Egypt and Her Golden Age
There are few voices to be heard underrating the greatness of Egypt. Reclus declares, that when the whole of Europe was still overrun by savage tribes, that have left no records behind them, Egypt existed a civilized power of greatness. Astronomical observations, arithmetic, geometry, architecture, all the arts, and nearly all the sciences, and industries of the present day were known when the Greeks were still cavemen. The origin of the sciences and many moral precepts, still taught from the wisdom of the ancients were recorded upon the Egyptian papyri or on the monuments. The very groove of our present thought had its origin upon the banks of the Nile. (The Earth and Its Inhabitants. Africa.–Vol. 1. p. 207.) Earlier works of art show the Egyptians to have been a kindly people who did not believe in charms. As the ages succeeded and Egypt became mingled with other races, her arts declined, she seemed to forget the meaning of her religion, and finally only animal worship remained.
Reclus continues, “So ancient is the civilization of Egypt, that it is known by virtue of its decadence. The most powerful epoch is the most ancient known to us. After Ramses II there was a rapid decline in art.” Unlike the eastern rulers no had the power of life and death over their subjects, the life of the Pharaoh was prescribed by religious rule. The rights and property of his subjects were protected by law. .In the earlier creative days, Egypt attained some arts not yet equaled and some that today are lost. They, perhaps, developed embalming, because of the dampness of the soil from the rising Nile. Embalming enabled them to better preserve the body. Sayce described the statue of Khaf-Re in the museum of Gizeh as a living portraiture. There is a sublime charm about it. The work is of exquisite finish; yet it is carved out of diorite rock, the hardest of hard stone. The stonemason of today possesses no tools with which to work it.
statue of Khaf-Re in the museum of Gizeh as a living portrait Ptah was one of the greatest of the Egyptian gods
Donnelly affirms that Egypt, Chaldea, India, Greece, and Rome passed the torch of civilization from one to another. They added nothing to the arts that existed in the earliest period of Egyptian history. These arts continued without material change until two or three hundred years ago. For all these years men did not improve but perpetuated. The age of Columbus possessed only printing that was unknown to the Egyptians. Egyptian civilization was highest at its first appearance showing that they drew from a fountain higher than themselves. In that day Egypt worshipped only one supreme being. At the time of Menes, this race had long been architects, sculptors, painters, mythologists, and theologians. What king of modern times ever devoted himself to medicine and the writing of medical books to benefit mankind, as did the son of Menes? For six thousand years men did not advance beyond the arts of Egypt.
The primitive religious beliefs of the Egyptians lie back in obscurity.
The later monuments reveal the worship of many gods. De Rouge thinks that this polytheism developed from the worship of one God. Ptah was the greatest of the Egyptian gods. He was Lord of Truth, Ruler of the Sky, and King of both Worlds. After Ptah came Ra, the god of the Sun. His worship was more general than that of any deity save Osiris. The Ethiopians said that Egypt was a colony drawn out of them by Osiris. The greatest of all the Egyptian myths centered about Osiris and Isis. Their primitive seats of worship were at Philae and Abydos high up the Nile. Here Petrie found many rely on the Old Race. At Abydos was the tomb of Osiris. Every Egyptian of sufficient wealth and dignity desired to be buried there. Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis. Isis wears the horned crescent, the moon disk between. She was a black goddess of the Soudan. Thot was a magician priest. One text calls him the brother of Osiris. He was the chief Moon-god and deity of knowledge, wisdom, and art. The seat of Moon worship was the Soudan. Thot originally was of those regions.
Narmer with the First Dynasty pharaoh Menes, who credited with the unification of Egypt, as the first pharaoh.
