The Spell Of Egypt


by Robert Hichens





Why do you come to Egypt? Do you come to gain a dream, or to regain lost
dreams of old; to gild your life with the drowsy gold of romance,
to lose a creeping sorrow, to forget that too many of your hours are
sullen, grey, bereft? What do you wish of Egypt?

The Sphinx will not ask you, will not care. The Pyramids, lifting their
unnumbered stones to the clear and wonderful skies, have held, still
hold, their secrets; but they do not seek for yours. The terrific
temples, the hot, mysterious tombs, odorous of the dead desires of men,
crouching in and under the immeasurable sands, will muck you with their
brooding silence, with their dim and sombre repose. The brown children
of the Nile, the toilers who sing their antique songs by the shadoof and
the sakieh, the dragomans, the smiling goblin merchants, the Bedouins
who lead your camel into the pale recesses of the dunes–these will not
trouble themselves about your deep desires, your perhaps yearning hunger
of the heart and the imagination.

Yet Egypt is not unresponsive.

I came back to her with dread, after fourteen years of absence–years
filled for me with the rumors of her changes. And on the very day of my
arrival she calmly reassured me. She told me in her supremely magical
way that all was well with her. She taught me once more a lesson I had
not quite forgotten, but that I was glad to learn again–the lesson that
Egypt owes her most subtle, most inner beauty to Kheper, although she
owes her marvels to men; that when he created the sun which shines upon
her, he gave her the lustre of her life, and that those who come to her
must be sun-worshippers if they would truly and intimately understand
the treasure or romance that lies heaped within her bosom.

Thoth, says the old legend, travelled in the Boat of the Sun. If you
would love Egypt rightly, you, too, must be a traveller in that bark.
You must not fear to steep yourself in the mystery of gold, in the
mystery of heat, in the mystery of silence that seems softly showered
out of the sun. The sacred white lotus must be your emblem, and Horus,
the hawk-headed, merged in Ra, your special deity. Scarcely had I set
foot once more in Egypt before Thoth lifted me into the Boat of the sun
and soothed my fears to sleep.

I arrived in Cairo. I saw new and vast hotels; I saw crowded streets;
brilliant shops; English officials driving importantly in victorias,
surely to pay dreadful calls of ceremony; women in gigantic hats, with
Niagaras of veil, waving white gloves as they talked of–I guess–the
latest Cairene scandal. I perceived on the right hand and on the left
waiters created in Switzerland, hall porters made in Germany, Levantine
touts, determined Jews holding false antiquities in their lean fingers,
an English Baptist minister, in a white helmet, drinking chocolate on a
terrace, with a guide-book in one fist, a ticket to visit monuments
in the other. I heard Scottish soldiers playing, “I’ll be in Scotland
before ye!” and something within me, a lurking hope, I suppose, seemed
to founder and collapse–but only for a moment. It was after four in the
afternoon. Soon day would be declining. And I seemed to remember that
the decline of day in Egypt had moved me long ago–moved me as few, rare
things have ever done. Within half an hour I was alone, far up the
long road–Ismail’s road–that leads from the suburbs of Cairo to the
Pyramids. And then Egypt took me like a child by the hand and reassured

It was the first week of November, high Nile had not subsided, and all
the land here, between the river and the sand where the Sphinx keeps
watch, was hidden beneath the vast and tranquil waters of what seemed a
tideless sea–a sea fringed with dense masses of date-palms, girdled in
the far distance by palm-trees that kept the white and the brown houses
in their feathery embrace. Above these isolated houses pigeons circled.
In the distance the lateen sails of boats glided, sometimes behind the
palms, coming into view, vanishing and mysteriously reappearing among
their narrow trunks. Here and there a living thing moved slowly, wading
homeward through this sea: a camel from the sands of Ghizeh, a buffalo,
two donkeys, followed by boys who held with brown hands their dark blue
skirts near their faces, a Bedouin leaning forward upon the neck of his
quickly stepping horse. At one moment I seemed to look upon the lagoons
of Venice, a watery vision full of a glassy calm. Then the palm-trees in
the water, and growing to its edge, the pale sands that, far as the
eyes could see, from Ghizeh to Sakkara and beyond, fringed it toward
the west, made me think of the Pacific, of palmy islands, of a paradise
where men grow drowsy in well-being, and dream away the years. And
then I looked farther, beyond the pallid line of the sands, and I saw
a Pyramid of gold, the wonder Khufu had built. As a golden wonder it
saluted me after all my years of absence. Later I was to see it grey as
grey sands, sulphur color in the afternoon from very near at hand, black
as a monument draped in funereal velvet for a mourning under the stars
at night, white as a monstrous marble tomb soon after dawn from the
sand-dunes between it and Sakkara. But as a golden thing it greeted me,
as a golden miracle I shall remember it.

Slowly the sun went down. The second Pyramid seemed also made of gold.
Drowsily splendid it and its greater brother looked set on the golden
sands beneath the golden sky. And now the gold came traveling down from
the desert to the water, turning it surely to a wine like the wine of
gold that flowed down Midas’s throat; then, as the magic grew, to a
Pactolus, and at last to a great surface that resembled golden ice,
hard, glittering, unbroken by any ruffling wave. The islands rising from
this golden ice were jet black, the houses black, the palms and their
shadows that fell upon the marvel black. Black were the birds that flew
low from roof to roof, black the wading camels, black the meeting leaves
of the tall lebbek-trees that formed a tunnel from where I stood to Mena
House. And presently a huge black Pyramid lay supine on the gold, and
near it a shadowy brother seemed more humble than it, but scarcely less
mysterious. The gold deepened, glowed more fiercely. In the sky above
the Pyramids hung tiny cloud wreaths of rose red, delicate and airy as
the gossamers of Tunis. As I turned, far off in Cairo I saw the first
lights glittering across the fields of doura, silvery white, like
diamonds. But the silver did not call me. My imagination was held
captive by the gold. I was summoned by the gold, and I went on, under
the black lebbek-trees, on Ismail’s road, toward it. And I dwelt in it
many days.

The wonders of Egypt man has made seem to increase in stature before the
spirits’ eyes as man learns to know them better, to tower up ever higher
till the imagination is almost stricken by their looming greatness.
Climb the great Pyramid, spend a day with Abou on its summit, come down,
penetrate into its recesses, stand in the king’s chamber, listen to the
silence there, feel it with your hands–is it not tangible in this hot
fastness of incorruptible death?–creep, like the surreptitious midget
you feel yourself to be, up those long and steep inclines of polished
stone, watching the gloomy darkness of the narrow walls, the far-off
pinpoint of light borne by the Bedouin who guides you, hear the twitter
of the bats that have their dwelling in this monstrous gloom that man
has made to shelter the thing whose ambition could never be embalmed,
though that, of all qualities, should have been given here, in the land
it dowered, a life perpetual. Now you know the Great Pyramid. You know
that you can climb it, that you can enter it. You have seen it from all
sides, under all aspects. It is familiar to you.

No, it can never be that. With its more wonderful comrade, the Sphinx,
it has the power peculiar, so it seems to me, to certain of the rock and
stone monuments of Egypt, of holding itself ever aloof, almost like the
soul of man which can retreat at will, like the Bedouin retreating from
you into the blackness of the Pyramid, far up, or far down, where the
pursuing stranger, unaided, cannot follow.



One day at sunset I saw a bird trying to play with the Sphinx–a bird
like a swallow, but with a ruddy brown on its breast, a gleam of blue
somewhere on its wings. When I came to the edge of the sand basin where
perhaps Khufu saw it lying nearly four thousand years before the birth
of Christ, the Sphinx and the bird were quite alone. The bird flew near
the Sphinx, whimsically turning this way and that, flying now low, now
high, but ever returning to the magnet which drew it, which held it,
from which it surely longed to extract some sign of recognition. It
twittered, it posed itself in the golden air, with its bright eyes
fixed upon those eyes of stone which gazed beyond it, beyond the land of
Egypt, beyond the world of men, beyond the centre of the sun to the last
verges of eternity. And presently it alighted on the head of the Sphinx,
then on its ear, then on its breast; and over the breast it tripped
jerkily, with tiny, elastic steps, looking upward, its whole body
quivering apparently with a desire for comprehension–a desire for some
manifestation of friendship. Then suddenly it spread its wings, and,
straight as an arrow, it flew away over the sands and the waters toward
the doura-fields and Cairo.

And the sunset waned, and the afterglow flamed and faded, and the clear,
soft African night fell. The pilgrims who day by day visit the Sphinx,
like the bird, had gone back to Cairo. They had come, as the bird
had come; as those who have conquered Egypt came; as the Greeks came,
Alexander of Macedon, and the Ptolemies; as the Romans came; as the
Mamelukes, the Turks, the French, the English came.

They had come–and gone.

And that enormous face, with the stains of stormy red still adhering
to its cheeks, grew dark as the darkness closed in, turned brown as a
fellah’s face, as the face of that fellah who whispered his secret in
the sphinx’s ear, but learnt no secret in return; turned black almost
as a Nubian’s face. The night accentuated its appearance of terrible
repose, of super-human indifference to whatever might befall. In the
night I seemed to hear the footsteps of the dead–of all the dead
warriors and the steeds they rode, defiling over the sand before the
unconquerable thing they perhaps thought that they had conquered. At
last the footsteps died away. There was a silence. Then, coming down
from the Great Pyramid, surely I heard the light patter of a donkey’s
feet. They went to the Sphinx and ceased. The silence was profound.
And I remembered the legend that Mary, Joseph, and the Holy Child once
halted here on their long journey, and that Mary laid the tired Christ
between the paws of the Sphinx to sleep. Yet even of the Christ the soul
within that body could take no heed at all.

It is, I think, one of the most astounding facts in the history of
man that a man was able to contain within his mind, to conceive, the
conception of the Sphinx. That he could carry it out in the stone is
amazing. But how much more amazing it is that before there was the
Sphinx he was able to see it with his imagination! One may criticize the
Sphinx. One may say impertinent things that are true about it: that
seen from behind at a distance its head looks like an enormous mushroom
growing in the sand, that its cheeks are swelled inordinately, that
its thick-lipped mouth is legal, that from certain places it bears a
resemblance to a prize bull-dog. All this does not matter at all. What
does matter is that into the conception and execution of the Sphinx has
been poured a supreme imaginative power. He who created it looked beyond
Egypt, beyond the life of man. He grasped the conception of Eternity,
and realized the nothingness of Time, and he rendered it in stone.

I can imagine the most determined atheist looking at the Sphinx and, in
a flash, not merely believing, but feeling that he had before him proof
of the life of the soul beyond the grave, of the life of the soul of
Khufu beyond the tomb of his Pyramid. Always as you return to the Sphinx
you wonder at it more, you adore more strangely its repose, you steep
yourself more intimately in the aloof peace that seems to emanate from
it as light emanates from the sun. And as you look on it at last perhaps
you understand the infinite; you understand where is the bourne to which
the finite flows with all its greatness, as the great Nile flows from
beyond Victoria Nyanza to the sea.

And as the wonder of the Sphinx takes possession of you gradually, so
gradually do you learn to feel the majesty of the Pyramids of Ghizeh.
Unlike the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, which, even when one is near it,
looks like a small mountain, part of the land on which it rests, the
Pyramids of Ghizeh look what they are–artificial excrescences, invented
and carried out by man, expressions of man’s greatness. Exquisite as
they are as features of the drowsy golden landscape at the setting of
the sun, I think they look most wonderful at night, when they are black
beneath the stars. On many nights I have sat in the sand at a distance
and looked at them, and always, and increasingly, they have stirred
my imagination. Their profound calm, their classical simplicity, are
greatly emphasized when no detail can be seen, when they are but black
shapes towering to the stars. They seem to aspire then like prayers
prayed by one who has said, “God does not need any prayers, but I need
them.” In their simplicity they suggest a crowd of thoughts and of
desires. Guy de Maupassant has said that of all the arts architecture is
perhaps the most aesthetic, the most mysterious, and the most nourished
by ideas. How true this is you feel as you look at the Great Pyramid by
night. It seems to breathe out mystery. The immense base recalls to you
the labyrinth within; the long descent from the tiny slit that gives you
entrance, your uncertain steps in its hot, eternal night, your falls
on the ice-like surfaces of its polished blocks of stone, the crushing
weight that seemed to lie on your heart as you stole uncertainly on,
summoned almost as by the desert; your sensation of being for ever
imprisoned, taken and hidden by a monster from Egypt’s wonderful light,
as you stood in the central chamber, and realized the stone ocean into
whose depths, like some intrepid diver, you had dared deliberately to
come. And then your eyes travel up the slowly shrinking walls till they
reach the dark point which is the top. There you stood with Abou, who
spends half his life on the highest stone, hostages of the sun, bathed
in light and air that perhaps came to you from the Gold Coast. And
you saw men and camels like flies, and Cairo like a grey blur, and the
Mokattam hills almost as a higher ridge of the sands. The mosque of
Mohammed Ali was like a cup turned over. Far below slept the dead in
that graveyard of the Sphinx, with its pale stones, its sand, its palm,
its “Sycamores of the South,” once worshipped and regarded as Hathor’s
living body. And beyond them on one side were the sleeping waters, with
islands small, surely, as delicate Egyptian hands, and on the other the
great desert that stretches, so the Bedouins say, on and on “for a march
of a thousand days.”

That base and that summit–what suggestion and what mystery in their
contrast! What sober, eternal beauty in the dark line which unites them,
now sharply, yet softly, defined against the night, which is purple as
the one garment of the fellah! That line leads the soul irresistibly
from earth to the stars.



It was the “Little Christmas” of the Egyptians as I rode to Sakkara,
after seeing a wonderful feat, the ascent and descent of the second
Pyramid in nineteen minutes by a young Bedouin called Mohammed Ali who
very seriously informed me that the only Roumi who had ever reached the
top was an “American gentlemens” called Mark Twain, on his first visit
to Egypt. On his second visit, Ali said, Mr. Twain had a bad foot, and
declared he could not be bothered with the second Pyramid. He had been
up and down without a guide; he had disturbed the jackal which lives
near its summit, and which I saw running in the sunshine as Ali drew
near its lair, and he was satisfied to rest on his immortal laurels. To
the Bedouins of the Pyramids Mark Twain’s world-wide celebrity is owing
to one fact alone: he is the only Roumi who has climbed the second
Pyramid. That is why his name is known to every one.

It was the “Little Christmas,” and from the villages in the plain the
Egyptians came pouring out to visit their dead in the desert cemeteries
as I passed by to visit the dead in the tombs far off on the horizon.
Women, swathed in black, gathered in groups and jumped monotonously up
and down, to the accompaniment of stained hands clapping, and strange
and weary songs. Tiny children blew furiously into tin trumpets,
emitting sounds that were terribly European. Men strode seriously by,
or stood in knots among the graves, talking vivaciously of the things of
this life. As the sun rose higher in the heavens, this visit to the dead
became a carnival of the living. Laughter and shrill cries of merriment
betokened the resignation of the mourners. The sand-dunes were black
with running figures, racing, leaping, chasing one another, rolling over
and over in the warm and golden grains. Some sat among the graves and
ate. Some sang. Some danced. I saw no one praying, after the sun was up.
The Great Pyramid of Ghizeh was transformed in this morning hour, and
gleamed like a marble mountain, or like the hill covered with salt at
El-Outaya, in Algeria. As we went on it sank down into the sands, until
at last I could see only a small section with its top, which looked
almost as pointed as a gigantic needle. Abou was there on the hot stones
in the golden eye of the sun–Abou who lives to respect his Pyramid, and
to serve Turkish coffee to those who are determined enough to climb
it. Before me the Step Pyramid rose, brown almost as bronze, out of the
sands here desolate and pallid. Soon I was in the house of Marriette,
between the little sphinxes.

Near Cairo, although the desert is real desert, it does not give, to
me, at any rate, the immense impression of naked sterility, of almost
brassy, sun-baked fierceness, which often strikes one in the Sahara to
the south of Algeria, where at midday one sometimes has a feeling of
being lost upon a waste of metal, gleaming, angry, tigerish in color.
Here, in Egypt, both the people and the desert seem gentler, safer, more
amiable. Yet these tombs of Sakkara are hidden in a desolation of the
sands, peculiarly blanched and mournful; and as you wander from tomb to
tomb, descending and ascending, stealing through great galleries beneath
the sands, creeping through tubes of stone, crouching almost on hands
and knees in the sultry chambers of the dead, the awfulness of the
passing away of dynasties and of race comes, like a cloud, upon your
spirit. But this cloud lifts and floats from you in the cheerful tomb of
Thi, that royal councillor, that scribe and confidant, whose life must
have been passed in a round of serene activities, amid a sneering,
though doubtless admiring, population.

Into this tomb of white, vivacious figures, gay almost, though never
wholly frivolous–for these men were full of purpose, full of an ardor
that seduces even where it seems grotesque–I took with me a child of
ten called Ali, from the village of Kafiah; and as I looked from him
to the walls around us, rather than the passing away of the races,
I realized the persistence of type. For everywhere I saw the face of
little Ali, with every feature exactly reproduced. Here he was bending
over a sacrifice, leading a sacred bull, feeding geese from a cup,
roasting a chicken, pulling a boat, carpentering, polishing, conducting
a monkey for a walk, or merely sitting bolt upright and sneering. There
were lines of little Alis with their hands held to their breasts, their
faces in profile, their knees rigid, in the happy tomb of Thi; but he
glanced at them unheeding, did not recognize his ancestors. And he did
not care to penetrate into the tombs of Mera and Meri-Ra-ankh, into
the Serapeum and the Mestaba of Ptah-hotep. Perhaps he was right. The
Serapeum is grand in its vastness, with its long and high galleries and
its mighty vaults containing the huge granite sarcophagi of the sacred
bulls of Apis; Mera, red and white, welcomes you from an elevated niche
benignly; Ptah-hotep, priest of the fifth dynasty, receives you, seated
at a table that resembles a rake with long, yellow teeth standing on its
handle, and drinking stiffly a cup of wine. You see upon the wall near
by, with sympathy, a patient being plied by a naked and evidently an
unyielding physician with medicine from a jar that might have been
visited by Morgiana, a musician playing upon an instrument like a huge
and stringless harp. But it is the happy tomb of Thi that lingers
in your memory. In that tomb one sees proclaimed with a marvellous
ingenuity and expressiveness the joy and the activity of life. Thi must
have loved life; loved prayer and sacrifice, loved sport and war, loved
feasting and gaiety, labor of the hands and of the head, loved the arts,
the music of flute and harp, singing by the lingering and plaintive
voices which seem to express the essence of the east, loved sweet odors,
loved sweet women–do we not see him sitting to receive offerings with
his wife beside him?–loved the clear nights and the radiant days that
in Egypt make glad the heart of man. He must have loved the splendid
gift of life, and used it completely. And so little Ali had very right
to make his sole obeisance at Thi’s delicious tomb, from which death
itself seems banished by the soft and embracing radiance of the almost
living walls.

This delicate cheerfulness, a quite airy gaiety of life, is often
combined in Egypt, and most beautifully and happily combined, with
tremendous solidity, heavy impressiveness, a hugeness that is well-nigh
tragic; and it supplies a relief to eye, to mind, to soul, that is sweet
and refreshing as the trickle of a tarantella from a reed flute
heard under the shadows of a temple of Hercules. Life showers us with
contrasts. Art, which gives to us a second and a more withdrawn life,
opening to us a door through which we pass to our dreams, may well
imitate life in this.



Through a long and golden noontide, and on into an afternoon whose
opulence of warmth and light it seemed could never wane, I sat alone,
or wandered gently quite alone, in the Temple of Seti I. at Abydos. Here
again I was in a place of the dead. In Egypt one ever seeks the dead in
the sunshine, black vaults in the land of the gold. But here in Abydos I
was accompanied by whiteness. The general effect of Seti’s mighty temple
is that it is a white temple when seen in full sunshine and beneath
a sky of blinding blue. In an arid place it stands, just beyond an
Egyptian village that is a maze of dust, of children, of animals, and
flies. The last blind houses of the village, brown as brown paper,
confront it on a mound, and as I came toward it a girl-child swathed
in purple with ear-rings, and a twist of orange handkerchief above her
eyes, full of cloud and fire, leaned from a roof, sinuously as a young
snake, to watch me. On each side, descending, were white, ruined walls,
stretched out like defaced white arms of the temple to receive me.
I stood still for a moment and looked at the narrow, severely simple
doorway, at the twelve broken columns advanced on either side, white and
greyish white with their right angles, their once painted figures now
almost wholly colorless.

Here lay the Osirians, those blessed dead of the land of Egypt, who
worshipped the Judge of the Dead, the Lord of the Underworld, and who
hoped for immortality through him–Osiris, husband of Isis, Osiris,
receiver of prayers. Osiris the sun who will not be conquered by night,
but eternally rises again, and so is the symbol of the resurrection
of the soul. It is said that Set, the power of Evil, tore the body of
Osiris into fourteen fragments and scattered them over the land. But
multitudes of worshippers of Osiris believed him buried near Abydos and,
like those who loved the sweet songs of Hafiz, they desired to be buried
near him whom they adored; and so this place became a place of the dead,
a place of many prayers, a white place of many longings.

