May 15, 2012

Digging at Abu Simbel, 1836 | Walking Through Egypt

Digging at Abu Simbel, 1836
David Roberts, RA
Mr. Hay (the archaeologist) had the sand so far removed as to disclose entirely the two columns on the south side of the door, together with the doorway to its base, and now nine or ten Nubians can remove the sand in a few hours which may fall in, and can give ready access to the temple.

Abu Simbel

Night in the Temple, 1862
Reverend John William Burgon
At about ten o’clock in the evening of this most interesting day, a strong wish came over me to go back, and pay one more visit to Rameses the Great. Two of our party expressed their willingness to bear me company. We furnished ourselves with a slender pole, to the extremity of which we secured a candle: left our shoes behind us (the sand was so warm and soft to the feet, and walking with shoes was so very inconvenient) and after the most noiseless fashion imaginable, took our starlight way towards the Temple.

Having entered, we made a complete survey over again of every part; leisurely exploring the walls in every direction with our solitary candle, so as to obtain a notion of what was anywhere incised upon them. The silence was intense: the whirring of the wings of a nervous little bat, who made the circuit of the Temple with us, the only thing audible. We found our way into the remotest chamber of all the shrine, where four gloomy gods face you, in a sitting posture. Quite awful was it to find them still sitting there in the dark, as twelve hours before we had left them motionless, in grim majesty. “And there they will sit,” we said to ourselves, “unconscious of change, until the ages shall have run out, and the end shall be!”

The last thing I did on entering the great gall of the Temple was the first thing I had done on entering it, namely, to obtain a careful survey of the features of t e colossus on the right, by lifting up the candle above the head of the figure. 1 cannot express how striking was the result. In that vast, mysterious cavem-like chamber the only object in bright relief was the countenance of the monarch w 3,200 years ago, had caused this mighty fabric to be wrought out of the solid rock. The serene majesty of those features was ever affecting. It was the deep repose, the profound calm, of death. Making the boatman who waited on us hold the light for me, I drew for a few minutes minutes which seemed like hours; so many solemn thoughts crowded themselves in, unbidden. None of us spoke. The silence was so intense that one might have heard the ticking of one’s watch. What is strange, at last, on looking up from my papers, I thought I saw the beginning of a smile on the lips of Rameses. Intently I gazed and of course recognised the sufficiently obvious fact that the supposed smile was merely the effect of my own imagination. But it is just as certain that I gazed on until, I am half ashamed to write it, but it is true until the features seemed to me to smile again. Then they grew graver than ever: but at last I felt sure that they relaxed just a little bit again. One’s nerves were getting over-strung. I invented a sentiment for the lips to utter, and felt sure that I was interpreting their most expressive outline rightly.

I daresay, if I had been alone, and had stopped long enough, I should have heard Rameses speak. It would have been somewhat to this effect:

“You seem astonished, Sir, at what you are beholding in this remote comer of my dominions. No wonder; for with all your boasted civilisation and progress, you could not match this edifice in the far-away land to which (as I gather from your uncouth dress and manners) you and your friends belong. I have been reposing here in effigy for upwards of 3000 years. I have seen generation after generation of ancient Greeks, and generation after generation of ancient Romans, enter this hall; peep and pry, as you have done this evening; and then vanish at yonder portal, as you will yourself do a few minutes hence. If I smiled for an instant just now (it is not my wont to smile) it was only because you really looked alarmed as well as awed at my presence. But I shall not smile again. So now, go home, Sir, go and write a book, like the rest, about the litde you have seen in Egypt; but let it humble you to remember that Rameses will be standing here, unchangeable, long after you, and your book, and all that belongs to you is utterly forgotten. You may go, Sir. It is getting late for you. You had better go, Sir. Good night!”

We lingered: retiring a few steps, and then turning again to look; profoundly conscious that we were looking our last; that we should never fasten our eyes on those glorious forms again. I fancy that we were, all three, impressed with an uneasy suspicion that it was not mere lifeless stone that we had been visiting, and were now leaving the profoundest silence and utter gloom. ... It was a relief to emerge into the fresh evening air; to survey the starry heavens overhead, Orion, and the rest; and to recognise our two boats, bright with lights, beneath us, moored to the banks of the bright shining river.

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