May 10, 2012

Karnak in Silence, 1873 | Luxor - Walking Through Egypt

Karnak in Silence, 1873
Amelia Edwards

Karnak
An immense perspective of pillars and pylons leading up to a very distant obelisk opened out before us. We went in, the great walls towering up like cliffs above

Kamak, retrospective view of the Grand Hall

our heads, and entered the First Court. Here, in the midst of a large quadrangle open to the sky stands a solitary column, the last of a central avenue of twelve, some of which, disjointed by the shock, lie just as they fell, like skeletons of vertebrate monsters left stranded by the Flood.

Crossing this Court in the flowing sunlight, we came to a mighty doorway between two more propylons the doorway splendid with coloured bas- reliefs; the propylons mere cataracts of fallen blocks piled up to the right and left in grand confusion. The cornice of the doorway is gone. Only a jutting fragment of the lintel stone remains. That stone, when perfect, measured forty feet and ten inches across. The doorway must have been a full hundred feet in height.

We went on. Leaving to the right a mutilated colossus engraven on arm and breast with the cartouche of Rameses II, we crossed the shade upon the threshold, and passed into the famous Hypostyle Hall of Seti the First.

It is a place that has been much written about and often painted; but of which no writing and no art can convey more than a dwarfed and pallid impression. To describe it, in the sense of building up a recognisable image by means of words, is impossible. The scale is too vast; the effect too tremendous; the sense of one’s own dumbness, and littleness, and incapacity, too complete and crushing. It is a place that strikes you into silence; that empties you, as it were, not only of words but of ideas. Nor is this a first effect only. Later in the year, when we came back down the river and moored close by, and spent long days among the ruins, I found I never had a word to say in the Great Hall. Others might measure the girth of those tremendous columns; others might climb hither and thither, and find out points of view, and test the accuracy of Wilkinson and Mariette; but I could only look, and be silent.

Dining at Karnak, 1930
Princess Marta Bibescu
Arab musicians sing:
Gardener, give me a rose,
If you give me no rose,
Then a kiss
A kiss and a bite.
It is light music, but it lasts.

We follow in the night the sandy avenue of sacred rams, that series of‘paternosters’. The perfume of mimosa from the abandoned house of Legrain, a little French dwelling shadowed by the great pylons, comes to us on the Nile breeze.

Prince I.D. points out certain lights which move on the pylons up near the stars.
“Your dinner awaits you there,” he said.
We went up to the lofty terrace by a half-ruined spiral staircase, like the ones in cathedrals. The handsome serving-men, black shadows against the sky, stood mute and motionless around a small laden table. They must have been jinn out of the air to have carried such a large meal to this place.
At my right, the Nile and mountain Assasif with its strawberry and cream tint. At my left, the prodigious ruin of the eighth wonder of the world. The moon hangs high above the table exactly in the center of the four candles enclosed in glass globes. . . .
The Prince has brought a phonograph.
Some American tourists, attracted by the familiar sounds of Old Man River in that great solitude, appear, like jacks-in-the-box, at the head of the stairway. The jinn have to drive them away with great flappings of napkins.
When our meal is finished, a jinni who comes to carry out the coffee cups brings me the moon on a silver salver.
In the back streets of Luxor there are many craftsmen, as there have been since the days of the pharaohs. With the advent of modem tourism, some of them turned their skills to the making of ‘antiques.’ Others, responding to the taste of travelers for souvenirs from the past, discovered and sold real ancient artifacts.

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