Ancient Egypt eBook

George Rawlinson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 284 pages of information about Ancient Egypt.

On the other hand, practically, the condition of the labouring class was, generally speaking, a hard and sad one.  The kings were entitled to employ as many of their subjects as they pleased in forced labours, and monarchs often sacrificed to their inordinate vanity the lives and happiness of thousands.  Private employers of labour were frequently cruel and exacting; their overseers used the stick, and it was not easy for those who suffered to obtain any redress.  Moreover, taxation was heavy, and inability to satisfy the collector subjected the defaulter to the bastinado.  Those who have studied the antiquities of Egypt with most care, tell us that there was not much to choose between the condition of the ancient labourers and that of the unhappy fellahin[6] of the present day.

FOOTNOTES: 

[4] Nefer-hotep, a deceased king.

[5] Brugsch, “Histoire d’Egypte,” p. 15.

[6] A fellah is a peasant, one of the labouring class, just above the slave.

III.

THE DAWN OF HISTORY.

All nations, unless they be colonies, have a prehistoric time—­a dark period of mist and gloom, before the keen light of history dawns upon them.  This period is the favourite playground of the myth-spirits, where they disport themselves freely, or lounge heavily and listlessly, according to their different natures.  The Egyptian spirits were of the heavier and duller kind—­not light and frolicsome, like the Greek and the Indo-Iranian.  It has been said that Egypt never produced more than one myth, the Osirid legend; and this is so far true that in no other case is the story told at any considerable length, or with any considerable number of exciting incidents.  There are, however, many short legends in the Egyptian remains, which have more or less of interest, and show that the people was not altogether devoid of imagination, though their imagination was far from lively.  Seb, for instance, once upon a time, took the form of a goose, and laid the mundane egg, and hatched it.  Thoth once wrote a wonderful book, full of wisdom and science, which told of everything concerning the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, and the four-footed beasts of the earth.  He who knew a single page of the book could charm the heaven, the earth, the great abyss, the mountains, and the seas.  Thoth took the work and enclosed it in a box of gold, and the box of gold he placed within a box of silver, and the silver box within a box of ivory and ebony, and that again within a box of bronze; and the bronze box he enclosed within a box of brass, and the brass box within a box of iron; and the box, thus guarded, he threw into the Nile at Coptos.  But a priest discovered the whereabouts of the book, and sold the knowledge to a young noble for a hundred pieces of silver, and the young noble with great trouble fished the book up.  But the possession of the book brought him not good but evil.  He lost his wife; he lost his child; he became entangled in a disgraceful intrigue.  He was glad to part with the book.  But the next possessor was not more fortunate; the book brought him no luck.  The quest after unlawful knowledge involved all who sought it in calamity.

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Ancient Egypt from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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