May 19, 2012

Climbing the Colossi, 1848 | Walking Through Egypt

Creatures Come down to Drink, 1817
Captains Charles Irby and James Mangles

Wednesday, July 23. It was curious to observe in the morning, on the smooth sur­face of the sand, drifted by the night breeze, the tracks of the snakes, lizards, ani­mals, etc, etc which had come down to the water’s side during the night to drink; and we could plainly discern the traces of their return to their solitary haunts in the desert. Sometimes their track indicated the presence of reptiles of considerable size; and with these proofs of their nocturnal movements, we easily accounted for the dread our guides expressed of walking near the water’s side the night we returned from the second cataract.


Climbing the Colossi, 1848 
Harriet Martineau
I was impatient to get to the Colossi of the large temple, which looked magnificent from our deck. So, after breakfast, I set forth alone, to see what height I could attain in the examination of the statues.

The southernmost is the only complete one. The next to it is terribly shattered: and the other two have lost the top of the helmet. They are much sanded up, though, thanks to Mr. Hay, much less than they were. The sand slopes up from the half-cleared entrance to the chin of the northernmost colossus: and this slope of sand it was my purpose to climb. It was so steep, loose, and hot to the feet, that it was no easy matter to make my way up. The beetles, which tread lightly and seem to like having warm feet, got on very well; and they covered the sand with a net work of tracks: but heavier climbers, shod in leather, are worsted in the race with them. But one cannot reach the chin of a colossus every day: and it was worth an effort. And when I had reached the chin, I made a little discovery about it which may be worth recording, and which surprised me a good deal at the time. I found that a part of the lower jaw, reaching half way up the lower lip, was composed of the mud and straw of which crude bricks are made. There had been evidently a fault in the stone, which was supplied by this material. It was most beautifully moulded. The beauty of the curves of these great faces is surprising in the stone: the fidelity of the rounding of the muscles, and the grace of the flowing lines of the cheek and jaw: but it was yet more wonderful in such a material as mud and straw. I cannot doubt that this chin and lip were moulded when the material was in a soft state: a difficult task in the case of a statue seventy feet high, standing up against the face of a rock.

I called the gentlemen up, to bear witness to the fact: and it set us looking for more instances. Mr. E. soon found one. Part of the dress of the Second Osiride on the right hand, entering the temple, is composed of this same material, as smoothly curved and nicely wrought as the chin overhead. On examining closely, we found that this layer of mud and straw covered some chiselling within. The artist had been carving the folds of the dress, when he came upon a fault in the stone which stopped his work till he supplied a surface of material which he could mould.

The small figures which stand beside the colossi and between their ankles, and which look like dolls, are not, as is sometimes said, of human size. The hat of a man of five feet ten inches does not reach their chins by two inches. The small figures are, to my eye, the one blemish of this temple. They do not make the great Ramses look greater, but only look dollish themselves.

On the legs of the shattered colossus are the Greek letters, scrawled as by a Greek clown, composing the inscription of the soldiers sent by Psammitichus in pursuit of the Egyptian deserters whom I mentioned as going up the country from Elephantine, when weary of the neglect in which they were left there. We are much obliged to ‘Damearchon, the son of Ambichus, and Pelephus, the son of Udamus,’ for leaving, in any kind of scrawl, a record of an event so curious. One of the strangest sensations to the traveller in Egypt, is finding such traces as these of persons who were in their day modem travellers seeing the antiquities of the country, but who take their place now among the ancients, and have become subjects of Egyptian history. These rude soldiers, carving their names and errand on the legs of an ancient statue as they went by, passed the spot a century and a half before Cambyses entered the country. One wonders what they thought of Thebes, which they had just seen in all its glory.

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