May 6, 2012

Pyramids and Sphinx, 1835

Pyramids and Sphinx, 1835
Alexander Kinglake

Pyramids and Sphinx
Familiar to one from the days of early childhood are the forms of the Egyptian Pyramids, and now, as I approached them from the banks of the Nile, I had no print, no picture before me, and yet the old shapes were there; there was no change; they were just as I had always known them. I straightened myself in my stirrups, and strived to persuade my understanding that this was the real Egypt, and that those angles which stood between me and the West were of harder stuff and more ancient than the paper pyramids of the green portfolio. Yet it was not until I came to the base of the great Pyramid that reality began to weigh upon my mind. Strange to say, the bigness of the distinct blocks of stones was the first sign by which I attained to feel the immensity of the whole pile. When I came, and trod, and touched with my hands, and climbed, in order that by climbing I might come to the top of one single stone, then, and almost suddenly, a cold sense and understanding of the Pyramid’s enormity came down overcasting my brain. . . . And near the Pyramids more wondrous and more awful than all else in the land of Egypt, there sits the lonely Sphinx. Comely the creature is, but the comeliness is not of this world; the once worshipped beast is a deformity and a monster to this generation, and yet you can see that those lips, so thick and heavy, were fashioned according to some ancient mould of beauty, some mould of beauty now forgotten forgotten because that Greece drew forth Cytherea from the flashing foam of the Aegean, and in her image created new forms of beauty, and made it a law among men that the short and proudly wreathed lip would stand for the sign and the main condition of loveliness through all generations to come. Yet still there lives on the race of those who were beautiful in the fashion of the older world, and Christian girls of Coptic blood will look on you with the sad, serious gaze, and kiss your charitable hand with the big pouting lips of the very Sphinx.

Entering one of the pyramids is an experience that cannot fail to effect the most travel-hardened person. Climb a few of the great stones to reach the entrance and you marvel. Within, the whole structure becomes more and more amazing.

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