The sun has arisen on the Upper Nile. Within fifteen hours we have passed from Alexandria to Edfu, author enjoying the luxury of a sleeping compartment with but one passenger (himself). In an hour we will be reaching Aswan. White birds have settled into the branches of date palms. Along the beige margin between two green fields a man in a long maroon robe leads a dignified white camel by a long slack rope. We glimpse a felucca’s white sail. The distance between railway track and river has momentarily widened. Three sunflowers stand at attention in a broad field, turning slowly toward the sun. We slow for a station whose name is marked only in Arabic. Desert-like mounds of sand encroach upon the tracks.
Tityrus, here you loll, your slim reed-pipe serenading
The woodland spirit beneath a spread of sheltering beech,
While I must leave my home place, the fields so dear to me.
I’m driven from my home place: but you can take it easy
In the shade and teach the woods to repeat “Fair Amaryllis.”
Egyptian polls declared Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood winner of the country’s first presidential race on Monday just hours after the ruling military council issued an interim constitution granting itself broad power over the government and all but eliminating the president’s authority in an apparent effort to guard against just such a victory.
In the interval between the dunes, we glimpse the road again, a sunlit blue truck hastening its way south, a yellow pickup heading north, its bed canopied in red, three white hearts surrounded by black. Under the glorious morning sun the surface of the asphalt road reads dark blue. Outside a town, two turbaned men, one in black, one in brown, sit in pink chairs at a suburban café. A goose struts past a humble dwelling, whose roof is painted white. Brown-clad junior high girls make their way up an alley toward a school. A red Toyota van hurries down the road. On a town’s outskirts we stop at a station, its name also in Arabic only. Above a wall behind it, edged in white, a magenta head bobs as it rides by on a donkey.
O Meliboeus, a god [Rome] has given me this ease —
One who will always be a god to me, whose altar
I’ll steep with the blood of tender lambs from my sheep-folds.
It’s by his grace, you see, that my cattle browse and I
Can play whatever tunes I like on this country reed-pipe.
(Vergil’s Eclogues, trans. C. Day Lewis [Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1963, 1983])
In July we were able to get it together to play what would become a legendary Chili Peppers gig. We got a job to headline the Kit Kat Club, which was a classic strip club that had been putting on rock shows. All four of us worked real hard to prepare for the show. At Hillel’s request, we even learned to cover Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.”
A black-faced man in a baby-blue robe and sleek, white silk turban waits alone on a platform. Three Scania trailer-trucks pass us, the first two in yellow, filled with sand, the third in black, stacked with bags of cement. After an interval, a blue-cabbed, white-bedded truck arrives, a yellow back-hoe atop it. On the inner track, a grey, red-and-black-striped passenger train pauses before heading on downriver. As we leave the station, the back-hoe has already lined up with other construction vehicles to cross the tracks. At tables striped in yellow and red, four traditionally garbed men sip their tiny coffees beneath a satellite dish. At the border of a field, a farmer, having harvested two armfuls of greenery, takes a rest.
We got to the club that night, and they gave us a huge dressing room that must have normally been used by the strippers. I made sure that the lyrics were together, and then I wrote out the set list, which was a responsibility that I’d taken on early in the band’s life. We had an extra-special surprise that night.
As we head on out of town green fields of rice plants are sprinkled with golden wild flowers. We glance at a construction site, the workmen still huddled about a tent, two seated in red plastic chairs. A man in a pink over-garment kicks his legs against the ribs of a donkey, causing it to pick up the pace; it is pulling a flat-bedded cart with rubber automobile tires, behind which is tethered a second donkey. Four woolly brown sheep huddle against a wall, nuzzling each other. A tall tower, rising from a silver triangular base, gleams in the sun, its struts shaded. We come to a house in chrome yellow with magenta trim, pale blue doors and white shutters. On the front wall of another house is a carefully drawn airplane to Mecca.
Since we were playing at a strip club and the girls would be dancing onstage with us, we decided that the appropriate encore would be for us to come out naked, except for long athletic socks that we’d wear over our stuff. We had already been playing shirtless, and we realized the power and beauty of nudity onstage.
(Anthony Kiedis, with Larry Sloman, Scar Tissue [London: Sphere, 2006])
A dog scratches its ear, while two boys sit on a stoop brushing their teeth. A teacher stands proudly, resting his arm on the third-floor balustrade of a new school, the Egyptian flag fluttering behind him in the breeze. A man, a long stick in his hand, waits with a donkey for our train to go by. A woman clad in black velveteen, her sandals in orange plastic, has taken a seat to observe two cows, grazing. As we edge on through the outskirts of another town an advertisement reads, “Abu Simbel Macaroni.” A large orange stake-truck full of workers, who, sitting on its bed, squint to limit the effect of the rising sun, stops. Down alleyways, behind high grasses, we glimpse the banks of the river again. A tractor turns at the end of a field.
Well, I don’t grudge you that: but it does amaze me, when
Such a pack of troubles worries us countrymen everywhere.
On and on, sick-hearted, I drive my goats: look, this one
Can hardly move — in that hazel thicket she dropped her twin kids,
The hope of my flock, but she has to leave them upon bare flint.
The city men call Rome — in my ignorance I used to
Imagine it like the market town to which we shepherds
Have so often herded the weanlings of our flocks. Thus I came
To know how dogs resemble puppies, goats their kids,
And by that scale to compare large things with small.
The military’s charter was the latest of swift steps that the generals have taken to tighten their grasp on power just when they had promised to hand over to elected civilians the authority that they assumed on the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year. Their charter grants them the power to control lawmaking, the national budget and declarations of war.
(David D. Kirkpatrick, “Generals in Egypt declare supremacy,” IHT, Tuesday, June 19, 2012)
Four grey blocks of new apartments stand out against the horizon, their windows shuttered attractively in various colors: turquoise, red and blue. We skirt a field of huge cabbages. A sign indicates the precincts of Nasr City; the silver smoke stacks of a factory rise above it. Furiously they are belching forth black smoke. Slowly we slide by the town’s central mosque, which culminates in a beautiful minaret, its crescent completed as a circle. Next door is a Coptic church, its two spires capped with three-dimensional crosses, their arms indicating the four cardinal directions. We are passing through Kom Ombu, Nasr City still off in the distance toward the East. A red Mazda stake-truck waits at trackside to cross.
But Rome carries her head as high above other cities
As cypresses tower over the tough wayfaring tree.
What was the grand cause of your setting eyes on Rome, then?
I’d come up with the idea of using socks, because back then I was living with Donde Bastone; he had a pot customer who developed a serious crush on me. She was cute, but I kept resisting her advances, which included sending me gag greeting cards with foldout rulers to measure the size of your dick, and even photos of herself blowing some sailors.
Its cargo of laborers is so large that they must stand cheek-by-jowl, packed in together. Along the side of a red brick building Arabic letters have been formed by inserting white bricks. We leave Kom Ombu behind as green fields, then blue-green verdure, then vegetable plots appear beside the tracks. Quickly we have entered another urban agglomeration. Instead of slowing, however, we pick up speed. Nonetheless, a white van, filled with a dozen passengers, whizzes past us. Having reached the outskirts of the town, we overtake the van. Beside an irrigation ditch a boy is setting out white plastic chairs before the yellow oilcloth-covered tables of a café. A pickup truck speeds by, piled with white crates of tomatoes and oranges.
One day she showed up to the house, and I decided to answer the door buck naked except for a sock wrapped around my dick and balls. Anyway, we were jazzed to play. Our interaction had gotten better and better. Before, our shows had been one big finale of fireworks from beginning to end; now we were developing different dynamics.
After dissolving the Brotherhood-led Parliament elected four months ago, and locking out its lawmakers, the generals on Sunday night also seized control of the process of writing a permanent constitution. The state news media reported that the generals had picked a 100-member panel to drain it. Hossam Bahgat made the following announcement:
We in turn pass a coffee-colored Daihatsu truck, its bed empty. A small field of rubbish is burning beside the road, red flames licking upward. An official wall, high and spiked, surrounds a new transformer station, its corners surmounted with guard boxes made out of concrete. In an already harvested field, long rows of sheaves have been disposed in a northerly direction. Three old women dressed in black wait beneath a silver pole on which are strung five strands of telephone line. Suddenly we reach the banks of the Nile. A desert-like vista opens up. On the opposite bank, cliffs descend close to the water. The railway tracks here have been cut through rock. Under the dusty tops of palms, a village emerges.
Ten minutes before we were scheduled to play, someone broke out a joint. We had never smoked weed before a show, but we passed it around and took a hit, even Jack. As soon as the weed hit me, I became paranoid that all this hard work and this perfect feeling were about to be ruined by being stoned on pot, so I took a walk around the block.
“The new constitutional declaration completed Egypt’s official transformation into a military dictatorship.” The statement appeared as on-line commentary. Under the military’s charter, the president appeared to be reduced to a powerless figurehead. The Brotherhoood called the victory by the Islamist candidate, Mr. Morsi, a rebuke to the military.
Within a few minutes we have diverged from the river again. The scene to the eastern side of the train is markedly rugged. We exit a passage of dark green fields and the desert recommences. Villages, including their long walls, rise up the hills progressively. Their stuccoed building fronts are for the most part whitewashed, with an occasional pink, an occasional blue protruding into the general effect. Graffiti have given way to more stylized decorations. The cliffs rise quickly to tower above us, even at trackside. Then suddenly they disappear, replaced by a broad savannah. Before long, the hills have returned. We survey a larger village built upon many hills along the way, its walls dilapidated, some enclosing barren rocks.
Freedom gave me a look — oh, long-delayed it was,
And I apathetic; my beard fell whiter now as I clipped it —
Still, she gave me that look and late in the day she came,
After my Galatea had left me, when Amaryllis possessed
My heart. I had no chance of freedom, while Galatea reigned.
We had to follow a fantastic performance by an anarchistic outfit of eccentric masterminds called Roid Rogers and the Whirling Butt Cherries. But that only served to pump me up higher, ’cos I wanted to show everyone that we were strong. So we hit the stage and wailed. Jack and Flea were incredibly tight and Hillel was in another dimension.
We finished the set and ran backstage, and we were all in a frizzle tizzy. When we walked back onstage wearing only the socks, the crowd audibly gasped. We weren’t deterred for one moment by the collective state of shock that the audience was experiencing. We started rocking “Fire.” Our friend Alison Po Po meanwhile took swoops at my sock.
I was focused on the song and my performance, but another part of my brain started telling me how many inches I had between my sock and Alison’s farthest reach. As I watched a bunch of our friends who had all rushed the stage and were also grabbing for the socks, I suddenly had a totally liberating and empowering feeling.
I had no chance of freedom, no attention to spare for savings:
Many a fatted beast I took to sell in the temple
Many the rich cheeses I pressed for ungrateful townsfolk,
Yet never did I get home with much money in my pocket.
I used to wonder why Amaryllis called so sadly
Upon the gods, and let her apple crop go hang.
Tityrus was not there. The very springs and pine-trees
Called out, these very orchards were crying for you, my friend.
On the near side of the river, broad green fields illustrate the difference between desert and arable land. To the West again, two black birds fly above a cemetery. Its tombstones are small, primitive, widely spaced. We come upon a village built, like an American Indian pueblo, up against and into the cliffs. We ourselves have begun to climb quite quickly. At the outskirts of these villages we observe many deserted houses. We are approaching the environs of Aswan and will be there, the conductor tells author, in five minutes. The tracks begin to multiply, some filled with oil tanker cars, their cylinders dirty with age. Trackside activity increases. Our train slows. “Bank of Alexandria,” reads an advertisement.
You’re young and you’re not jaded yet and so the idea of being naked and playing this beautiful music with your best friends and generating so much energy and color and love in a moment of being nude is great. But you’re not only nude, you’ve also got this giant image of a phallus going for you. These were long socks.
What was I to do? There was no way out from my slavery.
Nowhere else could I find a divine one ready to help me.
Usually, when you’re playing, your dick goes into protection mode, so you’re not loose and relaxed and elongated, you’re more compact, like you’re in a boxing match. So to have this added appendage was a great feeling. But we never figured that the socks were eventually going to become an iconic image associated with us.
At Rome, Meliboeus, I saw that young prince* in whose honor
My altar shall smoke twelve times a year. At Rome I made
My petition to him, and he granted it readily, saying, “My lads,
Pasture your cattle, breed from your bulls, as you did of old.”
Mr. Morsi thanked God, who, he said, “guided Egypt to this straight path, the path of freedom and democracy.” He pledged to represent all Egyptians, including those who had voted against him. Other Brotherhood leaders had already begun escalating their defiance of the generals in meetings and statements Sunday night.
After conferring with General Sammi Hafez Enan, head of the council. the Brotherhood-affiliated speaker of the Parliament, Saad el-Katatni, declared that the military had no authority to dissolve the Parliament or to write a constitution. He said a separate 100-member panel picked by the Parliament would begin to meet within hours.
Fortunate old man! — so your acres will be yours still.
They’re broad enough for you, never mind if it’s stony soil . . .
But the rest of us must go from here and be dispersed —
To Scythia, bone-dry Africa, the chalky spate of the Oxus.