I was glad to be alone there. The guardian left me in perfect peace. I
happily forgot him. I sat down in the shadow of a column upon its mighty
projecting base. The sky was blinding blue. Great bees hummed, like
bourdons, through the silence, deepening the almost heavy calm. These
columns, architraves, doorways, how mighty, how grandly strong they
were! And yet soon I began to be aware that even here, where surely one
should read only the Book of the Dead, or bend down to the hot ground
to listen if perchance one might hear the dead themselves murmuring over
the chapters of Beatification far down in their hidden tombs, there was
a likeness, a gentle gaiety of life, as in the tomb of Thi. The effect
of solidity was immense. These columns bulged, almost like great fruits
swollen out by their heady strength of blood. They towered up in crowds.
The heavy roof, broken in places most mercifully to show squares and
oblongs of that perfect, calling blue, was like a frowning brow. And yet
I was with grace, with gentleness, with lightness, because in the place
of the dead I was again with the happy, living walls. Above me, on the
roof, there was a gleam of palest blue, like the blue I have sometimes
seen at morning on the Ionian sea just where it meets the shore. The
double rows of gigantic columns stretched away, tall almost as forest
trees, to right of me and to left, and were shut in by massive walls,
strong as the walls of a fortress. And on these columns, and on these
walls, dead painters and gravers had breathed the sweet breath of life.
Here in the sun, for me alone, as it seemed, a population followed their
occupations. Men walked, and kneeled, and stood, some white and clothed,
some nude, some red as the red man’s child that leaped beyond the
sea. And here was the lotus-flower held in reverent hands, not the
rose-lotus, but the blossom that typified the rising again of the sun,
and that, worn as an amulet, signified the gift of eternal youth. And
here was hawk-faced Horus, and here a priest offering sacrifice to a
god, belief in whom has long since passed away. A king revealed himself
to me, adoring Ptah, “Father of the beginnings,” who established upon
earth, my figures thought, the everlasting justice, and again at the
knees of Amen burning incense in his honor. Isis and Osiris stood
together, and sacrifice was made before their sacred bark. And Seti
worshipped them, and Seshta, goddess of learning, wrote in the book of
eternity the name of the king.

The great bees hummed, moving slowly in the golden air among the mighty
columns, passing slowly among these records of lives long over, but
which seemed still to be. And I looked at the lotus-flowers which the
little grotesque hands were holding, had been holding for how many
years–the flowers that typified the rising again of the sun and the
divine gift of eternal youth. And I thought of the bird and the Sphinx,
the thing that was whimsical wooing the thing that was mighty. And I
gazed at the immense columns and at the light and little figures all
about me. Bird and Sphinx, delicate whimsicality, calm and terrific
power! In Egypt the dead men have combined them, and the combination has
an irresistible fascination, weaves a spell that entrances you in the
sunshine and beneath the blinding blue. At Abydos I knew it. And I loved
the columns that seemed blown out with exuberant strength, and I loved
the delicate white walls that, like the lotus-flower, give to the world
a youth that seems eternal–a youth that is never frivolous, but that is
full of the divine, and yet pathetic, animation of happy life.

The great bees hummed more drowsily. I sat quite still in the sun. And
then presently, moved by some prompting instinct, I turned my head, and,
far off, through the narrow portal of the temple, I saw the girl-child
swathed in purple still lying, sinuously as a young snake, upon the
palm-wood roof above the brown earth wall to watch me with her eyes of
cloud and fire.

And upon me, like cloud and fire–cloud of the tombs and the great
temple columns, fire of the brilliant life painted and engraved upon
them–there stole the spell of Egypt.



I do not find in Egypt any more the strangeness that once amazed, and
at first almost bewildered me. Stranger by far is Morocco, stranger
the country beyond Biskra, near Mogar, round Touggourt, even about El
Kantara. There I feel very far away, as a child feels distance from
dear, familiar things. I look to the horizon expectant of I know not
what magical occurrences, what mysteries. I am aware of the summons to
advance to marvellous lands, where marvellous things must happen. I am
taken by that sensation of almost trembling magic which came to me
when first I saw a mirage far out in the Sahara. But Egypt, though
it contains so many marvels, has no longer for me the marvellous
atmosphere. Its keynote is seductiveness.

In Egypt one feels very safe. Smiling policemen in clothes of spotless
white–emblematic, surely, of their innocence!–seem to be everywhere,
standing calmly in the sun. Very gentle, very tender, although perhaps
not very true, are the Bedouins at the Pyramids. Up the Nile the
fellaheen smile as kindly as the policemen, smile protectingly upon
you, as if they would say, “Allah has placed us here to take care of the
confiding stranger.” No ferocious demands for money fall upon my ears;
only an occasional suggestion is subtly conveyed to me that even the
poor must live and that I am immensely rich. An amiable, an almost
enticing seductiveness seems emanating from the fertile soil, shining
in the golden air, gleaming softly in the amber sands, dimpling in the
brown, the mauve, the silver eddies of the Nile. It steals upon one. It
ripples over one. It laps one as if with warm and scented waves. A sort
of lustrous languor overtakes one. In physical well-being one sinks
down, and with wide eyes one gazes and listens and enjoys, and thinks
not of the morrow.

The dahabiyeh–her very name, the _Loulia_, has a gentle, seductive,
cooing sound–drifts broadside to the current with furled sails, or
glides smoothly on before an amiable north wind with sails unfurled.
Upon the bloomy banks, rich brown in color, the brown men stoop and
straighten themselves, and stoop again, and sing. The sun gleams on
their copper skins, which look polished and metallic. Crouched in his
net behind the drowsy oxen, the little boy circles the livelong day with
the sakieh. And the sakieh raises its wailing, wayward voice and sings
to the shadoof; and the shadoof sings to the sakieh; and the lifted
water falls and flows away into the green wilderness of doura that, like
a miniature forest, spreads on every hand to the low mountains, which do
not perturb the spirit, as do the iron mountains of Algeria. And always
the sun is shining, and the body is drinking in its warmth, and the soul
is drinking in its gold. And always the ears are full of warm and drowsy
and monotonous music. And always the eyes see the lines of brown bodies,
on the brown river-banks above the brown waters, bending, straightening,
bending, straightening, with an exquisitely precise monotony. And always
the _Loulia_ seems to be drifting, so quietly she slips up, or down, the
level waterway.

And one drifts, too; one can but drift, happily, sleepily, forgetting
every care. From Abydos to Denderah one drifts, and from Denderah to
Karnak, to Luxor, to all the marvels on the western shore; and on
to Edfu, to Kom Ombos, to Assuan, and perhaps even into Nubia, to
Abu-Simbel, and to Wadi-Halfa. Life on the Nile is a long dream, golden
and sweet as honey of Hymettus. For I let the “divine serpent,” who at
Philae may be seen issuing from her charmed cavern, take me very quietly
to see the abodes of the dead, the halls of the vanished, upon her green
and sterile shores. I know nothing of the bustling, shrieking
steamer that defies her, churning into angry waves her waters for the
edification of those who would “do” Egypt and be gone before they know

If you are in a hurry, do not come to Egypt. To hurry in Egypt is as
wrong as to fall asleep in Wall street, or to sit in the Greek Theatre
at Taormina, reading “How to Make a Fortune with a Capital of Fifty



From Abydos, home of the cult of Osiris, Judge of the Dead, I came
to Denderah, the great temple of the “Lady of the Underworld,” as the
goddess Hathor was sometimes called, though she was usually worshipped
as the Egyptian Aphrodite, goddess of joy, goddess of love and
loveliness. It was early morning when I went ashore. The sun was above
the eastern hills, and a boy, clad in a rope of plaited grass, sent me
half shyly the greeting, “May your day be happy!”

Youth is, perhaps, the most divine of all the gifts of the gods, as
those who wore the lotus-blossom amulet believed thousands of years ago,
and Denderah, appropriately, is a very young Egyptian temple,
probably, indeed, the youngest of all the temples on the Nile. Its
youthfulness–it is only about two thousand years of age–identifies it
happily with the happiness and beauty of its presiding deity, and as I
rode toward it on the canal-bank in the young freshness of the morning,
I thought of the goddess Safekh and of the sacred Persea-tree. When
Safekh inscribed upon a leaf of the Persea-tree the name of king or
conqueror, he gained everlasting life. Was it the life of youth? An
everlasting life of middle age might be a doubtful benefit. And then
mentally I added, “unless one lived in Egypt.” For here the years drop
from one, and every golden hour brings to one surely another drop of
the wondrous essence that sets time at defiance and charms sad thoughts

Unlike White Abydos, White Denderah stands apart from habitations, in
a still solitude upon a blackened mound. From far off I saw the façade,
large, bare, and sober, rising, in a nakedness as complete as that of
Aphrodite rising from the wave, out of the plain of brown, alluvial soil
that was broken here and there by a sharp green of growing things. There
was something of sadness in the scene, and again I thought of Hathor as
the “Lady of the Underworld,” some deep-eyed being, with a pale brow,
hair like the night, and yearning, wistful hands stretched out in
supplication. There was a hush upon this place. The loud and vehement
cry of the shadoof-man died away. The sakieh droned in my ears no more
like distant Sicilian pipes playing at Natale. I felt a breath from the
desert. And, indeed, the desert was near–that realistic desert which
suggests to the traveller approaches to the sea, so that beyond each
pallid dune, as he draws near it, he half expects to hear the lapping of
the waves. Presently, when, having ascended that marvellous staircase
of the New Year, walking in procession with the priests upon its walls
toward the rays of Ra, I came out upon the temple roof, and looked upon
the desert–upon sheeny sands, almost like slopes of satin shining
in the sun, upon paler sands in the distance, holding an Arab _campo
santo_, in which rose the little creamy cupolas of a sheikh’s tomb,
surrounded by a creamy wall, those little cupolas gave to me a feeling
of the real, the irresistible Africa such as I had not known since I had
been in Egypt; and I thought I heard in the distance the ceaseless hum
of praying and praising voices.

“God hath rewarded the faithful with gardens through which flow
rivulets. They shall be for ever therein, and that is the reward of the

The sensation of solemnity which overtook me as I approached the temple
deepened when I drew close to it, when I stood within it. In the first
hall, mighty, magnificent, full of enormous columns from which faces of
Hathor once looked to the four points of the compass, I found only one
face almost complete, saved from the fury of fanatics by the protection
of the goddess of chance, in whom the modern Egyptian so implicitly
believes. In shape it was a delicate oval. In the long eyes, about the
brow, the cheeks, there was a strained expression that suggested to me
more than a gravity–almost an anguish–of spirit. As I looked at it, I
thought of Eleanora Duse. Was this the ideal of joy in the time of the
Ptolemies? Joy may be rapturous, or it may be serene; but could it ever
be like this? The pale, delicious blue that here and there, in tiny
sections, broke the almost haggard, greyish whiteness of this first hall
with the roof of black, like bits of an evening sky seen through tiny
window-slits in a sombre room, suggested joy, was joy summed up in
color. But Hathor’s face was weariful and sad.

From the gloom of the inner halls came a sound, loud, angry, menacing,
as I walked on, a sound of menace and an odor, heavy and deathlike.
Only in the first hall had those builders and decorators of two thousand
years ago been moved by their conception of the goddess to hail her,
to worship her, with the purity of white, with the sweet gaiety of
turquoise. Or so it seems to-day, when the passion of Christianity
against Hathor has spent itself and died. Now Christians come to seek
what Christian Copts destroyed; wander through the deserted courts,
desirous of looking upon the faces that have long since been hacked to
pieces. A more benign spirit informs our world, but, alas! Hathor has
been sacrificed to deviltries of old. And it is well, perhaps, that her
temple should be sad, like a place of silent waiting for the glories
that are gone.

With every step my melancholy grew. Encompassed by gloomy odors,
assailed by the clamour of gigantic bats, which flew furiously among the
monstrous pillars near a roof ominous as a storm-cloud, my spirit was
haunted by the sad eyes of Hathor, which gaze for ever from that column
in the first hall. Were they always like that? Once that face dwelt with
a crowd of worship. And all the other faces have gone, and all the glory
has passed. And, like so many of the living, the goddess has paid for
her splendors. The pendulum swung, and where men adored, men hated
her–her the goddess of love and loveliness. And as the human face
changes when terror and sorrow come, I felt as if Hathor’s face of stone
had changed upon its column, looking toward the Nile, in obedience to
the anguish in her heart; I felt as if Denderah were a majestic house
of grief. So I must always think of it, dark, tragic, and superb. The
Egyptians once believed that when death came to a man, the soul of him,
which they called the Ba, winged its way to the gods, but that, moved
by a sweet unselfishness, it returned sometimes to his tomb, to give
comfort to the poor, deserted mummy. Upon the lids of sarcophagi it is
sometimes represented as a bird, flying down to, or resting upon, the
mummy. As I went onward in the darkness, among the columns, over the
blocks of stone that form the pavements, seeing vaguely the sacred boats
upon the walls, Horus and Thoth, the king before Osiris; as I mounted
and descended with the priests to roof and floor, I longed, instead of
the clamour of the bats, to hear the light flutter of the soft wings of
the Ba of Hathor, flying from Paradise to this sad temple of the desert
to bring her comfort in the gloom. I thought of her as a poor woman,
suffering as only women can in loneliness.

In the museum of Cairo there is the mummy of “the lady Amanit, priestess
of Hathor.” She lies there upon her back, with her thin body slightly
turned toward the left side, as if in an effort to change her position.
Her head is completely turned to the same side. Her mouth is wide open,
showing all the teeth. The tongue is lolling out. Upon the head the
thin, brown hair makes a line above the little ear, and is mingled at
the back of the head with false tresses. Round the neck is a mass of
ornaments, of amulets and beads. The right arm and hand lie along the
body. The expression of “the lady Amanit” is very strange, and very
subtle; for it combines horror–which implies activity–with a profound,
an impenetrable repose, far beyond the reach of all disturbance. In the
temple of Denderah I fancied the lady Amanit ministering sadly, even
terribly, to a lonely goddess, moving in fear through an eternal gloom,
dying at last there, overwhelmed by tasks too heavy for that tiny body,
the ultra-sensitive spirit that inhabited it. And now she sleeps–one
feels that, as one gazes at the mummy–very profoundly, though not yet
very calmly, the lady Amanit. But her goddess–still she wakes upon her

When I came out at last into the sunlight of the growing day, I circled
the temple, skirting its gigantic, corniced walls, from which at
intervals the heads and paws of resting lions protrude, to see another
woman whose fame for loveliness and seduction is almost as legendary as
Aphrodite’s. It is fitting enough that Cleopatra’s form should be graven
upon the temple of Hathor; fitting, also, that though I found her in the
presence of deities, and in the company of her son, Caesarion, her face,
which is in profile, should have nothing of Hathor’s sad impressiveness.
This, no doubt, is not the real Cleopatra. Nevertheless, this face
suggests a certain self-complacent cruelty and sensuality essentially
human, and utterly detached from all divinity, whereas in the face
of the goddess there is a something remote, and even distantly
intellectual, which calls the imagination to “the fields beyond.”

As I rode back toward the river, I saw again the boy clad in the rope of
plaited grass, and again he said, less shyly, “May your day be happy!”
It was a kindly wish. In the dawn I had felt it to be almost a prophecy.
But now I was haunted by the face of the goddess of Denderah, and I
remembered the legend of the lovely Lais, who, when she began to age,
covered herself from the eyes of men with a veil, and went every day at
evening to look upon her statue, in which the genius of Praxiteles had
rendered permanent the beauty the woman could not keep. One evening,
hanging to the statue’s pedestal by a garland of red roses, the sculptor
found a mirror, upon the polished disk of which were traced these words:

“Lais, O Goddess, consecrates to thee her mirror: no longer able to see
there what she was, she will not see there what she has become.”

My Hathor of Denderah, the sad-eyed dweller on the column in the first
hall, had she a mirror, would surely hang it, as Lais hung hers, at the
foot of the pedestal of the Egyptian Aphrodite; had she a veil, would
surely cover the face that, solitary among the cruel evidences of
Christian ferocity, silently says to the gloomy courts, to the shining
desert and the Nile:

“Once I was worshipped, but I am worshipped no longer.”



Buildings have personalities. Some fascinate as beautiful women
fascinate; some charm as a child may charm, naively, simply, but
irresistibly. Some, like conquerors, men of blood and iron, without
bowels of mercy, pitiless and determined, strike awe to the soul,
mingled with the almost gasping admiration that power wakes in man. Some
bring a sense of heavenly peace to the heart. Some, like certain temples
of the Greeks, by their immense dignity, speak to the nature almost as
music speaks, and change anxiety to trust. Some tug at the hidden chords
of romance and rouse a trembling response. Some seem to be mingling
their tears with the tears of the dead; some their laughter with the
laughter of the living. The traveller, sailing up the Nile, holds
intercourse with many of these different personalities. He is sad,
perhaps, as I was with Denderah; dreams in the sun with Abydos; muses
with Luxor beneath the little tapering minaret whence the call to prayer
drops down to be answered by the angelus bell; falls into a reverie in
the “thinking place” of Rameses II., near to the giant that was once the
mightiest of all Egyptian statues; eagerly wakes to the fascination of
record at Deir-el-Bahari; worships in Edfu; by Philae is carried into a
realm of delicate magic, where engineers are not. Each prompts him to
a different mood, each wakes in his nature a different response. And at
Karnak what is he? What mood enfolds him there? Is he sad, thoughtful,
awed, or gay?

An old lady in a helmet, and other things considered no doubt by her as
suited to Egypt rather than to herself, remarked in my hearing, with
a Scotch accent and an air of summing up, that Karnak was “very nice
indeed.” There she was wrong–Scotch and wrong. Karnak is not nice. No
temple that I have seen upon the banks of the Nile is nice. And Karnak
cannot be summed up in a phrase or in many phrases; cannot even be
adequately described in few or many words.

Long ago I saw it lighted up with colored fires one night for the
Khedive, its ravaged magnificence tinted with rose and livid green and
blue, its pylons glittering with artificial gold, its population of
statues, its obelisks, and columns, changing from things of dreams to
things of day, from twilight marvels to shadowy specters, and from these
to hard and piercing realities at the cruel will of pigmies crouching
by its walls. Now, after many years, I saw it first quietly by moonlight
after watching the sunset from the summit of the great pylon. That was a
pageant worth more than the Khedive’s.

I was in the air; had something of the released feeling I have often
known upon the tower of Biskra, looking out toward evening to the Sahara
spaces. But here I was not confronted with an immensity of nature, but
with a gleaming river and an immensity of man. Beneath me was the native
village, in the heart of daylight dusty and unkempt, but now becoming
charged with velvety beauty, with the soft and heavy mystery that at
evening is born among great palm-trees. Along the path that led from
it, coming toward the avenue of sphinxes with ram’s-heads that watch for
ever before the temple door, a great white camel stepped, its rider a
tiny child with a close, white cap upon his head. The child was singing
to the glory of the sunset, or was it to the glory of Amun, “the hidden
one,” once the local god of Thebes, to whom the grandest temple in
the world was dedicated? I listen to the childish, quavering voice,
twittering almost like a bird, and one word alone came up to me–the
word one hears in Egypt from all the lips that speak and sing: from the
Nubians round their fires at night, from the little boatmen of the lower
reaches of the Nile, from the Bedouins of the desert, and the donkey
boys of the villages, from the sheikh who reads one’s future in water
spilt on a plate, and the Bisharin with buttered curls who runs to sell
one beads from his tent among the sand-dunes.

“Allah!” the child was singing as he passed upon his way.

Pigeons circled above their pretty towers. The bats came out, as if they
knew how precious is their black at evening against the ethereal lemon
color, the orange and the red. The little obelisk beyond the last
sphinx on the left began to change, as in Egypt all things change at
sunset–pylon and dusty bush, colossus and baked earth hovel, sycamore,
and tamarisk, statue and trotting donkey. It looked like a mysterious
finger pointed in warning toward the sky. The Nile began to gleam. Upon
its steel and silver torches of amber flame were lighted. The Libyan
mountains became spectral beyond the tombs of the kings. The tiny, rough
cupolas that mark a grave close to the sphinxes, in daytime dingy and
poor, now seemed made of some splendid material worthy to roof the mummy
of a king. Far off a pool of the Nile, that from here looked like a
little palm-fringed lake, turned ruby-red. The flags from the standard
of Luxor, among the minarets, flew out straight against a sky that was
pale as a primrose almost cold in its amazing delicacy.

I turned, and behind me the moon was risen. Already its silver rays
fell upon the ruins of Karnak; upon the thickets of lotus columns; upon
solitary gateways that now give entrance to no courts; upon the sacred
lake, with its reeds, where the black water-fowl were asleep; upon
sloping walls, shored up by enormous stanchions, like ribs of some
prehistoric leviathan; upon small chambers; upon fallen blocks of
masonry, fragments of architrave and pavement, of capital and cornice;
and upon the people of Karnak–those fascinating people who still
cling to their habitation in the ruins, faithful through misfortune,
affectionate with a steadfastness that defies the cruelty of Time;
upon the little, lonely white sphinx with the woman’s face and the
downward-sloping eyes full of sleepy seduction; upon Rameses II., with
the face of a kindly child, not of a king; upon the Sphinx, bereft of
its companion, which crouches before the kiosk of Taharga, the King of
Ethiopia; upon those two who stand together as if devoted, yet by their
attitudes seem to express characters diametrically opposed, grey men and
vivid, the one with folded arms calling to Peace, the other with arms
stretched down in a gesture of crude determination, summoning War, as
if from the underworld; upon the granite foot and ankle in the temple
of Rameses III., which in their perfection, like the headless Victory
in Paris, and the Niobide Chiaramonti in the Vatican, suggest a great
personality that once met with is not to be forgotten: upon these and
their companions, who would not forsake the halls and courts where once
they dwelt with splendor, where now they dwell with ruin that attracts
the gaping world. The moon was risen, but the west was still full of
color and light. It faded. There was a pause. Only a bar of dull
red, holding a hint of brown, by where the sun had sunk. And minutes
passed–minutes for me full of silent expectation, while the moonlight
grew a little stronger, a few more silver rays slipped down upon the
ruins. I turned toward the east. And then came that curious crescendo of
color and of light which, in Egypt, succeeds the diminuendo of color
and of light that is the prelude to the pause before the afterglow.
Everything seemed to be in subtle movement, heaving as a breast heaves
with the breath; swelling slightly, as if in an effort to be more, to
attract attention, to gain in significance. Pale things became livid,
holding apparently some under-brightness which partly penetrated its
envelope, but a brightness that was white and almost frightful. Black
things seemed to glow with blackness. The air quivered. Its silence
surely thrilled with sound–with sound that grew ever louder.

