, pub-5063766797865882, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Seeing, Narrating, Feeling Egypt | Egyptian Deserts ~ Ancient Egypt Facts

June 5, 2012

Seeing, Narrating, Feeling Egypt | Egyptian Deserts

Seeing, Narrating, Feeling Egypt, 1977
William Golding

Egyptian Deserts
I ask myself how the traveller sees when he examines an Egyptian wall painting in a tomb rather than in a museum. The first thing to remember is that he does not see it in a tomb as the word is ordinarily used, at all. Oh yes, there are exceptions, some narrow, difficult tombs! There are tombs where the climb, chute, slide and scramble, the depth and heat add up to such difficulty that only a determined interest in what you have come to see can battle with, and sometimes ward off, claustrophobia. But generally the traveller sees a wall painting in a commodious kind of wine cellar which is reached by a tall corridor. In the more famous examples the corridor is divided down the centre for two-way traffic. The strip lighting is whitish-blue, from mercury vapour lamps I suppose. In the remoter places the lighting varies. In one, the guardian crawled down in front of us. He dragged a smoky hurricane lamp behind him. In some and this was interesting in itself an Egyptian sat outside the entrance to the tomb itself, caught the sunlight in a mirror and shot it down the corridor to a second Egyptian who deflected it round a corner to a third Egyptian whose duty was to catch what light was left and direct it where the traveller wished to fix his gaze. All three men tried to keep their mirrors still, but they had to breathe, their hearts had to beat, the sun himself and the earth under us were all the time changing their relative positions. The rocks expanded or contracted in the varying heat; and whatever all this amounted to was not only caught and transmitted by the mirrors but by the nature of optics, each mirror, as in an old-fashioned galvanometer, doubled the movement. Add to this the generous desire of the third Egyptian to be helpful and keep the mirror impossibly still and it is clear why the last reflection cast over the wall fluttered and quivered like a butterfly at a window. Under those widely vibrating wings appeared those portions of the painting that the archaeologists had assured the guardian would be of most interest appeared and disappeared, stayed for a shuddering second or so then gave flittering way to another section. Turn to the man holding the mirror, he and you dim enough figures recognizable only by the random side-effects of this elaborate system, and he will smile agreeably, bow, moving his hands and the mirror so that the butterfly dashes widely from the floor to the roof then back again, perches on your boots it may be and jazzes back up the wall to cover as much as illuminate a cow and cowherd, a handful of hieroglyphics, two women walking up in step, one hand to the forehead one to the sky, the ritual tears falling for a grief that is no longer anywhere to be felt; and the butterfly flirts over a god with a bird’s head; and you are lost from all chance of feeling and perception, because the life of the light, the butterfly, you have come to understand by way of the bow and the pleasant smile is the functional end of this chain of service that leads back to open air and the sun. You become aware of nerves and blood and bone and life and men, not painted on a wall. . . .

But there was a vocabulary, a resource of images and these were images of power not power in the political/social sense but acting directly on the men who behold them. How should they not? They rose up in the mind of people so like us we might as well call them ourselves. Whoever examines that vocabulary whether it be painted or graven, or made of metal or clay or faience, is looking at his own interior language at some level or other. But to allow that language to carry out its business of transmutation in the less overt, less obvious regions of the mind would require the sort of self-abandonment and long absorption that no traveller can afford to give. . . . Men are prisoners of their metaphors.


Post a Comment

Hi, If you found any copyright content in Ancient Egypt blog please don't hesitant to send an email : and will delete within 24 Hours


Follow us

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...