Once having debarked at the station, we mount quickly up a broad avenue in anticipation of reaching the Aswan Dam. A guard in black and orange armbands stands at the entrance to the bridge. “Coliseum” with a fan-like display of the colors of the rainbow, advertises photographic film and supplies. Once arrived upon the bridge we look down upon another display, a dusty group of palms with deciduous trees intermixed. Villages of blue and white houses are spread out along the river’s bank. The bridge, we read as we are already on it, is 1.5 km across. On its upstream side all is water; downstream, there is but a trickle. Way stations line the bridge. From this smaller dam we look upstream to the High Dam.
To this day both Tree and Flea claim they came up with “Red Hot Chili Peppers.” It’s a derivation of a classic old-school Americana blues or jazz name. There was Louis Armstrong with his Hot Five, and also other bands that had “Red Hot” this or “Chili” that. There was even an English band that was called Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers.
Later they thought that we had stolen their name. But no one had ever been the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a name that would forever be a blessing and curse. If you think of Red Hot Chili Peppers in terms of a feeling, a sensation, or an energy, it makes perfect sense for our band, but if you think of it in terms of a vegetable, it has hokey connotations.
At the end of the lower bridge we finally arrive at the Nile, its flow rippled from here heading downstream. Red-epauletted soldiers in brown-olive uniforms wave us onward, past the personal villa of the President of Egypt. We mount farther through a forest of large electric towers onto a four-lane highway bordered with oleanders. As we pass military bases the sands begin yellowing to flaxen. Our driver indicates for us the direction of Libya. Before long we have reached the great temple, where author takes a stand before its imposing pharaohs. We have arrived at Abu Simbel and are about to enter its interior. Amidst tourist patter author views in awe the figures of colossal scale, a bas relief of a foreigner being slain.
There arose the prospect of assemblies that drafted competing versions of constitutions. Saad el-Hussainy, leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, said that their lawmakers would be at the Parliament Tuesday morning. The generals stationed military and riot police officers to keep the lawmakers out. This may lead to new clashes in the street.
There’s a restaurant chain named after the vegetable, and chili peppers have been merchandised of course in everything from home-decoration hangings to Christmas-tree ornaments. Suffice it to say that we were weirded out when people started bringing chili peppers to our shows as though in some kind of offering to us.
We have entered a side chapel, grotto-like in its ceiling, filled with votive statues performing their fealty to the gods. At the exit to this adjunct stands Isis, an ankh in her hand. A bat flutters past, escaping through the main portal. At the end, in the sanctum, sit figures more battered than elsewhere. The crowd of tourists proves too numerous for author to enter. He turns instead to face the light. Below lies Lake Nasser, a ship on its surface, the Egyptian flag waving at its stern. To visit this site we have travelled by 747 from Aswan 300 kilometers; then in a crowded bus; followed by a long walk downhill. The pilgrimage has been worth it. As author guards her luggage, a Japanese tourist, named Hiromi, enters the temple.
Ah, when shall I see my native land again? After long years,
Or never? — see the turf-dressed roof of my simple cottage
And wondering gaze at the ears of corn that were all my kingdom?
The military’s shutdown of the Parliament has turned the race into a life or death struggle for the Brotherhood, demoralizing Egypt’s Islamists and democrats alike and energizing Mr. Shafik’s supporters. The sudden possibility that the revolt that defined the Arab Spring could end in a restoration of military-backed autocracy captivates the region.
To think of some godless soldier owning my well-farmed fallow,
A foreigner reaping these crops! To such a pass has civil
Dissension brought us: for people like these we have sown our fields.
She has promised, when she returns, to speak to the question of the relationship between ancient Egyptian culture and modern Japanese. Author stands before second temple at Abu Simbel, some hundred meters away. Its portal is preternaturally small, the volume within likewise circumscribed, but perhaps more powerful in its imagery due to its slightness. Here the sanctum is available. It supports a single figure. The squarish pillars of the chamber surround primitive cat-like images. At the portal the guard holds an ankh with an eighteen-inch eye. From the courtyard of this second temple, the first is in full view, its immense figures humanized by the distance between us. Nature has dictated its heroic proportions.
In 457 BC, Herodotus had visited Egypt and traveled up the Nile as far as the first cataract, eager to discover whatever he could about the river’s origins. He would be largely disappointed. From a variety of Egyptian and Greek travelers, he learned that the river probably came from far to the west, from the country that we know as Chad.
Having emerged from her encounter with the pharaohs and their gods, Hiromi is ready to be interviewed. She begins with a statement: “This . . . temple . . . is . . . very big . . .” (We must use English, for author has no Japanese.) “. . . and . . . wonderful.” Author begs to differ: “If we compare it to the one at Luxor, this temple is not very big. (I agree that it is ‘wonderful.’)”
Hiromi concedes the point. “But Luxor temple . . . [long pause] “does not,” says author, “have the same form” [completing Hiromi’s thought]. “Yes,” she says. “What do you feel in these temples?” author inquires. [A long pause.] “Do you feel that the gods are there?” he elaborates. Hiromi responds with many “Hmmm”s. Finally author asks,
But no convincing detail was volunteered. On returning home, Herodotus wrote: “Not one writer of the Egyptians or the Libyans or the Hellenes who came to speak with me professed to know anything except the scribe of the sacred treasury of Athene at the city of Sais in Egypt. But this scribe made up for the vagueness of his other informants.”
“Which is better, ancient Egyptian or modern Japanese culture?” [Another long pause.] “A very . . . difficult question,” she says. Author presses on: “Tell me, which do you like better?” “Ummm,” says Hiromi surprisingly: “Like . . . Egyptian.” “Why?” says intrusive author, determined to reach some conclusion. “Ummm, long long time ago, many picture [sic] on the stone, . . . very very beautiful.” “Therefore, says author, this ancient civilization has beauty. What else does it have?” “Yes, picture is beauty and . . . ummm, . . . more story!” “Now ancient Egypt was a very great civilization, but so also is modern Japan,” says professorial author. “What do you like in modern Japan that is lacking in ancient Egypt?”
Sicilian Muse* I would try now a somewhat grander theme.
Shrubberies or meek tamarisks are not for all: but if it’s
Forests I sing, may the forests be worthy of a consul.
Ours is the crowning era foretold in prophecy:
Between two mountains, he said, could be found “The fountains of the Nile, fountains which it is impossible to fathom: half the water runs northward into Egypt; half to the south.” Although Herodotus had sensed that the scribe did not seem to be in earnest, Livingstone believed he had been. This was because the scribe’s version tallied with others’.
But Hiromi will not commit herself. Having concluded what he regards as a satisfactory interview, author decides, later in the day, to repeat the process with a modern Egyptian, varying his question to read, “Which do you consider greater, ancient or modern Egyptian culture?” Having found a vigorous young Egyptian man named Nasser, he poses it. “Ancient or Modern Egypt?” he asks without missing a beat, “the same, no difference.” Since we are in the deep South of Egypt, author again raises the question of languages, with this more than adequate speaker of English. “Tell me, is Arabic your native language?” “No, Almanish,” he says. “And which other languages do you speak?” author inquires.
There was one difference. The scribe had mentioned two mountains between the four sources, whereas the Arabs had mentioned “a mound between them, the most remarkable in Africa. But, in Livingstone’s opinion, this difference seemed too small to worry about. A remarkable mound was likely to be a colossal feature: perhaps a range of mountains.
Born of Time, a great new cycle of centuries
Begins. Justice returns to earth, the Golden Age
Returns, and its first-born comes down from heaven above.
Look kindly, chaste Lucina, upon the infant’s birth.
“Español,” says Nasser. Seeking clarification, author inquires, “By Almanish you mean German, right?” “Yes, German,” says Nasser. “You are, then, a great scholar, says author, you speak German, Spanish (as we call it), Arabic and English.” “Yes,” says Nasser, laughing. “Let me shake your hand,” says author. “Now tell me something that you think my reader needs to know about Egypt. What should we all know about modern Egypt? What is important to you?” This question proves difficult, so author volunteers, “I notice that Egypt is very beautiful and the Egyptian people are very polite.” This seems to inspire Nasser. “In Abu Simbel, in Aswan, we have the Median people, not the Egyptian,” he corrects me.
Mountains near the northward-flowing sources delighted Livingstone for another reason. In about AD 150 the Greek astronomer and geographer, Claudius Ptolemaeus — Ptolemy, as he is known — had stated in his Geography that after marching for 25 days from Mombasa a traveler would arrive at “the snowy range whence the Nile draws its twin sources.”
Look kindly, chaste Lucina, upon this infant’s birth,
For with him shall hearts of iron cease, and hearts of gold
Inherit the whole earth — yes, Apollo reigns now.
And it’s while you, Pollio, are consul that this age shall dawn.
You at our head, mankind shall be freed from its age-long fear,
All stains of our past wickedness being cleansed away.
This child shall enter into the life of the gods, behold them
Walking with antique heroes, and himself be seen of them.
Egyptian election officials said Wednesday that they were postponing the announcement of a winner in last week’s presidential runoff, claiming that they needed more time to evaluate charges of electoral abuse that could affect who becomes the country’s next leader. The commission had been expected to confirm a winner on Thursday.
“In Luxor, in Cairo, there you have the Egyptian people.” “Now tell me about Nubian people,” author says. “Nubian people? I am Nubian people.” “And what are the Nubian people like, if you will be kind enough to tell me.” “Nasser points to his face, which is very black. [Great laughter all around.] “Ah, I see,” says author. You must recall that I am American, and in the United States we do not pay much attention to the color of someone’s skin.” But Nasser insists that he knows better: “American is for white, Nubian is for black.” “Tell me, in particular, about Nubian women.” “Nubian women, oh!” says Nasser, laughing, but he cannot articulate his thoughts. “Perhaps you mean that Nubian women are very beautiful.”
Based upon a public vote observed by the media, they were to have named Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The surprise delay instead intensified a power struggle between the Brotherhood and Egypt’s military rulers. It came just days after the generals who took over upon the ouster of Hosni Mubarak re-imposed martial law.
He will walk with heroes and rule a world made peaceful by his
Father’s virtuous acts. Child, your first birthday presents will come
From the wild — small presents: earth will shower you with romping
Ivy, foxgloves, bouquets of gipsy lilies and sweetly-smiling acanthus.
“Nubian, Nubian, very very beautiful, yeah, sure,” says Nasser, regaining his stride. “Now, are you married?” author inquires. “Yes,” says Nasser. “And how old were you when you married?” “Three,” says Nasser. “Ah, you have been married for three years, is that correct?” “Yes,” “And are you a happy man?” “Sure,” says Nasser. “Did your parents choose your wife for you?” “Oh yes, the family, oh yes.” “Perhaps this is why you are happy.” “Finally, what would you like to say to America, to Bill Clinton?” But the question does not inspire him, so author returns to a subject that Hiromi had spoken about, the small temple at Abu Simbel. “Why is the door so small?” “Because the Nubian people, you see, are very short.”
The drive downtown is an experience unto itself. You’re controlled by dark energy that’s about to take you to a place where you know you don’t belong at this stage in your life. You get on the 101 Freeway and it’s night and cool. It’s a pretty drive, and your heart is racing, your blood flowing through your veins, and it’s kind of dangerous.
Because the people who are dealing are cut-throat, and there are cops everywhere. It’s not your neck of the woods anymore; now you’re coming from a nice house in the hills, driving a convertible Camaro. So you get off at Alvarado and make a right. Here your senses go into this hyper-alert radar situation. Your mission is to buy these drugs.
Goats shall walk home their udders taut with milk, and nobody
Herding them: the ox will have no fear of the lion:
Silk-soft blossoms will grow from your very cradle to lap you.
But snakes will die, and so will fair-seeming poisonous plants.
Having moved across the plaza to the large temple, author is joined by a second Median, named Asher, to discuss with him and Nasser in situ the great monument. “It was built by Ramesses II,” is that correct?” “Yes,” says Asher. We turn next to discussing other temples in the larger southern vicinity. “Philae,” author proffers for the sake of information, is built on an island in the Nile.” “Philae and the Nile, all in Aswan,” says Asher. “Have you been on the boat that takes one to Philae?” “Yes.” “And how did the ancient Egyptians get there?” “Not the Egyptians, the Nubians,” author is again corrected. He takes out his map. “Here we are in Nubia,” he notes on the map. “What else should I visit?” “A Nubian village!”
They shut down the Brotherhood-led Parliament, issued an interim charter and slashed the president’s powers. They also took significant control over the writing of a new constitution. The new uncertainty about the presidential election results has only heightened the atmosphere of crisis and raised deep doubts about Egypt’s promised transition to democracy.
Although the vote count appeared to make Mr. Morsi the winner by a margin of nearly a million votes, his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, has also declared himself the winner. A former air force general, and Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, Mr. Shafik campaigned as a strongman who could keep the Islamists of the Brotherhood in check.
