« AnteriorContinuar »
when seen by Herodotus and Diodorus. All agree in stating that the lake must have been made to take away surplus Nile water, to supply water during seasons of scarcity, and perhaps to water the Delta during dry seasons. At present, however, the water would be of little use for irrigation, as the nitre by which the surrounding earth is impregnated has a bad taste, and is almost as salt as seawater, which, however, would be considerably modified by the Nile waters coming inosuch great abundance.
Instead of this vast lake being entirely the result of human labour, it appears to have been formed by a large natural valley, something on the principle, but on a most gigantic scale, of the Manchester waterworks, and even then the labour of excavating, embanking, and channel-cutting must have been Herculean, and far beyond anything we can point to of modern date. At a former day it appears to have had a connection with a river, the bed of which is now nearly all that remains, but which is known as the “ Waterless River." This river appears to have once flowed very near to the northern head of Lake Mæris, and is considered by many to have been at an early period the channel of the Nile.
Modern travellers have found Lake Mæris a very different sheet of water than it was when gazed on by Herodotus. Dr. Pococke found it not more than fifty miles long and ten broad. Mr. Brown gave it as thirty or forty miles in length, and about six miles in breadth, and the water appears to be still diminishing. There can be no doubt, however, that at an early period the water of this lake covered the greater part of the valley of Farfoum, and during high floods of the Nile found an outlet along the channel of the Waterless River. The town of Zamieh, which formerly stood on the very edge of Lake Mæris, now stands six miles away-a fact which proves that the lake is gradually diminishing; and late travellers tell us that the limits of cultivable land are narrowing every year, while the desert is making constant approaches on the river. The Pyramids referred
. to by Herodotus have now disappeared ; but if these were built of bricks, as are the remains of those which still exist at the entrance of the valley, this may casily be accounted for from the action of the water and the solvent power of the atmosphere on materials so perishable. The fame of King Mæris, then, may not be sought for in the creation of this lake, but there is still enough to account for his popularity and display his genius in the vast excavations which united it to the Nile, and in the embankments, mounds, dams, and sluices which made it contribute to the watering of the country and the prosperity of its people.
Another excellent provision for irrigating the country is found in the canals, which may still be seen intersecting each other in great numbers. The energy, the perseverance, and the skill displayed in these works are truly wonderful. One of these great works, which was mainly, however, for purposes of commerce, is said to have been commenced by King Nechos, and reached from the Nile to the Red Sea. In carrying out this project, Herodotus tells us that 120,000 Egyptians perished.* Along the left bank of the Nile, skirting, the
Libyan Desert for many miles, in middle Egypt, is a tract of land which but for these canals must have become useless. The ancients saw this, and wisely provided for its utility. A little westward from the river are two elevated ridges, between which are two hollows, which required the Nile waters to make them fruitful. A great canal was cut at the bottom of each valley and connected with the river; smaller canals were then made, forming branches on each side to irrigate the ground in all its parts. To make the last useful, great dykes were formed at certain distances, which ran across the main canals, not only retaining the water till required, but forming regular roads from one village to another. One of these canals is now known as “ Joseph's River.” It runs for many miles parallel with the Nile, and formerly there was another—the traces of which are not so marked—which was called “Hatu.” Here there were about eleven large mounds, besides smaller ones, all provided with sluices to regulate the water according to the necessities of the lands adjacent. These great dykes alone frequently prevent large districts froin being turned into inland seas.
The labyrinths of Egypt displayed the marvellous mechanical skill of its ancient people. Herodotus declared that the Greeks had done nothing like it for ingenuity. The pyramids, he said, were wonderful, but not to be compared with the Labyrinth he inspected. It had twelve courts, “all of which,” says this historian,“ are covered ; their entrances are opposite to each other, six to the north and six to the south ; one wall encloses the whole. The apartments are of two kinds; there are 1,500 above the surface of the ground, and as many beneath ; in all, 3,000. Of the former I can speak from my own knowledge and observation ; of the latter only from the information which I received." Those under ground he was not allowed to see, because the sacred crocodiles, and the bodies of the kings who built the Labyrinth, were preserved there. Of the apartments above ground, he says, “the almost infinite number of winding passages through the different courts excited my warmest admiration.”
