This was formerly the principal entrance, and the office of these colossi was to welcome the multitudes. But now the gates of honour flanked by obelisks of red granite, are obstructed by a litter of enormous ruins. And the courtyard has become a place voluntarily closed, where nothing of the outside world is any longer to be seen. In moments of silence, one can abstract oneself from all the neighbouring modern things, and forget the hour, the day, the century even, in the midst of these gigantic figures, whose smile disdains the flight of ages. The granites within which we are immured—and in such terrible company—shut out everything save the point of an old neighbouring minaret which shows now against the blue of the sky: a humble graft of Islam which grew here amongst the ruins some centuries ago, when the ruins themselves had already subsisted for three thousand years—a little mosque built on a mass of debris, which it new protects with its inviolability. How many treasures and relics and documents are hidden and guarded by this mosque of the peristyle! For none would dare to dig in the ground within its sacred walls.
Gradually the silence of the temple becomes profound. And if the shortened shadows betray the hour of noon, there is nothing to tell to what millennium that hour belongs. The silences and middays like to this, which have passed before the eyes of these giants ambushed in their colonnades—who could count them?
High above us, lost in the incandescent blue, soar the birds of prey—and they were there in the times of the Pharaohs, displaying in the air identical plumages, uttering the same cries. The beasts and plants, in the course of time, have varied less than men, and remain unchanged in the smallest details.
Each of the colossi around me—standing there proudly with one leg advanced as if for a march, heavy and sure, which nothing should withstand—grasps passionately in his clenched fist, at the end of the muscular arm, a kind of buckled cross, which in Egypt was the symbol of eternal life. And this is what the decision of their movement symbolises: confident all of them in this poor bauble which they hold in their hand, they cross with a triumphant step the threshold of death. . . . “Eternal Life”—the thought of immortality—how the human soul has been obsessed by it, particularly in the periods marked by its greatest strivings! The tame submission to the belief that the rottenness of the grave is the end of all is characteristic of ages of decadence and mediocrity.
The three similar giants, little damaged in the course of their long existence, who align the eastern side of this courtyard strewn with blocks, represent, as indeed do all the others, that same Ramses II., whose effigy was multiplied so extravagantly at Thebes and Memphis. But these three have preserved a powerful and impetuous life. They might have been carved and polished yesterday. Between the monstrous