« PreviousContinue »
to Osiris, where the god had a bull's head, and was called Osiris-Apis, or Serapis; while on the hill of Sakkara, in the same neighbourhood, he had some of the attributes of Pthah, and was called Pthah-Sokar Osiris. The burial-places were in the west, on the edge of the desert, and chiefly in a plain between the hills, which is named the plain of mummies. Here lie the embalmed remains of the citizens of Memphis, among countless mummies of cats and ibises; but the kings and priestly nobles were buried on the hills, in pyramids built of brick or stone. The low Libyan hills, that separate the grass land from the glaring western sands, are fringed along their tops, as far as the eye can reach, with pyramids of all sizes, the burial-places of men who once owned the plain. The fields and gardens of the living, like life itself, are bounded by the tombs, and beyond lies the silent pathless desert.
(27) Herodotus visited the quarries on the east of the Nile, from which much of the stone was dug for the lib. ii. 124. pyramids, and then the three large pyramids themselves on the west of the Nile, ten miles from Memphis; and his guide, translating the hieroglyphics on the largest pyramid, told him that it cost in building sixteen hundred talents of silver, or two hundred and thirty thousand pounds sterling. The brick pyramid of King Lib. ii. 136. Asychis, which Herodotus says was even larger than either of the three which are still the wonder of the world, is not now standing. It was probably built with unburnt bricks, and may have in part crumbled to dust in the course of so many centuries. Nor can we trace with certainty the ruins of the vast sepulchre and palace which Herodotus calls the Labyrinth, and which he thought more wonderful than the pyramids themselves. It was Lib. ii. 148. situated a little above the Lake of Moris, and near the city of Crocodilopolis. It had twelve large courts surrounded by fifteen hundred rooms above-ground and fifteen hundred more under-ground, in which last were buried the bodies of the priests and of the sacred crocodiles. Herodotus wandered in admiration through winding ways and courts, from halls into passages, from passages into chambers, from those into closets, and from those again into other vaulted rooms, all of massive stone and covered with
sculpture; but he was not allowed to enter the chambers under ground. He afterwards made a hasty tour up the river to Thebes and Elephantine, but he tells us nothing of the wonders of Upper Egypt. The priests in the Delta had talked with him in the Greek language, but as he did not know a word of Egyptian he could gain less knowledge in the upper country; and perhaps the Theban buildings, which we now look upon with such interest, did not surpass those which in his days were standing in the Delta, and which he had already studied more at his leisure. He was told that from Elephantine to the river's mouth was eight thousand stadia. But the roads, where there were any, had never been measured; and as the tired traveller always thinks the way long, he did not find out the mistake; though when Eratosthenes afterwards measured the distance it was found to be only five thousand.
Lib. ii. 65.
(28) In their manners and customs Herodotus found the Egyptians unlike everything he had been used to in Greece. They wrote from right to left. They ate their meals in the streets. The women went to market on business, while the men sat at home at the loom. Daughters were forced to maintain their parents; sons were released from that duty. Men wore two garments, while women wore only one. The priests were shaven, while other men wore beards. Everything was remarkable and new to him, but perhaps nothing more remarkable than their respect for the sacred animals. Whoever killed one of these intentionally was put to death; and indeed whoever killed a hawk or an ibis even by accident was condemned to die. Whenever a house was on fire the chief care of the neighbours was to save the cats; the men and women might be burnt in the ruins, but the cats were to be saved at all risk. When a cat died a natural death every inmate of the house shaved his eyebrows, and when a dog died they shaved all over. The dead cats were carried to the sacred tombs at Bubastis, where they were embalmed and then buried. In the same way the hawks were made into mummies and sent to be buried at Butos, the serpents at Thebes, the crocodiles in the Labyrinth near Crocodilopolis, the ibis, that useful enemy of vermin, at Hermopolis, bulls and cows at Atarbechis, and the other animals in the other
Herodotus, lib. ii. 9.
Lib. ii. 35,
cities. The priests noted down with great care all prodigies and events that followed, as part of the art of prophecy, judging that at a future time the same events would most likely follow the same prodigies. They studied astrology, undertaking to foretell the events of a man's life from knowing the hour of his birth; and they had numerous oracles to which they applied for information about the future, more particularly the oracle of Nephthys at Butos. They named the days after the sun, moon, and five planets, the seven gods who were thought to watch over them, and thereby divided time into weeks; and the names now in use in nearly every Christian nation are only translations of those used by the Egyptian priests.