In the east I saw an effect. To the west I turned for the cause. The
sunset light was returning. Horus would not permit Tum to reign even
for a few brief moments, and Khuns, the sacred god of the moon, would be
witness of a conflict in that lovely western region of the ocean of the
sky where the bark of the sun had floated away beneath the mountain
rim upon the red-and-orange tides. The afterglow was like an exquisite
spasm, is always like an exquisite spasm, a beautiful, almost desperate
effort ending in the quiet darkness of defeat. And through that
spasmodic effort a world lived for some minutes with a life that seemed
unreal, startling, magical. Color returned to the sky–color ethereal,
trembling as if it knew it ought not to return. Yet it stayed for a
while and even glowed, though it looked always strangely purified,
and full of a crystal coldness. The birds that flew against it were no
longer birds, but dark, moving ornaments, devised surely by a supreme
artist to heighten here and there the beauty of the sky. Everything that
moved against the afterglow–man, woman, child, camel and donkey, dog
and goat, languishing buffalo, and plunging horse–became at once an
ornament, invented, I fancied, by a genius to emphasize, by relieving
it, the color in which the sky was drowned. And Khuns watched serenely,
as if he knew the end. And almost suddenly the miraculous effort failed.
Things again revealed their truth, whether commonplace or not. That pool
of the Nile was no more a red jewel set in a feathery pattern of strange
design, but only water fading from my sight beyond a group of palms. And
that below me was only a camel going homeward, and that a child leading
a bronze-colored sheep with a curly coat, and that a dusty, flat-roofed
hovel, not the fairy home of jinn, or the abode of some magician working
marvels with the sun-rays he had gathered in his net. The air was no
longer thrilling with music. The breast that had heaved with a divine
breath was still as the breast of a corpse.

And Khuns reigned quietly over the plains of Karnak.

Karnak has no distinctive personality. Built under many kings, its ruins
are as complex as were probably once its completed temples, with their
shrines, their towers, their courts, their hypo-style halls. As I
looked down that evening in the moonlight I saw, softened and made more
touching than in day-time, those alluring complexities, brought by the
night and Khuns into a unity that was both tender and superb. Masses of
masonry lay jumbled in shadow and in silver; gigantic walls cast sharply
defined gloom; obelisks pointed significantly to the sky, seeming, as
they always do, to be murmuring a message; huge doorways stood up like
giants unafraid of their loneliness and yet pathetic in it; here was a
watching statue, there one that seemed to sleep, seen from afar. Yonder
Queen Hatshepsu, who wrought wonders at Deir-el-Bahari, and who is more
familiar perhaps as Hatasu, had left there traces, and nearer, to the
right, Rameses III. had made a temple, surely for the birds, so fond
they are of it, so pertinaciously they haunt it. Rameses II., mutilated
and immense, stood on guard before the terrific hall of Seti I.; and
between him and my platform in the air rose the solitary lotus column
that prepares you for the wonder of Seti’s hall, which otherwise might
almost overwhelm you–unless you are a Scotch lady in a helmet. And
Khuns had his temple here by the Sphinx of the twelfth Rameses, and
Ptah, who created “the sun egg and the moon egg,” and who was said–only
said, alas!–to have established on earth the “everlasting justice,” had
his, and still their stones receive the silver moon-rays and wake
the wonder of men. Thothmes III., Thothmes I., Shishak, who smote the
kneeling prisoners and vanquished Jeroboam, Medamut and Mut, Amenhotep
I., and Amenhotep II.–all have left their records or been celebrated at
Karnak. Purposely I mingled them in my mind–did not attempt to put them
in their proper order, or even to disentangle gods and goddesses from
conquerors and kings. In the warm and seductive night Khuns whispered
to me: “As long ago at Bekhten I exorcised the demon from the suffering
Princess, so now I exorcise from these ruins all spirits but my own.
To-night these ruins shall suggest nothing but majesty, tranquillity,
and beauty. Their records are for Ra, and must be studied by his rays.
In mine they shall speak not to the intellectual, but only to the
emotions and the soul.”

And presently I went down, and yielding a complete and happy obedience
to Khuns, I wandered along through the stupendous vestiges of past eras,
dead ambitions, vanished glory, and long-outworn belief, and I ignored
eras, ambitions, glory, and belief, and thought only of form, and
height, of the miracle of blackness against silver, and of the pathos
of statues whose ever-open eyes at night, when one is near them, suggest
the working of some evil spell, perpetual watchfulness, combined with
eternal inactivity, the unslumbering mind caged in the body that is

There is a temple at Karnak that I love, and I scarcely know why I care
for it so much. It is on the right of the solitary lotus column before
you come to the terrific hall of Seti. Some people pass it by, having
but little time, and being hypnotized, it seems, by the more astounding
ruin that lies beyond it. And perhaps it would be well, on a first
visit, to enter it last; to let its influence be the final one to rest
upon your spirit. This is the temple of Rameses III., a brown place of
calm and retirement, an ineffable place of peace. Yes, though the birds
love it and fill it often with their voices, it is a sanctuary of
peace. Upon the floor the soft sand lies, placing silence beneath your
footsteps. The pale brown of walls and columns, almost yellow in the
sunshine, is delicate and soothing, and inclines the heart to calm.
Delicious, suggestive of a beautiful tapestry, rich and ornate, yet
always quiet, are the brown reliefs upon the stone. What are they? Does
it matter? They soften the walls, make them more personal, more tender.
That surely is their mission. This temple holds for me a spell. As soon
as I enter it, I feel the touch of the lotus, as if an invisible and
kindly hand swept a blossom lightly across my face and downward to my
heart. This courtyard, these small chambers beyond it, that last doorway
framing a lovely darkness, soothe me even more than the terra-cotta
hermitages of the Certosa of Pavia. And all the statues here are calm
with an irrevocable calmness, faithful through passing years with a
very sober faithfulness to the temple they adorn. In no other place, one
feels it, could they be thus at peace, with hands crossed for ever upon
their breasts, which are torn by no anxieties, thrilled by no joys. As
one stands among them or sitting on the base of a column in the chamber
that lies beyond them, looks on them from a little distance, their
attitude is like a summons to men to contend no more, to be still, to
enter into rest.

Come to this temple when you leave the hall of Seti. There you are in
a place of triumph. Scarlet, some say, is the color of a great note
sounded on a bugle. This hall is like a bugle-call of the past,
thrilling even now down all the ages with a triumph that is surely
greater than any other triumphs. It suggests blaze–blaze of scarlet,
blaze of bugle, blaze of glory, blaze of life and time, of ambition
and achievement. In these columns, in the putting up of them, dead men
sought to climb to sun and stars, limitless in desire, limitless in
industry, limitless in will. And at the tops of the columns blooms the
lotus, the symbol of rising. What a triumph in stone this hall was once,
what a triumph in stone its ruin is to-day! Perhaps, among temples, it
is the most wondrous thing in all Egypt, as it was, no doubt, the most
wondrous temple in the world; among temples I say, for the Sphinx is
of all the marvels of Egypt by far the most marvellous. The grandeur
of this hall almost moves one to tears, like the marching past of
conquerors, stirs the heart with leaping thrills at the capacities of
men. Through the thicket of columns, tall as forest trees, the intense
blue of the African sky stares down, and their great shadows lie along
the warm and sunlit ground. Listen! There are voices chanting. Men are
working here–working as men worked how many thousands of years ago. But
these are calling upon the Mohammedan’s god as they slowly drag to
the appointed places the mighty blocks of stone. And it is to-day a
Frenchman who oversees them.

“Help! Help! Allah give us help!
Help! Help! Allah give us help!”

The dust flies up about their naked feet. Triumph and work; work
succeeded by the triumph all can see. I like to hear the workmen’s
voices within the hall of Seti. I like to see the dust stirred by their
tramping feet.

And then I like to go once more to the little temple, to enter through
its defaced gateway, to stand alone in its silence between the rows of
statues with their arms folded upon their quiet breasts, to gaze into
the tender darkness beyond–the darkness that looks consecrated–to feel
that peace is more wonderful than triumph, that the end of things is

Triumph and deathless peace, the bugle-call and silence–these are the
notes of Karnak.



Upon the wall of the great court of Amenhotep III. in the temple of
Luxor there is a delicious dancing procession in honor of Rameses II. It
is very funny and very happy; full of the joy of life–a sort of radiant
cake-walk of old Egyptian days. How supple are these dancers! They seem
to have no bones. One after another they come in line upon the mighty
wall, and each one bends backward to the knees of the one who follows.
As I stood and looked at them for the first time, almost I heard
the twitter of flutes, the rustic wail of the African hautboy, the
monotonous boom of the derabukkeh, cries of a far-off gaiety such as one
often hears from the Nile by night. But these cries came down the long
avenues of the centuries; this gaiety was distant in the vasty halls
of the long-dead years. Never can I think of Luxor without thinking of
those happy dancers, without thinking of the life that goes in the sun
on dancing feet.

There are a few places in the world that one associates with happiness,
that one remembers always with a smile, a little thrill at the heart
that whispers “There joy is.” Of these few places Luxor is one–Luxor
the home of sunshine, the suave abode of light, of warmth, of the sweet
days of gold and sheeny, golden sunsets, of silver, shimmering nights
through which the songs of the boatmen of the Nile go floating to the
courts and the tombs of Thebes. The roses bloom in Luxor under the
mighty palms. Always surely beneath the palms there are the roses. And
the lateen-sails come up the Nile, looking like white-winged promises of
future golden days. And at dawn one wakes with hope and hears the songs
of the dawn; and at noon one dreams of the happiness to come; and at
sunset one is swept away on the gold into the heart of the golden world;
and at night one looks at the stars, and each star is a twinkling hope.
Soft are the airs of Luxor; there is no harshness in the wind that stirs
the leaves of the palms. And the land is steeped in light. From Luxor
one goes with regret. One returns to it with joy on dancing feet.

One day I sat in the temple, in the huge court with the great double row
of columns that stands on the banks of the Nile and looks so splendid
from it. The pale brown of the stone became almost yellow in the
sunshine. From the river, hidden from me stole up the songs of the
boatmen. Nearer at hand I heard pigeons cooing, cooing in the sun, as
if almost too glad, and seeking to manifest their gladness. Behind me,
through the columns, peeped some houses of the village: the white home
of Ibrahim Ayyad, the perfect dragoman, grandson of Mustapha Aga, who
entertained me years ago, and whose house stood actually within the
precincts of the temple; houses of other fortunate dwellers in Luxor
whose names I do not know. For the village of Luxor crowds boldly about
the temple, and the children play in the dust almost at the foot of
the obelisks and statues. High on a brown hump of earth a buffalo stood
alone, languishing serenely in the sun, gazing at me through the columns
with light eyes that were full of a sort of folly of contentment. Some
goats tripped by, brown against the brown stone–the dark brown earth of
the native houses. Intimate life was here, striking the note of coziness
of Luxor. Here was none of the sadness and the majesty of Denderah.
Grand are the ruins of Luxor, noble is the line of columns that boldly
fronts the Nile, but Time has given them naked to the air and to the
sun, to children and to animals. Instead of bats, the pigeons fly about
them. There is no dreadful darkness in their sanctuaries. Before them
the life of the river, behind them the life of the village flows and
stirs. Upon them looks down the Minaret of Abu Haggag; and as I sat in
the sunshine, the warmth of which began to lessen, I saw upon its lofty
circular balcony the figure of the muezzin. He leaned over, bending
toward the temple and the statues of Rameses II. and the happy dancers
on the wall. He opened his lips and cried to them:

“God is great. God is great . . . I bear witness that there is no god
but God. . . . I bear witness that Mohammed is the Apostle of God. . . .
Come to prayer! Come to prayer! . . . God is great. God is great. There
is no god but God.”

He circled round the minaret. He cried to the Nile. He cried to the
Colossi sitting in their plain, and to the yellow precipices of the
mountains of Libya. He cried to Egypt:

“Come to prayer! Come to prayer! There is no god but God. There is no
god but God.”

The days of the gods were dead, and their ruined temple echoed with the
proclamation of the one god of the Moslem world. “Come to prayer! Come
to prayer!” The sun began to sink.

“Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me.”

The voice of the muezzin died away. There was a silence; and then, as if
in answer to the cry from the minaret, I heard the chime of the angelus
bell from the Catholic church of Luxor.

“Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark.”

I sat very still. The light was fading; all the yellow was fading, too,
from the columns and the temple walls. I stayed till it was dark; and
with the dark the old gods seemed to resume their interrupted sway. And
surely they, too, called to prayer. For do not these ruins of old Egypt,
like the muezzin upon the minaret, like the angelus bell in the church
tower, call one to prayer in the night? So wonderful are they under
stars and moon that they stir the fleshly and the worldly desires that
lie like drifted leaves about the reverence and the aspiration that are
the hidden core of the heart. And it is released from its burden; and it
awakes and prays.

Amun-Ra, Mut, and Khuns, the king of the gods, his wife, mother of gods,
and the moon god, were the Theban triad to whom the holy buildings of
Thebes on the two banks of the Nile were dedicated; and this temple
of Luxor, the “House of Amun in the Southern Apt,” was built fifteen
hundred years before Christ by Amenhotep III. Rameses II., that vehement
builder, added to it immensely. One walks among his traces when one
walks in Luxor. And here, as at Denderah, Christians have let loose the
fury that should have had no place in their religion. Churches for their
worship they made in different parts of the temple, and when they were
not praying, they broke in pieces statues, defaced bas-reliefs, and
smashed up shrines with a vigor quite as great as that displayed in
preservation by Christians of to-day. Now time has called a truce.
Safe are the statues that are left. And day by day two great religions,
almost as if in happy brotherly love, send forth their summons by the
temple walls. And just beyond those walls, upon the hill, there is a
Coptic church. Peace reigns in happy Luxor. The lion lies down with the
lamb, and the child, if it will, may harmlessly put its hand into the
cockatrice’s den.

Perhaps because it is so surrounded, so haunted by life and familiar
things, because the pigeons fly about it, the buffalo stares into it,
the goats stir up the dust beside its columns, the twittering voices of
women make a music near its courts, many people pay little heed to this
great temple, gain but a small impression from it. It decorates the
bank of the Nile. You can see it from the dahabiyehs. For many that is
enough. Yet the temple is a noble one, and, for me, it gains a definite
attraction all its own from the busy life about it, the cheerful hum and
stir. And if you want fully to realize its dignity, you can always visit
it by night. Then the cries from the village are hushed. The houses
show no lights. Only the voices from the Nile steal up to the obelisk of
Rameses, to the pylon from which the flags of Thebes once flew on festal
days, to the shrine of Alexander the Great, with its vultures and its
stars, and to the red granite statues of Rameses and his wives.

These last are as expressive as and of course more definite than my
dancers. They are full of character. They seem to breathe out the
essence of a vanished domesticity. Colossal are the statues of the king,
solid, powerful, and tremendous, boldly facing the world with the calm
of one who was thought, and possibly thought himself, to be not much
less than a deity. And upon each pedestal, shrinking delicately back,
was once a little wife. Some little wives are left. They are delicious
in their modesty. Each stands away from the king, shyly, respectfully.
Each is so small as to be below his down-stretched arm. Each, with a
surely furtive gesture, reaches out her right hand, and attains the
swelling calf of her noble husband’s leg. Plump are their little faces,
but not bad-looking. One cannot pity the king. Nor does one pity them.
For these were not “Les desenchantees,” the restless, sad-hearted women
of an Eastern world that knows too much. Their longings surely cannot
have been very great. Their world was probably bounded by the calf of
Rameses’s leg. That was “the far horizon” of the little plump-faced

The happy dancers and the humble wives, they always come before me with
the temple of Luxor–joy and discretion side by side. And with them, to
my ears, the two voices seem to come, muezzin and angelus bell, mingling
not in war, but peace. When I think of this temple, I think of its joy
and peace far less than of its majesty.

And yet it is majestic. Look at it, as I have often done, toward
sunset from the western bank of the Nile, or climb the mound beyond its
northern end, where stands the grand entrance, and you realize at once
its nobility and solemn splendor. From the _Loulia’s_ deck it was a
procession of great columns; that was all. But the decorative effect of
these columns, soaring above the river and its vivid life, is fine.

By day all is turmoil on the river-bank. Barges are unloading, steamers
are arriving, and throngs of donkey-boys and dragomans go down in
haste to meet them. Servants run to and fro on errands from the many
dahabiyehs. Bathers leap into the brown waters. The native craft pass by
with their enormous sails outspread to catch the wind, bearing serried
mobs of men, and black-robed women, and laughing, singing children. The
boatmen of the hotels sing monotonously as they lounge in the big, white
boats waiting for travellers to Medinet-Abu, to the Ramesseum, to Kurna,
and the tombs. And just above them rise the long lines of columns,
ancient, tranquil, and remote–infinitely remote, for all their
nearness, casting down upon the sunlit gaiety the long shadow of the

From the edge of the mound where stands the native village the effect
of the temple is much less decorative, but its detailed grandeur can be
better grasped from there; for from there one sees the great towers of
the propylon, two rows of mighty columns, the red granite Obelisk of
Rameses the great, and the black granite statues of the king. On the
right of the entrance a giant stands, on the left one is seated, and a
little farther away a third emerges from the ground, which reaches to
its mighty breast.

And there the children play perpetually. And there the Egyptians sing
their serenades, making the pipes wail and striking the derabukkeh; and
there the women gossip and twitter like the birds. And the buffalo comes
to take his sun-bath; and the goats and the curly, brown sheep pass in
sprightly and calm processions. The obelisk there, like its brother in
Paris, presides over a cheerfulness of life; but it is a life that seems
akin to it, not alien from it. And the king watches the simplicity of
this keen existence of Egypt of to-day far up the Nile with a calm that
one does not fear may be broken by unsympathetic outrage, or by any
vision of too perpetual foreign life. For the tourists each year are but
an episode in Upper Egypt. Still the shadoof-man sings his ancient song,
violent and pathetic, bold as the burning sun-rays. Still the fellaheen
plough with the camel yoked with the ox. Still the women are covered
with protective amulets and hold their black draperies in their mouths.
The intimate life of the Nile remains the same. And that life obelisk
and king have known for how many, many years!

And so I love to think of this intimacy of life about the temple of the
happy dancers and the humble little wives, and it seems to me to strike
the keynote of the golden coziness of Luxor.



Nevertheless, sometimes one likes to escape from the thing one loves,
and there are hours when the gay voices of Luxor fatigue the ears, when
one desires a great calm. Then there are silent voices that summon
one across the river, when the dawn is breaking over the hills of
the Arabian desert, or when the sun is declining toward the Libyan
mountains–voices issuing from lips of stone, from the twilight of
sanctuaries, from the depths of rock-hewn tombs.

The peace of the plain of Thebes in the early morning is very rare and
very exquisite. It is not the peace of the desert, but rather, perhaps,
the peace of the prairie–an atmosphere tender, delicately thrilling,
softly bright, hopeful in its gleaming calm. Often and often have I left
the _Loulia_ very early moored against the long sand islet that faces
Luxor when the Nile has not subsided, I have rowed across the quiet
water that divided me from the western bank, and, with a happy heart, I
have entered into the lovely peace of the great spaces that stretch from
the Colossi of Memnon to the Nile, to the mountains, southward toward
Armant, northward to Kerekten, to Danfik, to Gueziret-Meteira. Think of
the color of young clover, of young barley, of young wheat; think of
the timbre of the reed flute’s voice, thin, clear, and frail with the
frailty of dewdrops; think of the torrents of spring rushing through the
veins of a great, wide land, and growing almost still at last on their
journey. Spring, you will say, perhaps, and high Nile not yet subsided!
But Egypt is the favored land of a spring that is already alert at the
end of November, and in December is pushing forth its green. The Nile
has sunk away from the feet of the Colossi that it has bathed through
many days. It has freed the plain to the fellaheen, though still
it keeps my island in its clasp. And Hapi, or Kam-wra, the “Great
Extender,” and Ra, have made this wonderful spring to bloom on the dark
earth before the Christian’s Christmas.

What a pastoral it is, this plain of Thebes, in the dawn of day! Think
of the reed flute, I have said, not because you will hear it, as you
ride toward the mountains, but because its voice would be utterly in
place here, in this arcady of Egypt, playing no tarantella, but one of
those songs, half bird-like, and half sadly, mysteriously human, which
come from the soul of the East. Instead of it, you may catch distant
cries from the bank of the river, where the shadoof-man toils, lifting
ever the water and his voice, the one to earth, the other, it seems, to
sky; and the creaking lay of the water-wheel, which pervades Upper Egypt
like an atmosphere, and which, though perhaps at first it irritates, at
last seems to you the sound of the soul of the river, of the sunshine,
and the soil.

