May 12, 2012

The Tombs of the Private Thebans, 1836 | Luxor - Walking Through Egypt

The Tombs of the Private Thebans, 1836 
Lord Lindsay

Thebans Tomb
But why should the king’s tombs engross all my praise? Gorgeous as they are, and interesting for the study of ancient mythology, those of the private Thebans are yet more so for the history of manners and daily life among the old Egyptians. Every light and shadow, indeed, of human life, is portrayed in them, from the laughter of the feast to the tears of the funeral ointments poured on the head at one, dust heaped on it at the other. You see on one side the arrival of the guest in his chariot, white horses and a train of running footmen betokening his consequence; the other guests, already assembled and seated, the men apart from the women, wait for their dinner, and beguile the intervening moments with smelling the lotus-flower, and listening to the music of the dancing-girls. The master of the house and his wife, richly dressed, and lovingly seated side by side, preside at the entertainment. But the tableau would be incomplete without side-views of the shambles [meat stall] and the kitchen, and a beggar at the gate receiving a bull’s head and a draught of water from one of the menials. Facing this, on the opposite wall, the mourning women, with wailing cries and dishevelled hair, precede the coffin that bears the hospitable Egyptian to his long home; the wife or the sister walks beside it, silent in her sorrow; a scribe takes account of the dead man’s riches, his cattle, his horses, his household chattels; Death and then the Judgement: the deceased is ushered into Amenti; Horus and Aroeres weigh his merits against the ostrich feather, the symbol of Truth; Thoth, the god of letters, presents a scroll, the record of his thoughts, words, and works, to the judge Osiris, into whose presence he is at length admitted on the favourable result of the scrutiny. Sad presumption for man thus to usurp his Creator’s prerogative of reading and judging the heart!

And amidst all these varied scenes, as if to show how narrowly joy may be partitioned off from sorrow, how the merry-hearted and the broken-hearted may unconsciously pillow within an inch of each other, and how the world jogs on in daily routine, indifferent to the feelings of either the occupations of every-day life are pictured in their minutest detail around you, the scenes of industry, scenes of frolic, parties pledging each other’s healths, young folks dancing to the music of the harp, husbandmen in the fields, artificers of every trade at their work, (many of them with tools precisely like those now in use), carpenters, smiths, glass-blowers, shoemakers, wheelwrights, statuaries, idol-makers I saw a god under a graver’s hand, and I thought of Isaiah’s noble apostrophe, which Sir Frederick P. you may remember read so beautifully that delightful evening . . . last summer. The illustration was perfect.

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