Ancient Egypt eBook

George Rawlinson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 284 pages of information about Ancient Egypt.
in the greatest detail of gifts made to the gods, together with fulsome praises of the kings, written either by themselves or by others, which we are half inclined to regret the lapse of ages has spared from destruction.  At the same time morals fall off.  Sensuality displays itself in high places.  Intrigue enters the charmed circle of the palace.  The monarch himself is satirized in indecent drawings.  Presently, the whole idea of a divinity hedging in the king departs; and a “thieves’ society” is formed for rifling the royal tombs, and tearing the jewels, with which they have been buried, from the monarchs’ persons.  The king’s life is aimed at by conspirators, who do not scruple to use magical arts; priests and high judicial functionaries are implicated in the proceedings.  Altogether, the old order seems to be changed, the old ideas to be upset; and no new principles, possessing any vital efficacy, are introduced.  Society gradually settles upon its lees; and without some violent application of force from without, or some strange upheaval from within, the nation seems doomed to fall rapidly into decay and dissolution.

[Illustration:  CARICATURE OF THE TIME OF RAMESSES III.]

XVIII.

THE PRIEST-KINGS—­PINETEM AND SOLOMON.

The position of the priests in Egypt was, from the first, one of high dignity and influence.  Though not, strictly speaking, a caste, they formed a very distinct order or class, separated by important privileges, and by their habits of life, from the rest of the community, and recruited mainly from among their own sons, and other near relatives.  Their independence and freedom was secured by a system of endowments.  From a remote antiquity a considerable portion of the land of Egypt—­perhaps as much as one-third—­was made over to the priestly class, large estates being attached to each temple, and held as common property by the “colleges,” which, like the chapters of our cathedrals, directed the worship of each sacred edifice.  These priestly estates were, we are told, exempt from taxation of any kind; and they appear to have received continual augmentation from the piety or superstition of the kings, who constantly made over to their favourite deities fresh “gardens, orchards, vineyards, fields,” and even “cities.”

The kings lived always in a considerable amount of awe of the priests.  Though claiming a certain qualified divinity themselves, they yet could not but be aware that there were divers flaws and Imperfections in their own divinity—­“little rifts within the lute”—­which made it not quite a safe support to trust to, or lean upon, entirely.  There were other greater gods than themselves—­gods from whom their own divinity was derived; and they could not be certain what power or influence the priests might not have with these superior beings, in whose existence and ability to benefit and injure men they had the fullest belief.  Consequently, the kings

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Ancient Egypt from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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