Much of the land looks painted. So flat is it, so young are the growing
crops, that they are like a coating of green paint spread over a mighty
canvas. But the doura rises higher than the heads of the naked children
who stand among it to watch you canter past. And in the far distance
you see dim groups of trees–sycamores and acacias, tamarisks and palms.
Beyond them is the very heart of this “land of sand and ruins and gold”;
Medinet-Abu, the Ramesseum, Deir-el Medinet, Kurna, Deir-el-Bahari, the
tombs of the kings, the tombs of the queens and of the princes. In the
strip of bare land at the foot of those hard, and yet poetic mountains,
have been dug up treasures the fame of which has gone to the ends of the
world. But this plain, where the fellaheen are stooping to the soil, and
the women are carrying the water-jars, and the children are playing in
the doura, and the oxen and the camels are working with ploughs that
look like relics of far-off days, is the possession of the two great
presiding beings whom you see from an enormous distance, the Colossi of
Memnon. Amenhotep III. put them where they are. So we are told. But in
this early morning it is not possible to think of them as being brought
to any place. Seated, the one beside the other, facing the Nile and the
home of the rising sun, their immense aspect of patience suggests will,
calmly, steadily exercised, suggests choice; that, for some reason, as
yet unknown, they chose to come to this plain, that they choose solemnly
to remain there, waiting, while the harvests grow and are gathered about
their feet, while the Nile rises and subsides, while the years and
the generations come, like the harvests, and are stored away in the
granaries of the past. Their calm broods over this plain, gives to it
a personal atmosphere which sets it quite apart from every other flat
space of the world. There is no place that I know on the earth which has
the peculiar, bright, ineffable calm of the plain of these Colossi. It
takes you into its breast, and you lie there in the growing sunshine
almost as if you were a child laid in the lap of one of them. That
legend of the singing at dawn of the “vocal Memnon,” how could it have
arisen? How could such calmness sing, such patience ever find a voice?
Unlike the Sphinx, which becomes ever more impressive as you draw near
to it, and is most impressive when you sit almost at its feet, the
Colossi lose in personality as you approach them and can see how they
have been defaced.

From afar one feels their minds, their strange, unearthly temperaments
commanding this pastoral. When you are beside them, this feeling
disappears. Their features are gone, and though in their attitudes
there is power, and there is something that awakens awe, they are more
wonderful as a far-off feature of the plain. They gain in grandeur from
the night in strangeness from the moonrise, perhaps specially when the
Nile comes to their feet. More than three thousand years old, they look
less eternal than the Sphinx. Like them, the Sphinx is waiting, but with
a greater purpose. The Sphinx reduces man really to nothingness. The
Colossi leave him some remnants of individuality. One can conceive of
Strabo and AElius Gallus, of Hadrian and Sabina, of others who came
over the sunlit land to hear the unearthly song in the dawn, being of
some–not much, but still of some–importance here. Before the Sphinx
no one is important. But in the distance of the plain the Colossi shed
a real magic of calm and solemn personality, and subtly seem to mingle
their spirit with the flat, green world, so wide, so still, so fecund,
and so peaceful; with the soft airs that are surely scented with an
eternal springtime, and with the light that the morning rains down on
wheat and clover, on Indian corn and barley, and on brown men laboring,
who, perhaps, from the patience of the Colossi in repose have drawn a
patience in labor that has in it something not less sublime.

From the Colossi one goes onward toward the trees and the mountains, and
very soon one comes to the edge of that strange and fascinating strip of
barren land which is strewn with temples and honeycombed with tombs. The
sun burns down on it. The heat seems thrown back upon it by the wall of
tawny mountains that bounds it on the west. It is dusty, it is arid; it
is haunted by swarms of flies, by the guardians of the ruins, and by men
and boys trying to sell enormous scarabs and necklaces and amulets, made
yesterday, and the day before, in the manufactory of Kurna. From many
points it looks not unlike a strangely prolonged rubbish-heap in which
busy giants have been digging with huge spades, making mounds and pits,
caverns and trenches, piling up here a monstrous heap of stones, casting
down there a mighty statue. But how it fascinates! Of curse one knows
what it means. One knows that on this strip of land Naville dug out at
Deir-el-Bahari the temple of Mentu-hotep, and discovered later, in her
shrine, Hathor, the cow-goddess, with the lotus-plants streaming from
her sacred forehead to her feet; that long before him Mariette here
brought to the light at Drah-abu’l-Neggah the treasures of kings of
the twelfth and thirteenth dynasties; that at the foot of those
tiger-colored precipices Theodore M. Davis the American found the
sepulcher of Queen Hatshepsu, the Queen Elizabeth of the old Egyptian
world, and, later, the tomb of Yuaa and Thuaa, the parents of Queen
Thiy, containing mummy-cases covered with gold, jars of oil and wine,
gold, silver, and alabaster boxes, a bed decorated with gilded ivory a
chair with gilded plaster reliefs, chairs of state, and a chariot; that
here Maspero, Victor Loret, Brugsch Bey, and other patient workers gave
to the world tombs that had been hidden and unknown for centuries; that
there to the north is the temple of Kurna, and over there the Ramesseum;
that those rows of little pillars close under the mountain, and looking
strangely modern, are the pillars of Hatshepsu’s temple, which bears
upon its walls the pictures of the expedition to the historic land of
Punt; that the kings were buried there, and there the queens and the
princes of the vanished dynasties; that beyond to the west is the temple
of Deir-el-Medinet with its judgment of the dead; that here by the
native village is Medinet-Abu. One knows that, and so the imagination is
awake, ready to paint the lily and to gild the beaten gold. But even
if one did not know, I think one would be fascinated. This turmoil of
sun-baked earth and rock, grey, yellow, pink, orange, and red, awakens
the curiosity, summons the love of the strange, suggests that it holds
secrets to charm the souls of men.



At the entrance to the temple of Medinet-Abu, near the small groups
of palms and the few brown houses, often have I turned and looked back
across the plain before entering through the first beautiful doorway,
to see the patient backs and right sides of the Colossi, the far-off,
dreamy mountains beyond Karnak and the Nile. And again, when I have
entered and walked a little distance, I have looked back at the almost
magical picture framed in the doorway; at the bottom of the picture
a layer of brown earth, then a strip of sharp green–the cultivated
ground–then a blur of pale yellow, then a darkness of trees, and just
the hint of a hill far, very far away. And always, in looking, I have
thought of the “Sposalizio” of Raphael in the Brera at Milan, of the
tiny dream of blue country framed by the temple doorway beyond the
Virgin and Saint Joseph. The doorways of the temples of Egypt are very
noble, and nowhere have I been more struck by their nobility than in
Medinet-Abu. Set in huge walls of massive masonry, which rise slightly
above them on each side, with a projecting cornice, in their simplicity
they look extraordinarily classical, in their sobriety mysterious,
and in their great solidity quite wonderfully elegant. And they always
suggest to me that they are giving access to courts and chambers which
still, even in our times, are dedicated to secret cults–to the cults of
Isis, of Hathor, and of Osiris.

Close to the right of the front of Medinet-Abu there are trees covered
with yellow flowers; beyond are fields of doura. Behind the temple is
a sterility which makes one think of metal. A great calm enfolds the
place. The buildings are of the same color as the Colossi. When I speak
of the buildings, I include the great temple, the pavilion of Rameses
III., and the little temple, which together may be said to form
Medinet-Abu. Whereas the temple of Luxor seems to open its arms to
life, and the great fascination of the Ramesseum comes partly from its
invasion by every traveling air and happy sun-ray, its openness and
freedom, Medinet-Abu impresses by its colossal air of secrecy, by its
fortress-like seclusion. Its walls are immensely thick, and are covered
with figures the same color as the walls, some of them very tall.
Thick-set, massive, heavy, almost warlike it is. Two seated statues
within, statues with animals’ faces, steel-colored, or perhaps a little
darker than that, look like savage warders ready to repel intrusion.

Passing between them, delicately as Agag, one enters an open space with
ruins, upon the right of which is a low, small temple, grey in hue, and
covered with inscriptions, which looks almost bowed under its tremendous
weight of years. From this dignified, though tiny, veteran there comes a
perpetual sound of birds. The birds in Egypt have no reverence for age.
Never have I seen them more restless, more gay, or more impertinent,
than in the immemorial ruins of the ancient land. Beyond is an enormous
portal, on the lofty ceiling of which still linger traces of faded
red and blue, which gives access to a great hall with rows of mighty
columns, those on the left hand round, those on the right square, and
almost terribly massive. There is in these no grace, as in the giant
lotus columns of Karnak. Prodigious, heavy, barbaric, they are like a
hymn in stone to Strength. There is something brutal in their aspect,
which again makes one think of war, of assaults repelled, hordes beaten
back like waves by a sea-wall. And still another great hall, with more
gigantic columns, lies in the sun beyond, and a doorway through which
seems to stare fiercely the edge of a hard and fiery mountain. Although
one is roofed by the sky, there is something oppressive here; an
imprisoned feeling comes over one. I could never be fond of Medinet-Abu,
as I am fond of Luxor, of parts of Karnak, of the whole of delicious,
poetical Philae. The big pylons, with their great walls sloping
inward, sand-colored, and glowing with very pale yellow in the sun, the
resistant walls, the brutal columns, the huge and almost savage scale
of everything, always remind me of the violence in men, and also–I
scarcely know why–make me think of the North, of sullen Northern
castles by the sea, in places where skies are grey, and the white of
foam and snow is married in angry nights.

And yet in Medinet-Abu there reigns a splendid calm–a calm that
sometimes seems massive, resistant, as the columns and the walls. Peace
is certainly inclosed by the stones that call up thoughts of war, as if,
perhaps, their purpose had been achieved many centuries ago, and
they were quit of enemies for ever. Rameses III. is connected with
Medinet-Abu. He was one of the greatest of the Egyptian kings, and has
been called the “last of the great sovereigns of Egypt.” He ruled for
thirty-one years, and when, after a first visit to Medinet-Abu, I looked
into his records, I was interested to find that his conquests and his
wars had “a character essentially defensive.” This defensive spirit is
incarnated in the stones of these ruins. One reads in them something of
the soul of this king who lived twelve hundred years before Christ, and
who desired, “in remembrance of his Syrian victories,” to give to his
memorial temple an outward military aspect. I noticed a military aspect
at once inside this temple; but if you circle the buildings outside it
is more unmistakable. For the east front has a battlemented wall, and
the battlements are shield-shaped. This fortress, or migdol, a name
which the ancient Egyptians borrowed from the nomadic tribes of Syria,
is called the “Pavilion of Rameses III.,” and his principal battles are
represented upon its walls. The monarch does not hesitate to speak of
himself in terms of praise, suggesting that he was like the God Mentu,
who was the Egyptian war god, and whose cult at Thebes was at one period
more important even than was the cult of Amun, and also plainly hinting
that he was a brave fellow. “I, Rameses the King,” he murmurs, “behaved
as a hero who knows his worth.” If hieroglyphs are to be trusted,
various Egyptian kings of ancient times seem to have had some vague
suspicion of their own value, and the walls of Medinet-Abu are, to speak
sincerely, one mighty boast. In his later years the king lived in peace
and luxury, surrounded by a vicious and intriguing Court, haunted by
magicians, hags, and mystery-mongers. Dealers in magic may still
be found on the other side of the river, in happy Luxor. I made the
acquaintance of two when I was there, one of whom offered for a couple
of pounds to provide me with a preservative against all such dangers as
beset the traveller in wild places. In order to prove its efficacy he
asked me to come to his house by night, bringing a dog and my revolver
with me. He would hang the charm about the dog’s neck, and I was then to
put six shots into the animal’s body. He positively assured me that the
dog would be uninjured. I half-promised to come and, when night began to
fall, looked vaguely about for a dog. At last I found one, but it howled
so dismally when I asked Ibrahim Ayyad to take possession of it for
experimental purposes, that I weakly gave up the project, and left the
magician clamoring for his hundred and ninety-five piastres.

Its warlike aspect gives a special personality to Medinet-Abu. The
shield-shaped battlements; the courtyards, with their brutal columns,
narrowing as they recede towards the mountains; the heavy gateways,
with superimposed chambers; the towers; quadrangular bastion to protect,
inclined basement to resist the attacks of sappers and cause projectiles
to rebound–all these things contribute to this very definite effect.

I have heard travelers on the Nile speak piteously of the confusion
wakened in their minds by a hurried survey of many temples, statues,
monuments, and tombs. But if one stays long enough this confusion fades
happily away, and one differentiates between the antique personalities
of Ancient Egypt almost as easily as one differentiates between the
personalities of one’s familiar friends. Among these personalities
Medinet-Abu is the warrior, standing like Mentu, with the solar disk,
and the two plumes erect above his head of a hawk, firmly planted at the
foot of the Theban mountains, ready to repel all enemies, to beat back
all assaults, strong and determined, powerful and brutally serene.



“This, my lord, is the thinking-place of Rameses the Great.”

So said Ibrahim Ayyad to me one morning–Ibrahim, who is almost as
prolific in the abrupt creation of peers as if he were a democratic

I looked about me. We stood in a ruined hall with columns, architraves
covered with inscriptions, segments of flat roof. Here and there traces
of painting, dull-red, pale, ethereal blue–the “love-color” of Egypt,
as the Egyptians often call it–still adhered to the stone. This hall,
dignified, grand, but happy, was open on all sides to the sun and air.
From it I could see tamarisk- and acacia-trees, and far-off shadowy
mountains beyond the eastern verge of the Nile. And the trees were still
as carven things in an atmosphere that was a miracle of clearness and
of purity. Behind me, and near, the hard Libyan mountains gleamed in the
sun. Somewhere a boy was singing; and suddenly his singing died away.
And I thought of the “Lay of the Harper” which is inscribed upon the
tombs of Thebes–those tombs under those gleaming mountains:

“For no one carries away his goods with him;
Yea, no one returns again who has gone thither.”

It took the place of the song that had died as I thought of the great
king’s glory; that he had been here, and had long since passed away.

“The thinking-place of Rameses the Great!”


“You must leave me alone here, Ibrahim.”

I watched his gold-colored robe vanish into the gold of the sun
through the copper color of the columns. And I was quite alone in
the “thinking-place” of Rameses. It was a brilliant day, the sky
dark sapphire blue, without even the spectre of a cloud, or any airy,
vaporous veil; the heat already intense in the full sunshine, but
delicious if one slid into a shadow. I slid into a shadow, and sat down
on a warm block of stone. And the silence flowed upon me–the silence of
the Ramesseum.

Was _Horbehutet_, the winged disk, with crowned _uroei_, ever set up
above this temple’s principal door to keep it from destruction? I do not
know. But, if he was, he failed perfectly to fulfil his mission. And I
am glad he failed. I am glad of the ruin that is here, glad that walls
have crumbled or been overthrown, that columns have been cast down, and
ceilings torn off from the pillars that supported them, letting in the
sky. I would have nothing different in the thinking-place of Rameses.

Like a cloud, a great golden cloud, a glory impending that will not,
cannot, be dissolved into the ether, he loomed over the Egypt that is
dead, he looms over the Egypt of to-day. Everywhere you meet his traces,
everywhere you hear his name. You say to a tall young Egyptian: “How big
you are growing, Hassan!”

He answers, “Come back next year, my gentleman, and I shall be like
Rameses the Great.”

Or you ask of the boatman who rows you, “How can you pull all day
against the current of the Nile?” And he smiles, and lifting his brown
arm, he says to you: “Look! I am strong as Rameses the great.”

This familiar fame comes down through some twenty years. Carved upon
limestone and granite, now it seems engraven also on every Egyptian
heart that beats not only with the movement of shadoof, or is not buried
in the black soil fertilized by Hapi. Thus can inordinate vanity prolong
the true triumph of genius, and impress its own view of itself upon
the minds of millions. This Rameses is believed to be the Pharaoh who
oppressed the children of Israel.

As I sat in the Ramesseum that morning, I recalled his face–the face
of an artist and a dreamer rather than that of a warrior and oppressor;
Asiatic, handsome, not insensitive, not cruel, but subtle, aristocratic,
and refined. I could imagine it bending above the little serpents of the
sistrum as they lifted their melodious voices to bid Typhon depart, or
watching the dancing women’s rhythmic movements, or smiling half kindly,
half with irony, upon the lovelorn maiden who made her plaint:

“What is sweet to the mouth, to me is as the gall of birds;
Thy breath alone can comfort my heart.”

And I could imagine it looking profoundly grave, not sad, among the
columns with their opening lotus flowers. For it is the hall of lotus
columns that Ibrahim calls the thinking-place of the king.

There is something both lovely and touching to me in the lotus columns
of Egypt, in the tall masses of stone opening out into flowers near the
sun. Near the sun! Yes; only that obvious falsehood will convey to those
who have not seen them the effect of some of the hypostyle halls, the
columns of which seem literally soaring to the sky. And flowers of
stone, you will say, rudely carved and rugged! That does not matter.
There was poetry in the minds that conceived them, in the thought that
directed the hands which shaped them and placed them where they are.
In Egypt perpetually one feels how the ancient Egyptians loved
the _Nymphaea lotus_, which is the white lotus, and the _Nymphaea
coeruloea_, the lotus that is blue. Did they not place Horus in its cup,
and upon the head of Nefer-Tum, the nature god, who represented in
their mythology the heat of the rising sun, and who seems to have been
credited with power to grant life in the world to come, set it as a
sort of regal ornament? To Seti I., when he returned in glory from his
triumphs over the Syrians, were given bouquets of lotus-blossoms by
the great officers of his household. The tiny column of green feldspar
ending in the lotus typified eternal youth, even as the carnelian buckle
typified the blood of Isis, which washed away all sin. Kohl pots were
fashioned in the form of the lotus, cartouches sprang from it, wine
flowed from cups shaped like it. The lotus was part of the very life of
Egypt, as the rose, the American Beauty rose, is part of our social
life of to-day. And here, in the Ramesseum, I found campaniform, or
lotus-flower capitals on the columns–here where Rameses once perhaps
dreamed of his Syrian campaigns, or of that famous combat when, “like
Baal in his fury,” he fought single-handed against the host of the
Hittites massed in two thousand, five hundred chariots to overthrow him.

The Ramesseum is a temple not of winds, but of soft and kindly airs.
There comes Zephyrus, whispering love to Flora incarnate in the Lotus.
To every sunbeam, to every little breeze, the ruins stretch out arms.
They adore the deep-blue sky, the shining, sifted sand, untrammeled
nature, all that whispers, “Freedom.”

So I felt that day when Ibrahim left me, so I feel always when I sit
in the Ramesseum, that exultant victim of Time’s here not sacrilegious

All strong souls cry out secretly for liberty as for a sacred necessity
of life. Liberty seems to drench the Ramesseum. And all strong souls
must exult there. The sun has taken it as a beloved possession. No massy
walls keep him out. No shield-shaped battlements rear themselves up
against the outer world as at Medinet-Abu. No huge pylons cast down upon
the ground their forms in darkness. The stone glows with the sun, seems
almost to have a soul glowing with the sense, the sun-ray sense, of
freedom. The heart leaps up in the Ramesseum, not frivolously, but with
a strange, sudden knowledge of the depths of passionate joy there are
in life and in bountiful, glorious nature. Instead of the strength of
a prison one feels the ecstasy of space; instead of the safety of
inclosure, the rapture of naked publicity. But the public to whom this
place of the great king is consigned is a public of Theban hills; of
the sunbeams striking from them over the wide world toward the east;
of light airs, of drifting sand grains, of singing birds, and of
butterflies with pure white wings. If you have ever ridden an Arab
horse, mounted in the heart of an oasis, to the verge of the great
desert, you will remember the bound, thrilling with fiery animation,
which he gives when he sets his feet on the sand beyond the last
tall date-palms. A bound like that the soul gives when you sit in
the Ramesseum, and see the crowding sunbeams, the far-off groves of
palm-trees, and the drowsy mountains, like shadows, that sleep beyond
the Nile. And you look up, perhaps, as I looked that morning, and upon a
lotus column near you, relieved, you perceive the figure of a young man

A young man singing! Let him be the tutelary god of this place, whoever
he be, whether only some humble, happy slave, or the “superintendent of
song and of the recreation of the king.” Rather even than Amun-Ra
let him be the god. For there is something nobly joyous in this
architecture, a dignity that sings.

It has been said, but not established, that Rameses the Great was buried
in the Ramesseum, and when first I entered it the “Lay of the Harper”
came to my mind, with the sadness that attends the passing away of
glory into the shades of death. But an optimism almost as determined
as Emerson’s was quickly bred in me there. I could not be sad, though
I could be happily thoughtful, in the light of the Ramesseum. And even
when I left the thinking-place, and, coming down the central aisle, saw
in the immersing sunshine of the Osiride Court the fallen colossus of
the king, I was not struck to sadness.

