domingo, 17 de enero de 2016




IF as a rule the busy American, no less than the busy Englishman, knows less about Egypt both ancient and modern than about many less interesting lands, we may assume that his apparent indifference is mainly due to the remoteness of the place and the subject. From the port of New York to the harbor of Alexandria, as the crow flies, may be roughly estimated at between five and six thousand miles; while for those who are not crows the transit, even at high pressure, would scarcely be accomplished under three weeks.
But if modern Egypt is so far away that it takes three weeks to get there, ancient Egypt is infinitely more distant. The traveller who would visit the court of Memphis in the days of the earliest Egyptian monarchy must undertake a journey of some six or seven thousand years. He must not only go up the Nile; he must ascend the great River of Time and trace the stream of History to its source.
Do we realize how far distant is his goal, or how many familiar landmarks he must leave behind ? We are accustomed to think of the days of Plato and Pericles, of Horace and the Cæsars, as "ancient times." But Egypt was old and outworn when Athens and Rome were founded; the great [Page 38]  Assyrian Empire was a creation of yesterday as compared with that of the Pharaohs; the middle point of Egyptian history was long past when Moses received his education at the court of Rameses II.; and the Pyramids were already hoary with antiquity when Abraham journeyed into the land of Egypt.
Where, then, it may be asked, are we to place the starting-point of Egyptian history ? That is a very difficult question to answer. The dawn is long past when we catch our first glimpse of that far-distant epoch when Mena, Prince of Thinis, became chief of the chieftains of the primitive clans, and founded the first monarchy. That earliest landmark–dimly seen down the vista of ages–carries us back to about five thousand years before the Christian era; and even Mena, who is undoubtedly an historical personage, has a background of tradition behind him. That background of tradition represents prehistoric Egypt; and of prehistoric Egypt we at all events know that it was subdivided into a number of principalities which subsequently became the "Nomes," or Provinces, of United Egypt.
The rulers of these earliest petty states were remembered by the Egyptians of after ages as the Horshesu, or "Followers of Horus." They occupied, in fact, much the same place in Egyptian history and tradition which the demi-gods occupied in the history and tradition of Hellas; but with this great difference–the demi-gods were purely mythical heroes, whereas the Horshesu were human rulers, living in a land where political boundaries were already sharply defined. It is possible–we may even go so far as to say it is probable–that a gigantic work of art belonging to that inconceivably remote age survives to this day in the great Sphinx of Ghizeh. (10) Hence it may be seen that even in prehistoric Egypt we are as far as ever from the beginnings of civilization; and beyond this, all is impenetrable night.
The existence of Egypt as a nation begins with Mena, the first king of the First Dynasty, and ends with Cleopatra. These two names are the preface and finis of Egyptian history. [Page 39]  Between them lies a space of 4790 years, comprising thirty-three royal dynasties and many hundreds of kings. Those kings were not all native to the soil. Egypt, during the long centuries of her slow decadence, was often ruled by princes of alien blood. But it was not till Cleopatra's galley turned and fled at the fatal sea-fight in which Mark Antony was defeated that the empire of the Pharaohs ceased to be a nation, and became a Roman province. So fell the most ancient of monarchies, the parent of all our arts and all our sciences, bequeathing to later ages a history so long that, compared with the history of other nations, it is almost like a geological period.
It was during these 4790 years of national existence that all those temples were erected, all those pyramids, obelisks, and colossal statues, of which the shattered remains are to this day the marvel and admiration of travellers.
Now, Egypt is unapproachably rich in building material. From Cairo to the first cataract–a stretch of five hundred and eighty-two miles–the Nile flows between a double range of cliffs which sometimes dip sheer down to the water's edge, and sometimes recede to a considerable distance from the bed of the river. For the first five hundred and fifteen miles–that is, from Cairo to Edfû–these cliffs are of fine white limestone; then, for a distance of sixty-five miles, the limestone is superseded by a rich yellow sandstone; and this again is succeeded, some sixty-seven miles higher up, by the red granite and black basalt of Assûan.
With such resources within easy reach, and with the great river for a means of transport, it is no wonder that the Egyptians became a nation of builders. In no country ancient or modern were there so many cities, so many temples, so many tombs. The cities have become rubbish-mounds. The tombs have been plundered for ages, and are being plundered every day. The temples have been ravaged by the Persian, the Assyrian, and the Mohammedan invader, defaced by the Christian iconoclast, and smashed up for the limekiln by the modern Arab. Hundreds, probably thou- [Page 40]  sands, have been utterly destroyed; and yet we stand amazed before the splendor and number of the wrecks which remain.
In Upper Egypt, those wrecks are noble ruins open to the cloudless sky, and touched with the gold of dawn and the crimson of sunset; but in Lower Egypt, and especially in the Delta where there is no desert, but only one vast plain of rich alluvial soil, those ruins are buried under the rubbish of ages, thus forming those gigantic mounds which are so striking a feature of the scenery between Alexandria and Cairo. Nothing in Egypt so excites the curiosity of the newly landed traveller as these gigantic graves, some of which are identified with cities famous in the history of the ancient world, while others are problems only to be solved at the edge of the spade. He sees mounds everywhere; not only in the Delta, but in Middle Egypt, in Upper Egypt, and even in Nubia. And wherever he sees a mound, there, but too surely, he sees the native husbandmen digging it away piecemeal for brick-dust manure.
It was in order to rescue at least a part of the historical treasures entombed in these neglected mounds, and especially in the mounds of the Delta and the district of the old Land of Goshen, that the society known as the Egypt Exploration Fund was founded in 1883, under the presidency of the late Sir Erasmus Wilson. An influential committee was formed in London, a subscription list was opened in England and America, and the work of scientific exploration was immediately begun.
From that time to this, the Egypt Exploration Fund has sent out explorers every season, having sometimes two, and even three, simultaneously at work in different parts of the Delta. Each year has been fruitful in discoveries. Ancient geographical boundaries have been traced; the sites of famous cities have been identified; sculptures, inscriptions, arms, papyri, jewellery, painted pottery, beautiful objects in glass, porcelain, bronze, gold, silver, and even textile fabrics, have been found; a flood of unexpected light has been cast upon the Biblical history of the Hebrews; the early stages [Page 41]  of the route of the Exodus have been defined; an important chapter in the history of Greek art and Greek epigraphy has been recovered from oblivion; and an archæological survey of the Delta has been made, nearly all the larger mounds having been measured and mapped. This survey is now about to be carried out on a much extended scale, covering the whole of Egypt, and including copies of inscriptions, photographs of monuments, triangulations, careful descriptions of the condition of the ruins, etc., etc. For this important work two specially trained archæologists will be despatched every season by the Fund.
It was, as I have said, in 1883 that the Egypt Exploration Fund began its labors in the Delta, the first explorer sent out by the society being the eminent Egyptologist, M. Naville, of Geneva. M. Naville selected as the scene of his first excavation a celebrated mound in the Wady Tûmilât, between Zagazig and Ismaïlia; a mound which Lepsius had conjecturally identified with "Raamses," one of the twin "treasure-cities" built by the forced labor of the Hebrew colonists in the time of the Great Oppression. Of these it is said in the first chapter of Exodus that "they built for Pharaoh treasure-cities, Pithom and Raamses"; by "treasure-cities" meaning fortified magazines, such as the Egyptians were wont to erect for the safe custody of grain and military stores.

A, A: Excavated store-chambers.

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