Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

The sacred rites of the Egyptians were twofold; the worship of the gods, and the honour

of departed worth. The religion of the Egyptians, although a polytheism, was not as prolific in deities as that of the Greeks, nor did the collective polytheism apply to the separate districts. Few cities, except the capitals, and for this we shall see a reason, had more than a single temple, or worshipped more than a single form of the divine presence. The priests of Egypt were a separate caste, to which the monarche appear to have belonged. Cherished both from the ties of consanguinity, and as a sure means of supporting the royal power, the priesthood were rich and powerful, and their temples splendid. The influence of the religion was maintained by the charm of mystery; numerous gates closed by veils succeeded each other, and conducted the worshipper from vestibule to vestibule, allowing him to perceive only from a distance, and in the midst of obscurity, the true temple or sanctuary whose access was interdicted except to the initiated. In Egypt, even more than in Greece, what might be considered mere accessories, formed the principal portion of the sacred buildings; the sanctuary was small, and galleries, courts, vestibules, and habitations for the priests, swelled the mass to its imposing magnitude. But in the mode of worship, the darkness of the penetralia, and the mystery of the rites, we are forcibly reminded of the cavern in which the first corrupters of the true worship may have sheltered their imposture from their deceived and credulous votaries.

The rites of sepulture in Egypt grew out of circumstances peculiar to that country. The scarcity of fuel precluded the use of the funeral pile; the rocks which bounded the valley denied a grave; and the sand of the deserts afforded no protection from outrage by wild beasts; while the valley, regularly inundated, forbade it to be used as a charnel-house, under penalty of pestilence to the living. Hence grew the use of antiseptic substances, in which the nation became so skilled, as to render the bodies of their dead inaccessible to the ordinary process of decay. The mummies thus preserved, we cannot but believe, remained the inmates of their usual habitations; for even at a late day-the probable continuance as a custom, of what was at first a necessity-these relics were exhibited at their feasts. But in process of time the accumulation of corses would have caused a change of residence, and the original habitation of the living became exclusively devoted to the dead.

Other important causes must have been still more influential in determining the abandonment of the cavern habitations of the earlier inhabitants. A growing and improving people could not long endure to be shut up in rocky grottos during the inundation, or to pursue their agricultural labours at other seasons, far from a fixed abode. A remedy for these inconveniences was found in the erection of mounds in the plain, and quays upon the banks

of the river, exceeding in elevation its utmost rise, and extended with the increase of population until they could contain important cities.

Such artificial mounds are still to be seen forming the basis of all the important ruins that exist, and may even be distinguished from the surrounding, and often surpassing alluvial deposite, where traces of buildings can hardly be detected.

When we consider the remarkable skill exhibited by the Egyptians in the art of stone-cutting, manifested too at the most remote period to which we can trace them historically, we cannot but ascribe this characteristic taste to something in their original habits. The first necessities of their ancestors must have given this impulse to the national genius, and determined the character which their architecture manifests, down to the latest period of their existence, not merely as an independent nation, but as a separate people. * In the same way that the Tyrians and the inhabitants of Palestine owed to their cedar forests, their taste and skill in the workmanship of wood,t the Egyptians derived from their original mode of life, from their abundant quarries, and from the facility they found in excavating the rocks into dwellings, the taste for the workmanship of stone which distinguishes them; and this taste explains the high degree of perfection they attained in this art.

We find, it may be said, in many other countries, and among other ancient nations, the traces of considerable excavations. I But, attentively examined, these do not furnish the same illustration of their primitive mode of life, and of the origin of their architecture, which is afforded by the hypogées of Egypt. The distinction between them is indeed obvious. In Egypt, the excavations skirt the whole valley of the Nile, and are to be found wherever there was a possibility for the original population to have existed. They are beyond all doubt monuments of the mode of life of Troglodytes. In other countries they are confined to the neighbourhood of the chief cities, and merely show that these cities were builtof materials which it was necessary to draw from beneath the surface of the earth. Such are the excavations that are found near Rome, Paris, Naples, Syracuse, and Agrigentum. And these have all in their turn become places of burial. But Upper Egypt offers throughout its whole extent, excavations beyond number, some of which still furnish its inhabitants with their permanent abode. Upon inspection too, these grottoes were obviously intended for different uses. Some were no doubt actually excavated for the object usually assigned to them, namely, to receive the embalmed bodies of the dead; others again, we may believe, were converted to that use, although originally in

* Quatremere de Quincy, p. 21.
| Ibid, p. 22. Ibid, p. 23.

tended for one very different; and others have served for the performance of religious rites: but there are some which were applied to neither of these purposes, and history, in strict accordance with observation, informs us that they were occupied as habitations.

of the private architecture of the Egyptians, but few remains have come down to us. It was composed therefore chiefly of perishable materials, probably of bricks dried in the sun, like those of their successors in the occupation of the country. But we have direct authority for believing they were skilful in the use of this material. Diodorus informs us that the houses of Thebes were four or five stories in height, and such a mode of structure must have been demanded by the necessity of enclosing the cities within the smallest possible space, in order to avoid trenching upon the lands, whence the means of subsistence was to be obtained. Of this material there are still remains in many public edifices, particularly in the Pyramids of Faioum and Saccara; these bricks appear to have been simply dried in the sun, and mixed with cut straw to form a bond. In the climate of Egypt, even such frail materials had sufficient solidity for private dwellings; and where the strength of an appropriate mass was added, they remain to the present day. But the simple walls of a private house would soon yield, both to natural causes and intentional violence.