Imagine the greatest figure in the world–such a figure as this Rameses
was in his day–with all might, all glory, all climbing power, all
vigor, tenacity of purpose, and granite strength of will concentrated
within it, struck suddenly down, and falling backward in a collapse of
which the thunder might shake the vitals of the earth, and you have this
prostrate colossus. Even now one seems to hear it fall, to feel the warm
soil trembling beneath one’s feet as one approaches it. A row of statues
of enormous size, with arms crossed as if in resignation, glowing in the
sun, in color not gold or amber, but a delicate, desert yellow, watch
near it like servants of the dead. On a slightly lower level than there
it lies, and a little nearer the Nile. Only the upper half of the figure
is left, but its size is really terrific. This colossus was fifty-seven
feet high. It weighed eight hundred tons. Eight hundred tons of syenite
went to its making, and across the shoulders its breadth is, or was,
over twenty-two feet. But one does not think of measurements as one
looks upon it. It is stupendous. That is obvious and that is enough. Nor
does one think of its finish, of its beautiful, rich color, of any of
its details. One thinks of it as a tremendous personage laid low, as
the mightiest of the mighty fallen. One thinks of it as the dead Rameses
whose glory still looms over Egypt like a golden cloud that will not
disperse. One thinks of it as the soul that commanded, and lo! there
rose up above the sands, at the foot of the hills of Thebes, the
exultant Ramesseum.



Place for Queen Hatshepsu! Surely she comes to a sound of flutes, a
merry noise of thin, bright music, backed by a clashing of barbaric
cymbals, along the corridors of the past; this queen who is shown upon
Egyptian walls dressed as a man, who is said to have worn a beard, and
who sent to the land of Punt the famous expedition which covered her
with glory and brought gold to the god Amun. To me most feminine she
seemed when I saw her temple at Deir-el-Bahari, with its brightness and
its suavity; its pretty shallowness and sunshine; its white, and blue,
and yellow, and red, and green and orange; all very trim and fanciful,
all very smart and delicate; full of finesse and laughter, and breathing
out to me of the twentieth century the coquetry of a woman in 1500 B.C.
After the terrific masculinity of Medinet-Abu, after the great freedom
of the Ramesseum, and the grandeur of its colossus, the manhood of all
the ages concentrated in granite, the temple at Deir-el-Bahari came upon
me like a delicate woman, perfumed and arranged, clothed in a creation
of white and blue and orange, standing–ever so knowingly–against
a background of orange and pink, of red and of brown-red, a smiling
coquette of the mountain, a gay and sweet enchantress who knew her
pretty powers and meant to exercise them.

Hatshepsu with a beard! Never will I believe it. Or if she ever seemed
to wear one, I will swear it was only the tattooed ornament with which
all the lovely women of the Fayum decorate their chins to-day, throwing
into relief the smiling, soft lips, the delicate noses, the liquid eyes,
and leading one from it step by step to the beauties it precedes.

Mr. Wallis Budge says in his book on the antiquities of Egypt: “It would
be unjust to the memory of a great man and a loyal servant of Hatshepsu,
if we omitted to mention the name of Senmut, the architect and overseer
of works at Deir-el-Bahari.” By all means let Senmut be mentioned, and
then let him be utterly forgotten. A radiant queen reigns here–a
queen of fantasy and splendor, and of that divine shallowness–refined
frivolity literally cut into the mountain–which is the note of
Deir-el-Bahari. And what a clever background! Oh, Hatshepsu knew what
she was doing when she built her temple here. It was not the solemn
Senmut (he wore a beard, I’m sure) who chose that background, if I know
anything of women.

Long before I visited Deir-el-Bahari I had looked at it from afar. My
eyes had been drawn to it merely from its situation right underneath
the mountains. I had asked: “What do those little pillars mean? And are
those little doors?” I had promised myself to go there, as one promises
oneself a _bonne bouche_ to finish a happy banquet. And I had realized
the subtlety, essentially feminine, that had placed a temple there.
And Menu-Hotep’s temple, perhaps you say, was it not there before the
queen’s? Then he must have possessed a subtlety purely feminine, or have
been advised by one of his wives in his building operations, or by some
favorite female slave. Blundering, unsubtle man would probably think
that the best way to attract and to fix attention on any object was to
make it much bigger than things near and around it, to set up a giant
among dwarfs.

Not so Queen Hatshepsu. More artful in her generation, she set her
long but little temple against the precipices of Libya. And what is the
result? Simply that whenever one looks toward them one says, “What are
those little pillars?” Or if one is more instructed, one thinks about
Queen Hatshepsu. The precipices are as nothing. A woman’s wile has
blotted them out.

And yet how grand they are! I have called them tiger-colored precipices.
And they suggest tawny wild beasts, fierce, bred in a land that is the
prey of the sun. Every shade of orange and yellow glows and grows pale
on their bosses, in their clefts. They shoot out turrets of rock that
blaze like flames in the day. They show great teeth, like the tiger when
any one draws near. And, like the tiger, they seem perpetually informed
by a spirit that is angry. Blake wrote of the tiger:

“Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night.”

These tiger-precipices of Libya are burning things, avid like beasts of
prey. But the restored apricot-colored pillars are not afraid of their
impending fury–fury of a beast baffled by a tricky little woman, almost
it seems to me; and still less afraid are the white pillars, and the
brilliant paintings that decorate the walls within.

As many people in the sad but lovely islands off the coast of Scotland
believe in “doubles,” as the old classic writers believed in man’s
“genius,” so the ancient Egyptian believed in his “Ka,” or separate
entity, a sort of spiritual other self, to be propitiated and ministered
to, presented with gifts, and served with energy and ardor. On this
temple of Deir-el-Bahari is the scene of the birth of Hatshepsu, and
there are two babies, the princess and her Ka. For this imagined Ka,
when a great queen, long after, she built this temple, or chapel, that
offerings might be made there on certain appointed days. Fortunate Ka
of Hatshepsu to have had so cheerful a dwelling! Liveliness pervades
Deir-el-Bahari. I remember, when I was on my first visit to Egypt,
lunching at Thebes with Monsieur Naville and Mr. Hogarth, and afterward
going with them to watch the digging away of the masses of sand and
rubbish which concealed this gracious building. I remember the songs of
the half-naked workmen toiling and sweating in the sun, and I remember
seeing a white temple wall come up into the light with all the painted
figures surely dancing with joy upon it. And they are surely dancing

Here you may see, brilliant as yesterday’s picture anywhere,
fascinatingly decorative trees growing bravely in little pots, red
people offering incense which is piled up on mounds like mountains,
Ptah-Seket, Osiris receiving a royal gift of wine, the queen in the
company of various divinities, and the terrible ordeal of the cows.
The cows are being weighed in scales. There are three of them. One is
a philosopher, and reposes with an air that says, “Even this last
indignity of being weighed against my will cannot perturb my soaring
spirit.” But the other two sitting up, look as apprehensive as old
ladies in a rocking express, expectant of an accident. The vividness
of the colors in this temple is quite wonderful. And much of its
great attraction comes rather from its position, and from them,
than essentially from itself. At Deir-el-Bahari, what the long shell
contains–its happy murmur of life–is more fascinating than the shell.
There, instead of being uplifted or overawed by form, we are rejoiced
by color, by the high vivacity of arrested movement, by the story that
color and movement tell. And over all there is the bright, blue, painted
sky, studded, almost distractedly studded, with a plethora of the yellow
stars the Egyptians made like starfish.

The restored apricot-colored columns outside look unhappily suburban
when you are near them. The white columns with their architraves are
more pleasant to the eyes. The niches full of bright hues, the arched
chapels, the small white steps leading upward to shallow
sanctuaries, the small black foxes facing each other on little yellow
pedestals–attract one like the details and amusing ornaments of a
clever woman’s boudoir. Through this most characteristic temple one
roves in a gaily attentive mood, feeling all the time Hatshepsu’s

You may see her, if you will, a little lady on the wall, with a face
decidedly sensual–a long, straight nose, thick lips, an expression
rather determined than agreeable. Her mother looks as Semitic as a Jew
moneylender in Brick Lane, London. Her husband, Thothmes II., has a weak
and poor-spirited countenance–decidedly an accomplished performer on
the second violin. The mother wears on her head a snake, no doubt a
cobra-di-capello, the symbol of her sovereignty. Thothmes is clad in
a loin-cloth. And a god, with a sleepy expression and a very fish-like
head, appears in this group of personages to offer the key of life.
Another painting of the queen shows her on her knees drinking milk from
the sacred cow, with an intent and greedy figure, and an extraordinarily
sensual and expressive face. That she was well guarded is surely proved
by a brave display of her soldiers–red men on a white wall. Full
of life and gaiety all in a row they come, holding weapons, and,
apparently, branches, and advancing with a gait of triumph that tells of
“spacious days.” And at their head is an officer, who looks back, much
like a modern drill sergeant, to see how his men are marching.

In the southern shrine of the temple, cut in the rock as is the northern
shrine, once more I found traces of the “Lady of the Under-World.” For
this shrine was dedicated to Hathor, though the whole temple was sacred
to the Theban god Amun. Upon a column were the remains of the goddess’s
face, with a broad brow and long, large eyes. Some fanatic had hacked
away the mouth.

The tomb of Hatshepsu was found by Mr. Theodore M. Davis, and the famous
_Vache_ of Deir-el-Bahari by Monsieur Naville as lately as 1905. It
stands in the museum at Cairo, but for ever it will be connected in the
minds of men with the tiger-colored precipices and the Colonnades of
Thebes. Behind the ruins of the temple of Mentu-Hotep III., in a chapel
of painted rock, the Vache-Hathor was found.

It is not easy to convey by any description the impression this
marvellous statue makes. Many of us love our dogs, our horses, some
of us adore our cats; but which of us can think, without a smile, of
worshipping a cow? Yet the cow was the Egyptian Aphrodite’s sacred
animal. Under the form of a cow she was often represented. And in the
statue she is presented to us as a limestone cow. And positively this
cow is to be worshipped.

She is shown in the act apparently of stepping gravely forward out of
a small arched shrine, the walls of which are decorated with brilliant
paintings. Her color is red and yellowish red, and is covered with dark
blotches of a very dark green, which look almost black. Only one or two
are of a bluish color. Her height is moderate. I stand about five foot
nine, and I found that on her pedestal the line of her back was about
level with my chest. The lower part of the body, much of which is
concealed by the under block of limestone, is white, tinged with yellow.
The tail is red. Above the head, open and closed lotus-flowers form
a head-dress, with the lunar disk and two feathers. And the long
lotus-stalks flow down on each side of the neck toward the ground. At
the back of this head-dress are a scarab and a cartouche. The goddess
is advancing solemnly and gently. A wonderful calm, a matchless, serene
dignity, enfold her.

In the body of this cow one is able, indeed one is almost obliged, to
feel the soul of a goddess. The incredible is accomplished. The dead
Egyptian makes the ironic, the skeptical modern world feel deity in a
limestone cow. How is it done? I know not; but it is done. Genius can
do nearly everything, it seems. Under the chin of the cow there is a
standing statue of the King Mentu-Hotep, and beneath her the king kneels
as a boy. Wonderfully expressive and solemnly refined is the cow’s face,
which is of dark color, like the color of almost black earth–earth
fertilized by the Nile. Dignified, dominating, almost but just not
stern, strongly intelligent, and, through its beautiful intelligence,
entirely sympathetic (“to understand all, is to pardon all”), this face,
once thoroughly seen, completely noticed, can never be forgotten. This
is one of the most beautiful statues in the world.

When I was at Deir-el-Bahari I thought of it and wished that it still
stood there near the Colonnades of Thebes under the tiger-colored
precipices. And then I thought of Hatshepsu. Surely she would not brook
a rival to-day near the temple which she made–a rival long lost and
long forgotten. Is not her influence still there upon the terraced
platforms, among the apricot and the white columns, near the paintings
of the land of Punt? Did it not whisper to the antiquaries, even to the
soldiers from Cairo, who guarded the Vache-Hathor in the night, to make
haste to take her away far from the hills of Thebes and from the Nile’s
long southern reaches, that the great queen might once more reign
alone? They obeyed. Hatshepsu was appeased. And, like a delicate woman,
perfumed and arranged, clothed in a creation of white and blue and
orange, standing ever so knowingly against a background of orange and
pink, of red and of brown-red, she rules at Deir-el-Bahari.



On the way to the tombs of the kings I went to the temple of Kurna,
that lonely cenotaph, with its sand-colored massive façade, its heaps
of fallen stone, its wide and ruined doorway, its thick, almost rough,
columns recalling Medinet-Abu. There is not very much to see, but from
there one has a fine view of other temples–of the Ramesseum, looking
superb, like a grand skeleton; of Medinet-Abu, distant, very pale gold
in the morning sunlight; of little Deir-al-Medinet, the pretty child of
the Ptolemies, with the heads of the seven Hathors. And from Kurna the
Colossi are exceptionally grand and exceptionally personal, so personal
that one imagines one sees the expressions of the faces that they no
longer possess.

Even if you do not go into the tombs–but you will go–you must ride
to the tombs of the kings; and you must, if you care for the finesse of
impressions, ride on a blazing day and toward the hour of noon. Then the
ravine is itself, like the great act that demonstrates a temperament.
It is the narrow home of fire, hemmed in by brilliant colors, nearly
all–perhaps quite all–of which could be found in a glowing furnace.
Every shade of yellow is there–lemon yellow, sulphur yellow, the yellow
of amber, the yellow of orange with its tendency toward red, the yellow
of gold, sand color, sun color. Cannot all these yellows be found in a
fire? And there are the reds–pink of the carnation, pink of the coral,
red of the little rose that grows in certain places of sands, red of
the bright flame’s heart. And all these colors are mingled in complete
sterility. And all are fused into a fierce brotherhood by the sun. and
like a flood, they seem flowing to the red and the yellow mountains,
like a flood that is flowing to its sea. You are taken by them toward
the mountains, on and on, till the world is closing in, and you know the
way must come to an end. And it comes to an end–in a tomb.

You go to a door in the rock, and a guardian lets you in, and wants to
follow you in. Prevent him if you can. Pay him. Go in alone. For this
is the tomb of Amenhotep II.; and he himself is here, far down, at rest
under the mountain, this king who lived and reigned more than fourteen
hundred years before the birth of Christ. The ravine-valley leads to
him, and you should go to him alone. He lies in the heart of the living
rock, in the dull heat of the earth’s bowels, which is like no other
heat. You descend by stairs and corridors, you pass over a well by a
bridge, you pass through a naked chamber; and the king is not there. And
you go on down another staircase, and along another corridor, and you
come into a pillared chamber, with paintings on its walls, and on
its pillars, paintings of the king in the presence of the gods of the
underworld, under stars in a soft blue sky. And below you, shut in on
the farther side by the solid mountain in whose breast you have all this
time been walking, there is a crypt. And you turn away from the bright
paintings, and down there you see the king.

Many years ago in London I went to the private view of the Royal Academy
at Burlington House. I went in the afternoon, when the galleries were
crowded with politicians and artists, with dealers, gossips, quidnuncs,
and _flaneurs_; with authors, fashionable lawyers, and doctors; with men
and women of the world; with young dandies and actresses _en vogue_.
A roar of voices went up to the roof. Every one was talking, smiling,
laughing, commenting, and criticizing. It was a little picture of the
very worldly world that loves the things of to-day and the chime of the
passing hours. And suddenly some people near me were silent, and some
turned their heads to stare with a strangely fixed attention. And I saw
coming toward me an emaciated figure, rather bent, much drawn together,
walking slowly on legs like sticks. It was clad in black, with a gleam
of color. Above it was a face so intensely thin that it was like the
face of death. And in this face shone two eyes that seemed full of–the
other world. And, like a breath from the other world passing, this man
went by me and was hidden from me by the throng. It was Cardinal Manning
in the last days of his life.

The face of the king is like his, but it has an even deeper pathos as it
looks upward to the rock. And the king’s silence bids you be silent,
and his immobility bids you be still. And his sad, and unutterable
resignation sifts awe, as by the desert wind the sand is sifted into the
temples, into the temple of your heart. And you feel the touch of time,
but the touch of eternity, too. And as, in that rock-hewn sanctuary, you
whisper “_Pax vobiscum_,” you say it for all the world.



Prayer pervades the East. Far off across the sands, when one is
traveling in the desert, one sees thin minarets rising toward the sky.
A desert city is there. It signals its presence by this mute appeal
to Allah. And where there are no minarets–in the great wastes of the
dunes, in the eternal silence, the lifelessness that is not broken even
by any lonely, wandering bird–the camels are stopped at the appointed
hours, the poor, and often ragged, robes are laid down, the brown
pilgrims prostrate themselves in prayer. And the rich man spreads his
carpet, and prays. And the half-naked nomad spreads nothing; but he
prays, too. The East is full of lust and full of money-getting, and
full of bartering, and full of violence; but it is full of worship–of
worship that disdains concealment, that recks not of ridicule or
comment, that believes too utterly to care if others disbelieve. There
are in the East many men who do not pray. They do not laugh at the man
who does, like the unpraying Christian. There is nothing ludicrous to
them in prayer. In Egypt your Nubian sailor prays in the stern of your
dahabiyeh; and your Egyptian boatman prays by the rudder of your boat;
and your black donkey-boy prays behind a red rock in the sand; and
your camel-man prays when you are resting in the noontide, watching the
far-off quivering mirage, lost in some wayward dream.

And must you not pray, too, when you enter certain temples where once
strange gods were worshipped in whom no man now believes?

There is one temple on the Nile which seems to embrace in its arms all
the worship of the past; to be full of prayers and solemn praises; to be
the holder, the noble keeper, of the sacred longings, of the unearthly
desires and aspirations, of the dead. It is the temple of Edfu. From all
the other temples it stands apart. It is the temple of inward flame, of
the secret soul of man; of that mystery within us that is exquisitely
sensitive, and exquisitely alive; that has longings it cannot tell, and
sorrows it dare not whisper, and loves it can only love.

To Horus it was dedicated–hawk-headed Horus–the son of Isis and
Osiris, who was crowned with many crowns, who was the young Apollo
of the old Egyptian world. But though I know this, I am never able to
associate Edfu with Horus, that child wearing the side-lock–when he
is not hawk-headed in his solar aspect–that boy with his finger in his
mouth, that youth who fought against Set, murderer of his father.

Edfu, in its solemn beauty, in its perfection of form, seems to me to
pass into a region altogether beyond identification with the worship of
any special deity, with particular attributes, perhaps with particular
limitations; one who can be graven upon walls, and upon architraves and
pillars painted in brilliant colors; one who can personally pursue a
criminal, like some policeman in the street; even one who can rise
upon the world in the visible glory of the sun. To me, Edfu must always
represent the world-worship of “the Hidden One”; not Amun, god of the
dead, fused with Ra, with Amsu, or with Khnum: but that other “Hidden
One,” who is God of the happy hunting-ground of savages, with whom the
Buddhist strives to merge his strange serenity of soul; who is adored in
the “Holy Places” by the Moslem, and lifted mystically above the heads
of kneeling Catholics in cathedrals dim with incense, and merrily
praised with the banjo and the trumpet in the streets of black English
cities; who is asked for children by longing women, and for new dolls
by lisping babes; whom the atheist denies in the day, and fears in the
darkness of night; who is on the lips alike of priest and blasphemer,
and in the soul of all human life.

Edfu stands alone, not near any other temple. It is not pagan; it is not
Christian: it is a place in which to worship according to the dictates
of your heart.

Edfu stands alone on the bank of the Nile between Luxor and Assuan. It
is not very far from El-Kab, once the capital of Upper Egypt, and it is
about two thousand years old. The building of it took over one hundred
and eighty years, and it is the most perfectly preserved temple to-day
of all the antique world. It is huge and it is splendid. It has towers
one hundred and twelve feet high, a propylon two hundred and fifty-two
feet broad, and walls four hundred and fifty feet long. Begun in the
reign of Ptolemy III., it was completed only fifty-seven years before
the birth of Christ.

You know these facts about it, and you forget them, or at least you do
not think of them. What does it all matter when you are alone in Edfu?
Let the antiquarian go with his anxious nose almost touching the stone;
let the Egyptologist peer through his glasses at hieroglyphs and puzzle
out the meaning of cartouches: but let us wander at ease, and worship
and regard the exquisite form, and drink in the mystical spirit, of this
very wonderful temple.

Do you care about form? Here you will find it in absolute perfection.
Edfu is the consecration of form. In proportion it is supreme above
all other Egyptian temples. Its beauty of form is like the chiselled
loveliness of a perfect sonnet. While the world lasts, no architect can
arise to create a building more satisfying, more calm with the calm of
faultlessness, more serene with a just serenity. Or so it seems to me. I
think of the most lovely buildings I know in Europe–of the Alhambra at
Granada, of the Cappella Palatina in the palace at Palermo. And Edfu
I place with them–Edfu utterly different from them, more different,
perhaps, even than they are from each other, but akin to them, as all
great beauty is mysteriously akin. I have spent morning after morning
in the Alhambra, and many and many an hour in the Cappella Palatina; and
never have I been weary of either, or longed to go away. And this same
sweet desire to stay came over me in Edfu. The _Loulia_ was tied up by
the high bank of the Nile. The sailors were glad to rest. There was no
steamer sounding its hideous siren to call me to its crowded deck. So I
yielded to my desire, and for long I stayed in Edfu. And when at last
I left it I said to myself, “This is a supreme thing,” and I knew that
within me had suddenly developed the curious passion for buildings that
some people never feel, and that others feel ever growing and growing.

