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of that noble- solitude, that sublimity of desolation, which makes Karnac such a stupendous poem: and imprints it in characters of sublimity ever on your soul.
Through Arab huts and barking dogs, and not less troublesome vendors of antiques, we hurry to the still noble columns of the great temple of Luxor. How magnificent the capitals! How perfect, still, the chambers! Here in one is the birth of Osiren, who founded it; there the conquests of a Pharaoh. Part of the temple one side of an Arab town; the other, fragmentary chambers, distant from each other. Fancy would group them together, and give some idea of the original vastness of the edifice. The columns still show its grandeur,—the space it occupies, its vastness. The palace was built by Osiren, the father of Sesostris.
Karnac, Temple of Amnion.
"till within soar
Of towering eagles, to all the birds he seems
But we had seen from the temple of Luxor, the distant temples and obelisks of the city of Karnac, standing a mile from us in all the distinctness of a noble modern city; and yet all we saw was of Ancient Egypt, and a city three thousand years old. Among the groves of date-trees, and in that wide, rich plain, terminated by the beautiful Arabian mountains, it has slept for thirty centuries. What a contemplation! p
Those forests of doom palms have seen how many countless generations of Moslems beneath their shade, and yet how many generations of groves have grown and decayed in sight of the city of the great temple!
We are riding from Luxor to the city of Karnac. We are on the road where on each side stood the sphinxes, gods, the whole way. There, are a few here yet, some expressive in their lion body; for their strength is the only attribute they possess. Their heads, their intelligence, their divinity is gone. The subdued body speaks only of Egypt's conquered gods.
I stood before one of the porticoes of Karnac. The gods are there: Osiris in dignity, Isis in rich, gorgeous beauty, the conquering king, the gifts, the rites, the offerings, the acceptance by the gods, Egypt's oft-told tale.
In the Meneptheum, the figures are still distinct and deep. The conquests of Meneptha the First, are there. Time's impress is clear.
In the grand court of the temple of Karnac, I realized one of the sublimest visions of my youthful fancy. A court of ruins, the single fallen column, the unbroken silence, the sculptured wall, the broken colossal statues, the ruins around, above, beneath. I stood indeed among the ruins of empires of the world's youth. In the distant columns of the awful temple, an owl was hooting. I sat upon a pillar and gazed. It was Byron's dream. My Arab with his spear and flowing beard completed the picture.
Among the forests of lofty, beautiful columns in the great hall of the temple of Karnac, I passed hours. It is beyond description. The names of the heroes and kings are numberless, the scenes on the walls, the colossal sculptures, the pastoral scenes, the battles, the perspectives, the halls of columns, some fallen on each other,—how vain to enumerate—to describe! I have seen it by sunrise. I have been there at mid-day, at sunset, and by the light of the pale moon. I have scared the jackal from the ruins, and heard the hyena howl, and among the things of beauty that will ever be in my remembrance as a joy for ever, is Karnac, by moonlight.
Karnac! The mind recoils from a description, and prefers to say nothing! The day spent there on our way up was so glorious, my solitary sojourn at sunset and in the evening such; the first view from far-off Luxor (two miles) of a city of ruins, a forest of obelisks and temples and antique columns— the whole approach—so grand, the effect so overpowering, and the solitude so magnificent, the Hall of Columns so stupendous, that I dare not venture on detailed description.
It is a conception answering the highest idea of art; it is perfect in its kind; it is the grandeur of desolation—so complete, like that "circle" of beauty in the soul pictures of Guido Rene, in the Holy Family of Correggio, in the cartoons of the masters. A perfect completeness, it lies, unexcelled in majesty, in extent, in those fertile plains of the Thebaid. A greater traveller than I am, says, "There is nothing like it in the world."
I threw away my Champollion; I forgot its details, despised its history, knew no story of Jupiter Ammon; but for hours, leaning on the stones before that forest of three hundred and sixty columns, contemplated the grandeur of the scene. I had seen nought of Thebes as yet, but stayed, and stayed, and revisited it four times, and never fully drank in the glorious poetry, never filled my soul with the true "genius of the place." It is awful! overwhelming! overpowering!
But the time came when I rehearsed all its stories of Osirtasen and the Pharaohs of the patriarchs—the Rameses, the Pharaohs of the Mosaic period—of Sesostris, of Shishak, of the Ptolemies, and Alexander. And when No-Ammon, with all its poetry of ruin, and all its glory of history, seemed grander and nobler than ever; the temple of Ammon and Jupiter almost as grand as when all this Diospolis was in her highest splendor, and those broken sphinxes around were perfect; those painted halls fresh from the pencil, and the idols crowned with garlands, and the temples filled with vessels of gold and silver, and crowds stood in those stately groves to wait for the virgin clothed in white to be led forth a victim to Father Nile:— When No-Ammon told me, in her ruin, in her history, in the painted hieroglyphics on her walls, the confirmation of the historians and prophets of a people, whom God chose to be a scourge for the cruelties and the crimes which, among so much splendor, Thebans allowed, to pollute themselves; I felt the true beauty of the work over whose ruin, with folded arms and bended stature, I stood mournfully musing.
To view Karnac historically, you must begin with the ancient granite structure between the Propylon on the east and the Hypostyle hall of grand columns. This, built by Osirtasen I., 1920 B. c.; or, according to Bunsen, 1000 before Moses, or 2573 B. c.; was added to by Thothmes, 1710* B. c., whose names may be found upon the walls. The space between had four obelisks, of which one is erect, and the rest fallen and in fragments. Passing the Propylon and remains of two statues of Rameses II., we pass an obelisk thirty feet high, which (Champollion says) was erected by a lady; when appears the wall of old stones, the granite gateway, in which you still see the place for the kings. We mounted this, and looked down into a deep place; the granite is finely polished and set. The granite Sanctuary, after the grand Hall of Columns, is one of the finest parts of Karnac in its preservation. The ceiling is as blue, and its golden stars as distinct, as if painted yesterday. The cartouches are beautifully colored, and the most conspicuous have the beetle-marked name of Thothmes III. Names of travellers from all parts of the world cover this beautiful hall. It is built of Syene granite, highly polished: writers have dwelt upon the infamous and voluptuous uses of this sanctuary; the obscene pictures and rites I leave to them. Suffice it to say, that Lepsius has carried away some of the most conspicuous of them to decorate the museum of his royal master in Berlin, where they will doubtless form a cabinet, like Jhe secret museum in the Borbonico from Pompeii at Naples, to amuse the royal, refined purity of the Prussian Prince, as does the other that of King Bomba Lazzaroni. The Sanctuary or Treasure-house took its name from the discoveries and excavations of Lord Belmore. Some of the oldest granite blocks are after this; and you descend deep into a grass-grown and low, seeming sanctuary, where I saw a huge serpent, and avoided the rank grass that grows there. A long forest of ruins—temples, shafts of columns, capitals, end in a huge gateway of gray granite stretching to the north, where you find the finest sculptures of the Greek era, and whose lofty proportions, and elegant devices and hieroglyphics, tell the once majestic extent of the famed temple of Jupiter Ammon. Pedestals of two obelisks we pass, and another miniature hall of the Grand Hall, but which is said to have been its model, called the Chamber of the Kings,
* We use the chronology of the Septuagint, remarking that Bunsen and his school differ many hundred years.