« VorigeDoorgaan »
SOURCES OF INFORMATION IN
THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
COMPILED BY IDA A. PRATT
OME years ago we had the pleasure of publishing a bibliography of the
books and articles in the Library dealing with the Land of the Two Rivers Babylonia and Assyria. To-day we are attempting to do the same with the Land of the One River - Egypt. If Mesopotamia excited the interest of the learned and the curiosity of the average reader, it was because a civilization entirely new had been discovered, about which we had many indications in the Old Testament, but which had been unable to survive the onrush of the invader, and had been entirely submerged in slush and sand, aided by a damp climate. Lying, as it does, upon the highroad through which the peoples of the north-west passed southwards, and the devastators from the south-east found easiest access to the north, Mesopotamian civilization suffered severe interruptions, until it almost entirely went out and the greatest part of its land became the home of the roving Bedouin.
It was different in Egypt. It is true that she passed through the vicissitudes of her own national life. Various peoples, sprung out of her own soil, dominated her; some even coming from a little to the south. It is true, also, that the conquering hordes from the north and from the west penetrated her borders and established themselves in her fertile lands. But only for a time and a season. The Egyptian people may have changed their language several times — have adopted the old Semitic idiom of the Pharaohs, the Greek of the conquering Ptolemies, the Arabic of its Mohammedan lords. But Egypt remained the same old Egypt; even though she changed her religion. She is the product of a River; she must remain this at all times, with results that are identical, under what name soever she may go. It can not be shown that her civilization was imported. It was self-grown, among a people allied to the Negro race, with a strong mixture of some western stock, which -for want of a better name — we call Libyan. “The genuine native... born of the Nile silt, is a delver of the soil... His aspect when you come upon him at work in his dykes and ditches is startlingly reminiscent of the ancient monuments. In appearance, colouring, physical conformation, he is like the .
serfs of Pharaoh; he has the same high shoulders, he wears the same closefitting skull-cap; he uses the same tool, the small curved adze, and scratches the soil with the same primitive plough drawn by bullocks. And no doubt his mud-walled huts and his tastes and habits and ideas have suffered no greater change." (Sidney Low, Egypt in Transition, London, 1914, p. 165.)
Egypt, then, and all that the word connotes, is the result of the Nile, and of its branches, the White and the Blue Nile. Starting at the Victoria Nyanza, a lake some 250 miles long by 200 broad, and fed by two smaller lakes, the Albert Nyanza and the Albert Edward Nyanza, it is increased by the heavy rains that fall in the Sudan between the months of January and November, and which bring down the rich fertilizing material and scour gathered from the hills in Abyssinia. Wherever it flows it leaves deposits which bring forth produce in the driest sands of the desert. From earliest times this plenty and these natural resources, when properly used, have produced comfort and culture. From the knowledge that we already have, we are safe in placing a cultured Egypt back several thousand years before the beginning of our own era, whether we accept as the date of the first dynasty the largest estimate of Professor Petrie, 5546 B. C., or the lowest of Professor Breasted, 3400 B. C., or agree to some general date between the two, as Dr. Budge does with his 4400 B. C. For the oldest of the Egyptian civilizations — commencing with Menas and comprising the so-called Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Empire — about thirty different dynasties are computed, until the old state of things governmental began to totter under the Persian invasion led by Cambyses in 525 B. C., and was changed completely by the Greek conquest under Alexander in 332 B. C.