Yes, Edfu is supreme. No alteration could improve it. Any change made in
it, however slight, could only be harmful to it. Pure and perfect is its
design–broad propylon, great open courtyard with pillared galleries,
halls, chambers, sanctuary. Its dignity and its sobriety are matchless.
I know they must be, because they touched me so strangely, with a kind
of reticent enchantment, and I am not by nature enamored of sobriety, of
reticence and calm, but am inclined to delight in almost violent
force, in brilliance, and, especially, in combinations of color. In
the Alhambra one finds both force and fairylike lightness, delicious
proportions, delicate fantasy, a spell as of subtle magicians; in the
Cappella Palatina, a jeweled splendor, combined with a small perfection
of form which simply captivates the whole spirit and leads it to
adoration. In Edfu you are face to face with hugeness and with grandeur;
but soon you are scarcely aware of either–in the sense, at least, that
connects these qualities with a certain overwhelming, almost striking
down, of the spirit and the faculties. What you are aware of is your
own immense and beautiful calm of utter satisfaction–a calm which has
quietly inundated you, like a waveless tide of the sea. How rare it is
to feel this absolute satisfaction, this praising serenity! The critical
spirit goes, like a bird from an opened window. The excited, laudatory,
voluble spirit goes. And this splendid calm is left. If you stay here,
you, as this temple has been, will be molded into a beautiful sobriety.
From the top of the pylon you have received this still and glorious
impression from the matchless design of the whole building, which you
see best from there. When you descend the shallow staircase, when you
stand in the great court, when you go into the shadowy halls, then it is
that the utter satisfaction within you deepens. Then it is that you feel
the need to worship in this place created for worship.

The ancient Egyptians made most of their temples in conformity with
a single type. The sanctuary was at the heart, the core, of each
temple–the sanctuary surrounded by the chambers in which were laid up
the precious objects connected with ceremonies and sacrifices. Leading
to this core of the temple, which was sometimes called “the divine
house,” were various halls the roofs of which were supported by
columns–those hypostyle halls which one sees perpetually in Egypt.
Before the first of these halls was a courtyard surrounded by a
colonnade. In the courtyard the priests of the temple assembled. The
people were allowed to enter the colonnade. A gateway with towers gave
entrance to the courtyard. If one visits many of the Egyptian temples,
one soon becomes aware of the subtlety, combined with a sort of high
simplicity and sense of mystery and poetry, of these builders of the
past. As a great writer leads one on, with a concealed but beautiful
art, from the first words to which all the other words are ministering
servants; as the great musician–Wagner in his “Meistersinger,” for
instance–leads one from the first notes of his score to those final
notes which magnificently reveal to the listeners the real meaning
of those first notes, and of all the notes which follow them: so the
Egyptian builders lead the spirit gently, mysteriously forward from the
gateway between the towers to the distant house divine. When one enters
the outer court, one feels the far-off sanctuary. Almost unconsciously
one is aware that for that sanctuary all the rest of the temple was
created; that to that sanctuary everything tends. And in spirit one is
drawn softly onward to that very holy place. Slowly, perhaps, the body
moves from courtyard to hypostyle hall, and from one hall to another.
Hieroglyphs are examined, cartouches puzzled out, paintings of
processions, or bas-reliefs of pastimes and of sacrifices, looked at
with care and interest; but all the time one has the sense of waiting,
of a want unsatisfied. And only when one at last reaches the sanctuary
is one perfectly at rest. For then the spirit feels: “This is the
meaning of it all.”

One of the means which the Egyptian architects used to create this sense
of approach is very simple, but perfectly effective. It consisted
only in making each hall on a very slightly higher level than the one
preceding it, and the sanctuary, which is narrow and mysteriously dark
on the highest level of all. Each time one takes an upward step, or
walks up a little incline of stone, the body seems to convey to the soul
a deeper message of reverence and awe. In no other temple is this sense
of approach to the heart of a thing so acute as it is when one walks in
Edfu. In no other temple, when the sanctuary is reached, has one such a
strong consciousness of being indeed within a sacred heart.

The color of Edfu is a pale and delicate brown, warm in the strong
sunshine, but seldom glowing. Its first doorway is extraordinarily
high, and is narrow, but very deep, with a roof showing traces of that
delicious clear blue-green which is like a thin cry of joy rising up in
the solemn temples of Egypt. A small sphinx keeps watch on the right,
just where the guardian stands; this guardian, the gift of the past,
squat, even fat, with a very perfect face of a determined and handsome
man. In the court, upon a pedestal, stands a big bird, and near it is
another bird, or rather half of a bird, leaning forward, and very much
defaced. And in this great courtyard there are swarms of living birds,
twittering in the sunshine. Through the doorway between the towers one
sees a glimpse of a native village with the cupolas of a mosque.

I stood and looked at the cupolas for a moment. Then I turned, and
forgot for a time the life of the world without–that men, perhaps, were
praying beneath those cupolas, or praising the Moslem’s God. For when I
turned, I felt, as I have said, as if all the worship of the world must
be concentrated here. Standing far down the open court, in the full
sunshine, I could see into the first hypostyle hall, but beyond only a
darkness–a darkness which led me on, in which the further chambers of
the house divine were hidden. As I went on slowly, the perfection of
the plan of the dead architects was gradually revealed to me, when the
darkness gave up its secrets; when I saw not clearly, but dimly, the
long way between the columns, the noble columns themselves, the gradual,
slight upward slope–graduated by genius; there is no other word–which
led to the sanctuary, seen at last as a little darkness, in which all
the mystery of worship, and of the silent desires of men, was surely
concentrated, and kept by the stone for ever. Even the succession of the
darknesses, like shadows growing deeper and deeper, seemed planned by
some great artist in the management of light, and so of shadow effects.
The perfection of form is in Edfu, impossible to describe, impossible
not to feel. The tremendous effect it has–an effect upon the soul–is
created by a combination of shapes, of proportions, of different levels,
of different heights, by consummate graduation. And these shapes,
proportions, different levels, and heights, are seen in dimness. Not
that jewelled dimness one loves in Gothic cathedrals, but the heavy
dimness of windowless, mighty chambers lighted only by a rebuked
daylight ever trying to steal in. One is captured by no ornament,
seduced by no lovely colors. Better than any ornament, greater than
any radiant glory of color, is this massive austerity. It is like
the ultimate in an art. Everything has been tried, every strangeness
_bizarrerie_, absurdity, every wild scheme of hues, every preposterous
subject–to take an extreme instance, a camel, wearing a top-hat, and
lighted up by fire-works, which I saw recently in a picture-gallery
of Munich. And at the end a genius paints a portrait of a wrinkled old
woman’s face, and the world regards and worships. Or all discords have
been flung together pell-mell, resolution of them has been deferred
perpetually, perhaps even denied altogether, chord of B major has been
struck with C major, works have closed upon the leading note or the
dominant seventh, symphonies have been composed to be played in the
dark, or to be accompanied by a magic-lantern’s efforts, operas been
produced which are merely carnage and a row–and at the end a genius
writes a little song, and the world gives the tribute of its breathless
silence and its tears. And it knows that though other things may be
done, better things can never be done. For no perfection can exceed any
other perfection.

And so in Edfu I feel that this untinted austerity is perfect; that
whatever may be done in architecture during future ages of the world,
Edfu, while it lasts, will remain a thing supreme–supreme in form and,
because of this supremacy, supreme in the spell which it casts upon the

The sanctuary is just a small, beautifully proportioned, inmost chamber,
with a black roof, containing a sort of altar of granite, and a great
polished granite shrine which no doubt once contained the god Horus. I
am glad he is not there now. How far more impressive it is to stand in
an empty sanctuary in the house divine of “the Hidden One,” whom the
nations of the world worship, whether they spread their robes on the
sand and turn their faces to Mecca, or beat the tambourine and sing
“glory hymns” of salvation, or flagellate themselves in the night before
the patron saint of the Passionists, or only gaze at the snow-white
plume that floats from the snows of Etna under the rose of dawn, and
feel the soul behind Nature. Among the temples of Egypt, Edfu is the
house divine of “the Hidden One,” the perfect temple of worship.



Some people talk of the “sameness” of the Nile; and there is a lovely
sameness of golden light, of delicious air, of people, and of scenery.
For Egypt is, after all, mainly a great river with strips on each side
of cultivated land, flat, green, not very varied. River, green plains,
yellow plains, pink, brown, steel-grey, or pale-yellow mountains, wail
of shadoof, wail of sakieh. Yes, I suppose there is a sameness, a sort
of golden monotony, in this land pervaded with light and pervaded with
sound. Always there is light around you, and you are bathing in it, and
nearly always, if you are living, as I was, on the water, there is a
multitude of mingling sounds floating, floating to your ears. As there
are two lines of green land, two lines of mountains, following the
course of the Nile; so are there two lines of voices that cease their
calling and their singing only as you draw near to Nubia. For then, with
the green land, they fade away, these miles upon miles of calling and
singing brown men; and amber and ruddy sands creep downward to the
Nile. And the air seems subtly changing, and the light perhaps growing
a little harder. And you are aware of other regions unlike those you are
leaving, more African, more savage, less suave, less like a dreaming.
And especially the silence makes a great impression on you. But before
you enter this silence, between the amber and ruddy walls that will lead
you on to Nubia, and to the land of the crocodile, you have a visit to
pay. For here, high up on a terrace, looking over a great bend of the
river is Kom Ombos. And Kom Ombos is the temple of the crocodile god.

Sebek was one of the oldest and one of the most evil of the Egyptian
gods. In the Fayum he was worshipped, as well as at Kom Ombos, and
there, in the holy lake of his temple, were numbers of holy crocodiles,
which Strabo tells us were decorated with jewels like pretty women. He
did not get on with the other gods, and was sometimes confused with Set,
who personified natural darkness, and who also was worshipped by the
people about Kom Ombos.

I have spoken of the golden sameness of the Nile, but this sameness is
broken by the variety of the temples. Here you have a striking instance
of this variety. Edfu, only forty miles from Kom Ombos, the next temple
which you visit, is the most perfect temple in Egypt. Kom Ombos is one
of the most imperfect. Edfu is a divine house of “the Hidden One,” full
of a sacred atmosphere. Kom Ombos is the house of crocodiles. In ancient
days the inhabitants of Edfu abhorred, above everything, crocodiles and
their worshippers. And here at Kom Ombos the crocodile was adored. You
are in a different atmosphere.

As soon as you land, you are greeted with crocodiles, though fortunately
not by them. A heap of their black mummies is shown to you reposing in a
sort of tomb or shrine open at one end to the air. By these mummies the
new note is loudly struck. The crocodiles have carried you in an
instant from that which is pervadingly general to that which is narrowly
particular; from the purely noble, which seems to belong to all time,
to the entirely barbaric, which belongs only to times outworn. It
is difficult to feel as if one had anything in common with men who
seriously worshipped crocodiles, had priests to feed them, and decorated
their scaly necks with jewels.

Yet the crocodile god had a noble temple at Kom Ombos, a temple which
dates from the times of the Ptolemies, though there was a temple in
earlier days which has now disappeared. Its situation is splendid. It
stands high above the Nile, and close to the river, on a terrace which
has recently been constructed to save it from the encroachments of the
water. And it looks down upon a view which is exquisite in the clear
light of early morning. On the right, and far off, is a delicious
pink bareness of distant flats and hills. Opposite there is a flood
of verdure and of trees going to mountains, a spit of sand where is an
inlet of the river, with a crowd of native boats, perhaps waiting for
a wind. On the left is the big bend of the Nile, singularly beautiful,
almost voluptuous in form, and girdled with a radiant green of crops,
with palm-trees, and again the distant hills. Sebek was well advised to
have his temples here and in the glorious Fayum, that land flowing with
milk and honey, where the air is full of the voices of the flocks and
herds, and alive with the wild pigeons; where the sweet sugar-cane
towers up in fairy forests, the beloved home of the jackal; where the
green corn waves to the horizon, and the runlets of water make a maze of
silver threads carrying life and its happy murmur through all the vast

At the guardian’s gate by which you go in there sits not a watch dog,
nor yet a crocodile, but a watch cat, small, but very determined, and
very attentive to its duties, and neatly carved in stone. You try to
look like a crocodile-worshipper. It is deceived, and lets you pass. And
you are alone with the growing morning and Kom Ombos.

I was never taken, caught up into an atmosphere, in Kom Ombos. I
examined it with interest, but I did not feel a spell. Its grandeur
is great, but it did not affect me as did the grandeur of Karnak. Its
nobility cannot be questioned, but I did not stilly rejoice in it, as in
the nobility of Luxor, or the free splendor of the Ramesseum.

The oldest thing at Kom Ombos is a gateway of sandstone placed there by
Thothmes III. as a tribute to Sebek. The great temple is of a warm-brown
color, a very rich and particularly beautiful brown, that soothes and
almost comforts the eyes that have been for many days boldly assaulted
by the sun. Upon the terrace platform above the river you face a low and
ruined wall, on which there are some lively reliefs, beyond which is
a large, open court containing a quantity of stunted, once big columns
standing on big bases. Immediately before you the temple towers up, very
gigantic, very majestic, with a stone pavement, walls on which still
remain some traces of paintings, and really grand columns, enormous in
size and in good formation. There are fine architraves, and some bits of
roofing, but the greater part is open to the air. Through a doorway is
a second hall containing columns much less noble, and beyond this one
walks in ruin, among crumbled or partly destroyed chambers, broken
statues, become mere slabs of granite and fallen blocks of stone. At the
end is a wall, with a pavement bordering it, and a row of chambers that
look like monkish cells, closed by small doors. At Kom Ombos there
are two sanctuaries, one dedicated to Sebek, the other to Heru-ur, or
Haroeris, a form of Horus in Egyptian called “the Elder,” which was
worshipped with Sebek here by the admirers of crocodiles. Each of them
contains a pedestal of granite upon which once rested a sacred bark
bearing an image of the deity.

There are some fine reliefs scattered through these mighty ruins,
showing Sebek with the head of a crocodile, Heru-ur with the head of
a hawk so characteristic of Horus, and one strange animal which has
no fewer than four heads, apparently meant for the heads of lions. One
relief which I specially noticed for its life, its charming vivacity,
and its almost amusing fidelity to details unchanged to-day, depicts
a number of ducks in full flight near a mass of lotus-flowers. I
remembered it one day in the Fayum, so intimately associated with Sebek,
when I rode twenty miles out from camp on a dromedary to the end of the
great lake of Kurun, where the sand wastes of the Libyan desert stretch
to the pale and waveless waters which, that day, looked curiously
desolate and even sinister under a low, grey sky. Beyond the wiry
tamarisk-bushes, which grow far out from the shore, thousands upon
thousands of wild duck were floating as far as the eyes could see. We
took a strange native boat, manned by two half-naked fishermen, and were
rowed with big, broad-bladed oars out upon the silent flood that the
silent desert surrounded. But the duck were too wary ever to let us
get within range of them. As we drew gently near, they rose in black
throngs, and skimmed low into the distance of the wintry landscape,
trailing their legs behind them, like the duck on the wall of Kom
Ombos. There was no duck for dinner in camp that night, and the cook was
inconsolable. But I had seen a relief come to life, and surmounted my

Kom Ombos and Edfu, the two houses of the lovers and haters of
crocodiles, or at least of the lovers and the haters of their worship,
I shall always think of them together, because I drifted on the _Loulia_
from one to the other, and saw no interesting temple between them and
because their personalities are as opposed as were, centuries ago,
the tenets of those who adored within them. The Egyptians of old were
devoted to the hunting of crocodiles, which once abounded in the reaches
of the Nile between Assuan and Luxor, and also much lower down. But I
believe that no reliefs, or paintings, of this sport are to be found
upon the walls of the temples and the tombs. The fear of Sebek, perhaps,
prevailed even over the dwellers about the temple of Edfu. Yet how could
fear of any crocodile god infect the souls of those who were privileged
to worship in such a temple, or even reverently to stand under the
colonnade within the door? As well, perhaps, one might ask how men could
be inspired to raise such a perfect building to a deity with the face of
a hawk? But Horus was not the god of crocodiles, but a god of the sun.
And his power to inspire men must have been vast; for the greatest
concentration in stone in Egypt, and, I suppose, in the whole world,
the Sphinx, as De Rouge proved by an inscription at Edfu, was a
representation of Horus transformed to conquer Typhon. The Sphinx and
Edfu! For such marvels we ought to bless the hawk-headed god. And if we
forget the hawk, which one meets so perpetually upon the walls of
tombs and temples, and identify Horus rather with the Greek Apollo, the
yellow-haired god of the sun, driving “westerly all day in his flaming
chariot,” and shooting his golden arrows at the happy world beneath, we
can be at peace with those dead Egyptians. For every pilgrim who goes to
Edfu to-day is surely a worshipper of the solar aspect of Horus. As long
as the world lasts there will be sun-worshippers. Every brown man upon
the Nile is one, and every good American who crosses the ocean and comes
at last into the sombre wonder of Edfu, and I was one upon the deck of
the _Loulia_.

And we all worship as yet in the dark, as in the exquisite dark, like
faith, of the Holy of Holies of Horus.



As I drew slowly nearer and nearer to the home of “the great
Enchantress,” or, as Isis was also called in bygone days, “the Lady of
Philae,” the land began to change in character, to be full of a new and
barbaric meaning. In recent years I have paid many visits to northern
Africa, but only to Tunisia and Algeria, countries that are wilder
looking, and much wilder seeming than Egypt. Now, as I approached
Assuan, I seemed at last to be also approaching the real, the intense
Africa that I had known in the Sahara, the enigmatic siren, savage and
strange and wonderful, whom the typical Ouled Nail, crowned with
gold, and tufted with ostrich plumes, painted with kohl, tattooed, and
perfumed, hung with golden coins and amulets, and framed in plaits
of coarse, false hair, represents indifferently to the eyes of the
travelling stranger. For at last I saw the sands that I love creeping
down to the banks of the Nile. And they brought with them that wonderful
air which belongs only to them–the air that dwells among the dunes in
the solitary places, that is like the cool touch of Liberty upon
the face of a man, that makes the brown child of the nomad as lithe,
tireless, and fierce-spirited as a young panther, and sets flame in the
eyes of the Arab horse, and gives speed of the wind to the Sloughi. The
true lover of the desert can never rid his soul of its passion for the
sands, and now my heart leaped as I stole into their pure embraces, as
I saw to right and left amber curves and sheeny recesses, shining ridges
and bloomy clefts. The clean delicacy of those sands that, in long
and glowing hills, stretched out from Nubia to meet me, who could ever
describe them? Who could ever describe their soft and enticing shapes,
their exquisite gradations of color, the little shadows in their
hollows, the fiery beauty of their crests, the patterns the cool winds
make upon them? It is an enchanted _royaume_ of the sands through which
one approaches Isis.

Isis and engineers! We English people have effected that curious
introduction, and we greatly pride ourselves upon it. We have presented
Sir William Garstin, and Mr. John Blue, and Mr. Fitz Maurice, and other
clever, hard-working men to the fabled Lady of Philae, and they have
given her a gift: a dam two thousand yards in length, upon which
tourists go smiling on trolleys. Isis has her expensive tribute–it
cost about a million and a half pounds–and no doubt she ought to be

Yet I think Isis mourns on altered Philae, as she mourns with her
sister, Nepthys, at the heads of so many mummies of Osirians upon the
walls of Egyptian tombs. And though the fellaheen very rightly rejoice,
there are some unpractical sentimentalists who form a company about
her, and make their plaint with hers–their plaint for the peace that
is gone, for the lost calm, the departed poetry, that once hung, like a
delicious, like an inimitable, atmosphere, about the palms of the “Holy

I confess that I dreaded to revisit Philae. I had sweet memories of the
island that had been with me for many years–memories of still mornings
under the palm-trees, watching the gliding waters of the river, or
gazing across them to the long sweep of the empty sands; memories of
drowsy, golden noons, when the bright world seemed softly sleeping, and
the almost daffodil-colored temple dreamed under the quivering canopy of
blue; memories of evenings when a benediction from the lifted hands
of Romance surely fell upon the temple and the island and the river;
memories of moonlit nights, when the spirits of the old gods to whom the
temples were reared surely held converse with the spirits of the desert,
with Mirage and her pale and evading sisters of the great spaces, under
the brilliant stars. I was afraid, because I could not believe the
asservations of certain practical persons, full of the hard and almost
angry desire of “Progress,” that no harm had been done by the creation
of the reservoir, but that, on the contrary, it had benefited the
temple. The action of the water upon the stone, they said with vehement
voices, instead of loosening it and causing it to crumble untimely away,
had tended to harden and consolidate it. Here I should like to lie, but
I resist the temptation. Monsieur Naville has stated that possibly the
English engineers have helped to prolong the lives of the buildings of
Philae, and Monsieur Maspero has declared that “the state of the temple
of Philae becomes continually more satisfactory.” So be it! Longevity
has been, by a happy chance, secured. But what of beauty? What of the
beauty of the past, and what of the schemes for the future? Is
Philae even to be left as it is, or are the waters of the Nile to be
artificially raised still higher, until Philae ceases to be? Soon, no
doubt, an answer will be given.

Meanwhile, instead of the little island that I knew, and thought a
little paradise breathing out enchantment in the midst of titanic
sterility, I found a something diseased. Philae now, when out of the
water, as it was all the time when I was last in Egypt, looks like a
thing stricken with some creeping malady–one of those maladies which
begin in the lower members of a body, and work their way gradually but
inexorably upward to the trunk, until they attain the heart.

