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MR. WILKINSON'S TOPOGRAPHY OF THEBES.
Topography of Thebes, and General View of Egypt; being a Short
Account of the Principal Objects worthy of Notice in the Valley of the Nile to the Second Cataract, &c. &c. With Remarks on the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians. By 1. G. WilKINSON, Esq. John Murray, Albemarle Street.
Egypt, the mother of nations! the incomprehensible ! she of whose origin none can tell! the primal streams from whence have flowed extinct states, and kingdoms, and vast monarchies !
Her genius still wanders by the banks of her eternal Nile, decrepit, wrinkled, and full of countless days—her memoty gone, and unconscious of her pristine greatness. Yet, in her ruin, how majestic! Her pyramids still point to the skies—her ruins still frown in imperishable grandeur -her immeasurable catacombs, containing within their recesses myriads of lettered scrolls, pregnant with awful histories, records of past glory, and stupendous guilt, scrolls that coming ages shall be unable to reduce to dust, and yet but half explored. Egypt still retains within her time-worn bosom the sybil leaves of the ancient wisdom; but they are dropping one by one, unread and unexplored, and we look on helplessly and see them crumble into destruction, and their awful secrets pass away before our eyes unsolved. As yet, we have had no Daniel to read the writing on her wall. Like an ancient priestess, the fire of whose mind has been quenched by the cold flowings of countless years, she offers us a lesson that she has herself long been unable to read.
And who shall instruct us? Turn we to the haughty and all-conquering Roman, with his compact and energetic language, and demand of him the key, for he conquered her dominions and rifled her palaces. He, himself now passed away, was to Egypt but as him' of yesterday, and, in the prime of his manhood, looked upon the ancient one with the same wondering awe as do the latest and youngest sons of humanity. Let us penetrate still farther back into the mists of antiquity, and ask the wily and elegant Greek some tidings of these eternal ruins. He saw them when in the glory of their perfection, but of their origin knew nothing; for to the virile Egyptian he was but a young barbarian, who came a despised mendicant to the shores of the Nile to pick up something good from the superfluity of the knowledge that sate there enthroned in mystery. Old Homer prated something darkly of the wondrous city of a hundred gates.
And the still more ancient Hebrew, what knows he of her? Why nought but of the heaviness of her bondage. He was a slave in her field, and a scorn to her proud and enlightened sons. Before he felt the iron of her rule, when he kept his flocks, a shepherd and a humble husbandman, Egypt resided in her sublime palaces, her commerce extended, her people refined, her agriculture almost perfect,
and her stores the granary of the world. Had there been no corn in Egypt, Jacob and his sons had perished. And this occurred at an epoch in Egypt so modern, as in the reign of her fifth king of the sixteenth recorded dynasty, when already the founder of many nations was grey with age. Even the Hebrew must have regarded her with respect and veneration.
What Egypt was, in the time of Moses, the Scriptures tell uswhat in the time of the patriarchs, from the same source, we may infer. What she is now, the world will learn from the valuable book before us. But with all these sources of information, our knowledge of this singular country is most scanty, and the glimpses that we have been able to gain of her history, are most partial. What Manetho, Herodotus, Pliny, or Strabo, have said of her, must be received with distrust, and only believed implicitly when corroborated by other evidence. She contains her records in her own tombs; and these, we are most happy to say, will not long be, altogether, a sealed book to us.
The reader, not acquainted with the subject of hieroglyphics, should know that, some time since, Dr. Young discovered something approaching to an alphabet in these singular-looking marks. Mons. Champollion extended this discovery, and Mr. Wilkinson, the author of the present work, who has long made this matter his peculiar study, has, with the assistance of his knowledge of the Coptic, carried the knowledge so far as almost always to be able to gather a general meaning from an inscription in the ancient Egyptian language. Yet, with this increase of light, the author avows that no one is yet sufficiently advanced in the language, as to enable him literally to translate hieroglyphical writings of any length, or if the subject be moderately complicated. But this incipient science is fast advancing, and we may yet live to see the day when a connected history of Egypt shall be given to the world, derived from sources more authentic than those that have furnished the history of any other country.
Mr. Wilkinson commences his work by a rapid view of the comparative state of civilization of Egypt in the earliest times, with that of the only known existing monarchy. He plainly shows that the palm of refinement should be ceded to the country of the Nile. He next proceeds to notice the topography of Thebes, its derivation and unknown origin. He then, at once, bursts into the monuments it contains, and gives us the results of his observations. The book is voluminous, and replete with the most valuable information ; but from its very nature this information is tautologous. We have upon the walls, the pillars, the door-posts, and wherever an inscription could be placed in these ruined temples, such inscriptions as these :
“ The good God, Lord of the World, Son of the Sun, Lord of the Powerful, Remeses deceased, Esteemed by the great God, Lord of Abydos." Such an inscription is in the tomb of Osymandyas.
The reader of course knows that, besides the hieroglyphics, the walls are covered with paintings. The following is a description of one of these pictorial displays.