Materials however of far greater solidity were used in many of their public edifices, and palaces and temples have descended to our own time in a state of wonderful preservation. By the examination of these, we can not only judge of the origin and principles of Egyptian architecture, but determine the very localities whence the materials were drawn, and the precise manner in which the mechanical construction was effected.

I. In inquiring into the origin and principles, certain prominent characters strike us at once that cannot be mistaken. The plans and great outlines of their buildings are remarkable for simplicity and sameness, however diversified they may be in decoration and ornament; openings are extremely rare, and the interior of their temples are as dark as the primitive caverns themselves; so that when within them it is difficult to distinguish between an excavation and a building; the pillars are of enormous diameter, and resemble in their proportions the masses left to support the roof of mines and quarries; nay, their hypostyle halls are almost similar in appearance to this kind of excavation; the portals, porticoes, and doors, are enclosed in masses, in such a way as to present the appearance of the entrance of a cave; and the roofs of vast stones lying horizontally, could have been imitated from no shelter erected in the open air: all indeed tends to confirm the opinion, deduced from a consideration of the

necessary mode of life of the first inhabitants of this country. We shall have occasion, in speaking of the ruins of Thebes, to describe more fully the marked characters of the buildings which still remain upon the ancient site of that metropolis.

II. The Egyptians employed in many of their edifices the stone which lay most convenient to them in the adjacent

mountains. The great Pyramids still remain to attest this fact. But we find that many of their structures have disappeared, and this we can at once explain from the use which innumerable generations have made of this calcareous material in the manufacture of lime. The vast masses of the stones of the pyramids, and their comparative distance from the bank of the river, have preserved them from the fate which has caused the disappearance of the temples of Memphis, and probably of innumerable other structures in Middle Egypt.

It is not until we ascend the river to a convenient distance from quarries of a material unfit to be applied to this ignoble use, that we meet with any remains of buildings approaching to a perfect state; nay, until we actually leave the calcareous formation, that we have reason to suspect the loss of many invaluable relics. At Thebes, for instance, it is conclusively shown that a building certainly second, if not first in its fame, the Memnonium, has wholly disappeared in consequence of this cause.

The buildings remaining in the Thebaid, beginning with the temple of Denderah, are constructed, for the greatest part, of sand stone. This material was drawn from quarries, in mountains of that species of rock, which form a part of both the Lybian and Arabic chains, from Syene until within a day's journey of Esné, the ancient Latopolis. The breadth of this formation is about a degree of latitude, and it forms a belt of a transition character, between the primitive rocks of the cataracts and the calcareous formation of the Thebaid. For this whole extent, the valley has but little breadth. In one place, the opposite mountains approach so near to each other, as barely to leave room for the bed of the river. The quarries are in this place vastly more extensive than in any other; and, as a general rule, the quantity of excavation seems to have depended on the facility of water carriage, the quarries being more numerous and more extensively worked in those parts of the mountains most convenient to the river. This position of the principal quarries near the brink of the river, facilitates the access to them, and enables them to be readily examined. In spite of this, the French expedition first made known the nature of the rock they are composed of. Former travellers, unwilling to believe that monuments so celebrated for their durability and the richness of their ornaments, were constructed of ordinary substances, have fancied that they saw in the strata which supplied the material, as well as in the edifices

themselves, granite, porphyry, basalt, and marble. So far from this, these quarries furnish nothing but a sand-stone, composed of quartzose grains, usually united by a calcareous cement; and of this stone are constructed, almost without exception, all the buildings yet existing between Denderah and Syene.

The colours of this stone are greyish, yellowish, or even almost white; some have a slight tinge of rose colour, and others various veins of different shades of yellow. But when forming a part of the mass of a building, they produce an almost uniform effect of colour, of a light grey. Some of the stones are besides marked with innumerable small spots of black, brown, or yellow, formed of argillaceous earth, coloured by oxide of iron. Others again enclose plates of black, yellow, or silvery mica.

The hardness of this sand-stone is rarely considerable, nay it often yields to the friction of the nail, but the hardness is uniform in each separate block. The strength of these stones to resist fracture is small, but it also is equal, and it was possible to obtain large masses without vein or fissure. Much pains must have been taken by the Egyptians in the choice of the proper layers, to obtain stones possessing the last quality, so indispensable in the construction of their roofs, where instead of vaults, single stones extended from wall to wall, or from pillar to pillar.

The excavations found in these mountains are capable of having furnished a quantity of material, vastly greater than is now to be found in existing edifices. Roziére, whose statement we have followed, endeavours to account for this, by quoting a passage of Pliny, by which it appears that the sand used by the stone-cutters throughout the Roman world, was brought from the Thebaid, and formed a considerable article of commerce from the port of Alexandria. This sand must have been the quartzose detritus of the sand-stone, and the temples and edifices of the Thebaid may have been dilapidated for this purpose, as those of middle Egypt were, to be burnt into lime.

The basso relievos, and the sculptures that cover every part of Egyptian architecture, have been a subject of surprise to all travellers, in consequence of the immensity of the labour bestowed upon them. The wonder has been enhanced by false opinions as to the nature of the substance employed. It has been represented as almost impracticable to the tools of the sculptor. This might at first sight appear probable, from the silicious nature of its grains. But such is the mode of its aggregation, and the uni. formity of its structure, that so far from resisting, it offers incredible facilities for the execution of hieroglyphic and symbolic sculptures. The cement yields readily to the tool, and the silicious parts separate without flying; Roziére satisfied himself by actual experiment, that the labour necessary to cover the edifices of the Thebaid with figures and characters, was not oneVOL. V.NO. 9.

2

« ElőzőTovább »