I came to it by the desert, and descended to Shellal–Shellal with
its railway-station, its workmen’s buildings, its tents, its dozens of
screens to protect the hewers of stone from the burning rays of the sun,
its bustle of people, of overseers, engineers, and workmen, Egyptian,
Nubian, Italian, and Greek. The silence I had known was gone, though the
desert lay all around–the great sands, the great masses of granite
that look as if patiently waiting to be fashioned into obelisks, and
sarcophagi, and statues. But away there across the bend of the river,
dominating the ugly rummage of this intrusive beehive of human bees,
sheer grace overcoming strength both of nature and human nature,
rose the fabled “Pharaoh’s Bed”; gracious, tender, from Shellal
most delicately perfect, and glowing with pale gold against the grim
background of the hills on the western shore. It seemed to plead for
mercy, like something feminine threatened with outrage, to protest
through its mere beauty, as a woman might protest by an attitude,
against further desecration.

And in the distance the Nile roared through the many gates of the dam,
making answer to the protest.

What irony was in this scene! In the old days of Egypt Philae was sacred
ground, was the Nile-protected home of sacerdotal mysteries, was a
veritable Mecca to the believers in Osiris, to which it was forbidden
even to draw near without permission. The ancient Egyptians swore
solemnly “By him who sleeps in Philae.” Now they sometimes swear angrily
at him who wakes in, or at least by, Philae, and keeps them steadily
going at their appointed tasks. And instead of it being forbidden to
draw near to a sacred spot, needy men from foreign countries flock
thither in eager crowds, not to worship in beauty, but to earn a living

And “Pharaoh’s Bed” looks out over the water and seems to wonder what
will be the end.

I was glad to escape from Shellal, pursued by the shriek of an engine
announcing its departure from the station, glad to be on the quiet
water, to put it between me and that crowd of busy workers. Before me I
saw a vast lake, not unlovely, where once the Nile flowed swiftly, far
off a grey smudge–the very damnable dam. All around me was a grim
and cruel world of rocks, and of hills that look almost like heaps of
rubbish, some of them grey, some of them in color so dark that they
resemble the lava torrents petrified near Catania, or the “Black
Country” in England through which one rushes on one’s way to the north.
Just here and there, sweetly almost as the pink blossoms of the wild
oleander, which I have seen from Sicilian seas lifting their heads from
the crevices of sea rocks, the amber and rosy sands of Nubia smiled down
over grit, stone, and granite.

The setting of Philae is severe. Even in bright sunshine it has an iron
look. On a grey or stormy day it would be forbidding or even terrible.
In the old winters and springs one loved Philae the more because of
the contrast of its setting with its own lyrical beauty, its curious
tenderness of charm–a charm in which the isle itself was mingled with
its buildings. But now, and before my boat had touched the quay, I saw
that the island must be ignored–if possible.

The water with which it is entirely covered during a great part of the
year seems to have cast a blight upon it. The very few palms have a
drooping and tragic air. The ground has a gangrened appearance, and much
of it shows a crawling mass of unwholesome-looking plants, which seem
crouching down as if ashamed of their brutal exposure by the receded
river, and of harsh and yellow-green grass, unattractive to the eyes. As
I stepped on shore I felt as if I were stepping on disease. But at least
there were the buildings undisturbed by any outrage. Again I turned
toward “Pharaoh’s Bed,” toward the temple standing apart from it, which
already I had seen from the desert, near Shellal, gleaming with its
gracious sand-yellow, lifting its series of straight lines of masonry
above the river and the rocks, looking, from a distance, very simple,
with a simplicity like that of clear water, but as enticing as the light
on the first real day of spring.

I went first to “Pharaoh’s Bed.”

Imagine a woman with a perfectly lovely face, with features as
exquisitely proportioned as those, say, of Praxiteles’s statue of the
Cnidian Aphrodite, for which King Nicomedes was willing to remit the
entire national debt of Cnidus, and with a warmly white rose-leaf
complexion–one of those complexions one sometimes sees in Italian
women, colorless, yet suggestive almost of glow, of purity, with the
flame of passion behind it. Imagine that woman attacked by a malady
which leaves her features exactly as they were, but which changes the
color of her face–from the throat upward to just beneath the nose–from
the warm white to a mottled, greyish hue. Imagine the line that would
seem to be traced between the two complexions–the mottled grey
below the warm white still glowing above. Imagine this, and you have
“Pharaoh’s Bed” and the temple of Philae as they are to-day.



“Pharaoh’s Bed,” which stands alone close to the Nile on the eastern
side of the island, is not one of those rugged, majestic buildings, full
of grandeur and splendor, which can bear, can “carry off,” as it were,
a cruelly imposed ugliness without being affected as a whole. It is, on
the contrary, a small, almost an airy, and a femininely perfect thing,
in which a singular loveliness of form was combined with a singular
loveliness of color. The spell it threw over you was not so much a spell
woven of details as a spell woven of divine uniformity. To put it in
very practical language, “Pharaoh’s Bed” was “all of a piece.” The form
was married to the color. The color seemed to melt into the form. It was
indeed a bed in which the soul that worships beauty could rest happily
entranced. Nothing jarred. Antiquaries say that apparently this building
was left unfinished. That may be so. But for all that it was one of the
most finished things in Egypt, essentially a thing to inspire within one
the “perfect calm that is Greek.” The blighting touch of the Nile, which
has changed the beautiful pale yellow of the stone of the lower part
of the building to a hideous and dreary grey–which made me think of
a steel knife on which liquid has been spilt and allowed to run–has
destroyed the uniformity, the balance, the faultless melody lifted up by
form and color. And so it is with the temple. It is, as it were, cut in
two by the intrusion into it of this hideous, mottled complexion left by
the receded water. Everywhere one sees disease on the walls and columns,
almost blotting out bas-reliefs, giving to their active figures a
morbid, a sickly look. The effect is specially distressing in the open
court that precedes the temple dedicated to the Lady of Philae. In this
court, which is at the southern end of the island, the Nile at certain
seasons is now forced to rise very nearly as high as the capitals of
many of the columns. The consequence of this is that here the disease
seems making rapid strides. One feels it is drawing near to the heart,
and that the poor, doomed invalid may collapse at any moment.

Yes, there is much to make one sad at Philae. But how much of pure
beauty there is left–of beauty that merely protests against any further

As there is something epic in the grandeur of the Lotus Hall at Karnak,
so there is something lyrical in the soft charm of the Philae temple.
Certain things or places, certain things in certain places, always
suggest to my mind certain people in whose genius I take delight–who
have won me, and moved me by their art. Whenever I go to Philae, the
name of Shelley comes to me. I scarcely could tell why. I have no
special reason to connect Shelley with Philae. But when I see that
almost airy loveliness of stone, so simply elegant, so, somehow,
spring-like in its pale-colored beauty, its happy, daffodil charm, with
its touch of the Greek–the sensitive hand from Attica stretched out
over Nubia–I always think of Shelley. I think of Shelley the youth who
dived down into the pool so deep that it seemed he was lost for ever to
the sun. I think of Shelley the poet, full of a lyric ecstasy, who was
himself like an embodied

“Longing for something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.”

Lyrical Philae is like a temple of dreams, and of all poets Shelley
might have dreamed the dream and have told it to the world in a song.

For all its solidity, there are a strange lightness and grace in the
temple of Philae; there is an elegance you will not find in the other
temples of Egypt. But it is an elegance quite undefiled by weakness,
by any sentimentality. (Even a building, like a love-lorn maid, can be
sentimental.) Edward FitzGerald once defined taste as the feminine of
genius. Taste prevails in Philae, a certain delicious femininity that
seduces the eyes and the heart of man. Shall we call it the spirit of

I have heard a clever critic and antiquarian declare that he is not very
fond of Philae; that he feels a certain “spuriousness” in the temple due
to the mingling of Greek with Egyptian influences. He may be right. I
am no antiquarian, and, as a mere lover of beauty, I do not feel this
“spuriousness.” I can see neither two quarrelling strengths nor any
weakness caused by division. I suppose I see only the beauty, as I might
see only the beauty of a women bred of a handsome father and mother
of different races, and who, not typical of either, combined in her
features and figure distinguishing merits of both. It is true that there
is a particular pleasure which is roused in us only by the absolutely
typical–the completely thoroughbred person or thing. It may be a
pleasure not caused by beauty, and it may be very keen, nevertheless.
When it is combined with the joy roused in us by all beauty, it is a
very pure emotion of exceptional delight. Philae does not, perhaps, give
this emotion. But it certainly has a lovableness that attaches the heart
in a quite singular degree. The Philae-lover is the most faithful of
lovers. The hold of his mistress upon him, once it has been felt, is
never relaxed. And in his affection for Philae there is, I think, nearly
always a rainbow strain of romance.

When we love anything, we love to be able to say of the object of our
devotion, “There is nothing like it.” Now, in all Egypt, and I suppose
in all the world there is nothing just like Philae. There are temples,
yes; but where else is there a bouquet of gracious buildings such as
these gathered in such a holder as this tiny, raft-like isle? And
where else are just such delicate and, as I have said, light and almost
feminine elegance and charm set in the midst of such severe sterility?
Once, beyond Philae, the great Cataract roared down from the wastes of
Nubia into the green fertility of Upper Egypt. It roars no longer. But
still the masses of the rocks, and still the amber and the yellow sands,
and still the iron-colored hills, keep guard round Philae. And still,
despite the vulgar desecration that has turned Shellal into a workmen’s
suburb and dowered it with a railway-station, there is a mystery in
Philae, and the sense of isolation that only an island gives. Even now
one can forget in Philae–forget, after a while, and in certain parts of
its buildings, the presence of the grey disease; forget the threatening
of the altruists, who desire to benefit humanity by clearing as much
beauty out of humanity’s abiding-place as possible; forget the fact of
the railway, except when the shriek of the engine floats over the water
to one’s ears; forget economic problems, and the destruction that their
solving brings upon the silent world of things whose “use,” denied,
unrecognized, or laughed at, to man is in their holy beauty, whose
mission lies not upon the broad highways where tramps the hungry body,
but upon the secret, shadowy byways where glides the hungry soul.

Yes, one can forget even now in the hall of the temple of Isis, where
the capricious graces of color, where, like old and delicious music in
the golden strings of a harp, dwells a something–what is it? A murmur,
or a perfume, or a breathing?–of old and vanished years when forsaken
gods were worshipped. And one can forget in the chapel of Hathor, on
whose wall little Horus is born, and in the grey hounds’ chapel beside
it. One can forget, for one walks in beauty.

Lovely are the doorways in Philae, enticing are the shallow steps that
lead one onward and upward; gracious the yellow towers that seem to
smile a quiet welcome. And there is one chamber that is simply a place
of magic–the hall of the flowers.

It is this chamber which always makes me think of Philae as a lovely
temple of dreams, this silent, retired chamber, where some fabled
princess might well have been touched to a long, long sleep of
enchantment, and lain for years upon years among the magical
flowers–the lotus, and the palm, and the papyrus.

In my youth it made upon me an indelible impression. Through intervening
years, filled with many new impressions, many wanderings, many visions
of beauty in other lands, that retired, painted chamber had not faded
from my mind–or shall I say from my heart? There had seemed to me
within it something that was ineffable, as in a lyric of Shelley’s there
is something that is ineffable, or in certain pictures of Boecklin,
such as “The Villa by the Sea.” And when at last, almost afraid and
hesitating, I came into it once more, I found in it again the strange
spell of old enchantment.

It seems as if this chamber had been imagined by a poet, who had set
it in the centre of the temple of his dreams. It is such a spontaneous
chamber that one can scarcely imagine it more than a day and a night in
the building. Yet in detail it is lovely; it is finished and strangely
mighty; it is a lyric in stone, the most poetical chamber, perhaps, in
the whole of Egypt. For Philae I count in Egypt, though really it is in

One who has not seen Philae may perhaps wonder how a tall chamber of
solid stone, containing heavy and soaring columns, can be like a lyric
of Shelley’s, can be exquisitely spontaneous, and yet hold a something
of mystery that makes one tread softly in it, and fear to disturb within
it some lovely sleeper of Nubia, some Princess of the Nile. He must
continue to wonder. To describe this chamber calmly, as I might, for
instance, describe the temple of Derr, would be simply to destroy it.
For things ineffable cannot be fully explained, or not be fully felt
by those the twilight of whose dreams is fitted to mingle with their
twilight. They who are meant to love with ardor _se passionnent pour
la passion_. And they who are meant to take and to keep the spirit of a
dream, whether it be hidden in a poem, or held in the cup of a flower,
or enfolded in arms of stone, will surely never miss it, even though
they can hear roaring loudly above its elfin voice the cry of directed
waters rushing down to Upper Egypt.

How can one disentangle from their tapestry web the different threads of
a spell? And even if one could, if one could hold them up, and explain,
“The cause of the spell is that this comes in contact with this, and
that this, which I show you, blends with, fades into, this,” how could
it advantage any one? Nothing could be made clearer, nothing be really
explained. The ineffable is, and must ever remain, something remote and

And so one may say many things of this painted chamber of Philae, and
yet never convey, perhaps never really know, the innermost cause of its
charm. In it there is obvious beauty of form, and a seizing beauty
of color, beauty of sunlight and shadow, of antique association. This
turquoise blue is enchanting, and Isis was worshipped here. What has the
one to do with the other? Nothing; and yet how much! For is not each of
these facts a thread in the tapestry web of the spell? The eyes see the
rapture of this very perfect blue. The imagination hears, as if very
far off, the solemn chanting of priests and smells the smoke of strange
perfumes, and sees the long, aquiline nose and the thin, haughty lips of
the goddess. And the color becomes strange to the eyes as well as
very lovely, because, perhaps, it was there–it almost certainly was
there–when from Constantinople went forth the decree that all Egypt
should be Christian; when the priests of the sacred brotherhood of Isis
were driven from their temple.

Isis nursing Horus gave way to the Virgin and the Child. But the cycles
spin away down “the ringing grooves of change.” From Egypt has passed
away that decreed Christianity. Now from the minaret the muezzin cries,
and in palm-shaded villages I hear the loud hymns of earnest pilgrims
starting on the journey to Mecca. And ever this painted chamber shelters
its mystery of poetry, its mystery of charm. And still its marvellous
colors are fresh as in the far-off pagan days, and the opening
lotus-flowers, and the closed lotus-buds, and the palm and the papyrus,
are on the perfect columns. And their intrinsic loveliness, and their
freshness, and their age, and the mysteries they have looked on–all
these facts are part of the spell that governs us to-day. In Edfu one is
enclosed in a wonderful austerity. And one can only worship. In Philae
one is wrapped in a radiance of color and one can only dream. For there
is coral-pink, and there a wonderful green, “like the green light that
lingers in the west,” and there is a blue as deep as the blue of a
tropical sea; and there are green-blue and lustrous, ardent red. And the
odd fantasy in the coloring, is not that like the fantasy in the temple
of a dream? For those who painted these capitals for the greater glory
of Isis did not fear to depart from nature, and to their patient worship
a blue palm perhaps seemed a rarely sacred thing. And that palm is part
of the spell, and the reliefs upon the walls and even the Coptic crosses
that are cut into the stone.

But at the end, one can only say that this place is indescribable, and
not because it is complex or terrifically grand, like Karnak. Go to it
on a sunlit morning, or stand in it in late afternoon, and perhaps you
will feel that it “suggests” you, and that it carries you away, out of
familiar regions into a land of dreams, where among hidden ways the soul
is lost in magic. Yes, you are gone.

To the right–for one, alas! cannot live in a dream for ever–is a
lovely doorway through which one sees the river. Facing it is another
doorway, showing a fragment of the poor, vivisected island, some ruined
walls, and still another doorway in which, again, is framed the Nile.
Many people have cut their names upon the walls of Philae. Once, as I
sat alone there, I felt strongly attracted to look upward to a wall, as
if some personality, enshrined within the stone, were watching me, or
calling. I looked, and saw written “Balzac.”

Philae is the last temple that one visits before he gives himself to the
wildness of the solitudes of Nubia. It stands at the very frontier. As
one goes up the Nile, it is like a smiling adieu from the Egypt one
is leaving. As one comes down, it is like a smiling welcome. In its
delicate charm I feel something of the charm of the Egyptian character.
There are moments, indeed, when I identify Egypt with Philae. For in
Philae one must dream; and on the Nile, too, one must dream. And always
the dream is happy, and shot through with radiant light–light that is
as radiant as the colors in Philae’s temple. The pylons of Ptolemy smile
at you as you go up or come down the river. And the people of Egypt
smile as they enter into your dream. A suavity, too, is theirs. I think
of them often as artists, who know their parts in the dream-play, who
know exactly their function, and how to fulfil it rightly. They sing,
while you are dreaming, but it is an under-song, like the murmur of an
Eastern river far off from any sea. It never disturbs, this music, but
it helps you in your dream. And they are softly gay. And in their eyes
there is often the gleam of sunshine, for they are the children–but not
grown men–of the sun. That, indeed, is one of the many strange things
in Egypt–the youthfulness of its age, the childlikeness of its almost
terrible antiquity. One goes there to look at the oldest things in the
world and to feel perpetually young–young as Philae is young, as a
lyric of Shelley’s is young, as all of our day-dreams are young, as the
people of Egypt are young.

Oh, that Egypt could be kept as it is, even as it is now; that Philae
could be preserved even as it is now! The spoilers are there,
those blithe modern spirits, so frightfully clever and capable, so
industrious, so determined, so unsparing of themselves and–of others!
Already they are at work “benefiting Egypt.” Tall chimneys begin to
vomit smoke along the Nile. A damnable tram-line for little trolleys
leads one toward the wonderful colossi of Memnon. Close to Kom Ombos
some soul imbued with romance has had the inspiration to set up–a
factory! And Philae–is it to go?

Is beauty then of no value in the world? Is it always to be the prey of
modern progress? Is nothing to be considered sacred; nothing to be left
untouched, unsmirched by the grimy fingers of improvement? I suppose

Then let those who still care to dream go now to Philae’s painted
chamber by the long reaches of the Nile; go on, if they will, to the
giant forms of Abu-Simbel among the Nubian sands. And perhaps they will
think with me, that in some dreams there is a value greater than the
value that is entered in any bank-book, and they will say, with me,
however uselessly:

“Leave to the world some dreams, some places in which to dream; for if
it needs dams to make the grain grow in the stretches of land that were
barren, and railways and tram-lines, and factory chimneys that vomit
black smoke in the face of the sun, surely it needs also painted
chambers of Philae and the silence that comes down from Isis.”



By Old Cairo I do not mean only _le vieux Caire_ of the guide-book,
the little, desolate village containing the famous Coptic church of Abu
Sergius, in the crypt of which the Virgin Mary and Christ are said to
have stayed when they fled to the land of Egypt to escape the fury of
King Herod; but the Cairo that is not new, that is not dedicated wholly
to officialdom and tourists, that, in the midst of changes and the
advance of civilisation–civilisation that does so much harm as well
as so much good, that showers benefits with one hand and defaces beauty
with the other–preserves its immemorial calm or immemorial turmult;
that stands aloof, as stands aloof ever the Eastern from the Western
man, even in the midst of what seems, perhaps, like intimacy; Eastern
to the soul, though the fantasies, the passions, the vulgarities, the
brilliant ineptitudes of the West beat about it like waves about some
unyielding wall of the sea.

When I went back to Egypt, after a lapse of many years, I fled at once
from Cairo, and upon the long reaches of the Nile, in the great spaces
of the Libyan Desert, in the luxuriant palm-grooves of the Fayyum,
among the tamarisk-bushes and on the pale waters of Kurun, I forgot the
changes which, in my brief glimpse of the city and its environs, had
moved me to despondency. But one cannot live in the solitudes for ever.
And at last from Madi-nat-al-Fayyum, with the first pilgrims starting
for Mecca, I returned to the great city, determined to seek in it once
more for the fascinations it used to hold, and perhaps still held in the
hidden ways where modern feet, nearly always in a hurry, had seldom time
to penetrate.

A mist hung over the land. Out of it, with a sort of stern energy, there
came to my ears loud hymns sung by the pilgrim voices–hymns in which,
mingled with the enthusiasm of devotees en route for the holiest shrine
of their faith, there seemed to sound the resolution of men strung up to
confront the fatigues and the dangers of a great journey through a wild
and unknown country. Those hymns led my feet to the venerable mosques of
Cairo, the city of mosques, guided me on my lesser pilgrimage among the
cupolas and the colonnades, where grave men dream in the silence near
marble fountains, or bend muttering their prayers beneath domes that are
dimmed by the ruthless fingers of Time. In the buildings consecrated to
prayer and to meditation I first sought for the magic that still lurks
in the teeming bosom of Cairo.

Long as I had sought it elsewhere, in the brilliant bazaars by day,
and by night in the winding alleys, where the dark-eyed Jews looked
stealthily forth from the low-browed doorways; where the Circassian
girls promenade, gleaming with golden coins and barbaric jewels;
where the air is alive with music that is feverish and antique, and in
strangely lighted interiors one sees forms clad in brilliant draperies,
or severely draped in the simplest pale-blue garments, moving in languid
dances, fluttering painted figures, bending, swaying, dropping down,
like the forms that people a dream.

In the bazaars is the passion for gain, in the alleys of music and light
is the passion for pleasure, in the mosques is the passion for prayer
that connects the souls of men with the unseen but strongly felt world.
Each of these passions is old, each of these passions in the heart of
Islam is fierce. On my return to Cairo I sought for the hidden fire that
is magic in the dusky places of prayer.

