June 16, 2012

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3

Before we turn to the Pyramid Age itself, however, an account must be given of the preceding centuries which set the stage for the magnificent achievements of the Old Kingdom. When at the beginning of the Third Dynasty the first pyramid was built for King Zoser, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, pharaohs had worn the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt for about four hundred years. Manetho’s assertion that, about 3,000 years before his time, the two lands were unified by a king called Menes, is borne out by the earlier hieroglyphic king lists. Archaeological finds, particularly a number of palettes for eye make-up, depict what are evidently historical scenes. One of these palettes, which probably served magic or ceremonial purposes and which is contemporary with the time of unification, shows a victorious king with the crown of Upper Egypt smiting the enemy and on the other side the same king wearing the crown of Lower Egypt. His name is given as Narmer. He, or possibly his successor Hor-aha, may correspond to Manetho’s Menes. As mentioned earlier, the multiple names used by the pharaohs make identification often hazardous.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
Earlier archaeological finds show that well before the time of unification various closely related cultures flourished in the Nile Valley for a long time. Then, about a century before Narmer a sudden change seems to have come over the country. The burial customs took a different form, the tombs showed monumental architecture and, above all, hieroglyphic writing made its appearance. It is significant that the first written records already show a script which had passed the stage of mere pictograms and in which the characters had already assumed sound values. In other words the earliest known Egyptian hieroglyphs definitely represent a syllabic language. Thus there must have existed an earlier phase in which the pictures of a bird, a lizard or a lotus, were combined into words having a similar sound, a step which the Chinese civilisation never took.

The sudden appearance of this well-developed form of writing indicates that it was most likely imported into Egypt from elsewhere, and most Egyptologists are inclined to think that at about 3400 BG a large-scale invasion of Egypt took place. Where the invaders came from is not known. Burial customs and certain architectural features are similar to the earliest Mesopotamian civilisation but striking differences make it unlikely that this was the origin of the invaders. I.t seems more probable that the rulers of Egypt and of Mesopotamia had a common ancestry from which they derived similar traits. Who these ancestors could have been remains an open question and only a vague indication is provided by certain aspects of their beliefs which, as we shall see, are of a definitely African character.

The invading dynastic race which was to usher in the pharaonic civilisation of Egypt called themselves the followers of Horus. Horus was a skyrod whose totem animal was the falcon. The falcon appears on the Narmer palette, where it is shown holding an enemy captive, and it surmounts the name of the pharaoh on the memorial stelae which were erected at the tombs of the early kings. Horus also enters the name of the king himself as, for instance, in Hor-aha, and the falcon god is retained as the pharaoh’s title well into the Pyramid Age. Horus was thus closely connected with the divine kingship of the pharaoh and he stood high above the totem animals of the local tribes which represented the gods of the individual provinces. His only serious rival seems to have been the god Seth of Ombos whose totem was a composite four-legged creature with an ant-eater’s snout, large ears, cut off at the top, and a raised tail. Seth was possibly the god of the indigenous population whose stronghold appears to have been Upper Egypt, whereas Horus was originally connected with the Delta. It was perhaps through the Delta that the invaders first entered Egypt, conquering from there Seth’s country in the Nile valley. Although these events date back to Egypt’s prehistoric period, the juxtaposition of Seth and Horus as representing Upper and Lower Egypt is retained in representations throughout Egyptian history.

The enmity between Seth and Horus is expressed in a different form in the Osiris legend which probably stems from archaic times but reached its general religious importance only much later. The myth relates how the good King Osiris was treacherously murdered by his evil brother, Seth, who hacked his body to pieces and scattered them throughout the land. They were collected and buried by his wife, Isis, and Seth was defeated by Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis. The origin of this legend may have its roots in the struggle of the conquering dynastic race, the followers of Horus, with the original population of Seth’s worshippers. Its significance for our considerations lies in the identification of Osiris with the dead pharaoh, the recovery of his corpse and the continuation of his existence in a new form after death. The inviolate preservation of the body in a strong and well protected ‘eternal house’ thus became one of the foremost tasks of Egyptian civilisation.

It is, in fact, from the tombs that practically all our knowledge of life in ancient Egypt is derived. In the cities of the dead at the edge of the desert above the Nile valley, the dry, hot air from the Sahara has helped to preserve the dead and their possessions. It has also covered the graves with dunes of blown sand, concealing their entrances and guarding their rest until it was disturbed by the spade of the modem excavator. Unfortunately thousands of years before the curious arrived, the greedy had done their work only too 'veil. Almost everywhere they had stripped the dead of their wealth, broken and scattered what seemed valueless, exposing the odies and other contents of the tombs to disintegration. The further one goes back in history, the more time and opportunity did the tomb robbers have to wreak destruction. When we reach the Pyramid Age there are few objects left from that remote time of the first flowering of human society. Even the stones of the monuments were stolen to be turned into city walls and mosques, and only the pyramids themselves, whose immense bulk and strength withstood all onslaughts, remained to furnish us with the story of their time - provided we know how to read it.

In the development of man, death has been a fairly late discovery. The animal does not recognise death. A mother monkey will carry her baby around in the usual manner even after it has died, until its body has completely disintegrated. Less than a century ago the aborigines of central Australia had not yet accepted the inevitability of natural death. When one of their number died from illness or old age, they were sure that he had been killed by magic, and magic was invoked to discover the murderer. Once he was found, the deceased was avenged by either violence or again by magic. Even to this day man has not quite made his peace with the discovery of death. Many, if not most, of us still cling to the hope of a hereafter in one form or another in which we can continue as individual and recognisable personalities for ever.

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids :
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P7

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