The heat is suffocating. The whole crushing mass of this mountain, of this block of limestone, into which we have crawled through relatively imperceptible holes, like white ants or larvae, seems to weigh upon our chest. And these figures too, inscribed on every side, and this mystery of the hieroglyphs and the symbols, cause a growing uneasiness. You are too near them, they seem too much the masters of the exits, these gods with their heads of falcon, ibis and jackal, who, on the walls, converse in a continual exalted pantomime. And then the feeling comes over you, that you are guilty of sacrilege standing there, before this open coffin, in this unwonted insolent light. The dolorous, blackish face, half eaten away, seems to ask for mercy: “Yes, yes, my sepulchre has been violated and I am returning to dust. But now that you have seen me, leave me, turn out that light, have pity on my nothingness.”
In sooth, what a mockery! To have taken so many pains, to have adopted so many stratagems to hide his corpse; to have exhausted thousands of men in the hewing of this underground labyrinth, and to end thus, with his head in the glare of an electric lamp, to amuse whoever passes.
And out of pity—I think it was the poor bouquet of mimosa that awakened it—I say to the Bedouin: “Yes, put out the light, put it out—that is enough.”
And then the darkness returns above the royal countenance, which is suddenly effaced in the sarcophagus. The phantom of the Pharaoh is vanished, as if replunged into the unfathomable past. The audience is over.
And we, who are able to escape from the horror of the hypogeum, reascend rapidly towards the sunshine of the living, we go to breathe the air again, the air to which we have still a right—for some few days longer.
AT THEBES IN THE TEMPLE OF THE OGRESS
This evening, in the vast chaos of ruins—at the hour in which the light of the sun begins to turn to rose—I make my way along one of the magnificent roads of the town-mummy, that, in fact, which goes off at a right angle to the line of the temples of Amen, and, losing itself more or less in the sands, leads at length to a sacred lake on the border of which certain cat-headed goddesses are seated in state watching the dead water and the expanse of the desert. This particular road was begun three thousand four hundred years ago by a beautiful queen called Makeri,[*] and in the following centuries a number of kings continued its construction. It was ornamented with pylons of a superb massiveness—pylons are monumental walls, in the form of a trapezium with a wide base, covered entirely with hieroglyphs, which the Egyptians used to place at either side of their porticoes and long avenues—as well as by colossal statues and interminable rows of rams, larger than buffaloes, crouched on pedestals.
[*] To-day the mummy with the baby in the museum at Cairo.