« AnteriorContinuar »
Æsculapius at Memphis, Athotes at This, and Curudes at Tanis. This was the rise of the four great dynasties of Egypt, which were collateral or cotemporary for sixteen hundred years, to the time of the famous Sesostris, King of Thebes and conqueror of Asia.” In spite of the supremacy which Sesostris naturally acquired over the other kings; the attempt of his descendant, Rameses, to incorporate all Egypt into one monarchy, and of the invasions of the shepherd kings, these states remained distinct and independent for three hundred years longer, when, about fifty years before the Trojan war, Sethos was born heir to the crown of Memphis, in very good time to be a hero at least, if not a demi-god. His mother, Nephte, was very wise and energetic, and his father, Osoroth, rather indolent and foolish; although it must be allowed that he shewed some discretion in the choice of such a queen, and in confiding the reins of government to her hands. Business and anxiety soon caused the death of her majesty, to which melancholy event we are in some measure reconciled by the description which it serves to introduce of a royal Egyptian funeral. After the process of embalming, which is performed with such exquisite skill as to give the corpse all the ease, bloom, and freshness of life and health, a magnificent procession is formed, to conduct it to the labyrinths at the lake Mæris, the common receptacle of the sovereigns of Egypt. The deceased Queen, placed on a splendid car, decked with the insignia of her rank, profusely ornamented with flowers, preceded by joyous music, and surrounded with slaves in their festival habits, forms a striking contrast with the lugubrious appearance of the assembled thousands, amidst whose noisy lamentations she seems to sleep and smile. “ This custom of the Egyptians was to signify, that, though the death of virtuous persons was a matter of sorrow to the surviving, it was to them the entrance into peace, a happiness and a triumph.” On the borders of the lake the procession is stopped ; for the rites of sepulture were not allowed indiscriminately even to monarchs, but depended on the favourable award of an incorruptible tribunal, composed of sixteen priests of the labyrinth, assisted by two judges, selected out of each of the ancient nomes. “ The high priest who conducted the deceased having there made an harangue, the president of the tribunal gave leave to all the assistants to lay such charges against the deceased as they could prove. They then proceeded to judgment, by which the corpse was either sentenced to be delivered to their ferryman, whom they called Charon, or to be deprived of sepulture.
This sentence passed by scrutiny, that is, by certain tickets, which the judges threw into that terrible urn, the very idea of which was powerful enough to keep the ancient kings within the bounds of justice.” Nephte is honourably acquitted by this august tribunal ; and the chief officer of the second order of priests having touched her with the wand, of which the Grecian poets made Mercury's caduceus, she is received into the bark of Charon (not the classical shade of that name, but a real substantial Egyptian), who, being duly paid his fare, ferries her over to the labyrinth, of which the upper part was dedicated to the Sun, and the lower to the infernal deities, where she is finally deposited, and, in the conviction of her blessedness, the unfeigned lamentations for her death give place to demonstrations of extravagant joy. All is frolic and jollity. “ All such as excelled in exercises of strength or ingenuity resorted thither in companies, and diverted the spectators with amusing sports on the land and upon the canal. Troops of satyrs and nymphs, an idea of whom the worship of the god Pan had cultivated in Egypt long before it passed into Greece, were seen sallying out of the thickets or rushing into the waters. The nights were more dazzling than the days, occasioned by the illuminations in the cities, which at a distance, and in the fields, made a more glorious appearance than in the cities themselves. Nor is it possible for painting to represent or words to express their lustre ; especially on the banks of the lake Mæris, that sea of sweet water, the work of men's hands, which, according to our best authors, was one hundred and fifty leagues in circumference, and where those illuminations were doubly represented by their reflections on the water. An infinite number of galleys, richly adorned, and illuminated