Imágenes de páginas

at the sacred island of Philæ, on which to this day here and there the solitary palm-tree looks down, it reached to the Mediterranean Sea, from 24° 3' N. to 31° 37' N. The river runs in a valley, bounded on one side by the eastern and on the other by the Libyan chain of mountains, and of which the average breadth is about seven miles, the arable land, however, not averaging more than five and a half. At the widest place it is ten and three-quarters, at the narrowest two. The entire surface of irrigated and fertile land in the Delta is 4500 square miles; the arable land of Egypt, 2255 square miles; and in the Fyoom, 340 square miles, an insignificant surface, yet it supported seven millions of people.

Here agriculture was so precise that it might almost be pronounced a mathematical art. The disturbances arising from atmospheric conditions were eliminated, and the variations, as connected with the supply of river-water, ascertained in advance. The priests proclaimed how the flood stood on the Nilometer, and the husbandman made corresponding preparations for a scanty or an abundant harvest.

In such a state of things, it was an obvious step to improve upon the natural conditions by artificial means; dykes, and canals, and flood-gates, with other hydraulic apparatus, would, even in the beginning of sooiety, unavoidably be suggested, that in one locality the water might be detained longer; in another, shut off when there was danger of excess; in another, more abundantly introduced. There followed, as a consequence of this condition of

things, the establishment of a strong governagriculture by ment, having a direct control over the agri

culture of the state by undertaking and sup

porting these artificial improvements, and sustaining itself by a tax cheerfully paid, and regulated in amount by the quantity of water supplied from the river to each estate. Such, indeed, was the fundamental political system of the country. The first king of the old empire undertook to turn the river into a new channel he made for it, a task which might seem to demand very able engineering, and actually accomplished it. It is more

Control of

the government.


than five thousand years since Menes lived. There must have preceded his times many centuries, during which knowledge and skill had been increasing, before such a work could even have been contemplated.

I shall not indulge in any imaginary description of the manner in which, under such favourable circumstances, the powers of the human mind were changes occa

Topographical developed and civilization arose. In inaccessible sioned by the security, the inhabitants of this valley were protected on the west by a burning sandy desert, on the east by the Red Sea. Nor shall I say anything more of those remote geological times when the newly-made river first flowed over a rocky and barren desert on its way to the Mediterranean Sea ; nor how, in the course of ages, it had by degrees laid down a fertile stratum, embanking itself in the rich soil it had borne from the tropical mountains. Yet it is none the less true that such was the slow construction of Egypt as a habitable country; such were the gradual steps by which it was fitted to become the seat of man. The pulse of its life-giving artery makes but one beat in a year; what, then, are a few hundreds of centuries in such a process ?

The Egyptians had, at an early period, observed that the rising of the Nile coincided with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the Dog-star, and hence tions lead to they very plausibly referred it to celestial the study of agencies. Men are

ever prone to mistake coincidences for causes; and thus it came to pass that the appearance of that star on the horizon at the rising of the sun was not only viewed as the signal, but as the cause of the inundations. Its coming to the desired position. might, therefore, be well expected, and it was soon observed that this took place with regularity at periods of about 360 days. This was the first determination of the length of the year. It is worthy of remark, as showing how astronomy and religious rites were in the beginning connected, that the priests of the mysterious temple of Philæ placed before the tomb of Osiris every morning 360 vases of milk, each one commemorating one day, thus showing that the origin of that rite was in those remote ages when it was thought that the year was

The inunda


360 days long. It was doubtless such circumstances that led the Egyptians to the cultivation of historical habits. In this they differed from the Hindus, who kept no records.

The Dog-star Sirius is the most splendid star in the The philo

heavens; to the Egyptian the inundation was sophy of star- the most important event upon earth. Misworship.

taking a coincidence for a cause, he was led to the belief that when that brilliant star emerged in the morning from the rays of the sun, and began to assert its own inherent power, the sympathetic river, moved thereby, commenced to rise. A false inference like this soon dilated into a general doctrine; for if one star could in this way manifest a direct control over the course of terrestrial affairs, why should not another-indeed, why should not all? Moreover, it could not have escaped notice that the daily tides of the Red Sea are connected with the movements and position of the sun and moon, following those luminaries in the time of their occurrence, and being determined by their respective position as to amount at spring and at neap. But the necessary result of such a view is no other than the admission of the astrological influence of the heavenly bodies; first, as respects inanimate nature, and then as respects the fortune and fate of men. It is not until the vast distance of the starry bodies is suspected that man begins to feel the necessity of a mediator between him and them, and star-worship passes to its second phase.