After Thot, from whom the ancients said came writing, were many lesser gods. Certain animals were sacred to each. No intelligent Egyptian worshipped the bull. It was only the symbol that represented Osiris. Any offense to it was an insult to him. Therefore the sacred animals were respected as deities. To injure one meant death from the fury of the populace. The sacred animals were chosen by certain markings, they were fed the finest of foods, clad in costly raiment and at their death, the wealth of the king and the noblemen was squandered in a gorgeous funeral. Osiris had the power of awakening life out of death. He examined the soul and judged its deeds. Each spirit must pass before the judgment seat of Osiris. Thot recorded the sentence of eternal doom. All the art and literature of Egypt was woven about her religion and in honor of her gods. 3500 B. C. Egypt believed that God became incarnate in man.
Circumcision was a rite universally practiced as a part of the religion of the old Egyptians, as long as the native institutions flourished. It was a rite of the ruling Ethiopian element. Under Greek and Roman rule it fell into disuse but was always retained by the priesthood and those who desired to cultivate ancient wisdom. Herodotus said that all Ethiopians circumcised. Lenormant calls it original with them. The Coptic church practices it to this day. Abyssinians do the same. They did not adopt it from the Jews for they circumcise both sexes. Oldendorpe finds the rite in western Africa. It must be a relic of ancient African customs. It is older than Mohammed, who did not regard it as a religious rite. Southern Arabia had the rite from Ethiopia. Himyartic Arabs (Cushites), circumcise their children on the eighth day. Pocock found that other Semitic Arabs circumcise between the tenth and fifteenth years.
Budge in Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, preface, tells us, “that the knowledge of the Egyptian priests of the real meaning of their religion after 1200 B. C. seemed extremely vague and uncertain. The early beliefs became buried in magic spells and amulets.” Only a few clung to the old faith. 3400 B. C., Egypt had possessed a conception of truth, justice, and righteousness. He continues page XIV, “that all characteristics indicate that the Egyptian religion was of African rather than Asiatic origin. Its true form died about 3000 years ago. The best explanation of the Egyptian religion could only be obtained from the religion of the Soudan.” The priest caste of Egypt had been Ethiopian and the first rulers’ priest-kings. As they were overthrown the priesthood was not able so perfectly to dominate the thought of the empire. When the priests of Amen, the Ethiopian priesthood emigrated to Napata it is clear why Egypt lost the inner meaning of the religious cults.
The priest caste of Egypt had been Ethiopian and the first rulers' priest-kings.
In commercial life, the Egyptians were conscientious and honest.
In the towns there was little. quarreling or disorder. Justice was administered speedily and impartially. Among the many crafts were blacksmiths, gold and coppersmiths, cabinet makers, weavers, upholsterers, potters, glass Mowers, shoemakers, tanners, tailors, and armorers. West describes them as workmen of marvelous dexterity, masters of processes that are now unknown. Weavers in particular produced delicate and exquisite linen, almost as fine as silk, workers in glass and gold were famous for their skill. Jewels were imitated in colored glass so artfully that only an expert today can detect the fraud by appearance. The belief that a good life would win reward after death appeared upon the monuments hundreds of years before the Hebrew Ten Commandments. Some of their writings were medical treatises. One a recipe for an application whereby Osiris cured his father Amen-Ra of taheadache. (World Progress–West.) It seems unreasonable that Osiris could have done this if Amen-Ra was as the sun.
Unlike the Cretan and Ethiopian inscriptions, the Egyptians never took the final steps to a true alphabet.
“Their writing remained to the end a queer mixture of hundreds of signs of things.” Sayce speaks of Egyptian manuscripts that contain versions of stories very similar to those we have read in the Arabian Nights. There tire tales with plots like Cinderella. The Taking of Joppa, is almost identical with the Forty Thieves. There are other stories like Sinbad the Sailor. Africans tell many tales like those of Aesop. Many nations claimed Aesop. This was because he was a Cushite of which they were all divisions, so by the identity of the race he belonged to them all. Tradition said that he was black and deformed. It is very likely that he was a part of the life of Alexandria and the cities of Asia The great similarity or the old Egyptian tales and those of the Arabian Nights lay in the fact that they originated and were the common property of all the colonies of the widespread empire of Cushite Ethiopians, of which Egypt was for many centuries a part.