“ In the scene before us, an insolent soldier pulls the beard of his helpless captive, while others wantonly beat the suppliant, or satiate their fury with the sword. Beyond these is a corps of infantry in close array, flanked by a strong body of chariots; and a camp, indicated by a rampart of Egyptian shields, with a wicker gateway, guarded by four companies of sentries, who are on duty on the inner side, forms the most interesting object in this picture. Here the booty taken from the enemy is collected; oxen, chariots, plaustra, horses, asses, sacks of gold, represent the confusion incident after a battle ; and the richness of the spoil is expressed by the weight of a bag of money, under which an ass is about to fall. One chief* is receiving the salutation of a foot-soldier; another, seated amidst the spoil, strings his bow; and a suttler suspends a water-skin on a pole he has fixed in the ground. Below this a body of infantry marches bomewards; and beyond them the king, attended by his fan-bearers, holds forth his hand to receive the homage of the priests and principal persons, who approach bis throne to congratulate his return. His charioteer is also in attendance, and the bigh-spirited horses of his car are with difficulty restrained by three grooms who hold them. Two captives below this are doomed to be beaten, probably to death, by four Egyptian soldiers; while they in vain, with outstretched hands, implore the clemency of their heedless conqueror."
The musical statue of Memnon, upon which so much has been written and so much poetry exhausted, seems not to have any more claim to its title than to its miraculous powers. It certainly was the Memnon of the ancients, who were mere moderns to the Egyptians. Amunoph III. has, thanks to Mons. Champollion, again recovered rights that have lain dormant for ages—no less a period than 3265 years. Mr. Wilkinson, after describing the various tricks, by which the priest imposed upon the credulous, gives his own impression on the subject.
“ In the lap of the statue is a stone, wbich, on being struck, emits a metallic sound,t that might still be made use of to deceive a visitor, who was predisposed to believe its powers; and from its position, and the squared space cut in the block bebind, as if to admit a person who might thus lie concealed from the most scru. tinous observer in the plain below, it seems to bave been used after the restoration of the statue ; and another similar recess exists beneath the present site of this stone, which might have been intended for the same purpose when the statue was in its mutilated state.”
After the author has eloquently descanted upon the immense wealth, power, refinement, and magnificence of ancient Thebes, we learn that its decadence began as soon as the removal of the seat of government to Memphis took place, and that subsequently commerce began to pour its enriching streams through other vents over the civilized world. But its final destruction may be dated from its cap
“ The chiefs are here armed with bows; the privates, or foot-soldiers, with spears, swords, and clubs. But this distinction is not always to be trusted to.
“ Mr. Burton and I first remarked the metallic sound of this stone in 1824, and conjectured that it might have been used to deceive the Roman visitors ; but the nature of the sound, which did not agree with the accounts given by ancient authors, seemed to present an insuperable objection. In a subsequent visit to Thebes, in 1830, on again examining the statue and its inscriptions, I found that one Ballilla had compared it to the striking of brass: and feeling convinced that this authority was more decisive than the vague accounts of those writers who had never heard it, I determined on posting some peasants below, and ascending myself to the lap of the statue, with a view of bearing from them the impression made by the sound. Having struck the sonorous block with a small hammer, 1 inquired what they heard, and their answer, · Ente betídrob e'nahás,' " You are striking brass,' convinced me that the sound was the same that deceived the Romans, and led Strabo to observe that it appeared to him as the effect of a slight blow.
# “ More than one modern traveller has repaired to the statue before sunrise in hopes of hearing the sound.”
ture and dilapidation, after a three years' siege by Ptolemy Lathyreus. The few attempts made afterwards to repair this city were insignificant, or wholly futile, and its magnificence dwindled away into the appearance of scattered villages, or was supported only by the sublimity of its ruins.
We wish we had space to quote, and earnestly recommend the reader to notice, the description of the great temple and palace of Remeses III. It will give him the most vivid ideas of Egypt in her day of glory. He will find that the natives were barbarians, but barbarians of the most splendid order. They were the least advanced in moral qualities. There is the smiting with the sword and the carrying away captive, and the immolating of prisoners, and all glory and praise given to slaughter, so indicative of a rude or priest-ridden state of society.
It may not be here amiss to give some idea of an Egyptian procession.