(David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times on-line, June 21, 2012)
Having accepted the invitation, author soon finds himself in the guide’s village of Abu Simbel, where we arrive by car. A blue dump truck, full of sand, blocks the middle of the road. The town is expanding; construction is everywhere underway. Nasser is driving, with Salas, whose car it is, sitting beside him. Libyan graffiti on walls along the way are pointed out. We stop and descend from the car. With great hospitality author is ushered into a house and offered a seat in its living room. The family is watching a television set, which is displaying images of the Sudan. Salas proudly points out that his family TV has Japanese and American channels too. Author is presented, for inspection, two beautiful Tabak, Libyan hats.
It’s a battle in which your life is going to depend on seeing everything around you, the guy on the corner, the undercover cops, the black-and-whites. You don’t want to commit any obvious traffic infractions, so you signal and make your left onto Third Street, cognizant the whole time of any cars behind you as well as in front of you.
You go two more blocks and start passing Mexican families, a couple of motels and a corner store; then there’s a grocery store on the left, which was the scene of many incidents in your life when you and Jennifer were together, when you used to shoot up in the car and throw up out the window. All these memories are flooding back.
Next he is given, for inspection, Nubian necklaces bearing images of camels engraved in ivory. Another is made of hematite; another has a scarab on the end of its string. “Very beautiful work,” says author. We return to what is available on TV. Author asks where the signal is coming from. “Sudan,” he is told, “from satellite.” Having read many news reports about the tragic country, he asks, “Do you think that Sudan today is a dangerous place?” “Not dangerous,” he is told. We are looking together at an Arabic channel. “For Saudians,” it is said. As Salas flips the channels to demonstrate the diversity of programming, we come to an Egyptian melodrama, then to the end of a soccer match in which Nigeria has just beaten Egypt.
Everywhere the commons will breathe of spice and incense.
But when you are old enough to read about famous men
And your father’s deeds, to comprehend what manhood means,
Then a slow flush of tender gold shall mantle the great plains.
Now shall honey sweat like dew from the hard bark of oaks.
Yet there’ll be lingering traces still of our primal error,
Prompting us to dare the seas in ships, to girdle
Our deities round with walls and break the soil with ploughshares.
On a news channel we watch a huge conflagration in an urban area, everyone in the room competing to offer commentary. It is Al-Jezeera’s Palestinian coverage. Having exhausted the collection of jewelry for sale and television programming, we jump into the double cab of a truck, Nasser, Asher, Salas and author, to tour the town, whose narrow streets are paved, whose building faces are constructed of mortared stone. We emerge out of an alley onto a gorgeous view of a reservoir. Goats are grazing at little tufts of grass along the roadside. As we return into the town, kids in a spacious square are at lively, improvised play with truck tires. We pass a temple, a grocery store; finally, we have a glimpse of the Nile.
There can be few historical events better known than the love affair between Mark Antony, triumvir of Rome, and the talented Cleopatra VII of Egypt. His association with her may not have been without political motives, for there was much to be gained by Rome fostering good relations with Egypt, the wealth of which was proverbial.
Ultimately, however, his relationship brought him into conflict with his astute, single-minded, brother-in-law, Octavian. The issue was finally settled at the battle of Actium, fought on September 31 BC, and a year later Octavian, who in 27 BC changed his name to Augustus, or August Emperor, entered Egypt for the first and last time.
(David Peacock, “The Roman Period,” in The History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford U.P., 2000)
As soon as you make a right onto Bonnie Brae, half a block up on the left, you see the dealers. They’re incredibly aggressive, and they watch every car that comes around the corner to determine if there’s someone to buy stuff. You either pull straight up on Bonnie Brae or you make a left onto the next side street, and they come swamping down on you.
“Sudan,” Asher tells author, is “up this way.” “It is 30 kilometer [sic].” In the nearby waters of the river, he says, are “real,” “big” crocodiles. “Two meter, three meter, ten meter.” “That’s a very big crocodile,” says author. “Yeah, ten meter long, for big one.” We traverse an enormous triangular plaza with the “Banque de Caire” at one end. We pass the Police Office. The sound of the call to prayers is in the air. This section of Abu Simbel is called “Kazimah,” Salas explains. Several kids on the street are trying to hitch a ride. We stop to allow them into the back of the truck. “Did you come to Aswan by plane?” Nasser inquires. “Yes,” says author, as we continue on, under blue skies streaked with the faintest of pink clouds.
A second Argo will carry her crew of chosen heroes,
A second Tiphys steer her. And wars — yes, even wars,
There’ll be; and great Achilles must sail for Troy again.
They’re in your passenger window, they’re in your back window, and you have to choose which madman you’re going to buy from. They are used to people buying 20 dollars’ worth, or 40, or maybe 60, but you pull out a wad of 100s and tell them you want 500 dollars’ worth. They can’t even keep 500 dollars’ worth of crack in their mouths.
At the end of a way paved in asphalt, edged with trees in arc-like topiary configurations, we stop at the Mairie, where author gains conversation with “the manager of the town of Abu Simbel,” who too rapidly pronounces his Arabic name. Author mentions that he has been talking with people in Aswan about the relation of modern and ancient Egypt and asks him, “What do you think Egypt will be like in the future?” “For the future history is making Egypt growing,” he says. “It is a big story.”This helps people here in Abu Simbel to be with the other people of the world, in the other countries.” “So you,” author comments, “are thinking, in economic terms, about the advantage of having tourists visit your great monuments.”
Egypt was a land apart — an exotic and distant part of the empire, more bizarre than any other province. Here pharaonic culture thrived and a visitor to Roman Egypt would have found himself in a time capsule, for the sights, sounds and customs of Roman Egypt would have had more in common with pharaonic civilization than with contemporary Rome.
Later, when the years have confirmed you in full manhood,
Traders will retire from the sea, from the pine-built vessels
They used for commerce: every land will be self-supporting.
They store the crack, like the balloons of heroin, under their tongues, so they start pooling their resources and come to you with a handful of saliva-covered crack. You make the deal and then you ask these guys, “Who’s got the Chiva?” and they point. Chiva is the dope. Then you head to another block and buy three, four or five balloons.
“In spiritual terms,” author muses, “when you see these 747s arriving, do you ever think that Ramesses II is still alive? Because he still has power to attract people.” “For myself I am very happy about it all, and yes, Ramesses is a very great name. He is a big man, on my side a great man, because he has a bow and is strong and has his wife.” “So we might say that people still worship Ramesses II?” “Yes.” “Because so many people are visiting you, and we have all spent much money to raise the temple.” “Yes, and people from all the countries are coming and buying the book to read about Ramesses, and taking pictures, so yes, as you say, he is still alive.” “So maybe ancient Egypt is a part of modern Egypt.” “Right.”
The whole time you’re trying to make the deal go down quick, because the cops could be there any second. By now you know where to get the pipes, and here you’re buying the little Brillo pads to use as screens in the pipes, all the techniques that you picked up from the street dealers. Then you roll up the windows and head home to get high.
Temples were still built in traditional style. The hieroglyphic script continued to be used, and Egyptian was spoken by the common people, although the lingua franca was Greek. Cleopatra was, as far as we know, the only Graeco-Roman ruler of Egypt to learn Egyptian, and then it was one of a multitude of languages in which she was proficient.
As we await an early flight from Abu Simbel back to Aswan, an airport book store owner is removing the heavy plastic curtain over his collection of materials about Abu Simbel. High above its shelves he has started a video. It recounts the story of the elevation of the two temples from their precarious position alongside the river to escape the modern flood, result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Workmen are shown hand-sawing blocks from the two temples; architects are shown seated about a round table, discussing the best way to proceed. Diagrams for the concrete dome to be constructed for the large temple to Ramesses II are displayed on the screen. Machinery of all sorts is shown in operation.
Further indications of the depth of the all-pervading pharaonic culture are the persistence of mummification as a burial rite and continuing reverence for the Egyptian gods. The special nature of Roman Egypt is undeniable, although there is a growing body of scholars who consider the “Romanity” of Egypt to be a more significant aspect of the subject.
Richard Burton believed that any man who succeeded in linking the mountains and river should justly be considered among the greatest benefactors of this age of geographical science. But he heeded the warning of the celebrated German explorer of the Sahara.
Heinrich Barth told him that “no prudent man would pledge himself to discover the Nile sources.” So Burton timidly redefined his mission as “ascertaining the limits of Tanganyika, the ethnography of its tribes, and the export of the produce of the African interior.”
It would be nine months before he discussed the source of the Nile again with Jack Speke, although both men knew very well that they would both be judged by how much they contributed to the solution of the world’s greatest geographical mystery.
The heads of Ramesses are lifted into their new positions. As the videotape proceeds, a crowd gradually assembles, stragglers from a French tour, joined by Germans commenting on the tape, Japanese tourists watching silently. A group of Swedes arrives, then Americans, until there is standing room only in the space before the bookstall. The effect of this rather ordinary, at least not extraordinary, videotape is mesmerizing. Something more profound than mere information is being purveyed. It continues to hold the attention of well-heeled retirees, of successful 55-year-old businessmen, from around the world. They all know the story but want to hear it again. So intent is their interest that they block the view of others.
The soil will need no harrowing, the vine no pruning-knife;
And the tough ploughman may at last unyoke his oxen.
We shall stop treating wool with artificial dyes.
For the ram himself in his pasture will change his fleece’s color,
Now to a charming purple, now to a saffron hue,
And grazing lambs will dress themselves in coats of scarlet.
As soon as you hit the pipe, boom, there’s that familiar instantaneous release of serotonin in the brain, a feeling that’s almost too good. You instantly start short-circuiting in your brain, because to get all that serotonin at once is so crazy and so intense that you’re liable to stand up and take off your clothes and go walking into the neighbor’s house.
Because you feel so good. And on one occasion I almost did do that. I came back to my beautiful, sweet, blessing-from-God home, up against this park, and I walked into the kitchen and took that first hit — and it’s always about the first hit; the other hits are all in vain, trying to recapture that first one — and I stuffed as much rock as I could in the pipe.
And as much smoke as I could in my lungs. I held it for as long as possible. Then I released the smoke. All that manic, psychotic energy came swirling around me again and I instantly became a different person. I was no longer in control of this person. I threw off my shirt, and it made perfect sense to go to my neighbor’s house with half my clothes off.
While Burton was confined to his tembe with fever, Speke — with Bombay interpreting — learned from the Arabs that there were three lakes, Nyasa, Ujiji and Victoria and not the single immense slug shown on the German missionaries’ map.
The natives called them Malawi (to the south), Tanganyika (to the west) and Ukerewe (to the north), which may be the largest of all. From the Ukerewe lake’s position, due south of the White Nile, Speke reckoned it was more likely to be the source of the Nile.
Like the story of the Taj Mahal, it has a second “text,” a backstory: the building of a temple to the wife of Ramesses. But it is mostly the authority, the serenity of the consummate art of the sculptors that conveys the spiritual power of the great king. This is what draws the audience in and holds its attention. Fourteen temples in all comprise the ensemble that was saved from the flood, but the major Ramesses temple and its pendant stand in a different relation to the rest of Egypt and its other monuments, much as the pyramids at Giza do. Even Osiris, even Isis, cannot compete with the appeal of this king. Over a 60-year reign he absorbed the gods into himself and wrote an epic in which he himself was the hero.
He created out of his person something heroic, something, like the gods, powerful and immortal.
Re-arrived in Aswan, author sets out to inspect the market: red pepper, white pepper, saffron; indigo, cumin, paprika; many varieties of incense. A little stall set apart from the others is offering cigarette lighter refills. “What is your name?” author asks its proprietor. “My name: Moussa,” he says. “Near Aswan,” says author, “on the island of Philae, there is a temple to Isis. Do you believe in Isis?” “Yes I believe Isis [sic].” “What do you believe? That she is very beautiful?” “Yeah, she is nice. I like my country.” “And Isis for you is your country?” “Yes. I am born in Cairo. I like the Nubian music. This is my country: Egypt: Cairo, Aswan, Luxor.” “So modern and ancient Egypt are the same.” “No different.”
Despite Egypt’s Romanization, cultural differences existed and it is hardly surprising that Rome adopted a somewhat hostile and suspicious attitude to the country. Roman senators were forbidden to enter Egypt and native Egyptians were excluded from the administration. It is significant that the only Egyptian town founded by Rome was Antinoopolis.
“Tell me, please, about Osiris.” “Ho-su-rees,” Moussa corrects author. “He is nice.” “Nice,” author repeats. “Yes,” says Moussa. “I read about this.” “Me too,” says author. Moussa: “Everyone say that if you look for Ho-su-rees, he have the magic eyes, and a white face.” “And in his story,” author adds, “he is born again, right?” “Yeah, very nice,” says Moussa. “Have you been to his temple in Abydos?” “No I don’t say this way.” “So how do you know Osiris?” “I read it in the book.” “You are a great scholar, Mr. Moussa,” author compliments him. “Thank you, thank you,” he replies. “Let me know if you ever need any help. For you, free! You are my cousin.” Author laughs, out of gratitude, and continues on.
The force behind this establishment was Hadrian, one of the few emperors ever to visit the country. His own love affair with Egypt is reflected in his great villa at Tivoli, where he attempted to create a Nilotic landscape in the Canopus garden. Despite Egypt’s unique aspect, it was to play a special role in our understanding of the Roman Empire as a whole.
