A peculiar feature of “The Book of the Dead,” and one that gives it still greater interest, is the fact that from an early day it was the custom to illustrate it with graphic pictures in colour. In fact, taken as a whole, “The Book of the Dead” gives a very fair delineation of the progress of Egyptian art from the fourth millennium B.C. to its climax in the eighteenth dynasty, and throughout the period of its decline; and this applies not merely to the pictures proper, but to the forms of the hieroglyphic letters themselves, for it requires but the most cursory inspection to show that these give opportunity for no small artistic skill.
As to the ideas preserved in “The Book of the Dead,” it is sufficient here to note that they deal largely with the condition of the human being after death, implying in the most explicit way a firm and unwavering belief in the immortality of the soul. The Egyptian believed most fully that by his works a man would be known and judged after death. His religion was essentially a religion of deeds, and the code of morals, according to which these deeds were adjudged, has been said by Doctor Budge, the famous translator of “The Book of the Dead,” to be “the grandest and most comprehensive of those now known to have existed among the nations of antiquity.”
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Mariette, Wilkinson, Bunsen, Brugsch, and Ebers: Erman’s speech on Egyptology: The Egypt Exploration Fund: Maspero’s investigations: The Temple of Bubastis: Ancient record of “Israel”: American interest in Egyptology.
Accompanying Napoleon’s army of invasion in Egypt was a band of savants representative of every art and science, through whom the conqueror hoped to make known the topography and antiquities of Egypt to the European world. The result of their researches was the famous work called “Description de l’Egypte,” published under the direction of the French Academy in twenty-four volumes of text, and twelve volumes of plates. Through this magnificent production the Western world received its first initiation into the mysteries of the wonderful civilisation which had flourished so many centuries ago, on the banks of the Nile. Egypt has continued to yield an ever-increasing harvest of antiquities, which, owing to the dry climate and the sand in which they have been buried, are many of them in a marvellous state of preservation. From the correlation of these discoveries the new science of Egyptology has sprung, which has many different branches, relating either to hieroglyphics, chronology, or archaeology proper.
The earliest and most helpful of all the discoveries was that of the famous Rosetta Stone, found by a French artillery officer in 1799, while Napoleon’s soldiers were excavating preparatory to erecting fortifications at Fort St. Julien. The deciphering of its trilingual inscriptions was the greatest literary feat of modern times, in which Dr. Thomas Young and J. F. Champollion share almost equal honours.