The moon! Suddenly the stones of the summit, the copings, the formidable friezes, are lighted by rays of clear light, and here and there, on the bas-reliefs encircling the pillars, appear luminous trails which reveal the gods and goddesses engraved in the stone. They were watching in myriads around me, as I knew well,—coifed, all of them, in discs or great horns. They stare at one another with their arms raised, spreading out their long fingers in an eager attempt at conversation. They are numberless, these eternally gesticulating gods. Wherever you look their forms are multiplied with a stupefying repetition. They seem to have some mysterious secret to convey to one another, but have perforce to remain silent, and for all the expressiveness of their attitudes their hands do not move. And hieroglyphs, too, repeated to infinity, envelop you on all sides like a multiple woof of mystery.
Minute by minute now, everything amongst these rigid dead things grows more precise. Cold, hard rays penetrate through the immense ruin, separating with a sharp incisiveness the light from the shadows. The feeling that these stones, wearied as they were with their long duration, might still be thoughtful, still mindful of their past, grows less—less than it was a few moments before, far less than during the preceding blue phantasmagoria. Under this clear, pale light, as in the daytime, under the fire of the sun, Thebes has lost for the moment whatever remained to it of soul; it has receded farther into the backward of time, and appears now nothing more than a vast gigantic fossil that excites only our wonder and our fear.
But the tourists will soon be here, attracted by the moon. A league away, in the hotels of Luxor, I can fancy how they have hurried away from the tables, for fear of missing the celebrated spectacle. For me, therefore, it is time to beat a retreat, and, by the great avenue again, I direct my steps towards the pylons of the Ptolemies, where the night guards are waiting.
They are busy already, these Bedouins, in opening the gates for some tourists, who have shown their permits, and who carry Kodaks, magnesium to light up the temples—quite an outfit in short.
Farther on, when I have taken the road to Luxor, it is not long before I meet, under the palm-trees and on the sands, the crowd, the main body of the arrivals—some in carriages, some on horseback, some on donkeys. There is a noise of voices speaking all sorts of non-Egyptian languages. One is tempted to ask: “What is happening? A ball, a holiday, a grand marriage?” No. The moon is full to-night at Thebes, upon the ruins. That is all.
THEBES IN SUNLIGHT
It is two o’clock in the afternoon. A white angry fire pours from the sky, which is pale from excess of light. A sun inimical to the men of our climate scorches the enormous fossil which, crumbling in places, is all that remains of Thebes and which lies there like the carcass of a gigantic beast that has been dead for thousands of years, but is too massive ever to be annihilated.