A fruit seller is seated atop his cart, which he has already piled with oranges and bananas. Two Muslim girls in black scarves regard author; they wear black gloves as well. We have come to a display of Hookas made of green glass, of blue, of white, and of clear glass. We are on a major avenue, which also includes a café in two colors of green. Author, having decided that he has gone far enough, turns about, amidst the careful attention of many clients seated outside the café. As we return, the shops repeat themselves, in reverse order, along with ones not noticed before: hookah shop, butcher’s stall, incense store, paperback stall (filled with books in Arabic), spice store, whose fragrances are most noticeable this time by.
“Run, looms, and weave this future!” — thus have the Fates spoken,
In unison with the unshakeable intent of Destiny.
Come soon, dear child of the gods, Jupiter’s great viceroy!”
Author has taken a seat at an outdoor café, whose wooden tables are covered in orange oilcloth, strapped to their legs with elastic bands (against the wind). A Hyundai in electric lime-green weaves among donkey carts and motorcycles. Pedestrians pause before the butcher’s stall. Isis and Osiris, Amun and Horus, Anubis and Bastet are very much alive in this neighborhood. Two boys of eleven or twelve, who proposition author with an offer of “big banana in the butt,” must be shooed away. A threesome of soldiers, followed by a fourth, makes its way down the cobblestones, dressed in light khaki fatigues. Across the street two tourist shops sit cheek-by-jowl, one called “Roma Bazar,” the other “Paris Bazar.”
The title nesu-bit has often been translated as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt,” but it actually has a much more complex and significant meaning. The word nesu refers to the unchanging divine king (almost to the kingship itself), while the word bit describes the current ephemeral holder of the kingship; an individual king in power at a specific time.
At author’s café three men in white turbans sit before coffees in white cups, smoking. To one side, in a grey robe, an older man, white mustachioed, wearing brown street shoes, a long stick in his hand, sits next to a grey telephone, observing author. His expression is not very sympathetic. Now two younger men, in their early 20s, one in a blue, one in a grey robe, stop to converse with the seated men in white turbans. The two men shake the hands of all three seated men, then the hand of the grey-clad older man. After a farewell pause, the threesome continues along the street. A donkey cart pulls out into the flow of traffic, leaving behind it a blue Honda with orange-white-and-red racing stripes added by hand to its sides.
I knocked on the door, and she came out, and I said something like, “Did I leave my keys in there?” And she said, “No, I don’t think so, but let’s have a look.” I was ready to take off the rest of my clothes. She was kind and sweet, and, fortunately, I didn’t make too much of a scene. Three minutes later, that feeling evaporated and I realized I was half naked.
Each king, therefore, combined divine with mortal, nesu with bit, just as the living king was linked with Horus, and the dead kings, the royal ancestors, with Horus’ father Osiris. It was primarily because of the Egyptians’ sense of each of their kings as incarnations of Horus and Osiris that the tradition of the worship of divine royal ancestors developed.
(Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt [Oxford: Oxford U.P, 2000])
Another man in grey goes through his wallet very slowly, counting the bills that it contains, as one of the three white-turbaned men seated at table together turns himself about, 180 degrees, to regard author. The Honda’s two rear-view mirrors, projecting out from the car six inches, show two scenes separated by 90 degrees, one, the facade of the café itself, the second, approaching pedestrian traffic. Having observed the owner of the café, a pencil behind his ear, change a four-pound note at the next table, author summons him and offers him a five-pound note. A white Fiat creeps slowly up the street. The owner gives author a one-pound note in change. A limping man in a cream-colored turban and white shawl arrives.
Once under way, on 18 January 1858, Burton’s “extremities began to burn as if exposed to a glowing fire” and he sensed death approaching. Later he recalled the horror of it: “The whole body was palsied, powerless, motionless; the limbs appeared to wither and die.”
He was unable to move his limbs for ten days, and it would be eleven months before he could walk unassisted. Until then he had to be carried by six slaves — eight when the path was difficult. Lake Tanganyika was 200 miles distant, a grueling ordeal, even on a litter.
At last on 13 February, after fording three small rivers, the caravan struggled through several miles of tall grass and then climbed a stony hill. As they reached the summit, Speke’s ailing donkey died under him. For two weeks he had been suffering from ophthalmia.
Come soon — the time is near — to begin your life illustrious!
Look how the round and ponderous globe bows to salute you
The lands, the stretching leagues of sea, the unplumbed sky!
The café’s owner offers author another one-pound note. Three women with large, heavy baskets of fruit on their heads, waddle by, one of them also holding a purse in the hand that steadies her basket. Only after author glances at the owner again does another note, a 50-piaster bill, make its appearance. A man goes by in the opposite direction, riding a donkey; a boy half his size holding on behind him. Author arises and departs, looking up at a sign that reads “Osiris Spices.” “Dante Bazar,” reads another, “Krum Stationery,” yet another, its window full of clocks for sale, picture frames, desk-top paraphernalia. High above reads an “Agfa” sign; on a corner stall, two more: “Coca-Cola” and “Daihatsu” (white, outlined in yellow).
First day, 1:30 pm, departure by boat from Aswan for Kom Ombo, on to Edfu, Esna and Luxor. Preceding us, The Nile Commodore, which had tied up alongside us, in fact had tied up to us, has cast off. Of the three boats tethered together, we are next. The white, four-deck, M.S. Da Vinci, a five-star cruise ship, heads north, occluding by its mass the palm-encumbered farther bank. Now, noisily, the Commodore turns around, it too preparing to set out. A white-hulled felucca, orange beneath its waterline, heads directly toward us, skippered by a helmsman in a pink robe. Causing his boat to come about, he continues to navigate by manipulating his sail, his rudder left free. The cabin’s radio on, author dozes off.
Both his eyes were inflamed and his vision so seriously impaired that he needed to be led when riding. Just behind him, Burton’s sweating carriers arrived at the top of the hill supporting their master in his machilla. Catching a streak of light, Burton asked what it was.
“I am of the opinion that it is the water,” replied the servant Bombay, unemotionally. After being carried a few yards more, Burton gained his first uninterrupted view of Lake Tangyanika. Fringed by “a ribbon of yellow sand [lay] an expanse of blue."
Its was the lightest, softest blue, in breadth varying from thirty to thirty-five miles and sprinkled by the crisp east wind with tiny crescents of snowy foam.” Beyond the lake rose the great “steel-colored mountains capped with their pearly mist.”
Look how the whole creation exults in the age to come!
At 2:00 o’clock sharp, our engines fire and our stern begins to drift toward mid-river as we too prepare to head downstream, leaving behind only The Symphony still moored at the dock. Now our engines reverse. The sun emerges from behind a cloud, whitening with its light the sails of the felucca; the wings of a river bird; the stucco fronts of houses; the sterns of larger cruise boats already underway. We are heading, first, upstream, presumably to make a U-turn about a very small island filled with rush-like grasses, in amongst which, on a sandy bank, three feluccas are nested, having pulled in next to a small ferry. A spit of sand connects the two halves of the island. At its south, a fishing dory has been turned upside down.
Speke was devastated that “the lovely lake could be seen by everybody but myself.”
Green plastic fishing nets hang from a pole to dry. Four more little boats, all their sails furled, increase the nautical population of the island, whose end we have reached. A black barge floats on downstream, thereby getting out of our way. We are about to make a turn and follow him, presumably outstripping the shallows before we attempt to. At last, a hundred meters beyond the island’s end, which is being skirted by a large blue skiff, we veer toward the channel. Confident that our boat is at last on course, we relax to view the western hills as the mid-afternoon sun suffuses them under chilly skies. The wind, though, starts up again, preventing author from audibly recording his words; he retires again to his cabin.
The gentle evocative landscape that surrounds Kom Ombo is the perfect background for the temple that stands on a small hill overhanging the Nile (the Arab word “kom” in fact means small mountain), almost a sort of Greek acropolis.
“Kom-Ombo-robu-juruwey, yaa salaam!” as a Nubian song has it (“To Kom Ombo, we are going, alas! [literally: O peace!]).” By 4:30 we have arrived within sight of the city. The Nile Symphony is pulling out from the wharf, as we pull in to dock alongside The Nile Plaza. We mount toward the temple, turning down a broad asphalt road. Between a high wall and low fields, a cow turns its head, listening to a noise from one of the boats. A year-old camel, still very small, stands on a threshing ground. Above the wall rise the lotus capitals of the Kom Ombo temple. Soldiers, one helmeted, all with their weapons drawn, protect the precious tourists, who are studying three remaining columns that orient its entrance.
While the stone differs from that of all other temples, because it was covered with sand for so long, the outstanding feature is the unusual, even unique, ground plan, the result of the unification of two adjacent sanctuaries dedicated to distinct divinities:
The outer court has been reduced to the stumps of a colonnade. Much is missing, though much remains. To one side of the precinct, above a baked mud wall, encroaching sands begin their ascent above, or their re-descent into, the temple. Apart from the chatter of guides, the court is remarkably quiet. In the declining sunlight author meanders through its passageways, bas reliefs still bearing traces of their once painted surfaces. Isis and Hathor stand relaxed before a pharaoh. A portico’s pillars are adorned with a large representation of Ma’at, a feather in her headband, an ankh in one hand, Bastet behind her. In a poignant piece of sculpture “The Roman-nosed figure of Hathor,” says the guidebook, “also represents Cleopatra.”
To the crocodile-headed Sobek, god of fertility and the creator of the world, and to Haroeris, or the ancient falcon-headed Horus, the solar war god. This is why the temple was called both “House of the Crocodile” and “Castle of the Falcon.”
(Giovanna Magi, A Journey on the Nile: The Temples of Nubia [Florence: Bonechi, 1995])
If but the closing days of a long life were prolonged for me,
And I with breath enough, the breath of Linus, to tell your story,
Oh then I should not be worsted at singing by Thracian Orpheus.
The temple of Kom Ombo stands at a double bend in the river; between us and the farther shore sits the Island of Truths. We descend to the bookstore, at the level of the fields, where the smell of manure is rank. Beneath two ancient Egyptian eyes, two young Arabic women are laughing decorously. At the margin of the river, the military guards are taking a break, seated about a charcoal fire to smoke. We have been looking at a Ptolemaic temple (136 BC), embellished in the Roman period; on this site, during the Middle Kingdom, another temple had stood, one to which Ramesses II had made additions, and before which Thutmosis II and Hatchepsut had erected gateways. Its forecourt was decorated by Tiberius.
Burton’s instructions had required him and Speke to reach Lake Tanganyika and then “to proceed northwards” to find out whether it might in some way be linked with the White Nile and the Mountains of the Moon. They strove to make decisive progress in this direction.
For even though Linus were backed by Calliope, the epic muse,
His mother, and Orpheus, by his father, beauteous Apollo, even
If Pan competed with me and Arcady deigned to judge us . . .
While they were at Ujiji, several informants electrified them with the news that “from the northern extremity of Tanganyika Lake issued a large river flowing northwards.” No Arab they had spoken to had actually seen the river himself and local Africans were ignorant.
Pan, great Pan, with Arcadian judges, would lose the contest.
But Speke had misunderstood Hamid, who had actually meant the reverse, that the Lake bore no relation to the Nile. “All my hopes,” confessed Burton, “were rudely dashed to the ground. Nonetheless, though Speke wished to see the river, Burton nixed the plan.
Night has fallen. Author peers out the cabin’s portal in our own boat, The Nile Legend, to watch as The Nile Commodore slowly leaves our flank behind, to join a procession of several other, even longer boats, whose lights illuminate the Island of Truths and its (likely) dangerous shoals. Before long we too are leaving Kom Ombo behind to head southward through a narrow passage before making our customary turn to enter the northward course of the channel, where two larger boats, The Nile Ritz and another, are passing one another, as the first heads south, the other north. A smog has settled in over the river. As we begin our turn, we look back through the mist at an even more mysterious Kom Ombo, its temple lit yellow.
Flickering flashes of tourist cameras add more complexity to its columns. We have negotiated our turn. The rose-pink streetlights on the avenue bordering the temple suffuse their glow into the smoggy ambiance, which is reflected onto the river’s surface. A tour ship, incoming from the north, shines a blinding beam at us by way of warning. The quality of light on the temple shifts in intensity and hue. Along with reflected light from the river, which forms a stage, white, off-white, yellow, pink and rosy glints create an indeterminate but somehow co-ordinated, cosmic dance that registers on the glass portals of the ship that we are leaving behind but can still see, even more clearly due to its increasing distance from us.
Although the “Court of the New Year” (to the north of the Kom Ombo temple’s last room) no longer exists, part of the ceiling of the “Pure Place” (where the statue was dressed for the Festival of the New Year), still remains, adorned with two images of Nut.
10:30 pm. We are regaled with a lively, not to say raucous, celebration in the dining hall honoring two recently married guests. The music is Nubian, its rhythm defined by intensely percussive drums, it melodic line by chanting voices. It is all accomplished by means of a male vigor, for there are no women employees on the boat.
On the body of the first representation of the sky-goddess are winged solar disks and, on the second, the different phases of the moon, while a barque of the night sails between the two. The pedestals that once supported the sacred barques can still be seen.
