Egypt (La Mort de Philae) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 193 pages of information about Egypt (La Mort de Philae).

It is a place of fearful aspect.  As soon as one enters one is seized by the sense of a mournfulness beyond words, by an oppression as of something too heavy, too crushing, almost superhuman.  The impotent little flames of the candles, placed in a row, in groups of fifty, on tripods of wood from one end of the route to the other, show on the right and left of the immense avenue rectangular sepulchral caverns, containing each a black coffin, but a coffin as if for a mastodon.  And all these coffins, so sombre and so alike, are square shaped too, severely simple like so many boxes; but made out of a single block of rare granite that gleams like marble.  They are entirely without ornament.  It is necessary to look closely to distinguish on the smooth walls the hieroglyphic inscriptions, the rows of little figures, little owls, little jackals, that tell in a lost language the history of ancient peoples.  Here is the signature of King Amasis; beyond, that of King Cambyses. . . .  Who were the Titans who, century after century, were able to hew these coffins (they are at least twelve feet long by ten feet high), and, having hewn them, to carry them underground (they weigh on an average between sixty and seventy tons), and finally to range them in rows here in these strange chambers, where they stand as if in ambuscade on either side of us as we pass?  Each in its turn has contained quite comfortably the mummy of a bull Apis, armoured in plates of gold.  But in spite of their weight, in spite of their solidity which effectively defies destruction, they have been despoiled[*]—­when is not precisely known, probably by the soldiers of the King of Persia.  And this notwithstanding that merely to open them represents a labour of astonishing strength and patience.  In some cases the thieves have succeeded, by the aid of levers, in moving a few inches the formidable lid; in others, by persevering with blows of pickaxes, they have pierced, in the thickness of the granite, a hole through which a man has been enabled to crawl like a rat, or a worm, and then, groping his way, to plunder the sacred mummy.

[*] One, however, remains intact in the walled cavern, and thus preserves for us the only Apis which has come down to our days.  And one recalls the emotion of Mariette, when, on entering it, he saw on the sandy ground the imprint of the naked feet of the last Egyptian who left it thirty-seven centuries before.

What strikes us most of all in the colossal hypogeum is the meeting there, in the middle of the stairway by which we leave, with yet another black coffin, which lies across our path as if to bar it.  It is as monstrous and as simple as the others, its seniors, which many centuries before, as the deified bulls died, had commenced to line the great straight thoroughfare.  But this one has never reached its place and never held its mummy.  It was the last.  Even while men were slowly rolling it, with tense muscles and panting cries, towards what might well have seemed

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Egypt (La Mort de Philae) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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