To what part of the world could the Egyptian travel without seeing in the skies the same constellations? Far from the banks of the Nile, in the western deserts, in Syria, in Arabia, the stars are the same. They are omnipresent; for we may lose sight of the things of the earth, but not of those of the heavens. The air of fatelike precision with which their appointed movements are accomplished, their solemn silence, their incomprehensible distances, might satisfy an observer that they are far removed from the influences of all human power, though, perhaps, they may be invoked by human prayer.

Thus star-worship found for itself a plausible justification. The Egyptian system, at its highest development,


combined the adoration of the heavenly bodies--the sun, the moon, Venus, &c., with the deified attributes

Principles of of God. The great and venerable divinities, Egyptian as Osiris, Pthah, Amun, were impersonations of theology. such attributes, just as we speak of the Creator, the Almighty. It was held that not only has God never appeared upon earth in the human form, but that such is altogether an impossibility, since he is the animating principle of the entire universe, visible nature being only a manifestation of him.

These impersonated attributes were arranged in various trinities, in each of which the third member is a procession from the other two, the doctrine and Trinities and even expressions in this respect being full of their persons. interest to one who studies the gradual development of comparative theology in Europe. Thus from Āmun by Maut proceeds Khonso, from Osiris by Isis proceeds Horus, from Neph by Saté proceeds Anouké. While, therefore, it was considered unlawful to represent God except by his attributes, these trinities and their persons offered abundant means of idolatrous worship for the vulgar. It was admitted that there had been terrestrial manifestations of these divine attributes for the salvation of men. Thus Osiris was incarnate in the flesh: he fell a sacrifice to the evil principle, and, after his death and resurrection, became the appointed judge of the dead. In his capacity of President of the West, or of the region of the setting stars, he dwells in the under world, which is traversed by the sun at night.

The Egyptian priests affirmed that nothing is ever annihilated; to die is therefore only to assume a new form. Herodotus says that they were the first to discover that the soul is immortal, their conception of it being that it is an emanation from or a particle of the universal soul, which in a less degree animates all animals and plants, and even inorganic things. Their dogma that there had been divine incarnations obliged Incarnations ; them to assert that there had been a fall of fall of man;

redemption. man, this seeming to be necessary to obtain a logical argument in justification of prodigies so great. For the relief of the guilty soul, they prescribed in this

The future

The trial of the dead.

life fasts and penances, and in the future a transmigration through animals for purification. At death, the merits of

the soul were ascertained by a formal trial judgment. before Osiris in the shadowy region of Amentithe under world—in presence of the four genii of that realm, and of forty-two assessors. To this judgment the shade was conducted by Horus, who carried him past Cerberus, a hippopotamus, the gaunt guardian of the gate. He stood by in silence while Anubis weighed his heart in the scales of justice. If his good works preponderated, he was dismissed to the fields of Aahlu—the Elysian Fields; if his evil, he was condemned to transmigration.

But that this doctrine of a judgment in another world might not decline into an idle legend, it was enforced by a preparatory trial in this—a trial of fearful and living import. From the sovereign to the meanest subject, every

man underwent a sepulchral inquisition. As

soon as any one died, his body was sent to the embalmers, who kept it forty days, and for thirty-two in addition the family mourned; the mummy, in its coffin, was placed erect in an inner chamber of the house. Notice was then sent to the forty-two assessors of the district; and on an appointed day, the corpse was carried to the sacred lake, of which every nome, and, indeed, every large town, had one toward the west. Arrived on its shore, the trial commenced ; any person might bring charges against the deceased, or speak in his behalf; but woe to the false accuser. The assessors then passed sentence according to the evidence before them: if they found an evil life, sepulture was denied, and, in the midst of social disgrace, the friends bore back the mummy to their home, to be redeemed by their own good works in future years; or, if too poor to give it a place of refuge, it was buried on the Origin of the margin of the lake, the culprit ghost waiting Greek Hades. and wandering for a hundred years. On these Stygian shores the bones of some are still dug up in our day; they have remained unsepulchred for more than thirty times their predestined century. Even to wicked kings a burial had thus been denied. But, if the verdict of the assessors was favourable, a coin was paid to the boatman Charon for ferriage; a cake was provided for the

« AnteriorContinuar »