We retire from this lively scene to our cabins, only to awaken in the middle of the night, as we are arriving at Edfu, a crescent moon half obscured high above by the clouds. At bank-side a skyline of the city emerges in silhouette, as though provided for our view. Another tour boat, about to dock, is still waiting some distance offshore.
Access to the falcon-god Horus is from the back of the temple at Edfu. There has been a succession of structures built on this sacred site from prehistoric times (when the falcon-god was housed in a wicker hut) to the New Kingdom.
7:15 am approach to the precinct of Horus, up the quay, on whose steps are strewn plastic bags, orange peels and other touristic remains. We enter the early morning square of the city, on past its modern, mud-brick structures, to the temple’s entrance. At 7:30 the recently risen sun is bright, as we approach the complex, “one of the best-preserved in Egypt.” A pharaonic figure addresses the falcon-god on the first wall. We are about to enter the temple’s court, where the guidebook shows walls and columns filled with hieroglyphs, with figures supplicating the great god. We face the first pylon, on which Horus, brilliantly illuminated by direct sunlight, appears in nearly every configuration. We stand directly below him.
The temple owes its imposing appearance to Ptolemy III Euergetes who began to rebuild it completely in 237 BC. The work was not completed until 57 BC. Today visitors pass beneath the pylon and cross the court bordered on three sides by a colonnaded portico.
(Egypt [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995])
Underneath a narrow lintel we now enter a tunnel into the court. Here the sun is even brighter. Taking umbrage in a convenient shadow, cast by a grey and blue building outside the temple, we stand some distance from the entrance to the temple’s pillared halls. The figures of two hawks in granite stand on either side of the opening. Nothing but blue sky is to be seen above the cornice. A small sphinx awaits us to at the entrance. Looking to either side of the present quadrangle, we count the twelve columns that border each, their corner pillars serving as the first, on either side, of a colonnade behind us, which numbers 10, giving 32 columns in all, plus the six rising from the top of the wall to the First Hypostyle Hall.
The custodians had an aviary no trace of which remains, where they raised falcons, one of which became the living symbol of Horus for twelve months, but the image of the god is omnipresent, magically, in the immobile granite statues guarding the temple.
We turn about to view the first pylon from within the court, as it rises in an increasingly powerful display. Horus, now without intermediaries, stands to either side of the high cornice connecting the two halves of the pylon. Horus, the Pharaoh, Isis, Amun-Re, Horus, the younger, nothing but a solar disk atop his head. Horus, Amun-Re, Isis, the Pharoah; Horus, another pharaonic figure, seated. Even the display itself of columns is overwhelming. On the western side the court receives light on all but four of its twelve columns. On the eastern side a metal scaffolding has been erected for repairs: orange, green, purple and turquoise buckets are displayed in four registers on the reddish structure.
The Roman emperor Domitian can be seen with various gods rendering homage to the triad Sobek, Hathor and Khonsu, together with a long text of 52 lines of hieroglyphs. The reliefs on the columns show the emperor Tiberius making offerings to the gods.
(Giovanna Magi, A Journey on the Nile: The Temples of Nubia [Florence: Bonechi, 1995])
As we leave The First Hypostyle Hall we view the second pylon, through which one enters the Second Hypostyle Hall. Here twelve columns have been disposed in a shallow chamber, which author circumambulates counterclockwise. The second pylon slants upward beyond the vertical entasis of the columns. The effect is irregular, beyond immediate comprehension. Hieroglyphs decorate the walls in half a dozen registers. Completing his circuit, author reorients himself at the center of the entranceway, looks upward to the capitals, and lets his eye fall upon an imposing figure, double winged, a solar disk atop his head. He steps forward processionally to enter another small chamber containing twelve columns.
This dozen is arranged three deep and four wide. From the Second Hypostyle Hall we enter upon a series of chapels, author inspecting first the one standing at 10:30 on the dial. All is intact. A cat; a maternal Isis; another image of her, with Hathor. The texts of the mysteries are long. We step into the chapel immediately south of the first to confront a more elaborate allegory: a procession of Nut and Thoth, who are joined by Horus. Crook and flail are here prominent. We enter a side-room at the northwest corner of the temple to view another magnificent display, then continue on to the chapel at 3:00 on the clock’s dial: an image of Horus with his back to Isis, two falcons communicating above an ankh.
When I commenced as poet, my Muse lived in the woods and
Dallied with pastoral verse. Next, kings and wars possessed me;
But Apollo tweaked me: “Tytyrus a countryman should be
Concerned to put flesh on his sheep and keep his poetry spare.”
The reaction of the audience was somewhere between shock and interest, “an amusement. People tended to laugh as much as applaud at key moments.” Elvis’ hands never stop moving, it looks as if he might be chewing gum, there was a twitchiness to his aspect — and yet there was a boundless confidence, too, as his mascara-ed visage scanned the audience.”
Shafik, the last prime minister under former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, will be named the country’s new president Sunday, Ahram reported on its English version Friday, citing several unnamed government sources. Shafik will be declared victor with 50.7 per cent of the vote, the news outlet said. But the site’s Arabic version quoted election officials as saying that Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, remained in the lead.
Isis and Horus appear in multiple representations, standing before human figures. Through an opening into a passageway that surrounds the chapels we observe the sky again, which has lightened to pale blue. It cuts into the temple in precise diagonals, illuminating half, leaving half in shadow. We return to experience the last chapel. Perhaps a mysterium of sorts, the guidebook calls it “the clothing cella”; it is darkened and ends in a stairway. With trepidation we descend to yet another chamber, down another stair. Horus, a double uraeus above his crown, stands with Nut, who appears beside the ram headed god of creation, in a joint supplication. We cross through the Offering Chamber into the Central Hall
Following Augustus’ settlement in the aftermath of the victory over Antonius and Cleopatra that made him sole ruler of the Roman world, provinces fell into two categories, senatorial and imperial. The former were ruled directly by the Senate, whereas the emperor governed the latter through legates by a grant of proconsular power that was periodically renewed by the Senate. The imperial provinces were the more important.
Since there’ll be bards in plenty desiring to rehearse
Varus’ fame and celebrate the sorrowful theme of warfare,
I take up a slim reed-pipe and a rural subject; if anyone
Falls in love with my poem, it is you, Varus, it will sing of.
On Saturday Elvis was back in Richmond with an Opry troupe. Among some who had already played dates with him was Mrs. Presley’s favorite country singing group. They were booked every night — in Greensboro, High Point and Raleigh, then in Spartanburg and Charlotte, with Saturday night off for Elvis to attend to business in New York City.
Here Hathor is leading the way for a pharaoh who brings with him offerings held high, one an image of the temple itself. We ourselves are standing opposite, so the guidebook tells us, “The Chapel of the God Min.” We observe a triplicate image of Bastet with triple cobras, one lion-headed, followed by double representations of monkeys, all culminating in the display of an ankh, tripled, sextupled. We face the final portal leading into what the guidebook tell us is “the Sacrarium.” Here a rectilinear alter is doubly surmounted by a double uraeus. The second cornice culminates in a pyramid. The altar is empty. Into the ceiling above have been cut three light shafts oriented vertically, north to south.
Nothing could charm Apollo more than a page inscribed to
Varus: Muses, begin! . . . Two boys, called Chromis and
Mnasyllus, came upon old Silenus lying asleep in a cave, his
Veins — as usual — swollen thick with yesterday’s drinking:
The administrative center of Egypt continued to be Alexandria, until it was displaced from that position in the fourth century by Constantinople. Two obelisks that Augustus had brought from Heliopolis provided a Roman touch. They stood before the temple of the deified Julius Caesar, known as the Caesarium, beside the Eastern Harbor. Long after Alexandria lapsed into insignificance they were known as Cleopatra’s Needles.
As thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters packed the capital’s central Tahrir Square early Wednesday, Mohammed el-Baltagi retreated to his office in a quiet villa on Misr wel-Sudan Street. The Muslim Brotherhood’s general-secretary in Cairo gathered with young activists from other groups to plot the next moves in the current standoff against the country’s military-backed regime. This was a bit like old times.
(Matthew Kaminski, The Wall Street Journal, Friday-Sunday, June 22-24, 2012)
The next week they were back on the Hayride. They did “Heartbreak Hotel” for the first time, said Scotty, “and that damn auditorium almost exploded. I mean, it had been wild before, like playing down at your local camp, a home folks-type situation. But now it had turned into something else. That’s the earliest I can remember saying, What is going on?
We enter again into the large court for our exit from the temple through the first pylons. The columns, we now see, highlight images of Horus. Successively we view: Horus, Horus, Horus; Horus, Horus, Horus; Horus, Isis, Isis; the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh; the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh. We have reached a corner pillar, where, at eye level or slightly above, is a band of ankhs; a double crocodile; followed by ankh and double crocodile; ankh and double crocodile; ankh and double crocodile; ankh and double crocodile; ankh and double crocodile; ankh and double crocodile; double crocodile; ankh; double crocodile; ankh; double crocodile; ankh; double crocodile; ankh; double crocodile; ankh.
“It goes without saying,” says Mr. Baltagi, “that the military’s silly decisions” brought Egypt’s opposition back together. The support of secular, pro-democracy Egyptians helped swing last weekend’s presidential election to Mohammed Morsi,” he added. “This is news insofar as the Brotherhood rarely acknowledges political debts. According to aggregate poll tallies, Mr. Morsi beat the former Mubarak-era prime minister, Ahmed Shafik.
A more arcane though influential intellectual and literary development in Roman Alexandria was Hermeticism. The texts that became known as the Corpus Hermeticum were composed in the second and third centuries AD by Greeks in Egypt who wrote under the collective name Hermes Trismegistus. They identified the Greek god Hermes with the Egyptian Thoth and regarded him as the essential intelligence of the universe.
The garlands had slid from his head to the floor, and a wine jar
Dangled from the fingers that had worn its handle thin, creeping
Close — for Silenus had often teased them both with the hope of
A song — after which they tied him up in his own garlands.
On the inner walls of the first pylon, like the arrangement of Horus just reported on, a number of gods have had their images tripled. At the corner stands the Pharaoh before a hieroglyphic text. Crocodile and ankh have extended their arms to support pillars separating various texts that culminate in platforms, atop which stand the gods. We move to the final exit portal. Isis points in the Pharaoh’s direction as he marches across space and time, like Amun-Re. Above the courtyard before the first pylon the sun has illuminated the sky to another degree of paleness. A cock crows. It crows again. The January sky is utterly cloudless. At the edge of this space, the explanatory diagram and legend for the temple has been removed.
“Fetters? Why fetter me?” he cried. Enough to show that you can
Capture me. Now let me loose, lads.” Straight off, he began singing.
You could have seen the fauns and every wild thing caper in time to
His music, and the stiff oaks bow their heads — truly you could.
Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 youth movement, held his nose and voted for Mr. Morsi. Tuesday night he joined the Islamists back in Tahrir Square.”We still believe there is a hope in the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says, without conviction. The Brotherhood, a hierarchical secret society founded in 1928, now promises to share power through a coalition government. Most of the blame for the still-born transition belongs with the military.
By the end of March the single had sold a million copies and “Blue Suede Shoes,” in an unprecedented achievement, was closing in on the top of all three charts: pop, country and rhythm and blues. Moreover the new album stood at nearly 300,000 sales, making it a sure bet to be RCA’s first million-dollar album. It had been titled simply Elvis Presley.
Before arriving at the temple, visit the mammisi or Birth House. A peristyle surrounds the vestibule flanked by two small rooms and a sanctuary; the pilaster capitals bear the heads of Bes, a birth divinity. The temple’s Coptic name means Place of Birth.
(Giovanna Magi, A Journey on the Nile: The Temples of Nubia [Florence: Bonechi, 1995])
We meander on, to a little shrine beyond the temple. Birds flitter out from its portals. A guard approaches to check author’s recorder (before detonating a potential bomb). We cross another threshold to confront yet another image of Horus. Retreating into the courtyard to seek shade from yet another solar disk, author approaches a wall atop which another, dark-olive-sweatered, light-olive-panted, guard stands. A crow caws twice. Author returns into the sun-lit space. The guard atop the wall coughs. A black-hooded woman in brilliant red dress mounts the narrow street, trailing behind her a young boy, her grandson. The sun continues to rise. In the shadows at the corner of the pylon stands a black-uniformed guard.
As we are pulling out of our berth at Edfu The African Queen, her white sides trimmed in red, pulls in alongside The Ninfea. Again we head upstream, before continuing downstream, lighting out toward the west bank in search of a channel deep enough for our draft. Once we have turned about, however, we skirt the east bank again, past Edfu’s minaret, past a hotel in dark green on lighter green, past another building in white and pale blue. Luxor is our final Nilotic destination, but we will stop at Esna on the way. A large Ferro-Alloy plant, coal piled at bankside, is disgorging black smoke. We gaze at idyllic landscapes; at flat, undistinguished landscapes; at villages above which single minarets rise toward the sun.