He then speaks of " spacious halls," "smaller chambers," and "magnificent courts almost without end ;” “ ceilings and walls, all of marble," richly adorned with the finest sculpture, and “pillars round each court” of marble, “the whitest and most polished he ever saw.” At the end of the Labyrinth stood a Pyramid 160 cubits high, with large figures of animals engraved on the outside. This Labyrinth stood " beyond Lake Mæris, near the City of Crocodiles," now known as Arsinoë, and was probably built as a sepulchre, or to adorn a sepulchre of one or more of the kings. Strabo states that the passages were so skilfully contrived and so numerous, that it was impossible for any one to enter or leave one of the palaces without a guide. Strange to say, even the precise site of this once splendid and magnificent structure cannot now be determined, although several spots in the neighbourhood of Lake Mæris, from several plausible reasons, have been indicated. A site near the modern village of Haurah has been most generally fixed upon. It is pretty plain that the whole country about Lake Mæris has been considerably raised as well as the bed of the lake itself, for Belzoni, a very intelligent traveller, saw in the bed of the lake pillars and ruins of ancient
buildings, which have now disappeared ; and Denon states that in the neighbourhood there are numerous remains of villages covered by the sand, where you “often tread upon the roofs of houses and the tops of minarets,” and where once a considerable population dwelt and went out daily to cultivate the fields and gardens. Now, however, sad to say, all that lived—even vegetation-has disappeared, and you have a sandy desert; ruins of villages, choked up and silent as a world deserted ; the remains of human habitations, but only a
1 semblance of decay and death, the mere grinning skeletons of a former smiling life and fascinating beauty.
Nothing which remains in Egypt, however, more excites the wonder of the traveller than her Pyramids. These suffer little by decay ; the hand of Time smites them, but leaves no scars ; and if the hands of man are kept off, they appear destined to stand as long as the Libyan Hills. The dry, pure atmosphere makes little or no impression on these huge masses of stone. Of the ancient authorities in reference to Egyptian remains, Herodotus always seems the best. The man went about with eyes wide open, and his shrewdness and strong common sense make his narrative peculiarly valuable.
Yet even he was liable to be imposed upon by the tales and traditions of the priests and the superstitions of the people. He says, the largest of the Pyramids was the work of Cheops, a thoroughly bad and a tyrannical king. It remains a question, however, whether his badness was not attributable to his putting an end to the rule of the priesthood. He closed the temples, would not allow sacrifices to be offered to the gods, and condemned the people to work as slaves. Some were sent, we are told, to hew stones out of the Arabian mountains, others drag them to the banks of the Nile, and others to load them in vessels and send them to the edge of the Libyan Desert. In this work 100,000 men were employed, and these were relieved every three months by 100,000 more. In the construction of the largest Pyramid, Pliny says that 366,000 men were employed. To make the road on which to drag the stones, ten years were spent, and in some places this road was thirty-two cubits high, and, from one end to the other, forty cubits wide, all of polished marble, adorned with figures of animals. The monarch's tomb, says the historian, was within a room in the interior of the Pyramid, the tomb itself being insulated by conducting the waters of the Nile into the Pyramid, and running them round it by means of a channel. It may here be remarked, that the remains of several of the ancient kings have been discovered in similar positions within other Pyramids, along with the inscriptions of their names, one of which is at present in the British Museum. Twenty years, says the historian, were consumed in rearing the great Pyramid. No stone is of less dimensions than thirty feet. The stones, we are told, were raised from tier to tier by means of machines made of short pieces of wood, but no account is furnished of the modus operandi. The tiers of stone were placed on one after another, and formed a series of steps, until the summit was reached, when the uppermost tier was coated with polished marble, leaving the surface level, and the process continued downwards till the whole was finished. Most of the Pyramids have now lost this marble coating, but there are traces of it still left, confirming sub
stantially the account of Herodotus. The sums expended during the progress of the building were recorded on the exterior, the sum being represented by the amount of radishes, onions, and garlic consumed by the workmen. A brother of Cheops succeeded him, and built a second, but a lesser Pyramid. He is represented as in no respect better than his brother, and under the rule of these men the Egyptians are said to have suffered for 106 years. The people held them in such abhorrence in the time of Herodotus, that they refused to pronounce their names, and called their Pyramids Philitis, whence some writers have concluded that these monarchs had some connection with the "Shepherd Kings" who invaded Egypt, and who, when expelled, settled on the adjoining coast of Syria under the name of Philistines. If this conjecture be correct, the date of the erection of the Pyramids must more or less synchronize with the period of the Shepherd Kings” of Scripture, who were "an abomination to the Egyptians," and who seem to have ruled some time between the birth of Abraham and the taking away of Joseph.
