« הקודםהמשך »
lichte with a bright flame mecay, and lighted a first contents
When I re-entered the cave, I found the Arabs had returned with the mummy-pots, several of which I opened their contents I found in a state of great decay, and lighted a fire with-they burned with a bright flame, and peculiarly aromatic smell. The light thus created illumed the whole cave, and fell full upon the forms of the Arabs scattered through its gloomy chambers -some stretched in sleep, some in the act of prayer* at a little distance from the rest, and others squatted round the fire; and the glare now thrown back from their dark sun-burnt faces, formed altogether a picture such as pencil might depict, but pen is inadequate to describe. Finding I could not dispossess the Arabs, who, to say the truth, seemed to have a much better right to the place than I had, I determined to make the most of them ; some I employed in thinning a few hieroglyphic tablets, left by the Frenchman, to make them more easily transportable to Alexandria ; others occasionally entertained us with some wild song; and again an eastern tale was told and translated to me by the Maltese, as we sat smoking our pipes round the fire, composed of the bits of wood that formed the coffins of the people of ancient Egypt.
It is remarkable how the superstitions and prejudices of countries and people vary. How few English or Irish of the lower orders would like to inhabit tombs, surrounded by the mouldering remains of human bodies, as the Arabs of Sackara do!
It was now late, and I settled to rest in a sheltered corner ; some time elapsed, however, ere I could procure sleep ; the peculiar novelty of my situation, the faint glimmering of light from the expiring fire, the group of curious beings I was surrounded by, and the remembrance of the people and the era that erected this sepulchral hall, filled my mind, and long as memory lasts that scene shall never fade ; but bodily exhaustion will overcome even
* It is curious that the Mohammadans practise a deception on themselves similar to that of birds. Every one has remarked that sparrows and other small birds, in dry weather, roll themselves in the dust of the road, and perform with their wings the action of washing, by throwing the dust upon their backs, and ruffling up their feathers. Here, in like manner, when the Arabs had no water at hand, they used the dry sand and dust in the manner they perform the ablution before and after prayer, sprinkling it over the head, back of the neck, beard, and arms, &c.
such stirring thoughts; and I do not think I ever enjoyed a more peaceful slumber, or awoke more refreshed than next morning.
At an early hour I set forward to rejoin my friends at Geza, and having sent two of the donkeys round by the plain with the antiquities and baggage, I proceeded with Paulo and the Arab Alee to the mummy-pits of the sacred animals. Having arrived at the place so famed in travel and in Egyptian mythology, my mortification was great to find we had forgotten the lights; nevertheless my curiosity got the better of my fears, and as I could not see it, I resolved to feel my way into it, and bring away some of the urns containing the embalmed ibises.
An arch cut out of the rock led into a small apartment or shrine, in the centre of the floor of which a square hole, about the size of a large chimney, descended perpendicularly to the sepulchres of the animals. Holes cut in the sides of this passage enabled us to get down to a low, narrow, and perfectly dark vault, the commencement of a series of chambers cut in the rock, about thirty feet below the surface, and extending a great way on all sides. I should say as much as half an acre has been yet opened, and no possible conjecture can be made as to how far it may extend beyond where the ibis-pots now commence. I was here exposed to a most extraordinary scene, and such as few explorers of catacombs have gone through, or I would advise to try.
All was utter blackness; but Alee, who had left all his garments above, took me by the hand, and led me in a stooping posture some way amidst broken pots, sharp stones, and heaps of rubbish, that sunk under us at every step; then placing me on my face, at a particularly narrow part of the gallery, he assumed a similar snake-like posture himself, and by a vermicular motion, and keeping hold of his legs, I contrived to scramble through a burrow of sand and sharp bits of pottery, frequently scraping my back against the roof. Sometimes my guide would leave me, and I could hear him puffing and blowing like a porpoise, as he scratched out the passage, and groped through the sand like a rabbit for my admittance. This continued through many windings, for upwards of a quarter of an hour, and again I was on the point of returning, as half-suffocated with heat and exertion, and choked with sand, I lay panting in some gloomy corner, while Alee was examining the next turn. I do not think in all my travels I ever felt the same strong sensation of being in an 268
THE EMBALMED IBIS.
con reaching ally convered in ren
enchanted place, so much as when led by this sinewy child of the desert through the dark winding passages, and lonely vaults of this immense mausoleum.
