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Egyptian Thebes
by [?]

THE characteristic of Egyptian architecture is Imagination; of Grecian architecture, Grace. When the Ptolemies assumed the sceptre of the Pharaohs, they blended the delicate taste of Ionia with the rich invention of the Nile; and they produced the most splendid creations of architectural power that can now be witnessed. Such is the refined Philoe–such the magnificent Dendera–such the sumptuous Edfou!

All the architectural remains of the most famous nations and the greatest empires,–the amphitheatres, and arches, and columns of the Romans; the fanes of the Greeks; the temples of the Syrians and Sicilians; the Colosseum, the Parthenon, the courts of Baalbec, the pillars of Palmyra and Girgenti,–sink into insignificance when compared with the structures that line the banks of an African river. The mind makes a leap amid their vastness, their variety, and their number. New combinations rise upon our limited invention and contract the taste,–the pyramid, the propylon, the colossus, the catacomb, the obelisk, the sphinx.

Take the map; trace the windings of the mysterious stream, whose source baffles even this age of enterprise, and which remains unknown even when the Niger is discovered. It flows through a wilderness. On one side are the interminable wastes of Libya; on the other, a rocky desert, leading to the ocean: yet its banks are fertile as a garden; and within 150 miles of the sea it divides into two branches, which wind through an immense plain, once the granary of the world.

A Nubian passed me in a state of nudity, armed with a poisoned spear, and guarded by the skin of a hippopotamus, formed into a shield. In this country, the animal called man is fine, although his wants are few,–some rice, a calabash of palm wine, and the fish he himself spears. Are his ancestors the creators of the adjoining temple, covered with beautiful sculptures, and supported by colossal figures fifty feet in height? It is well to ponder, by the roar of the cataracts of the Nile, over the perfectibility of man.

A light has at length broken into the darkness of Egyptian ages; and although we cannot discover the source of the Nile, we can at least decipher its hieroglyphics. Those who are ignorant of the study are incredulous as to its fruits; they disbelieve in the sun, because they are dazzled by its beams. A popular miscellany is not the place to enter into a history, or a vindication, of the phonetic system. I am desirous here only of conveying to the general reader, in an intelligible manner, some idea of the discoveries that are now unfolding themselves to the Egyptian antiquarian, and of wandering with him for a moment amid the marvellous creations of the Pharaohs and the Ptolemies, with a talisman which shall unfold for his instruction and amusement their mystical and romantic history.

I approach this mighty temple. A goose and globe, encircled in an oval, at once inform me that it was constructed by a ‘Son of the Sun,’ or a ‘Phrah,’ or ‘Pharaoh.’ It is remarkable that the Greeks never once mention this memorable title, simply because they have always translated it by their celebrated personification, ‘Sol,’ or ‘Apollo.’ In the obelisk of Hermapion, given by Ammianus Marcellinus, we should therefore read, in the third column, instead of ‘the powerful Apollo,’ ‘the powerful Phrah, the all-splendid Son of the Sun.’ Proceeding with the inscription, I also discover that the temple was constructed by Rameses the Second, a monarch of whom we have more to hear, and who also raised some of the most wonderful monuments of Thebes.

The first step of the Egyptian student should be to eradicate from his mind all recollection of ancient authors. When he has arrived at his own results, he may open Herodotus with interest, read Diodorus with suspicion; but, above all, he will then learn to estimate the value of the hitherto reviled Manetho, undoubtedly the fragments of the work of a genuine Egyptian writer. The history and theology of ancient Egypt must be studied on the sculptured walls of its palaces and temples, breathing with sacred mysteries and heroic warfare; its manners and customs in its catacombs and sepulchres, where the painter has celebrated the minutest traits of the social life and the domestic economy of the most ancient of nations.