The two great powers that fought for the supremacy in the Near East during those far-off days were those of the Two Rivers, Mesopotamia, and of the One River, Egypt. Their fighting-ground was Syria and Palestine, and, in consequence, the peoples of these latter regions were either ground under foot or were driven out of their homes - Hittites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Syrians. We are not well informed from Egyptian sources as regards the depths into which the Egyptians penetrated from the south. Their traces have been found in Judea and in Phoenicia - especially at Byblos. But the recent discoveries by the University of Chicago Expedition, under the direction of Professor Breasted, of beautiful Roman frescos at Sālihiyah on the Euphrates, show how far the west reached in this age-long struggle. On the other hand, the Assyrian inscriptions give us, perhaps, a somewhat bombastic account of the doings of Assyrian kings in Egypt. But this much does seem to be certain. In the year 701 B. C. Sennacherib met the Egyptians in Philistia. The latter were badly mauled, and only a pestilence stayed the onward march of the Assyrians. Under Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon (681–667) another attempt was made. Memphis was reached, and the Mesopotamian king had himself proclaimed loudly: "King of Egypt and Ethiopia.” Later, the generals of Assurbanipal pushed up as far as Thebes. But under Psammetichus (ca. 665), Egypt was freed once more, and freed by the introduction of Greek mercenaries — the first help of Europe needed by the Near East in regulating its affairs, but surely not the last.
The figure of Cyrus, creator of the great Medo-Persian Empire, loomed up also near the Nile. Under his son Cambyses (529–521 B. c.) Egypt again became subject and was held so by Darius. Once more Europe intervened, the Greeks destroying the whole of the Achaemenian Empire. It was one of the generals of Alexander the Great - Ptolemy — that got Egypt in his grip; and with his coming Greek language, culture and science became mingled with that of the older Egyptian. So strong was this grip, that two attempts of the remnant Seleucid power under Antiochus Epiphanes IV (170–169 B. C.) to recover its prestige remained of no account. But the Ptolemies were not to last. A new power, Rome, came upon the horizon and (ca. 133 B. c.) divided with Parthia the spoils of the East. In the year 47 B. C. Caesar entered Alexandria. But Rome was nothing more than a continuation of Greece and of all that Greece stood for. In 306 A. D. Constantine was proclaimed Emperor at Constantinople and Byzantine Christianity made its way into the land officially, having penetrated into a large part of the country during the preceding centuries. Egypt still remained a prize of the ancient world, as it has of the modern. In 616, the Persians under Chosroes, engaged in the interminable fight between the East and the West, invaded the country, and were not driven out until the year 625 by the Emperor Heraclius. But the Arabs were on the march, fired by the ardor with which their prophet had inspired them. Not only did they sweep the whole Sassanian Empire off its feet.
In 639 they planted themselves firmly in Egypt — where they still are.
Of no nation of antiquity have we such excellent knowledge as we have of the Egyptians. Very little is hidden from us — of their doings and goings, of their life every day as well as on days of mark or holiness. This is due to their deep sense of the beautiful. So far as we now know they possessed an artistic temperament far and beyond that possessed by any other of the Semitic
No wonder that Herodotus felt moved to say: "No country possesses so many wonders, and has such a number of works that defy description.” Mesopotamian, Syrian and Palestinian buildings must have been touched in some way by the hand of the artist. But given even the difference in climates, some remains would have come down to us, had the artist been at work as he was in Egypt — and very little has. In Egypt, however, one might almost say that every wall that has been uncovered has been filled by the artist with illustrations, either worked into the stone or painted upon the surface. There we see the Pharaohs and rulers in all the glory of their semi-religious dress
in their youth, at their ascension to the throne, during their campaigns and at their death. We have depicted for us the military professions of the country in all their supposed glory, archers, standard-bearers, war-galleys, spears and hooks. But we have, also, many a peaceful harvesting scene, which give us every detail of the agricultural life of the country — especially their vines and
– their wine presses - with no troublesome Eighteenth Amendment to cause them thought and to lead them to be artful dodgers. We see stools of ebony with leather seats or inlaid with ivory and covered by tapestries. We see vessels of bronze similar to those that we are accustomed to admire in connection with Greece; weapons inlaid with gold, alabaster pots and glass jars and bottles of every description.
