May 6, 2012

Wonders of the World, c. 1000 | Walking Through Egypt

Extravagance, c. 50
Pliny the Elder

Great Pyramid Of Giza
We will mention also cursorily the Pyramids, which are in the same country of Egypt, that idle and foolish exhibition of royal wealth. For the cause by most assigned for their construction is an intention on the part of those kings to exhaust their treasures, rather than leave them to successors or plotting rivals, or to keep the people from idleness. Great was the vanity of those individuals on this point.

This account by al-Muqaddasi is interesting both linking with and diverging from other accounts. One wonders whether the scholar was reporting what others had reported to him without actually visiting the site.

Wonders of the World, c. 1000
al-Muqaddasi
Among the remarkable things in this region are al-Haraman (the two pyramids), which are one of the wonders of the world. Of stone, and resembling two edifices, they rise, each, to a height of four hundred cubits the cubit of King Khosraw its width the same. They are covered with Greek inscriptions, and within both of them are two passages in the highest part of each; there is, too, a remarkable vaulted passageway underground, excavated in the sand.

Varying accounts have been given me about both structures, some saying that they are both talismans, others that they were the granaries of Joseph; others say, no, rather they are his burial grounds. I have read in the book of Ibn al-Faqih that they are both bequeathed to the sand. It is said moreover, that on both of them is written: “I built them both, and whoever claims power in his possession of them, let him destroy them both, for destroying is easier than building.” One of the kings purposed to destroy them both, but the revenue of Egypt did not suffice to do that, so he left them both. They are both smooth like big buildings, and may be seen from a distance of two or three days’ journey. One does not ascend them unless he is agile. Around about them both is a number of smaller structures, and this indicates that they are graves. Do you not notice about the kings of al-Daylam in al-Ravy, how they have, in imitation, put tall domes over their graves? They made them as strong and as high as they could, so that they would not be obliterated. These are even smaller than these lesser ones. Here also is an idol which some assert Satan used to take possession of and make to speak, with the result that he broke its nose and lips.

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