Ethiopic alphabet Egyptian manuscripts
The ordinary homes of sun dried bricks showed no small degree of skill. They were generally square of two stories in height with an open gallery above. There were many latticed windows. The rooms ranged around three and sometimes four sides of an open square or courtyard. In this trees were planted, cisterns and fountains constructed. The public edifices were built of stone. The men of Egypt worked at the loom and carried on the trades. The women looked after the marketing and frequently transacted the business. This is a custom among all African nations. The warrior class enjoyed great privileges. They possessed fully one-third of the soil exempt from taxation. The husbandman was attached to the soil, paying rent. The modern fellah owns no land. The Cushite habit of India, where the wife died with her husband, may be seen among the rites of the Cushite Pharaohs. The tomb of Amen-hotep II, at Thebes, shows his favorite wives buried with him.
The domestic life of Egypt is described by Duncker, in his History of Antiquity Vol. I, p. 118. “On the tombs, five varieties of plows can be seen. There were herds of bullocks, calves, asses, sheep, goats, cows, and fowl. Butter and cheese were made. In other sculptures, we see spinners and weavers at their -work. Potters, smiths, painters, masons, shoemakers and glass blowers, performed their tasks as they worked four thousand years ago.” There representations of their social occupations, attainments, and all forms of social, political, and religious life are truly marvelous. The pictures referring to rural affairs reveal a state of life at that early day, which may lead us to speak modestly of our own attainments. An Egyptian villa contained all the conveniences of one of Europe at the present day. In weaving and all processes connected with the manufacture of linen, they have never been surpassed. In the making of furniture, musical instruments, vessels and arms they showed great taste and skill.
Among Semitic people herding is highly esteemed. The fact that shepherds and swineherds were the lowest strata of Egyptian society, proves that they were not Semitic in origin. Exodus VIII, 26, says: “Egyptians would not eat with Hebrews because they were. shepherds, who sacrificed beasts that were an abomination to Egyptians.” The people of the Nile were primarily agriculturalists which was the basic occupation of all the Hamitic races, coupled with great skill in the arts and industries. The trade of father descended to son. One inscription speaks of the profession of architect in one family for twenty-three generations. This may account for the unequalled genius of the ancient in many lost arts. Intermarriage between the various castes was never forbidden. The domestic tie was strong. The monuments reveal courtesy, kindness, and affection as the rule. The homes of the mechanics and husbandmen 4000 years ago were generally of brick, well furnished and better built than the homes of today. In the houses of the wealthy, tables, chairs and beds were elaborately finished and ornamented. Vases and cups were of silver and gold.
The Egyptians were fond of amusements.
The jugglers’ art was carried to perfection. All the athletic sports were greatly enjoyed. Indoor games were popular. There were ingenious toys and amusements for their children. Among the higher classes music was the delight of all. Egyptian musicians played upon harps, lyres, guitars, flutes, triangles, pipes, horns, trumpets and drums. The dancing was but graceful and pleasing gestures to music. Ancestor worship and the belief in immortality, caused them to embalm their dead. Their bodies treated five thousand years ago are today in a perfect state of preservation. The. secrets of their methods are unknown to us. We can preserve the body for only a few weeks. The cost of preparing a mummy in the highest style was twelve hundred dollars. The lowest style was in the reach or all. In the museums of the world, we may look upon the faces of the Pharaohs as they appeared four thousand years ago.
The Egyptians were master engineers.