But what is more than this, we have a complete record of Egyptian civilization upon the Egyptian monuments. We see not only the wares themselves, but the manner in which they were made and fashioned. We see the people
. at their daily life, the agriculturalist in his field, the artisan at his bench. We see them at their rejoicings — how they played upon the harp, upon the flute, upon the guitar, the pipe and the sistra; how they danced; how they played ball games; how they hunted hippopotami, lions, elephants and giraffes; how they fished; and how — when tired out — they sat down to a game of dice or draughts; and how their children played with hoops and dolls. We know that they were clean in their habits, and that their women did not depend entirely upon their personal charms, but laid equal stress upon their toilets. We know that they were monogamists; but that in royal circles the custom was frequently followed for brothers and sisters to marry, in order to keep the "divine” line pure. And, finally, we know how they mummified their dead, which practice the climate aided, and how this practice spread from them to other peoples. To produce all this, and much more, the Egyptians must have had schools; and, indeed, schools of higher learning. One has only to think - as Gosse reminds us - of Moses, Solon, Plato, Thales of Mileto, Euclid, Ctesibus, Hero and Hypatia, who all owed much to Egyptian learning — and the importance of this Land of the One River will strike us immediately.
It is a little more difficult for us to form a picture in our minds of how the ancient Egyptian cities looked. The great mass of the population lived then, as it does now, in comparative poverty or simplicity. The richer things of this life belonged then, as they do now, to the potentates and to the religious orders. About the architecture of the houses of the poorer classes we know a little from the representation of Egyptian life upon the walls of buildings. The actual remains of palaces and temples — with their pylons, courts, and columns — show the grandeur and the solidity with which these were built. Think of the skill that lies behind the construction of a pyramid 756 feet square,
occupying 137/2 acres, and rising to a height of 481 feet. In all probability it was oriented to the cardinal points of the horizon, and it is estimated that it contained no less than 89,000,000 cubic feet of stone. In addition, it was possessed of a secret entrance, so cleverly concealed as to deceive any visitor who was not “in the know."
Many of us remember well the engineering difficulties that, in the year 1880, went with the carrying of the “Needle” that now stands in the Central Park of New York City, from the steamer, up Fifth Avenue to its final resting place. How the Egyptians did this -- not only with such monoliths, but with great statues using man-power in place of our steam, and along planks well oiled, can be seen in the picture of the transport of the statue of Dhuthotep from the quarry, to be found in Lepsius, Denkmäler, II, 134, in Wilkinson's "Egyptians," frontispiece, or in Gosse, The Civilization of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 104. Whatsoever compassion we may feel for the poor indentured labor men of the corvée is drowned in the admiration that overcomes us at the thought of the ability displayed by this ancient people.
It was in the year 1875 that an humble Arab, Rasoul by name, discovered the first tomb in the Lybian Mountains — called Bībān al-Mulūk — where
at Thebes had been hidden in the rocks the royal cemetery of the XVIIIth Dynasty, called by the Egyptians “The Place of Truth.” Here were found the tombs of Rameses the Great, of Seti I, of Amenophis I, of Thutmosis III; and here, also, was found the last resting-place (let us hope) of Thut-AnkhAmen, of whom we have read so much during the last twelve months, because it is the only one of the tombs that has been left partially unrifled by desecrators who began their nefarious practice at the very earliest time. It is good for us, but it was unfortunate for the kings, that in the case of the great and powerful it was the Egyptian.custom to bury with them all the implements and garnishments of their earthly life, in order that they might have them for use in the new life opening up for them.
It is natural that a people such as this should not have been neglectful of the higher things of life — of writing, of literature and of thought. Was not their god Thoth the inventor of all writing? It was a cumbersome script, this of their hieroglyphics, and needed, until it developed into the hieratic, a more artistic hand than is necessary for our ordinary scrawl — the hand of the expert and the professional. But how much it was in use we can see from the stone, the wood, the sheep's and goat's skin, and the papyrus plant that were laid under contribution for the purpose. Wheresoever Egyptian travelers and soldiers went, they left a remembrance of themselves in the rocks. We have papyri that can be dated with sufficient accuracy in the year 3400 B. C. And since the days of Champollion (1822) we have learned how to read that which the Egyptians wrote.