughter of Duschratta, King of Naharina (called in the tablets “the land of Mitanni”) on the upper Euphrates. For a full and learned description of some of the most interesting of these newly-discovered documents, see Dr. Erman’s paper, entitled Der Thontafelfund von Tell Amarna, read before the Berlin Academy on 3d May 1888.