At length we arrived at a place where we could stand upright, and creeping over a vast pile of pots, and sinking in the dust of thousands of animals, we came to where we felt the urns still undisturbed, and piled up in rows with the larger end or lid pointing outwards. How extensive this hypogeum may be I cannot possibly say, but from the echo it must be very great indeed. Thousands upon thousands of the urns have been removed and broken, either in the cave or outside, where they form an immense heap, yet thousands still remain. With great labour we succeeded in removing six of these, and having them eventually conveyed to England. So fatigued was I, that on reaching the aperture it was with the greatest difficulty I could gain the top, where I lay insensible for some minutes ; on recovering, I found I had been carried out into the open air, and Paulo, not seeing me awake so soon as he thought I ought, was on the point of taking vengeance on poor Alee for some injury which he supposed I had received while so long under ground ;—but a short rest restored me, aided by the thought that I was setting forward to visit the pyramids of Geza.
So very much has been written upon the sacred attributes and natural history of the Sacred Ibis, that I have little to add to the description of others; and to attempt the history of it, either religious, fabulous, or authentic, would form a chapter in itself. Bruce has confirmed the account of Herodotus, by establishing the fact, that the Abou Hannes of Ethiopia, and the Sacred Ibis, are the same. In the museum of the school of medicine at Cairo, I had an opportunity of seeing and comparing both the black and the white ibis with the bones of those found in the mummy-pits at Sackara, and can add my testimony as to their identity ; but as far as I have been able to discover, the black ibis is the one found most frequently embalmed. Great heat must have been employed in the preparation of these mummies, as the majority of them are so much roasted, as to crumble to dust on being opened. The black ibis sometimes visits Greece
AN ARAB'S HONESTY.
in company with the Tantalus. There is one preserved in the collection at Athens that was shot near Napoli di Romania.*
Numbers of desert partridges (Pterocles Alchata) sometimes called the pin-tailed sand-grouse, ran in flocks before us, and though pursued, seldom or never took wing; they trust more to their exceeding swiftness, and their similarity of colour to the desert for escape or protection, than to any power of flight. A trivial circumstance took place concerning a covey of these birds, that speaks more for the honesty of the Arabs than we are willing to assign to them. Seeing a number of birds start from our feet among the tombs, Alee requested the gun and some ammunition to have a shot; the experiment was a trying one, and Paulo advised me not to give it, but trusting in the poor fellow's face, I gave the gun, and off he darted like an arrow. After some minutes I lost sight of him, and an hour elapsed before I saw any thing of Alee, who, I was beginning to have strong suspicions, had decamped, as he easily might, with the gun, but he met us on the way, bringing some birds.
Hyenas frequently started up from our path, but always kept out of shot; they are plenty in this part of the country, particularly about the ruined pyramids of Aboosier ; they sometimes make excursions to the neighbouring villages, and are frequently taken in traps by the fellahs, who appear to entertain a particular aversion to the animal, probably from its so frequently disinterring and devouring the dead bodies, even when in a state of extreme putrefaction. At last we are at the pyramids.
We experienced the usual deception mentioned by travellers approaching these monuments, of their appearing to recede as we drew towards them; for hour after hour passed, and still they were far distant.
Persons can have no possible conception of the vastness of those structures without standing beside them, looking from their bases to their summits; measuring with the eye of sight their huge dimensions, and with the eye of mind measuring back
* For a particular description of the embalmed Sacred Ibis, see “Pettigrew on Egyptian Mummies."
| The plumage of this bird is lighter in those I procured in Egypt than the ones figured in most zoological works.
APPROACH TO THE PYRAMIDS.
the ages upon ages they have there remained. No noisy rapturous expression of surprise or wonder breaks from the traveller ; no hastening forward to rush into the interior ; with me, at least, it was a calm, subdued, speechless, but elevated and lasting feeling of awe and admiration, which took possession of my very soul. Could I embody all the overwhelming thoughts that rushed across my mind, I would say that the uppermost was that of time-time, standing as a particle of eternity, is written on these edifices, the greatest human industry ever reared, or human pride or vanity can boast of.
A line of camels slowly pacing across the dreary waste on which they stand, or a Bedawee careering his horse beside the base of one of them, give, by the comparison, some faint idea of their stupendous size ; and an Arab pirouetting his charger on the sphinx* afforded me the desired contrast, at the same time that it showed me what was the magnitude of that emblem of Egyptian reverence and superstition.
I found my friends from Cairo had arrived early in the morning, and had just returned from the ascent of the larger pyramid of Cheops, and were now waiting for me to join their pic-nic, one
* The sand has again accumulated so much on the back of the sphinx, that it is easy to ride to the top.