(29) Among the Greeks, as afterwards among the Romans, religion was divided into three branches. The poet wrote on the persons and deeds of the gods; the philosopher taught the path of duty and offered consolation to the troubled breast; while the priest performed the sacrifices and ceremonies fixed by law. But among the Egyptians, as with ourselves, the priest took the whole upon himself; and thus the moral teacher, strengthening his persuasion by threats of punishment in the next world, ruled the mind of his hearers with a power unknown in Greece or Rome. But the widest difference between Greek and Egyptian was in their inward religious feelings. The sacrifice at a Grecian festival was a thank-offering by grateful hearts for blessings received from heaven; whereas the sacrifice in the Egyptian temple, in behalf of the crowds who were scourging themselves after a long fast, was meant as a sin-offering to appease the anger of gods before whom they trembled. The Egyptian temples and statues were as severe and their form as unchanging as the everlasting desert behind them, or the scorching sun overhead, and as little likely to raise in the mind any thoughts but those of awe and wonder as the sluggish river flowing below. The graceful works of art, the playful dance and song, which enlivened the Greek religion, were as foreign from the banks of the Nile as the cool valleys and the groves watered by gushing brooks..
(30) The Egyptian priests were the first to teach that a man does not wholly die when life leaves the body. They said that after death the soul dwelt in the bodies of other
Herodotus, lib. ii. 82.
lib. ii. 123.
animals, and was there imprisoned for its sins during a number of other short lives, and that after thus passing, for three thousand years, through the bodies Herodotus, of birds, beasts, and fishes, it was again allowed to take upon itself a human covering. Hence they carefully saved the dead body from decay, by embalming it as a mummy, that it might be ready for the soul to re-enter when the years of punishment were at an end. Unfortunately for the progress of knowledge and for the improvement of society, the priestly teachers of the nation taught for the most part only according to fixed rule and the unchanging traditions of their colleges. We hear of no opposing schools of philosophy, as in Greece, who brought out truth by their disputes; no dissenters from the established opinions, who by their rivalry kept one another's minds from stagnating. All teaching was according to law, and perhaps on the supposition that a perfect knowledge of truth had been already attained. Under these circumstances the nation remained stationary, while their neighbours, who had started later in the race of civilization, were rapidly overtaking them, and soon to pass them. Though professing a knowledge of astronomy, they still declared that the natural year was of the same length as their civil year, and of 365 days only. Though the new year's day, the first day of the month of Thoth, had slowly moved from midsummer to midwinter, they still said that their civil year needed no intercalary days.
(31) In everything relating to religion the Egyptians were grave, serious, and in earnest. Such was the solemnity of the temples and ceremonies, that though Herodotus disbelieved much that was told him of the gods, he often held it too sacred to be talked about. No Greek or Roman ever lost his life as a religious martyr from the earnestness of his belief in Jupiter and Juno; but on the several conquests of Egypt many of the believers in. Isis and Osiris have laid down their lives in the pious defence of the bull Apis, the ibis, the cats, and the other sacred animals. The Egyptians never admitted into their religious scheme the gods of their neighbours. And, unfortunately, this religious earnestness was accompanied with the same fault that it carries with Lib. ii. 18. it in modern times, namely, religious intolerance, which the Greeks were more free from. The people of
Marea and Apis, on the banks of the Lake Mareotis, who were Libyans, and did not hold the religious opinions of the Egyptians, saw nothing wicked in eating cow-beef, and did not like to be forbidden to kill a cow in their own cities. They pleaded that they were not Egyptians. But they could obtain Theocrit. no religious toleration from their rulers, because Herodotus, in drinking out of their lake they drank the sacred lib. ii. 78. waters of the Nile. The Libyans of Parætonium and that neighbourhood, beyond the limits of the Nile's bounty, were not forbidden to eat cow-beef. This religious seriousness followed the Egyptians on all occasions, so much that at their feasts a small model of a mummy was presented to the guests, to remind them of the uncertainty of life. Their one poem, the national song, named the Maneros, or Song of Love, was a melancholy lamentation on the Idyll. xv. death of Osiris, of which Theocritus has left us a 100. free translation, and Bion a beautiful poetical imitation. The chorus of the national song in Athens was the soulstirring words,
I will carry my sword concealed in a myrtle branch,
When they slew the tyrant,
But the Egyptians were more ready to sympathise with grief than with joy, and when the melancholy Maneros Idyll. i. was each year sung through their streets, the doleful chorus in which the people joined was,
Ah, hapless Isis, Osiris is no more.
The priests in the procession join in the lamentation, and console the goddess in the same strain; and the poem and the festival end every year with the advice, which to foreign ears, untuned to this mournful devotion, seems almost laughable,
Cease, Isis, cease to-day, thy tears forbear,
(32) Herodotus left the country by sea, as he came and thence sailed to Tyre; and very soon afterwards lib. ii. 44, Egypt was again closed against all Greek travellers. B.C. 454. On the deaths of Inarus and Amyrtæus, Egypt lost its liberties, and again found itself within the grasp of