like palaces, cruised from port to port, at the will of those who possessed them, sure always of meeting with some agreeable amusement, whichever way they directed their course. The prodigious concourse of people, the perpetual sound of musical instruments, and the frequent shouts of joy, left no room for complaint in this affluence of all manner of diversions, except it were for want of silence and sleep.” · The young Sethos now enters on a course of public instruction, and we have a description of the “ Theatre of the Arts and Sciences” at Memphis, founded on the very largest notions of the learning of the Egyptian priests. The Abbé leads us. from the botanic garden to the library, through so many galleries, chymical, anatomical, mathematical, musical, &c., that, although an author's conscience is not soon touched on that score, he becomes rather alarmed at his own lengthiness, and charitably postpones a part to the end of the volume, as “une preuve et un exemple des égards que l'on a eus pour les lecteurs qui n'aiment pas de détails un peu longs.” Mr. Lediard, however, by whom the work was, immediately on its publication, “ faithfully done into English," and of whose doing we have availed ourselves in our extracts, unmercifully restores this supplementary matter to its original position. While the priests are
indoctrinating Sethos, Daluca, an artful woman, who had, even during the life of his late queen, gained some ascendancy over the pliable Osoroth, prevails on him to marry her, and intrust her with the administration of his affairs; a power which she abuses, in order to exclude Sethos from the succession, and secure it for one of her own sons. Her arts are counteracted by Amedes, a trusty counsellor of the former queen's, and the monitor of his child; although his rapidly growing wisdom soon renders that office a mere sinecure. Under his auspices, Sethos makes his first essay in heroism very successfully, upon a monstrous serpent. Although only sixteen, his extraordinary courage and prudence qualify him, 'in the opinion of his instructor, for the severe trials of the initiation, about which, therefore, as direct persuasion was strictly forbidden, he manages to excite his curiosity, and then guides him to the spot where it may be gratified. The secrets of this freemasonry of antiquity were well kept, and conjecture surrounded them with appalling circumstances.
“ Some were of opinion they were to descend alive into hell, and not to return without the most frightful labours. Others imagined that all the initiates submitted to a real death; and, though they saw them afterwards risen again, they feared the agonies. They also knew that some, who were esteemed men of singular valour, never returned at all.” Still, “ as the initiates were in extraordinary repute among the people for the great virtues they had given proofs of, and especially for the incorruptible justice which was their characteristic; as they were respected by the kings themselves, who looked upon them not only as men intrepid in battle, but as the most experienced ministers they could be served with, and often as mediators between them and the priests, whose influence they were sometimes afraid of; and as nothing could be more agreeable to a private person than to enjoy almost all the privileges of the priesthood, without being tied down to their subjections and disciplines, there were always some who had resolution enough to expose themselves to any dangers for the sake of the initiation."
We shall now shew how our author has filled up the outline, which is furnished by the hints of the ancients, of the ceremonies on this occasion. At night, Sethos is conducted by Amedes into the interior of the pyramid of Cheops (which by subterranean passages communicated with the great temple of Isis at Memphis), till they arrive at a well, which, after descending for some time by concealed steps in its side, they quit for a long passage hollowed in the rock, and terminated by a gateway, where the guide must leave the noviciate to pursue his course alone, which required some courage after reading the following inscription over it :
“Whoever goes through this passage alone, and without looking behind him, shall be purified by fire, by water, and by air; and, if he can vanquish the fears of death, he shall return from the bowels of the earth, he shall see light again, and he shall be entitled to the privilege of preparing his mind for the revelation of the mysteries of the great goddess Isis.”