The dimensions of the great Pyramid of Cheops have been very variously given. Herodotus fixed its beight at 800 feet; Strabo and Diodorus, at about 600; while the length of each side is said by the first to have been 800 feet, and, by the second and third, 600 and 700 feet respectively. The moderns, too, vary considerably in their measurements, Niebuhr giving the height at 440 feet, and the length of a side at 710 feet; while Le Brun states the measurement at 616 and 704 feet. Even in counting the number of layers of stones or steps, the accounts differ more or less, some putting them down at 260, and others, 212, 208, 207, 206. Taking the whole, we may conclude that the base is about 750 feet in length, the height 480 feet, and that the whole structure covers an area of something like eleven English acres. Orer Egypt there are many Pyramids, but comparatively few have been opened and explored. They were doubtless designed as tombs, or places of sepulchre, for kings and great men; they had some connection with the religious system of Egypt; and they, perhaps, answered some uses in the study of astronomy, a science to which the ancient Egyptians gave considerable attention. The labour of exploring these buildings has been very great; first, in discovering the original openings, moving the stones and rubbish which have accumulated at the bases and in the entrances, and then in descending the narrow apertures left by the builders by which the interior rooms are entered. All the entrances, in all the explored Pyramids, descend to a kind of well, in which it is necessary to carry lighted tapers. At different distances the passages terminate, and start in new directions, reaching, in the pyramid of Cheops, a depth of 155 feet, the inclination of the passages being about 26°. In the interior are found numbers of spacious rooms, sometimes cut out of the solid rock, and generally coated from floor to ceiling with immense polished marble slabs. On the walls are gorgeous paintings, or sculptured figures and inscriptions, the paintings as bright and fresh as if executed yesterday. In the lower rooms are sometimes found sarcophagi, containing the mouldering remains of animals. These are occasionally let into the floor and buttressed by great blocks of granite, to prevent them being carried away. One of the
rooms in the Pyramid of Cheops measures sixty-six feet in length and twenty-seven feet in height, others are forty to fifty feet by sixteen to twenty feet, being twenty feet high. The ceilings are formed by immense stones resting on pillars, and promise to stand as long as the hills. But to attempt to go into details in reference to these masses of masonry would fill a volume.
Notwithstanding these displays of human power, the architecture of Egypt was in but a comparatively rude state. Size, or magnitude, seems most to have captivated the people. They had simplicity and robustness, and they could, with our best moderns, square stones and polish marbles with the hard sands of Ethiopia and Pelusiam; but they knew nothing of the modern methods of making comparatively light buildings strong. If they wanted strong walls and roofs
, they put in plenty of stone, well and truly worked, and erected massive pillars, seeing to it that they had good foothold and solid bases everywhere. Their joints were firm as the stone itself, and nearly invisible, and their work was surprisingly accurate and precise. They could handle with apparent ease immense blocks of stone, and give relief to their mouldings, and cut and carve granite and basalt with wonderful effect-in fact, with a skill the moderns have not reached ; but they knew nothing of the finer touches in sculpture, which bring out the countenance, produce a portrait, and make a statue or a figure life-like. You never think you see an Egyptian figure breathe, nor find it wearing the appearances of animation, for the sculptors there evidently knew nothing of anatomy. It is perfectly unaccountable
. how they cut their basalt, for the moderns can find no metal equal to the work ; yet these ancients engraved it with apparent facility and unrivalled precision. It is said they softened their granite and basalt before working it; but this only removes the difficulty from the mallet, the chisel, and the square, to the laboratory of the chemist; and where are the chemists now who can soften basalt ? At Karnac, as well as in the Pyramids, there are stones thirty to forty feet long, placed forty, fifty, and sixty feet high. By what kind of mechanism were these stones lifted about with such apparent ease ? and how were they cut out whole from the quarries, and transported 150 miles to their resting-place? Then, there are obelisks 100 feet high, cut out whole from the mountain, carried hundreds of miles, and then reared on end to stand for ever; vast colossal figures, in single blocks, from ten to twelve feet wide across the shoulders, standing fifty feet high, and weighing nearly 1,000 tons. That of Rameses, brought from the quarries of Selseleh, may still be seen, and in the plain of Thebes there are numbers more. So frequent and so numerous are these displays of mechanical skill, that they appear to have been every-day works, with which every artist was quite familiar. “ At Sais, at Butos, in the Delta," there are huge monolith temples, evidently brought from the quarries of Upper Egypt, a distance of 600 miles. These chapels were plainly cut out of the rock whole, then worked, then carried to the banks of the Nile and embarked, then floated down the stream, and then unloaded and transported to their present site! Herodotus gives some particulars of a monolith temple, erected at Sais, in honour of Minerva. It consisted, he says, of one entire stone, and was brought from Elephantina, near the cataracts. To