A mist lay over the city as I stood in a narrow byway, and gazed up at
a heavy lattice, of which the decayed and blackened wood seemed on guard
before some tragic or weary secret. Before me was the entrance to the
mosque of Ibn-Tulun, older than any mosque in Cairo save only the mosque
of Amru. It is approached by a flight of steps, on each side of which
stand old, impenetrable houses. Above my head, strung across from one
house to the other, were many little red and yellow flags ornamented
with gold lozenges. These were to bear witness that in a couple of days’
time, from the great open place beneath the citadel of Cairo, the Sacred
Carpet was to set out on its long journey to Mecca. My guide struck on a
door and uttered a fierce cry. A small shutter in the blackened lattice
was opened, and a young girl, with kohl-tinted eyelids, and a brilliant
yellow handkerchief tied over her coarse black hair, leaned out, held a
short parley, and vanished, drawing the shutter to behind her. The
mist crept about the tawdry flags, a heavy door creaked, whined on
its hinges, and from the house of the girl there came an old, fat man
bearing a mighty key. In a moment I was free of the mosque of Ibn-Tulun.

I ascended the steps, passed through a doorway, and found myself on a
piece of waste ground, flanked on the right by an old, mysterious wall,
and on the left by the long wall of the mosque, from which close to
me rose a grey, unornamented minaret, full of the plain dignity of
unpretending age. Upon its summit was perched a large and weary-looking
bird with draggled feathers, which remained so still that it seemed to
be a sad ornament set there above the city, and watching it for ever
with eyes that could not see. At right angles, touching the mosque,
was such a house as one can see only in the East–fantastically old,
fantastically decayed, bleared, discolored, filthy, melancholy, showing
hideous windows, like windows in the slum of a town set above coal-pits
in a colliery district, a degraded house, and yet a house which roused
the imagination and drove it to its work. In this building once dwelt
the High Priest of the mosque. This dwelling, the ancient wall, the
grey minaret with its motionless bird, the lamentable waste ground at my
feet, prepared me rightly to appreciate the bit of old Cairo I had come
to see.

People who are bored by Gothic churches would not love the mosque of
Ibn-Tulun. No longer is it used for worship. It contains no praying
life. Abandoned, bare, and devoid of all lovely ornament, it stands like
some hoary patriarch, naked and calm, waiting its destined end
without impatience and without fear. It is a fatalistic mosque, and is
impressive, like a fatalistic man. The great court of it, three hundred
feet square, with pointed arches supported by piers, double, and on
the side looking toward Mecca quintuple arcades, has a great dignity of
sombre simplicity. Not grace, not a light elegance of soaring beauty,
but massiveness and heavy strength are distinguishing features of this
mosque. Even the octagonal basin and its protecting cupola that stands
in the middle of the court lack the charm that belongs to so many of the
fountains of Cairo. There are two minarets, the minaret of the bird, and
a larger one, approached by a big stairway up which, so my dragoman
told me, a Sultan whose name I have forgotten loved to ride his favorite
horse. Upon the summit of this minaret I stood for a long time, looking
down over the city.

Grey it was that morning, almost as London is grey; but the sounds that
came up softly to my ears out of the mist were not the sounds of
London. Those many minarets, almost like columns of fog rising above the
cupolas, spoke to me of the East even upon this sad and sunless morning.
Once from where I was standing at the time appointed went forth the
call to prayer, and in the barren court beneath me there were crowds
of ardent worshippers. Stern men paced upon the huge terrace just at my
feet fingering their heads, and under that heavy cupola were made the
long ablutions of the faithful. But now no man comes to this old place,
no murmur to God disturbs the heavy silence. And the silence, and the
emptiness, and the greyness under the long arcades, all seem to make
a tremulous proclamation; all seem to whisper, “I am very old, I am
useless, I cumber the earth.” Even the mosque of Amru, which stands also
on ground that looks gone to waste, near dingy and squat houses built
with grey bricks, seems less old than this mosque of Ibn-Tulun. For
its long façade is striped with white and apricot, and there are
lebbek-trees growing in its court near the two columns between which
if you can pass you are assured of heaven. But the mosque of Ibn-Tulun,
seen upon a sad day, makes a powerful impression, and from the summit of
its minaret you are summoned by the many minarets of Cairo to make the
pilgrimage of the mosques, to pass from the “broken arches” of these
Saracenic cloisters to the “Blue Mosque,” the “Red Mosque,” the mosques
of Mohammed Ali, of Sultan Hassan, of Kait Bey, of El-Azhar, and so on
to the Coptic church that is the silent centre of “old Cairo.” It is
said that there are over four hundred mosques in Cairo. As I looked
down from the minaret of Ibn-Tulun, they called me through the mist
that blotted completely out all the surrounding country, as if it would
concentrate my attention upon the places of prayer during these holy
days when the pilgrims were crowding in to depart with the Holy Carpet.
And I went down by the staircase of the house, and in the mist I made my

As every one who visits Rome goes to St. Peter’s, so every one who
visits Cairo goes to the mosque of Mohammed Ali in the citadel, a
gorgeous building in a magnificent situation, the interior of which
always makes me think of Court functions, and of the pomp of life,
rather than of prayer and self-denial. More attractive to me is the
“Blue Mosque,” to which I returned again and again, enticed almost as by
the fascination of the living blue of a summer day.

This mosque, which is the mosque of Ibrahim Aga, but which is familiarly
known to its lovers as the “Blue Mosque,” lies to the left of a
ramshackle street, and from the outside does not look specially
inviting. Even when I passed through its door, and stood in the court
beyond, at first I felt not its charm. All looked old and rough, unkempt
and in confusion. The red and white stripes of the walls and the arches
of the arcade, the mean little place for ablution–a pipe and a row of
brass taps–led the mind from a Neapolitan ice to a second-rate school,
and for a moment I thought of abruptly retiring and seeking more
splendid precincts. And then I looked across the court to the arcade
that lay beyond, and I saw the exquisite “love-color” of the marvellous
tiles that gives this mosque its name.

The huge pillars of this arcade are striped and ugly, but between them
shone, with an ineffable lustre, a wall of purple and blue, of purple
and blue so strong and yet so delicate that it held the eyes and drew
the body forward. If ever color calls, it calls in the blue mosque of
Ibrahim Aga. And when I had crossed the court, when I stood beside the
pulpit, with its delicious, wooden folding-doors, and studied the tiles
of which this wonderful wall is composed, I found them as lovely near as
they are lovely far off. From a distance they resemble a Nature effect,
are almost like a bit of Southern sea or of sky, a fragment of gleaming
Mediterranean seen through the pillars of a loggia, or of Sicilian blue
watching over Etna in the long summer days. When one is close to them,
they are a miracle of art. The background of them is a milky white upon
which is an elaborate pattern of purple and blue, generally conventional
and representative of no known object, but occasionally showing tall
trees somewhat resembling cypresses. But it is impossible in words
adequately to describe the effect of these tiles, and of the tiles that
line to the very roof the tomb-house on the right of the court. They
are like a cry of ecstasy going up in this otherwise not very beautiful
mosque; they make it unforgettable, they draw you back to it again and
yet again. On the darkest day of winter they set something of summer
there. In the saddest moment they proclaim the fact that there is joy
in the world, that there was joy in the hearts of creative artists years
upon years ago. If you are ever in Cairo, and sink into depression, go
to the “Blue Mosque” and see if it does not have upon you an uplifting
moral effect. And then, if you like go on from it to the Gamia El
Movayad, sometimes called El Ahmar, “The Red,” where you will find
greater glories, though no greater fascination; for the tiles hold their
own among all the wonders of Cairo.

Outside the “Red Mosque,” by its imposing and lofty wall, there is
always an assemblage of people, for prayers go up in this mosque,
ablutions are made there, and the floor of the arcade is often
covered with men studying the Koran, calmly meditating, or prostrating
themselves in prayer. And so there is a great coming and going up the
outside stairs and through the wonderful doorway: beggars crouch
under the wall of the terrace; the sellers of cakes, of syrups and
lemon-water, and of the big and luscious watermelons that are so
popular in Cairo, display their wares beneath awnings of orange-colored
sackcloth, or in the full glare of the sun, and, their prayers
comfortably completed or perhaps not yet begun, the worshippers stand to
gossip, or sit to smoke their pipes, before going on their way into the
city or the mosque. There are noise and perpetual movement here. Stand
for a while to gain an impression from them before you mount the steps
and pass into the spacious peace beyond.

Orientals must surely revel in contrasts. There is no tumult like the
tumult in certain of their market-places. There is no peace like the
peace in certain of their mosques. Even without the slippers carefully
tied over your boots you would walk softly, gingerly, in the mosque of
El Movayad, the mosque of the columns and the garden. For once within
the door you have taken wings and flown from the city, you are in a
haven where the most delicious calm seems floating like an atmosphere.
Through a lofty colonnade you come into the mosque, and find yourself
beneath a magnificently ornamental wooden roof, the general effect of
which is of deep brown and gold, though there are deftly introduced
many touches of very fine red and strong, luminous blue. The walls are
covered with gold and superb marbles, and there are many quotations
from the Koran in Arab lettering heavy with gold. The great doors are
of chiseled bronze and of wood. In the distance is a sultan’s tomb,
surmounted by a high and beautiful cupola, and pierced with windows of
jeweled glass. But the attraction of this place of prayer comes less
from its magnificence, from the shining of its gold, and the gleaming of
its many-colored marbles, than from its spaciousness, its airiness, its
still seclusion, and its garden. Mohammedans love fountains and shady
places, as can surely love them only those who carry in their minds a
remembrance of the desert. They love to have flowers blowing beside them
while they pray. And with the immensely high and crenelated walls of
this mosque long ago they set a fountain of pure white marble, covered
it with a shelter of limestone, and planted trees and flowers about it.
There beneath palms and tall eucalyptus-trees even on this misty day of
the winter, roses were blooming, pinks scented the air, and great red
flowers, that looked like emblems of passion, stared upward almost
fiercely, as if searching for the sun. As I stood there among the
worshippers in the wide colonnade, near the exquisitely carved pulpit
in the shadow of which an old man who looked like Abraham was swaying to
and fro and whispering his prayers, I thought of Omar Khayyam and how he
would have loved this garden. But instead of water from the white marble
fountain, he would have desired a cup of wine to drink beneath the
boughs of the sheltering trees. And he could not have joined without
doubt or fear in the fervent devotions of the undoubting men, who came
here to steep their wills in the great will that flowed about them like
the ocean about little islets of the sea.

From the “Red Mosque” I went to the great mosque of El-Azhar, to
the wonderful mosque of Sultan Hassan, which unfortunately was being
repaired and could not be properly seen, though the examination of
the old portal covered with silver, gold, and brass, the general
color-effect of which is a delicious dull green, repaid me for my visit,
and to the exquisitely graceful tomb-mosque of Kait Bey, which is beyond
the city walls. But though I visited these, and many other mosques and
tombs, including the tombs of the Khalifas, and the extremely smart
modern tombs of the family of the present Khedive of Egypt, no building
dedicated to worship, or to the cult of the dead, left a more lasting
impression upon my mind than the Coptic church of Abu Sergius, or Abu
Sargah, which stands in the desolate and strangely antique quarter
called “Old Cairo.” Old indeed it seems, almost terribly old. Silent and
desolate is it, untouched by the vivid life of the rich and prosperous
Egypt of to-day, a place of sad dreams, a place of ghosts, a place of
living spectres. I went to it alone. Any companion, however dreary,
would have tarnished the perfection of the impression Old Cairo and its
Coptic church can give to the lonely traveller.

I descended to a gigantic door of palm-wood which was set in an old
brick arch. This door upon the outside was sheeted with iron. When it
opened, I left behind me the world I knew, the world that belongs to us
of to-day, with its animation, its impetus, its flashing changes, its
sweeping hurry and “go.” I stepped at once into, surely, some moldering
century long hidden in the dark womb of the forgotten past. The door
of palm-wood closed, and I found myself in a sort of deserted town,
of narrow, empty streets, beetling archways, tall houses built of grey
bricks, which looked as if they had turned gradually grey, as hair does
on an aged head. Very, very tall were these houses. They all appeared
horribly, almost indecently, old. As I stood and stared at them, I
remembered a story of a Russian friend of mine, a landed proprietor,
on whose country estate dwelt a peasant woman who lived to be over a
hundred. Each year when he came from Petersburg, this old woman arrived
to salute him. At last she was a hundred and four, and, when he left his
estate for the winter, she bade him good-bye for ever. For ever! But,
lo! the next year there she still was–one hundred and five years old,
deeply ashamed and full of apologies for being still alive. “I cannot
help it,” she said. “I ought no longer to be here, but it seems I do not
know anything. I do not know even how to die!” The grey, tall houses
of Old Cairo do not know how to die. So there they stand, showing their
haggard facades, which are broken by protruding, worm-eaten, wooden
lattices not unlike the shaggy, protuberant eyebrows which sometimes
sprout above bleared eyes that have seen too much. No one looked out
from these lattices. Was there, could there be, any life behind them?
Did they conceal harems of centenarian women with wrinkled faces,
and corrugated necks and hands? Here and there drooped down a string
terminating in a lamp covered with minute dust, that wavered in the
wintry wind which stole tremulously between the houses. And the houses
seemed to be leaning forward, as if they were fain to touch each other
and leave no place for the wind, as if they would blot out the exiguous
alleys so that no life should ever venture to stir through them again.
Did the eyes of the Virgin Mary, did the baby eyes of the Christ Child,
ever gaze upon these buildings? One could almost believe it. One could
almost believe that already these buildings were there when, fleeing
from the wrath of Herod, Mother and Child sought the shelter of the
crypt of Abu Sargah.

I went on, walking with precaution, and presently I saw a man. He was
sitting collapsed beneath an archway, and he looked older than
the world. He was clad in what seemed like a sort of cataract of
multi-colored rags. An enormous white beard flowed down over his
shrunken breast. His face was a mass of yellow wrinkles. His eyes were
closed. His yellow fingers were twined about a wooden staff. Above his
head was drawn a patched hood. Was he alive or dead? I could not tell,
and I passed him on tiptoe. And going always with precaution between the
tall, grey houses and beneath the lowering arches, I came at last to the
Coptic church.

Near it, in the street, were several Copts–large, fat, yellow-skinned,
apparently sleeping, in attitudes that made them look like bundles. I
woke one up, and asked to see the church. He stared, changed slowly from
a bundle to a standing man, went away and presently, returning with a
key and a pale, intelligent-looking youth, admitted me into one of the
strangest buildings it was ever my lot to enter.

The average Coptic church is far less fascinating than the average
mosque, but the church of Abu Sargah is like no other church that I
visited in Egypt. Its aspect of hoary age makes it strangely, almost
thrillingly impressive. Now and then, in going about the world, one
comes across a human being, like the white-bearded man beneath the
arch, who might be a thousand years old, two thousand, anything, whose
appearance suggests that he or she, perhaps, was of the company which
was driven out of Eden, but that the expulsion was not recorded. And now
and then one happens upon a building that creates the same impression.
Such a building is this church. It is known and recorded that more than
a thousand years ago it had a patriarch whose name was Shenuti; but it
is supposed to have been built long before that time, and parts of it
look as if they had been set up at the very beginning of things. The
walls are dingy and whitewashed. The wooden roof is peaked, with many
cross-beams. High up on the walls are several small square lattices of
wood. The floor is of discolored stone. Everywhere one sees wood wrought
into lattices, crumbling carpets that look almost as frail and brittle
and fatigued as wrappings of mummies, and worn-out matting that
would surely become as the dust if one set his feet hard upon it. The
structure of the building is basilican, and it contains some strange
carvings of the Last Supper, the Nativity, and St. Demetrius. Around the
nave there are monolithic columns of white marble, and one column of
the red and shining granite that is found in such quantities at Assuan.
There are three altars in three chapels facing toward the East. Coptic
monks and nuns are renowned for their austerity of life, and their
almost fierce zeal in fasting and in prayer, and in Coptic churches
the services are sometimes so long that the worshippers, who are almost
perpetually standing, use crutches for their support. In their churches
there always seems to me to be a cold and austere atmosphere, far
different from the atmosphere of the mosques or of any Roman Catholic
church. It sometimes rather repels me, and generally make me feel
either dull or sad. But in this immensely old church of Abu Sargah the
atmosphere of melancholy aids the imagination.

In Coptic churches there is generally a great deal of woodwork made into
lattices, and into the screens which mark the divisions, usually four,
but occasionally five, which each church contains, and, which are set
apart for the altar, for the priests, singers, and ministrants, for
the male portion of the congregation, and for the women, who sit by
themselves. These divisions, so different from the wide spaciousness and
airiness of the mosques, where only pillars and columns partly break
up the perspective, give to Coptic buildings an air of secrecy and of
mystery, which, however, is often rather repellent than alluring. In the
high wooden lattices there are narrow doors, and in the division which
contains the altar the door is concealed by a curtain embroidered with
a large cross. The Mohammedans who created the mosques showed marvellous
taste. Copts are often lacking in taste, as they have proved here and
there in Abu Sargah. Above one curious and unlatticed screen, near to
a matted dais, droops a hideous banner, red, purple, and yellow, with a
white cross. Peeping in, through an oblong aperture, one sees a sort of
minute circus, in the form of a half-moon, containing a table with an
ugly red-and-white striped cloth. There the Eucharist, which must be
preceded by confession, is celebrated. The pulpit is of rosewood, inlaid
with ivory and ebony, and in what is called the “haikal-screen” there
are some fine specimens of carved ebony.

As I wandered about over the tattered carpets and the crumbling matting,
under the peaked roof, as I looked up at the flat-roofed galleries, or
examined the sculpture and ivory mosaics that, bleared by the passing
of centuries, seemed to be fading away under my very eyes, as upon every
side I was confronted by the hoary wooden lattices in which the dust
found a home and rested undisturbed, and as I thought of the narrow
alleys of grey and silent dwellings through which I had come to this
strange and melancholy “Temple of the Father,” I seemed to feel upon my
breast the weight of the years that had passed since pious hands erected
this home of prayer in which now no one was praying. But I had yet to
receive another and a deeper impression of solemnity and heavy silence.
By a staircase I descended to the crypt, which lies beneath the choir of
the church, and there, surrounded by columns of venerable marble, beside
an altar, I stood on the very spot where, according to tradition, the
Virgin Mary soothed the Christ Child to sleep in the dark night. And, as
I stood there, I felt that the tradition was a true one, and that there
indeed had stayed the wondrous Child and the Holy Mother long, how long

The pale, intelligent Coptic youth, who had followed me everywhere,
and who now stood like a statue gazing upon me with his lustrous eyes,
murmured in English, “This is a very good place; this most interestin’
place in Cairo.”

Certainly it is a place one can never forget. For it holds in its dusty
arms–what? Something impalpable, something ineffable, something strange
as death, spectral, cold, yet exciting, something that seems to creep
into it out of the distant past and to whisper: “I am here. I am not
utterly dead. Still I have a voice and can murmur to you, eyes and can
regard you, a soul and can, if only for a moment, be your companion in
this sad, yet sacred, place.”

Contrast is the salt, the pepper, too, of life, and one of the great
joys of travel is that at will one can command contrast. From silence
one can plunge into noise, from stillness one can hasten to movement,
from the strangeness and the wonder of the antique past one can step
into the brilliance, the gaiety, the vivid animation of the present.
From Babylon one can go to Bulak; and on to Bab Zouweleh, with its
crying children, its veiled women, its cake-sellers, its fruiterers, its
turbaned Ethiopians, its black Nubians, and almost fair Egyptians;
one can visit the bazaars, or on a market morning spend an hour at
Shareh-el-Gamaleyeh, watching the disdainful camels pass, soft-footed,
along the shadowy streets, and the flat-nosed African negroes, with
their almost purple-black skins, their bulging eyes, in which yellow
lights are caught, and their huge hands with turned-back thumbs, count
their gains, or yell their disappointment over a bargain from which
they have come out not victors, but vanquished. If in Cairo there are
melancholy, and silence, and antiquity, in Cairo may be found also
places of intense animation, of almost frantic bustle, of uproar that
cries to heaven. To Bulak still come the high-prowed boats of the
Nile, with striped sails bellying before a fair wind, to unload their
merchandise. From the Delta they bring thousands of panniers of fruit,
and from Upper Egypt and from Nubia all manner of strange and precious
things which are absorbed into the great bazaars of the city, and are
sold to many a traveller at prices which, to put it mildly, bring to the
sellers a good return. For in Egypt if one leave his heart, he leaves
also not seldom his skin. The goblin men of the great goblin market of
Cairo take all, and remain unsatisfied and calling for more. I said, in
a former chapter, that no fierce demands for money fell upon my ears.
But I confess, when I said it, that I had forgotten certain bazaars of

But what matters it? He who has drunk Nile waters must return. The
golden country calls him; the mosques with their marble columns, their
blue tiles, their stern-faced worshippers; the narrow streets with their
tall houses, their latticed windows, their peeping eyes looking down on
the life that flows beneath and can never be truly tasted; the Pyramids
with their bases in the sand and their pointed summits somewhere near
the stars; the Sphinx with its face that is like the enigma of human
life; the great river that flows by the tombs and the temples; the great
desert that girdles it with a golden girdle.

Egypt calls–even across the space of the world; and across the space
of the world he who knows it is ready to come, obedient to its summons,
because in thrall to the eternal fascination of the “land of sand,
and ruins, and gold”; the land of the charmed serpent, the land of the
afterglow, that may fade away from the sky above the mountains of Libya,
but that fades never from the memory of one who has seen it from the
base of some great column, or the top of some mighty pylon; the land
that has a spell–wonderful, beautiful Egypt.