“On the east, or rather north-east wall, Remeses is borne in his shrine, or canopy, seated on a throne ornamented by the figures of a lion, and a sphinx, which is preceded by a bawk. Bebind bim stand two figures of Truth and Justice, with outspread wings. Twelve Egyptian princes, sons of the king,t bear the shrine; officers wave flabella around the monarch ; and others, of the sacerdotal order, attend on either side, carrying his arms and insignia. Four others follow; tben six of the sons of the king, bebind whom are two scribes and eight attendants of the military class, bearing stools and the steps of the throne. In another line are members of the sacerdotal order, four other of the king's sons, fan-bearers, and military scribes, a guard of soldiers bringing up the rear of the procession. Before the shrine, in one line, march six officers, bearing sceptres and other insignia ; in another, a scribe reads aloud the contents of a scroll he holds unfolded in bis hand, preceded by two of the king's sons and two distinguished persons of the military and priestly orders. The rear of both these lines is closed by a pontiffi || who, turning round towards the shrine, burns incense before the monarch; and a band of music, composed of the trumpet, drum, double pipe, and other instruments, f with choristers, forms the van of the procession. The king, alighted from his throne, officiates as priest before the statue of Amun Khem, or Amunre Generator; and, still wearing bis helmet, he presents libations and incense before the altar, which is loaded with flowers and other suitable offerings. The statue of the god, attended by officers bearing flabella, ** is carried on a palanquin, covered with rich drapery, by twentytwo priests; behind it follow others, bringing the table and the altar of the deity. Before the statue is the sacred bull, followed by the king on foot, wearing the cap of the lower country.' Apart from the procession itself stands the queen, as a spectator of the ceremony; and before her, a scribe reads a scroll he has unfolded.' A priest turns round to offer incense to the white bull, and another, clapping his hands,
“ The emblem of the king as Phrah (Pharaoh.) + “ This refers to the double character of this goddess, my authority for whose name I have given in my Materia Hierog., p. 45.
: “ They are always distinguished by a badge appended from their head-dress, inclosing probably the lock of bair usually denoting son or child.
" Probably the Pterophori.
" I am at a loss for a name to give an idea of them. They are two short cylindrical clubs, probably of metal, (surmounted by the head of a man or other ornamental device,) which the performer strikes together. The Egyptians used them frequently in their dances. The choristers, if I may so call them, respond to the time by the clapping of their hands; they almost always attend in their musical fetes.
** “ The larger of these are in fact umbrellas, the smaller ones fans or fly.flaps. Flabella of a similar kind are carried before the Pope at the present day.”
Nov. 1835.-VOL. XIV.-NO. LV.
brings up the rear of a long procession of hieraphori, carrying standards, images, and other sacred emblems; and the foremost bear the statues of the king's ancestors.* This part of the picture refers to the coronation of the king, who, in the hieroglyphics, is said to have put on the crown of the upper and lower coun. tries;' which the birds, fiying to the four sides of the world, are to announce to the gods of the south, north, east, and west." +
Let those who are curious in these matters, Lion or Clarencieux king-of-arms, for example, compare this with the coronation ceremony of modern potentates, and let him who reasons, reflect upon the ingenuity, that seems as eternal as man himself, with which human nature labours at self-glorification. After the pictorial description of the coronation, follows a series of subjects purely historical, and, though deeply interesting, they are altogether too manifold even to be enumerated in this notice.
The tomb to which Belzoni has given his name, is certainly one of the most surprising structures in this land of wonders, that ever entered into the imagination of man. We entirely coincide with the intelligent author, that
“ The most interesting part is unquestionably the series of small chambers in the two first passages, since they throw considerable light on the style of the furniture and arms, and consequently on the manners and customs of the Egyptians.
“ In the first to the left (entering) is the kitchen, where the principal groups, though much defaced, may yet be recognised. Some are engaged in slaughtering oxen, and cutting up the joints, which are put into caldrons on a tripod placed over a wood fire, and in the lower line a man is employed in cutting a leather strap he holds with his feet, a practice common throughout the East. Another pounds soinething for the kitchen in a large mortar, another apparently minces the meat, and a pallet suspended by ropes, running in rings which are fastened to the roof, is raised from the ground, to guard against the intrusion of rats and other destructive depre. dators. On the opposite side, in the upper line, two men knead a substance with their feet, others cook meat, pastry, and broth, probably of lentils, which till some baskets beside them ; and of the frescos of the lower line sufficient remains to show that others are engaged in drawing off, by means of syphons, a liquid from rases before them. On the end wall is the process of making bread, but the dough is kneaded by the band, and not, as Herodotus and Strabo mention, by the feet; and small black seeds being sprinkled on the surface of the cakes (probably the babbehsóda || still used in Egypt) they are carried on a wooden pallet to the oren.
" In the opposite chamber are several boats, with square chequered sails, some having spacious cabins, and others only a seat near the mast. They are ricbly painted and loaded with ornaments; and those in the lower lines have the mast and yard lowered over the cabin.
“ The succeeding room, on the right hand, contains the various arms and warlike implements of the Egyptians; among which are knives, quilted helmets, spears, ataghans or daggers, quivers, bows, arrows, falchions, coats-of-mail, darts, clubs, and standards. On either side of the door is a black cow with the head-dress of Athor, one accompanied by hieroglyphics signifying the north, the other by those of the south, probably intimating that these are the arms of Upper and Lower Egypt. The blue colour of some of these weapons suffices to prove them to bave been of steel, and is one of several strong arguments in favour of the conclusion that the
“ M. Champollion observes that no doubt can exist as to the relative situation of Remeses II. and III., confounded by Greek historians, being here distinguished too clearly to allow of the same confusion taking place henceforth ;' that is, after June, 1830 ; though this bad been made known more than two years previously.
+ “ I am indebted for the construction of this part of it to M. Champollion's letter.
† “ Probably the paste for the kitchen. Herod. ii. 36. $ “ No doubt they used both, as we see in this tomb.
“ Or the nigella sativa. Probably written hábh sodh.