In one of the vestibules that we have to traverse on our way out of the sanctuary, amongst the numerous bas-reliefs representing various sovereigns paying homage to the beautiful Hathor, is one of a young man, crowned with a royal tiara shaped like the head of a uraeus. He is shown seated in the traditional Pharaonic pose and is none other than the Emperor Nero!
The hieroglyphs of the cartouche are there to affirm his identity, albeit the sculptor, not knowing his actual physiognomy, has given him the traditional features, regular as those of the god Horus. During the centuries of the Roman domination the Western emperors used to send from home instructions that their likeness should be placed on the walls of the temples, and that offerings should be made in their name to the Egyptian divinities—and this notwithstanding that in their eyes Egypt must have seemed so far away, a colony almost at the end of the earth. (And it was such a goddess as this, of secondary rank in the times of the Pharaohs, that was singled out as the favourite of the Romans of the decadence.)
The Emperor Nero! As a matter of fact at the very time these bas-reliefs—almost the last—and these expiring hieroglyphics were being inscribed, the confused primitive theogonies had almost reached their end and the days of the Goddess of Joy were numbered. There had been conceived in Judaea symbols more lofty and more pure, which were to rule a great part of the world for two thousand years—afterwards, alas, to decline in their turn; and men were about to throw themselves passionately into renunciation, asceticism and fraternal pity.
How strange it is to say! Even while the sculptor was carving this archaic bas-relief, and was using, for the engraving of its name, characters that dated back to the night of the ages, there were already Christians assembled in the catacombs at Rome and dying in ecstasy in the arena!
The waters of the Nile being already low my dahabiya—delayed by strandings—had not been able to reach Luxor, and we had moored ourselves, as the darkness began to fall, at a casual spot on the bank.
“We are quite near,” the pilot had told me before departing to make his evening prayer; “in an hour, to-morrow, we shall be there.”
And the gentle night descended upon us in this spot which did not seem to differ at all from so any others where, for a month past now, we had moored our boat at hazard to await the daybreak. On the banks were dark confused masses of foliage, above which here and there a high date-palm outlined its black plumes. The air was filled with the multitudinous chirpings of the crickets of Upper Egypt, which make their music here almost throughout the year in the odorous warmth of the grass. And, presently, in the midst of the silence, rose the cries of the night birds, like the mournful mewings of cats. And that was all—save for the infinite calm of the desert that is always present, dominating everything, although scarcely noticed and, as it were, latent.