Esna became increasingly important during the 18th Dynasty. There was a renewal of interest in the town during the 26th Dynasty. Under the Ptolemies and the Romans it became the capital of the Third Nome of Upper Egypt. It remained a center of trade
We have begun our approach to Esna (Latopolis to the Greeks, since “the fish (lates), the embodiment of Neith, was its sacred animal”), where, we are told, echoes of its prosperous past are still to be found. We are skirting mounded cliffs, into which caves have been cut. The farmland here is said to jut out aggressively into the surrounding desert. A donkey, its back blanketed in blue, stands alone at the middle of a grove of trees that are leaning in the opposite direction from the prevailing wind. Esna, we are told, lay at the end of the caravan route into the Sudan. “After a forty day journey, the camels arrived here bearing precious elephant tusks, brightly colored ostrich feathers, the famous gum Arabic.”
The temple was dedicated to the ram-god Khnum who, at the dawn of time, fashioned mankind from the mud of the Nile on his potter’s wheel. His divine companions included the lioness Menhyt (his consort), Nebtu (the countryside) and Heka (vital energy).
He sang creation’s birth — how seeds of earth and air,
Of water and fluent fire were brought together and married
In a vastness of empty space; how everything began from
This, and from what were gases, condensed to form our globe.
The well-documented town of Oxyrhynchus, which numbered perhaps 40,000 people, contained three temples to Zeus-Amun, Hera-Isis, and Arargaris-Bethynnis, a large Serapeum, two temples to Isis, one to Osiris, four to Thoeris, and other temples and cult centers dedicated to Demeter, Kore, the Dioscuroi, Dionysos, Hermes, Apollo, Agathos, Daimon, Neotera, Tyche, Jupiter Capitolinus and Mars. Alexandria had more than 2,000 temples.
On the second day that he was home Elvis drove up in his pink Cadillac and found June Juanico, a pretty little girl he had dated one night when he played Kessler Air Force Base, in Biloxi. He recognized her right away and when they started talking he found out that she was in Memphis for the week with some girlfriends. He said he’d call her at her hotel.
Later that day, on a whim, Elvis stopped by Dixie’s house. She had just been rehearsing for her high school graduation that night and was still wearing her graduation dress, but when Elvis suggested that they go for a ride, she pulled on a pair of jeans, hopped on his motorcycle, and left it to her parents to explain her absence to her boyfriend when he arrived.
A special place was reserved for the androgynous divinity Neith (represented armed with a bow and arrows) who, according to local mythology, was the primordial creator of the world, a complement to Heka, the male god, whose name means Magic.
(Egypt [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995])
“For a long time trade in exotic goods continued to provide income for Esna.” A new village water tower indicates modern prosperity. “But the town’s real prosperity lay in what was called ‘white gold,’ that is, cotton, the entire population of the neighboring villages participating in the harvest between October and November.” It appears that we are passing several smaller towns as we prepare for our landfall. In anticipation of his visit to Esna, author has neglected to observe on the map that we must first come to El-Kilh-Gharb, then to El-Kiya. A truck is overtaking us as it heads north along the road parallel to the Nile, its cab red, its trailer blue. A sign reads “Kom-el-Ahmar, the site of Hiera Compolis.”
A white bus makes its way in the opposite direction (south), a red Arabic inscription on its side. “Al-Mahamid,” reads another sign, for a destination near the Red Sea. On the shallow bank-side waters a pale blue pump-station displays the flags of Japan and Egypt. “Nag-El-Mamariya,” reads a highway sign, indicating the city near Aswan. A turquoise truck heavily laden with sacks of rice makes its way toward Cairo. “Es-Siba’iya,” reads a sign for another location in Aswan. Three white birds skim the greenish-brown surface of the water as they too head north, one now diverging westward from the others. Palms line the riverbank, their heights in an infinite variety. A truck heading north sounds its melodious horn.
Election regulators named Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood winner of Egypt’s first presidential election, handing the Islamist group a symbolic triumph and a new weapon in its struggle for power with the ruling military council. After an hour-long speech, the chairman of the election commission, Farouk Sultan, announced that Mr. Morsi had won 51.7 per cent of the runoff vote, the other candidate, Ahmed Shafik, 48.3 per cent
(David D. Kirkpatrick, “Islamist wins Egyptian presidential race,” IHT, June 25, 2012)
Next he sang how the land grew more solid and began
To put the seas in their place and shape the world we know;
And then the earth was dazed by unfamiliar sunshine.
The ceiling of cloud lifted and showers had farther to fall.
At last we arrive in Esna, where our scheduled tour will be brief. (Of the temple, says Lonely Planet abruptly, “The Hypostyle Hall, with its 24 columns, is all that remains.”) In the town’s main street we stand before a new, yellow-stuccoed mosque, its minarets reading as strength. A guard sits before it, two halves of a sugarcane stalk in either hand. Author crosses the street to a Coca-Cola stand in search of a bottle of Sprite. “Sprite?” he asks. “No,” says a 25-year-old girl, in Arabic, smiling. “Fanta?” author continues to probe. “No,” she says again. (These of course are also Coca-Cola products.) “Coca-Cola big?” he inquires. “No,” she responds, her smile broad, her finger wagging. “Coca-Cola” is but an advertisement.
After an election that international monitors called credible, the military-led government recognized an electoral victory by an opponent of military rule over Mr. Shafik, who promised harmony with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. But Mr. Morsi’s recognition as president does little to resolve the larger standoff between the generals and the Brotherhood concerning power over the institutions of government and the future constitution.
Delaying his visit to what remains of the Esna temple, author steps to the side of Nadja, our South African tour companion, in search of enlightenment, holding his tape recorder for her to speak into it. “What observations do you have about Esna?” he asks. “I’m on candid camera?” she inquires. “Yes,” author replies. “This is a just a village,” she begins. “But,” author counters, it had a great past.” “That is historical,” she says. Author turns to a young English-speaking Arab who, stepping to our side, offers his name and asks for ours. “Now what is the difference,” asks author, “between ancient and modern Esna?” The bright Egyptian has a one-word response: “Tomorrow.” “Do you have a girlfriend?” author inquires.
He sang of Pyrrha, magicking stones into men; of Saturn’s
Reign; of Prometheus tortured by eagles for stealing fire;
And Hylas — how the Argonauts left him beside a spring.
They shouted till the whole shore was echoing “Hylas! Hylas!”
“No,” the young Arab replies. End of conversation. “Give me one ten [pound note],” he counters. Politely author expresses gratitude for his help. “Thank you, thank you.” Next he turns to our South African tour companion’s husband, who explains to author the use of stucco in Egypt and in his native country. Most of his lecture, unfortunately, is obliterated by a wind that suddenly rises up, baffling all attempts to record it. Edward’s discourse finished, author thanks him as well. “You are the first person to have introduced a sober element into my book,” he observes. “I asked your wife for her evaluation of Esna and she said, ‘Generally I just find Egypt to be a flawed thing, lacking the progressive spirit of South Africa.’”
As his supporters in Tahrir Square were chanting for the end of military rule in Egypt, the country’s president-elect, Mohamed Morsi, had glowing words for none other than the army, saying that he regarded it with a “love in my heart that only God knows.” Mr. Morsi’s remarks Sunday, during his first address to the nation after his victory was announced, were an acknowledgment of his new, changed role in the political landscape of Egypt.
(Kareem Fahim, “Opportunity and risk for Egyptian victor,” IHT, June 26, 2012)
Edward concurs. Nadja returns. As we survey adjacent walls covered with brilliantly conceived graffiti, author inquires of Nadja, “What is your view of graffiti, for this international movement some regard as very lively and expressive?” “No,” says Nadja, “I don’t.” “No sympathy at all for graffiti?” “No, I don’t like them.” Says a friend of hers: “In the temples that we saw are also graffiti, with the writers’ names and the dates that they visited; so no, I don’t not think that this is anything new either.” For a little more lively and expressive conversation, author returns to the young Arabs who have assembled about him (hoping for money). “This man,” says author’s original interlocutor, “owes me one pound, for talking.”
Mr. and Mrs. Presley couldn’t have been nicer. June felt right at home — with Mrs. Presley anyway. She fussed so over June and showed her how Elvis liked his chicken prepared, and when his daddy told him that his new Cadillac was ready for delivery, it didn’t surprise her one bit that Elvis asked her if she would go pick it up with him.
Mr. Morsi has gone from being a representative of a banned Islamist group to the leader of a nation and its public’s chief negotiator with the military generals who had assumed power after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. As the first freely elected president of Egypt, Mr. Morsi has a historic opportunity, but he faces a litany of challenges that could prevent him from becoming anything more than just a figurehead.
“Why does he need so much money?” author asks. “I know! He has two madams!” (author’s remark met with a general howling of agreement and appreciation). “And how many children?” he inquires of the crowd. “Five,” says one, “Ten,” another “You know, I think that this man,” says author, “is very famous.” “Yes, indeed,” says a 30-year-old Egyptian friend of his. “Now,” says author generously, “I give you one pound baksheesh.” “You geeve me ten pound,” he counters. “Five pound for Madam Number 1, five for Madam Number 2?” asks author. Again, a howl of laughter ensues. But most hope that ten pounds from author may be otherwise apportioned. “One for me”; “One for me,” say two of them.
Pasiphaë next he sang, appeasing her lust for a white bull:
Ah, misfortunate girl, what madness was it that possessed you?
Even the daughters of Proteus who, fancying they were heifers,
Mooed through the fields and shrank from the touch of a yoke.
It did surprise her when it turned out that they had to go to Houston to get it, but June bravely asked her girlfriends to pack a bag and bring it out to the house, and she went on her first plane ride ever, after first swearing to Mrs. Presley that she really was eighteen. In Houston they were booked into separate rooms on separate floors, but she stayed with Elvis.
Sadly, our stay in Esna is so brief that we have no time to visit the Temple of Khnum. Backing out of our berth, we continue. “Originally,” says our guide, it must have been similar in structure to the temples of Dendera and Edfu.” We have reached the locks and line up to descend through them. “Like these temples, it had a precinct wall around the sanctuary.” At long last we emerge from the process, ahead of us a white tour ship with green trim and red railings on all four decks. Alongside us is another tour ship in blue and white, from whose top deck a girl, in a “USA” cap, looks down at author. Through its windows are visible circular tables covered in pink tablecloths. Beyond the tour boats rise the yellow cliffs of the region.
An engineer with a doctorate in materials sciences from the University of Southern California, Mr. Morsi, 60, has taught engineering at another California college and at Zagazig University in the Nile Delta. A lackluster, accidental candidate, he was chosen to run after the Brotherhood’s first choice, Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified. Married, with five grown children, Mr. Morsi has a reputation as a religious conservative and a company man.
Ah, misfortunate girl, you ramble among the hills now, expecting,
To sprout horns, while he, your love, weighs down with snow-white
Flanks upon hapless yielding Hyacinth, chews the cud beneath some
Glooming ilex tree, or else is occupied with chasing one of his heifers.
As in other provinces, the main agent of control was the army. The epigraphic and papyrological evidence that Egypt provides furnishes an unrivalled picture of the functioning of a provincial army, to which can be added the archaeological evidence of the forts from which it operated. Many of these, preserved by the desert, still stand to their wall tops. One of the major early historical sources on the disposition of troops was Strabo.
In a much cited passage he says: “There are three legions of soldiers, one in the city and others in the chora. In addition there are nine Roman cohorts, three in the city, three on the border with Ethiopia at Syene, as guards for those places, and three elsewhere in the chora. There are three horse units which are likewise strategically positioned. The city here of course is Alexandria, where the fort of Nikopolis stood until the late 19th century.
(David Peacock, “The Roman Period,” in The History of Ancient Egypt [Oxford U.P., 2000])
The following Monday he arrived unannounced in Biloxi, appearing in his white El Dorado convertible at June Juanico’s house on Fayard Street with Red, his cousin Junior and his friend Arthur Hooton, whose mother had worked with Gladys at Britling’s Cafeteria. They waited in the driveway while some neighborhood kids went looking for June.
Early morning Luxor scene from bus: two red mailboxes side by side. Unlike westerners who have been fractured from the beliefs of their most ancient past. Beneath two trees, two sheep. The ancient Egyptians stood firmly with their feet in the clay of their own beginnings. A black man rises up the knoll leading a goat on a rope. They worshipped the same gods as had their prehistoric ancestors and most of them shared the same daily existence. Author asks his South African interlocutors, “When was the first time that you became aware of sheep?” The permanence of abiding values. His question is met by gross, raucous laughter. The divine order. “I guess that I should not ask about goats,” he elaborates.
We are heading toward The Valley of the Kings. Manifested itself in society in the concept of nationhood. Through a pastoral landscape. The invention of which was, for the ancient Egyptians, the mainspring of their culture. Wheat fields, nearby banana plants, distant vineyards. It was continuously celebrated in their monuments and arts from the beginning to the end of their history. “Where did you spend your childhood?” author continues a line of questioning suggested by the South Africans’ earlier response. An unchanging order as consistent as the rhythmic patterns of nature. “In a rural setting?” “In the city,” Edward responds. Or the gods themselves. “Did you have sheep there?”
“Cretan nymphs!” cried Pasiphaë, “Close up the woodland rides!