" The first matter of astonishment to those who persisted in their design was the length of the way, for they were obliged to walk more than a league in this subterranean passage without seeing any thing new. At last they observed in the wall on the right hand, or on the south side, a small iron door shut, and two paces beyond it three men having helmets on, upon which was the head of Anubis. This gave occasion to Orpheus to make of these three men the three heads of the dog Cerberus, which admitted persons into hell, but suffered none to come out again. One of these three men said to the candidate, “ We are not posted here to stop your passage : go on, if the gods have given you the courage ; but, if you be so unfortunate as to return, we shall then stop your passage. As yet, you may go back; but from this moment you will never get out of this place, unless you go on without turning or looking back. If the candidate was not shocked at these words he was suffered to pass, and the three inen followed him at a distance. A moment afterwards the candidate perceived, at the end of this passage, the light of a very white but lively flame, just kindled. Sethos mended his pace to come at it. At the end of this passage was a vaulted room, of above one hundred feet square. At the entrance into it were, on the right and on the left, two piles of wood, or rather pales of wood planted in the ground upright, and very near to one another, twined about like vines, with branches of Arabian palm, Egyptian thorn, and tamarinds—three sorts of wood very pliant, fragrant, and combustible. The smoke went out through long pipes made for that purpose; but this flame, which easily reached to the top of the vault, and bore down again in waves, gave the space it possessed all the resemblance of a burning furnace. But, what was yet more terrible, Sethos observed upon the ground, between the two piles, a grate of red-hot iron, eight feet broad and thirty feet long. This grate was formed of bars, which were so close to one another, that there was only room for a man to set one foot between them. He perceived there was no other passage but this, and he went through it with as much agility as circumspection. Sethos, having, with joy, passed this trial, saw at some paces distant a canal of more than fifty feet broad, which came in on one side of this subterraneous room through grates of iron, and went out again in the same manner on the other side. This canal, which came out of the Nile, before it entered through the grates made a great noise, as of a waterfall, which Sethos mistook for the noise of the flames he had just escaped. By the light of these flames, though they were considerably lowered, he perceived on the other side of the canal an arch, in the inside of which were steps, the highest whereof were involved in darkness. Sethos imagined there was the gate through which he was to pass into the open air, and the rather because the passage was marked out in the canal by two ballustrades of iron, which arose from the bottom of the water, on the right and on the left. Being apprehensive that the light of the flames might fail him before he reached the other side, he made use of one of the firebrands to light up his lamp, which the rarefaction of the air had extinguished amidst the flames. He undressed himself, put his clothes : upon his head, and tied them with a girdle, which passed under his arms, across his breast. In this manner he swam across the canal, holding his lamp burning in one hand. He quickly got his clothes on again, and, ascending the steps of the arch which was before him, he came to a landing-place six feet long and three broad. The bottom was a draw-bridge, which hung by very strong irons to rings fastened to the uppermost step of the arch; so that this draw-bridge seemed to be let down to receive him. The walls on each side of him were of brass, and served as supporters for the naves of two great wheels, of the same metal; one on the right, and the other on the left. The. lower half of them went down behind the walls ; and on the upper parts, which were in sight, lay a great iron chain. The top or roof of the landing-place discovered, at the height of fifteen feet, three dark, concavities, which resembled the inside of three large hollow statues, looked into from below. Before him was a door covered all over with the whitest ivory, adorned in the middle with two mouldings of gold; which shewed that this door, that had no scutcheons on the outside, opened inwards with two leaves. Sethos, having set his lamp on the floor, tried twice or thrice in vain to push open this door, which had resisted the force of much stronger men than he : but to the lintel of the door, which was raised about seven feet above the threshold, and to which the ends of the draw-bridge seemed to be suspended by two strong chains, were fastened two great rings of polished steel, which by the light of the lamp shone like the finest diamond. The candidate could not avoid laying hold of them, to try if by this means he might open the door: and here began his last trial, the most difficult for an astonished imagination ; for the very first motion which he gave to these rings raised the triggers of the two wheels, which, being turned by a prodigious weight hanging to their chains, produced several very frightful effects. The draw-bridge began to raise itself at that end which was nearest the door; so that the candidate was obliged either to recover the steps, and so turn back again, contrary to the law prescribed him, or to hold fast by the rings: but the very lintel of the door was likewise raised up, with the candidate hanging at it. The lamp, which slid upon the draw-bridge, was soon overset, and left him in the dark, in the midst of a horrid noise made by the two wheels ; such, that the most courageous would hardly forbear thinking that a hundred machines of iron and brass were breaking in pieces about his ears. This motion, which lasted almost a minute, raised the candidate to the height of a quarter of a circle: but lest the lintel, which was then loosened from the great wheels, might fall again with too great violence, being borne downwards by its own weight and that of the candidate, it was fastened with ropes, which went through several pullies, to another wheel, made up of flies or fanes of iron plates, which broke the fall, and prevented the candidate from being hurt.