The Nile was diverted from its course to build Memphis. Moeris was an artificial lake 450 miles in circumference. It was 350 feet deep, with flood gates, locks and dams. The joints were no wider than silver paper. Cement still clings to the casing stones. The Labyrinth astonished Herodotus. It had three thousand chambers, one-half above, the other half below, the surface of the earth. The Temple of Karnak covers a square eighteen hundred feet each way. Travelers are unable to find words to express its sublimity. It is a sight too much for human comprehension. They must have had the knowledge of the principles of the derrick, the lever and the inclined plane to put into position the monstrous obelisks and stone animals that stood in rows before the temples. Greeks appropriated the Doric style of architecture from Egypt. We shall see in the chapter on art that Egypt was the originator of almost all of the designs of Greek decorative art. Huge statutes were covered with highly finished hieroglyphics. It seems impossible to tell how they carved this stubborn material. Our best modern steel, with difficulty, carves even plain letters in granite.
Amelia B. Edwards in A Thousand Miles Up the Nile, says, “The distinguishing feature of Egyptian architecture is it vastness and sublimity. The avenues of colossal sphinxes and lines of obelisks led to stupendous palaces and temples elaborately sculptured and containing balls of solemn and gloomy grandeur, in which the largest of our cathedrals might stand. The earliest monuments reveal a considerable degree of skill which never advanced. Egyptian walls and ceilings were painted in beautiful patterns which we still imitate. The great hall of Karnak is the noblest work ever executed by the hand of man. In the doorway of the Hall of Pillars, the columns are the wonder of the world. How was that lintel-stone raised? Beside it, we feel shrunk to the feebleness of a fly. We are stupefied by the thought of the mighty men who made them.” Perhaps not untruly the builders called themselves the descendants of the gods.
The Great Pyramid contains ninety million cubic feet of masonry.
It stands on the thirtieth parallel facing the four cardinal points with geometrical exactitude. Beneath the pyramids lie the bodies of Egyptians. Within were sepulchral chambers containing mummies, long ago despoiled of the rich treasures buried with them. So perfectly were they built that after the lapse of tens of centuries the stones are still in position supporting the mountain weight above them. Sayce says that in the pyramid of Khufa, the stones are in exact contact and cemented so perfectly as to seem impossible. Petrie believes that the stones were cut with tubular drills fitted with jewel points. The lines marked upon the stones by the drills can still be seen, with evidence that not only the tool but the stone was rotated. The machinery with which the latter was erected is still unknown. The Egyptian carved the hardest granite, regarded now as impossible to work, as though it was so much soapstone.
How the letters and figures were elaborately embossed and counter-sunk is astonishing to modern workers in granite. The edges of the inscriptions after forty centuries are as sharp and beautifully delineated as though the work of yesterday. It is thought by some that they must have possessed the knowledge of electricity. Solomon truly said, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Sayce asserts, “Those who view Egyptian art in museums, have but little idea of the perfection of the Egyptian sculptors and painters of the fifth and sixth Dynasties. The wooden figure of Sheik-el-Beled is one of the noblest works of human genius. Pictures in low relief resemble exquisite embroidery in stone. In statuary, they have never been surpassed. They have excelled the artists of every age in solemn dignity and everlasting repose. In the laws of color harmony, Theban painters were as well versed as those of today.”
The blocks of the pyramids weighing from two and a half to fifty tons were squared and fitted and levelled with an accuracy that puts to shame our very best work. Acres of buildings were put together with an accuracy of measurement equalled only by the optician fitting glasses. The Egyptians were surpassed only in the plastic arts by the Greeks. Nude figures are seen as through a veil. Naked figures can be seen when the body is clothed. The paintings on the tombs after the lapse of three thousand years retain the distinctness of outline and brillancy of the color of recent productions. The lions of Gebel Barkal Nubia, now in the British museum, are probably the finest example of the idealization of animal forms that any age has produced. The Grottoes of Beni-Hasan contain many pictures characterized by remarkable fidelity and beauty. Very many of the monuments of Egypt have been mutilated and destroyed, not always by Arabs. Some of the work has been done by Englishmen and Americans, to the everlasting shame of our claim to culture.