There’s still a hope that I will find the tracks of his stavagueing
Hoof; perhaps my bull was lured by a lush green pasturage, or
He is with the herd, and heifers will bring him back to the steadings.”
Tuesday he and June spent the whole day together. That afternoon they heard reports on a New Orleans radio station that Elvis Presley had become engaged to a Miss June Juanico of nearby Biloxi, and on the spur of the moment they jumped in the car and drove to New Orleans to dispel the rumors. Elvis got the address of the radio station at a pay phone.
The Obama administration, expressing relief that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate will be Egypt’s next president, voiced cautious optimism that the choice could keep the country’s rocky transition to democracy on track. The election results dissipated mounting fears inside the administration that the country’s election commission would invalidate the recent presidential runoff and declare the former air force general, Ahmed Shafik, the next president.
(Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper, “U.S. on a tightrope with Cairo,” IHT, June 26, 2012)
Next he sang of the girl who was greedy for an apple from the
Hesperides; and of Phaethon’s sisters, enchanted into tall alders.
Then he sang how Gallus met one of the Muses, who led him to
The Aonian hills, where Apollo’s choir stood up to honor him.
On a road parallel to the Luxor-Cairo highway we turn up onto a bridge to cross the Nile. The kings who ruled over ancient Egypt were descended from dynasties of gods who, before the foundation of the Kingdoms, had formulated the principles by which society existed. From the bridge we emerge onto a large flat plain, filled with agricultural fields artificially created. The order of Egyptian society had emerged from the many-layered primeval world of multifarious mythical events. The raising of the dam at Aswan has permitted, we are told, the regulation of the Nile’s waters, so that this area permits year-round cultivation, of vegetables in our immediate vicinity, but of larger crops in the distance.
U.S. officials were concerned lest this set off violent protests among 100,000 Egyptians who gathered in Tahrir Square to demand that the military cede power to a civilian government. With that danger defused, at least for the moment, Sunday the White House called on Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, “to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies and consult about the formation of a new government.”
In these stories it was, ultimately, the king who was the upholder of truth. The rich, black, silted soil, we are told, sustains four crops a year. The vindicator of wrongs. We return to take the highway on the western bank again. The successful litigant. Heading northward, we are 9 kilometers from Luxor, a sign tells us. Amid the defeater of wicked enemies. Alongside the road are farmers leading the same life that their counterparts in pharaonic Egypt had, when Luxor was the city of Amun. He was fused with the identities of many of the god-participants. Who took three guises: the sun god, the god of sheep and goats, and the god of happiness. Nor was this the simple propaganda of a nervous ruling class.
The tasks that the army had to perform were multifarious. Defense of the empire was obviously important. According to Strabo, the areas to the south and east of Egypt were peopled by tribes largely identified for the Romans by their eating habits. There is little doubt that the troops stationed at Syene (Aswan) would have been charged with securing the southern limits of the state. Likewise the units stationed along the Nile.
At last we turn left, to head westward toward the tombs. There were no cults of individuality among the kings. We face the imposing cliffs that we had seen earlier from the riverbanks. And in all the history of pharaonic rule barely more than a handful of personalities can be discerned. We are passing the Colossus of Memnon. In the Valley of the Kings it is impossible to distinguish any one of the kings as an individual (if we here except the great Queen Hatchepsut, who ruled as a King). We are heading toward the villages that border the Valley of the Kings. Nor is there a single description that tells of the life of a king. We turn northward again along the line that divides the two cities of Luxor.
The army in Egypt also played a major role in most of the eastern military campaigns, such as the annexation of Arabia in AD 106 and Trajan’s Parthian War. It was also called on to quell the Jewish revolts of the first and second centuries AD. Here the legions at Nikopolis and the units stationed at Pelusium in northern Sinai would have played a significant part, and they could have moved with relative rapidity to eastern trouble spots.
The king was vital to Egypt. The city of the living and the city of the dead. An essential element in the maintenance of the position of society amidst the order of creation. Two lovers are walking along the road, hand in hand. It was a state system that stretched far beyond any modern conceptions of nationhood. Beside the Ramesseum stand two donkeys next to each other, one facing north, the other south. What a crisis, then, when the king, this essential element of cosmic order, died! One white, one brown. With order and rhythm as the primary values of society. We have entered into a desert landscape. Such a disordered, solitary event was dangerous and incomprehensible.
In calling for the Egyptian military to hand over power quickly to a democratically elected civilian government, President Obama continued his defense of the Arab street — and by default, of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that has called for the greater use of Islamic law. At the same time, he chastised the Egyptian military, which, paradoxically, has been a bulwark protecting the 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Its rhythm unfolds: the music of silence, the poetry of rock, the wine of dryness. So, in death, the king could not cease to be, could not be annihilated. We have moved into the land where “No” means “Yes.” But had to be maintained and nourished by a specialized cult. It is cool. Part of this cult was the realization, in the most literal manner possible, of the passage of the king from his earthly death to rebirth as a diving being. The clear blue sky adds its reflective coloration to the grey cliffs, giving them a blue-grey cast. And these were the central purposes of the ceremonies and rituals. “Smile, you are in Luxor,” reads a sign in Arabic (as translated for author). That surrounded his death and burial.
Cliff and Elvis were cruising down Union Avenue with Marilyn Evans, the dark-eyed dancer from Las Vegas whom he had dated before meeting Dottie Harmony. As they drove by 706, it looked, in the words of Marion Keisker, like a “chicken coop nested in Cadillacs.” On an impulse, Elvis wheeled his car around and parked in front of the studio.
Once inside, he found Carl Perkins and his brothers Jay and Clayton, with “Fluke” Holland on drums and a new blond-haired boy on piano. As the session broke up, Mr. Philips introduced him to the piano player. His name was Jerry Lee Lewis, he was from Ferrida, Louisiana, and he had a new single just out, his first on the Sun label.
“Enjoy your time in Luxor,” reads another in Arabic. The death of the king was seen as the beginning of a journey of resurrection. We begin our ascent up a hill. The establishment of the king among the gods with whom he would unite. Under electric lines. To become a powerful part of the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Over the asphalt of a modern road paved atop the arid landscape. The cosmic and agricultural rhythms of Egypt. We are passing the tomb of Tutankhamen and are being passed in turn by a noisy orange tractor. The dead king was carefully prepared for this difficult journey to the gods. It too is laboring uphill, but with a flatbed trailer behind it. A journey that took many forms.
Linus, wearing his wreath of flowers and bitter parsley leaves,
Said to Gallus, “the Muses give you this pipe; accept it;
Long ago they gave it to Hesiod; and he played it so well
That his music drew downhill the obstinate ash-trees.
We pass the tomb of Ramesses III without pausing. Even before the new king could be crowned, he had to confirm his right to succession. We mount higher, toward a natural pyramid at the top of the cliff. By ensuring the proper installation of his predecessor in his own tomb. We have reached the site of a 19th Dynasty king. (And thereby, in the other world.) We step to its entrance to regard Ma’at, her wings in blue and turquoise. The royal tombs and their contents were part of the technology of a culture. Lipstick has been applied to her lips, lacquer to her nails. Which, in common with many religions, did not distinguish between liturgy, ritual and the science and politics of everyday life.
“Elvis, ladies and gentlemen,” said Ed Sullivan, “inasmuch as he goes to the Coast now for his new picture, this will be the last time that we’ll run into each other for a while, but I” — screams from the audience. Elvis laughs. “Now wait a minute.” Ed holds up his hand. “I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country, that this is a real decent, fine boy.”
And Silenus sang all the songs that Apollo had composed.
The valleys caught up the heavenly music and tossed it
Skyward. At last the Evening Star, unwelcome, rose in Heaven,
Bidding the boys drive home their sheep and count them.
She sits like a fashion model, the feather of Justice atop her head. The hieroglyphs and scenes on the tomb walls may be regarded as the printed circuits of these ritual systems. Ananke offers the ankh to the Pharaoh. As the silicon chips of the Bronze Age. The ceiling of the tomb. Precious amulets were bound up with the royal dead. Is in iron oxide, lapis lazuli and copper, mixed with sand, very chic. The kings were animate in death. If not altogether intentional. And contained in their tombs were the powers of germination and fertility. Nephthys and Isis are in attendance, as Anubis prepares the corpse for burial. (Quotations in bold from John Romer, Valley of the Kings [London: Phoenix Press, 2005])
In fact, a major role of the army everywhere was to act as a police force. There is a substantial number of ostraca, principally referring to the Eastern Desert. These specify guard duties and the manning of skopeloi or watch towers. It appears that the guards were organized into dekanoi, which were controlled by curators, who in turn were responsible to centurions. Movement along desert roads seems to have been strictly controlled.
Principal shooting of Jail House Rock started with the dance sequence that Alex Romero had worked on with Elvis. The set was a skeletal scaffolding with barred doors suggesting cells on two of its levels. There was a fireman’s pole for the inmates to slide down, and a cast of professional dancers was outlined in silhouette behind bars at the start of the number.
Of resurrection and the constancy of the world order. The remainder of the tomb has been left unfinished. This could only be achieved if the rituals of the royal burial were performed correctly. Our descent becomes ever more precipitous. All done as prescribed at the outset. Gradually our path levels off into a gentle slope. This included the making and decorating of the tomb. We now enter the burial chamber itself, where the tomb lies within its own cartouche fashioned from granite. And the fine craftsmanship of the artists. At last we emerge from the tomb. Whose labors were directly responsible for the successful installation of the dead king with the gods. By the same route that we had used to enter it.
Miming the song’s story line, they escape only to return in the end to their cells. The party that the warden has thrown is so much fun that who would ever want to leave?
Egypt’s new prosperity allowed the 18th Dynasty pharaohs to endow shrines and temples to various gods throughout the land. These new buildings were now constructed of stone rather than mud-brick and were designed to last for all eternity.
We stand at the approach to Deir el-Bahri, all obscured except for the lowest colonnade. As we begin our ascent on foot, up the ramp to the great colonnade, the cliffs behind it indicate conclusively that the work of Nature is always more monumental than the work of Man. In a masterly illusion, a pharaonic figure glides forward toward us, appearing to ascend but in fact remains still. As we approach, the temple at last eclipses the landscape. Approaching the pharaonic figure, we now identify Hatchepsut herself.
By the middle of the 18th Dynasty Luxor had become a major religious center with a full range of temples dedicated not only to Amun and his family but to a host of lesser deities. On the west bank of the Nile were the mortuary temples of the kings.
We back out onto the esplanade to view the landscape. Up between two columns the figure of the great Queen emerges again, imperious, determined and stiff. She was the first Queen to dress like a man and fully assume the pharaonic posture. Legend has it that a passageway connects Deir el-Bahri with the Temple of Karnak, some miles from here, across the river, in the northern sector of Luxor. For certain, a snake-like passageway leads under the eastern end of the present plain to the tomb of Hatchepsut, excavated by Lord Carnavon.
Jubilant chants echoed far beyond Tahrir Square when Mohamed Morsi was confirmed president. Mr. Morsi’s election was lauded across the globe and many hail today’s “transfer” of power as a triumph of democracy. But there is little reason for celebration. In this latest grand spectacle manufactured by SCAF, the generals symbolically replaced the people’s choice while using the election to further entrench their unaccountable political autonomy.
The following morning, author is up by 5:00 am and out by 6:00 to negotiate with a taxicab driver, standing among his idling colleagues on the street, the fare to Abydos. (On the return trip driver will try to raise the price, making it a much riskier trip than author imagined.) We set out at once, through a landscape of rich agricultural crops and military checkpoints, one of the latter every 5 kilometers. The sun rises above the horizon. The fertility of the land seems appropriate to the object of our quest, Seti I’s temple to Osiris, the God of Renewal.
Seti’s temple is best described as dedicated to Seti-as-Osiris, and as such was part of a larger and more complex picture. By Seti’s time Osiris had many cult places throughout Egypt, each, however, usually subordinate in status and size to the temple of the chief deity of the town involved. Osiris’ own primary temples were at Busiris and Abydos, where his temple lies about 1 kilometer northwest of Seti’s. It is the older of the two.
Egyptian taxi driver tries to fob off Dendera on an unsuspecting author instead of continuing to Abydos, hoping that author will be uncertain about geography and the relative importance of the ancient sites. Accordingly he takes a bridge over the Nile, only to be told that he must return at once. As we head north to continue, a red pickup truck stops in the road, facing us, three large cows staring at author from the truck’s bed. Once on our way again, the desert sands begin to encroach upon the roadway. Oil refineries, more villages, high cliffs,
Seti’s temple was not a hewt netjer — a deity’s temple, like Osiris’ temple — but a royal hewt, akin to the similarly named royal mortuary temples of Thebes. Like the latter, Seti’s Abydos temple was treated as a dynamic entity, identical to Seti himself. The temple was called “Menmaatre” (i.e. Seti) Happy in Abyydos,” and the Osireion or dummy tomb behind it was named “Menmaatre Beneficial to Osiris.”
