Page images
PDF
EPUB

along the heroes and gods, the priests and kings, the great and good and powerful of Egyptian mythology and story. There are the colors that have stood the storms of eighteen centuries, and along the better protected roof, the winged globes are repeated, gliding into one another, surrounded by stars, where the blue is so fresh that I half imagined myself in the Senate chamber, in the capitol of my own land. Above the capitals, Isis, in the character of Diana, receives offerings of the priests. Further on, in the next entrance, she surmounts the beautiful capitals. This is more indistinct than the pronaos, and is probably the ancient Egyptian temple erected to Athor; the pronaos having been erected afterwards and consecrated to the Roman Venus, in A. D. 65, by Tiberius Caesar. I will not describe the several rooms through which I passed, one opening upon another in more or less distinctness, the sanctuary and side chambers, nor that passage seemingly into the ground, where after crawling along with a light, and driving away the bats, I saw the most distinct sculptures of the whole temple, the sweet face of Isis, and the wonderful artistical beauty in the countenances of the priestesses, following me in my dreams days after; nor the staircases, the procession of priests, the feasts, the beautiful forms of Egypt reclining on their delightful couches, the heroes in their sacred boats, the zodiacs above, and the place of the statue below. All these are for the guide books.

But I pass to consider the philosophical idea of the whole, the purpose for which the temple was erected. Athor has been denned by St. John as that principle in Nature by which things naturally assimilated to each other are brought together for the production of new and beautiful forms.

This principle, the generative power of Nature, was a beautiful and divine goddess with the ancient Egyptians. As the fount of all creation and beauty, Athor was worshipped. That power which produced and continues the human race, the mystery of conception and birth growing out of beauty and love in our race, and with which the animals are like us endowed; which in the vegetable creation, as the seed decays, and the pollen and anther are brought together, produce the new germ: this creative power of Nature was Athor. It was a sweet woman; a beautiful form—a woman and mother! To this power was the temple erected—beauty, love, creation!

Her face—the sweet form of a woman, in which the Egyptians embodied that idea, surmounts the capital. The Roman, when he came, welcomed the idea, and associated it with his goddess, who was worshipped as the same power; he consecrated it to his Venus; though a less philosophical idea, and more material attributes, belonged to his divinity. He placed the Roman coiffure on the Egyptian head-dress, which deforms it still. From her (Athor's) bosom too issues the world; and before your eyes, in distinct sculptures, glide the universe, the heroes, the processions of sacred boats, the priests and gods. On they move, and your eye follows them—the gods of the olden time. Osiris, covered with his plumed helmet; Isis, smiling with her sweet face, and budding form; Horus, the son of the beautiful heroic wedlock. Further on, the spirit of the creative power is exhibited; love and pleasure reign, musical processions, festivals, offerings and sacrifices to the gods; priests carrying fruits and flowers; Isis, Osiris, Horus, receiving gifts; monarchs returning from victories with the rich spoils of time, speaking their names in cartouches in the living stone; and with whom the Ptolomies, the Cleopatras, the Caesars, are proud to mingle their own.

Now comes birth. Isis, or Nature, in her many attributes and presiding powers, here appears in the character of nurse, or the Lucinian Diana. Here, with the infant in her arms, she receives offerings from the priests: this is repeated above the pronaos, above the facade, full in all the capitals. Go where you will, it is some modification of the same idea.

In reviewing the effect of the temple, I was struck with one conviction—the superiority of the ideas of divinity among the Egyptians to all the other so-called heathen nations. Whether, degenerating directly from the patriarchs and the true God, they were less sunken in their ideas than the Greeks and Romans, certain it is that their worship was higher. It is not the worship of mere sensual pleasure—it is the sacred idea of love, generation, and birth combined. The rites were not such as required the prostitution of virgins as at Ephesus, in Greece, at the temples of Venus; it is the sacred institution of wedlock—not Venus presiding over awful profane pollutions. No! it is Isis in the character of chaste Diana. The sweet face of Athor smiles upon you, not with wanton temptation, but with half-maternal benignity. The artistical power in the female statues is not displaying the charms of the courtezan. Nowhere is the smile of Isis that of the harlot: it is all that makes marriage sacred. They might have written above,

'To Beauty, Love And Wedlock, Creation, And Birth.

I read several hieroglyphics, among which I noticed that the names of Cleopatra, and her son Caesarion, were the latest. I noticed also the names of Antoninus Pius, Trajan, and several other Roman Emperors. In searching for the name of AOTKRTR, autocrator, Emperor, indicating the name of Claudius, or Nero, (who are designated on all the Egyptian medals thus,) and which Le Lorrain had left when he detached the zodiac, and carried it to Paris, I could see that some one (Frenchman in all probability) had endeavored to deface the remaining part. I had a clear idea of the zodiac in Paris, which I had often been to the Bibliotheque to examine, and satisfied myself that the deception was exactly what Champollion describes in "Fourier and Napoleon." But who can deface the marks of Roman sway in the entire edifice? the ceiling of the planisphere, and names, surnames, cartouches, titles, symbols of Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and Domitian.*

The moon was far up when I came out of the temple of Uendera. The boatman advised me to go to the Sheikh-eBelled at Dendera, as the people in the villages were reckless, and the modern town had a very bad reputation. We walked up the river bank two miles, until, reaching a wide plain, we came among numerous flocks of Bedouins, and one noblelooking old man of one party attracted me to the fire they were sitting around. A thought struck me to pass the night there, and going among them, I claimed their hospitality. As my approach aroused them, one seized a pickaxe sort of weapon; but my manner instantly assured him that I was a harmless intruder. Summoning my best Arabic, I went up and saluted the old man and his four or five sons, whose wives were sitting in the tents around, and whose sons' sons (for they all had a family likeness) were sitting with him around the fire. I represented myself a hadgi or wandering pilgrim, exploring the birbehs or temples, and that I was poor, and begged to stay there for the night. The green grass and a mat, before which a bulwark of woven straw was placed, seemed the only chance for a bed, as I -knew I ought not to think of looking near the women and their tent, and I was determined to trust to their disposal of me. He seemed to thank Allah for the opportunity of performing one of the Mohammedan rites of hospitality, and I could now see that the women in the tent were busy making bread, and the elder sons, the husbands, milking the cows, preparing coffee, &c. I had meanwhile been given the best place on the mat, and the old patriarch was doing his best to look what he could not say. Luckily, I had Marcel's vulgar Arabic dictionary in my pocket, and we had an interesting conversation. I could not but think, as I saw his venerable hairs, his noble brow, and his numerous posterity, and their camels, cows, sheep, goats, calves, &c., two hundred in number, I should say,— of Abraham sitting at the tent at the cool of day. I had seen one of them praying, and his silent, real devotion, unlike the affected manner of the displaying Moslems I had usually seen, would have done credit to the most devout Christian. I knew they had Abraham and the prophets, and I ventured to remark to him that "Abraham once entertained strangers, and had entertained angels unawares; and, though he might be pretty free of the honor of having an angel in his presence now, that I still trusted God would reward his hospitality as he did the patriarch." He seemed to be highly pleased at the flattering comparison I had made of him to the "father of the faithful," laughed at my conceit about the angel, and swallowed some other stories of his resemblance to the old Chaldean Bedouin.

* See Appendix, Note A.

I should have thought of my own romantic position in the

« PreviousContinue »