Before long, however, the dark green fields, the canebrakes, the palm trees resume. A dozen workers, donkeys alongside them to carry it off, are harvesting sugar cane with sickles. In the field also stand a green tractor and a brown dog. At the next intersection a man riding a donkey pauses for us to pass, a sickle in his hand. A whole flock of goats appears in an open field, next to a house, the zone of vegetation extending from the river to the desert seems to have increased markedly from East to West. Roadside palm trees send out thick branches.
These names present Seti, the living king, as the dutiful servant of Osiris and other deities; but also as one who, having become a deceased and transformed ruler, is seen as lord of the cosmos upon whom other deities depend. At Abydos, Seti achieved this latter status through his posthumous identification with Osiris, just as at Luxor the king’s deification depended upon identification with Amun-Re.
Even small groves of palms begin to develop, bordering the smaller canals that lead off the principal canals flowing out from the river. Villages and larger towns, begin to cluster alongside our route, each with its brightly colored turquoise, blue, and green mosques. Domestic architectural structures have grown larger. A three-story school stands within its courtyard. A passenger train hurtles past on our left, heading south. One of its cars bears a single, new automobile atop it. At Farshut, we pause, as people crowd the thoroughfare.
Since Amun-Re was lord of the living and Osiris of the dead, Seti’s mortuary temples, at Luxor and Abydos, respectively, provided his posthumous cosmic kingship with the widest possible authority. Thus, the lord of Seti’s Abydos temple was actually Seti-as-Osiris. Given this, and the Abydos locale, it is not surprising that Osiris and his divine kinfolk are prominently featured in the temple.
In February 2011, most analysts assumed that Mr. Mubarak’s government had collapsed. They were wrong. The regime never changed. It was reconfigured. The underlying centralized structures of the system that the military council inherited from Mr. Mubarak persist, and the generals have sought to preserve them. The recent election was just the latest attempt to formalize the generals’ executive authority while winning public legitimacy.
(Joshua Stacher, “How the army won Egypt’s election,” IHT, July 3, 2012)
Said Apollo, “You have lost your senses, Gallus. Your beloved Lycoris
Has gone with another man, through snows and rough encampments.”
Likewise, Silanus also arrived to join them, in rustic coronet —
Flowers of fennel and long-stemmed lilies tossing upon his head.
Cafés have been set up at a roadside market crowded with animals, carriages, cars and trucks. Everyone is tending to his business: a boy with a goat about his neck stops to look both ways before crossing the road; an orange-cabbed, blue-bedded truck with purple gas tanks awaits its driver; a large green bus has had hand-lettered a sign reading “Super Get”; four huge blocks of stone on a truck impede our progress. A new “Suzuki 2” pauses on the asphalt apron of a Mobile station to avoid a man bearing a glass door on his shoulder.
Seti’s temple impresses the visitor today as exceptionally well preserved, and yet it also intimidates through its vast size and complex artwork. Indeed, the temple’s plan was so grandiose that it had to be completed by Seti’s son and successor, Ramesses II. In describing this work, Ramesses reveals himself to be the first of Abydos’ many archaeological observers, when he notes that it is not finished.
We skirt a mountain range, the Jabal, vegetation rising up to it. Suddenly, eucalyptus trees appear, in regular rows beside the canal. A new house is joined to an old at the center of broad fields. We overtake a green stake truck, two camels strapped into it, one looking out the left side, one out the right. The road makes a left turn, followed by a right and faces into the cliffs, whose western limit we reach. As we follow this semicircular route we are preceded by a Chevrolet pickup, its bed in red, its cab in green, its mud flaps in yellow.
There were several reasons why these earlier monuments were half-ruined: some had been left incomplete, some had been partly demolished, some had simply decayed, as sand and debris accumulated. Ramesses, however, found a simpler, reason: “Whenever,” he said, “a king’s son arose in his father’s place, he failed to restore the monument of he who had begot him.” Ramesses, however, restored Seti’s temple.
For the final glide into Abydos we enter onto a broad new asphalt road, still in the process of being surfaced. Having finally outdistanced the Jabal Range, we reencounter the Nile. Its surface is ruffled with whitecaps. The sun now standing high in the sky, the river has resumed its deep blue guise. Sugarcane has been harvested and laid to dry on, beside, and half filling the road, at certain points. We arrive in Abu Shusha, its market also crowded with sheep, cows and donkeys. From here it turns out to be but a brief stage to Abydos.
The plan of the Seti temple is a unique variation of what became the fairly standard layout of the Ramessid royal mortuary temple in Thebes (Luxor). Seti’s Abydos temple deviated from the Theban model for two reasons. First, its precincts included a royal cenotaph, or dummy tomb (the Osireion), unlike those at Thebes; and, second, it required a modification of plan to accommodate the seven barque chapels.
Elvis wasn’t really serious about anyone for the time being. He was enjoying the single life, and when he got bored he just had to tell the guys to hunt up some girls in the lobby of the hotel. Elvis would have them brought up to the suite, offered one observer, “and he would go into the bedroom, and then the girls would sit for ten or fifteen minutes outside.
Next, one of the cousins would go into the bedroom and come out himself, and, after another ten minutes, in would come Elvis. There would be like a silence, and then the cousin would say, “Oh Mary Jane, this is Elvis, and the girls would be totally gone. For the more experienced girls it wasn’t like with other Hollywood stars or other boys they knew.
We have arrived, author and his rough-and-ready Arab taxi driver, in Abydos, where author sets out at once on foot, across the main square (it but a small part of the original Holy City, most of which remains buried beneath the sands). The desert surrounds us, mountains rising behind it. Abydos is the city most favored by Egyptian tourists, as a pilgrimage destination, but few are in evidence today. Author presents himself at Seti’s I’s temple to climb the low risers of its entrance stair, and on into its principal outdoor courtyard.
Traversing Seti’s temple from front to back is physically challenging. Before the temple (and behind us) is a quay, opening to a harbor (which has long been filled in) and linked to the Nile by a (former) canal. An especially steep stairway-cum-ramp leading up from the harbor indicates that the temple is not only built on a series of ever-higher platforms (as usual), but also runs up a gently rising but very definite slope.
We must mount a second ramp to enter the next courtyard, then another to enter the Second Hypostyle Hall, filled with 24 columns. We cross a threshold, into the First Hypostyle Hall, to encounter a forest of three dozen columns. Here more oblation before the god Osiris took place. It is a scene of even more awesome antiquity, for unlike the late, Ptolemaic temples at Kom Ombo, Edfu and Esna, we are now in the midst of the New Kingdom, millennia earlier. Illuminated niches to either side provide for more special, individualized worship.
A “traverse” reveals to the visitor that the temple has an L-shaped plan, where, attached to the southeast side of the roofed component, is an annex. This resulted from drastic modifications made to the Theban mortuary temple plan. By extending barque chapels continuously across its width, Seti had to transfer other effects, which would normally have been found in a Theban mortuary temple, into this annex.
There is here an intimacy in the relations among the gods (Isis with the infant Horus on her lap), as more generally is felt between King Seti and Osiris. Having passed through the Barque Chapels and the Osiris Complex, we move on into the Osireion, rectilinear and barrel vaulted. More modest by comparison with the preceding structures, its decoration nonetheless is also intimate. There is a depth of feeling to the bas reliefs in the Seti temple not hitherto experienced. We return to these chapels raised on a grander scale to seven divinities.
The central chapel is Amun-Re’s, flanked by those of Osiris, Isis and Horus (to one side), and by those of Re-Horakhty, Ptah and the deified Seti (on the other). Thus, Amun-Re is seemingly assigned primacy, but his dominance is subtly nuanced. In the Theban mortuary temple the sanctuary behind the barque chapel celebrated the union of Amun-Re and the king; here it celebrates instead the identification of Seti with Osiris.
The numerology of the chapels and their subsidiary niches is complex: 10, 4 and 3, the latter pointing toward a larger tripartite devotional division among Osiris, Isis and Horus. There is nothing at all provincial here. “Though originally out of the mainstream, Abydos grew to be the central city of the gods; the horizon to its west, the gateway to the afterlife” (Al-Ahram Weekly On-line). “For ancient Egyptians who wished to be buried near their legendary ancestor, it was the favored site. Hence its many cult structures and vast cemetery fields.”
A small hall is dedicated to the mystery of Osiris’ return to potency after his murder and burial. Thus the Osiris Complex serves to correlate Seti’s posthumous reinvigoration with that of Osiris. A modern story encapsulates this theme of renewal: the modern Um Seti (“mother of Seti,” as she was called), so devoted to the pharaoh, believed that she had known him during a previous life. Now her remains rest beside the god-king’s.
The floors of the temple, unlike those in more modern structures, slope in four directions, toward a greater unity. Amidst such tremendous complication, however, all is simplicity. Despite the mythic and thematic emphasis upon rejuvenation, revivification and renewal, death dominates. Khnum and Amun-Re stand before Osiris, blessing him but also asserting their dominion over him. The hieratic texts at Abydos, we are told, have been simplified for universal comprehension. All is in order, has been perfected, but paradoxically is alive too.
Understanding the plan of the Seti temple is straightforward; its visual world is more of a challenge. To appreciate its program of scenes and texts we must realize that there are several coexistent, complementary levels of meaning: the cult’s rituals and the documents of its legitimacy; its celebration of kingship’s central role in Egyptian life; and, finally, a materialized hymn to the wondrous nature of Osiris.
Once outdoors, we encounter an Egyptian. “Osiris, then, is dead,” says author. “No, he is alive.” The day is still young. The decision is made to take in Dendera on the way back to Luxor from Abydos. We pause alongside the road. A red, “Universal” tractor, model 450V, is pulling a baby blue harrow through a field. An oncoming orange-and-blue trailer truck breezes past us in the opposite direction. An afternoon upgust accentuates the motion of the river. A young girl, her head covered with the hajib, walks home from school, slowly.
Grasping the ultimate level of meaning requires that we reverse the order of the scenes and texts and read them from the back to the front of the temple. Seti’s program was an enormous document laid out before the deities, its purpose to assure them that all was effective, that they could risk the vulnerable process of moving from the divine world into their stone statues set in the danger-filled world of humankind.
(Lewis Spence, Egypt: Myths and Legends [London: Random House, 1915])
Renewal is the body’s master plan for rejuvenation. It has three important functions that give you the ability to maintain optimum health: protection, repair and regeneration. It prevents disease by protecting healthy cells and repairing damaged ones. When these options fail, Renewal replaces damaged or dead cells with new ones.
Arrival at Dendera’s Temple of Hathor: cascade of beautiful flowers falling over green hedge; Isis and Horus standing refreshed before a Pharaoh. The site is complex. “Re opened his eyes inside the lotus as it emerged from primordial chaos; he began to weep; then his tears were transformed into a beautiful woman named Gold of the Gods, Hathor the Great, Mistress of Dendera.” Not only Hathor is celebrated here but also Horus, Isis and Osiris (among others). “On the roof of six chapels is shown the myth of the Resurrection of Osiris, who was murdered and cut into pieces by his brother Seth. Isis searched Egypt for the pieces and put them together to recreate the body of her husband. Later she bore him a son, Horus.”
Like a car, the body comes equipped with standard features. We each get our allotment of hair, teeth, lungs and kidneys. We also get a healing system, whose mission is to achieve and maintain optimal health. This system coordinates the resources that defend, repair and restore the body. It provides the foundation for our Renewal.
(Timothy J. Smith, M.D., Renewal: The Anti-Aging Revolution [London: St. Martin’s, 1981])
The complex contains multiple shrines, from the Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods. A red fire extinguisher hangs on the wall of a mud brick hut. “The chapels guaranteed the annual resurrection of the god during a festival held as the waters of the Nile subsided.” A metal bucket is filled with water. “The ancient ritual, described in every detail on the walls, was a commemorative ceremony that involved the creation, by reenacting the gesture, of a replica of Osiris’s body from barley paste. The site consists of a Temple of Isis, a Temple of Hathor, a Sacred Lake, a Sanatorium, the Mamissi of Nectanabo, a Coptic basilica and Trajan’s well. “The image, sprinkled with pure water, germinated and was buried in a chapel.”
It is no easy matter to gauge the true mythological significance of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, patron of women, of love, and of pleasure, Lady of Heaven, and Mistress of the Underworld. She occupied a very important position in the pantheon of ancient Egypt, dating as she did from archaic or even pre-dynastic times.
Author opts for the major temple. “All the provinces, which each possessed a reliquary containing a piece of the god’s body, were invited to attend.” A dog sleeps in the sun beside the pathway. “The process was so delicate and so decisive that, in order to ensure its success, they invoked the powers of the protecting spirits, whose assembled hosts can be seen in the chapels. The porch is dedicated to Osiris. Approaching the pylon, we penetrate its pylon and gaze upward at a ceiling supported by six of Hathor’s columns, all whose capitals bear her broad face. The sun has risen to high, in the early winter afternoon sky. “Hathor is spoken of as the ‘Eye of Ra,’ perhaps because she is the goddess of the moon.” The temple’s interior is cool.
We find a multitude of mythological ideas fused in the Hathor conception: she is a moon goddess, a sky-goddess, a goddess of the East, a goddess of the West, a cosmic deity, an agricultural goddess, a goddess of moisture, even, on occasion, a solar deity. Though her original status is obscure, it is supposed that she is primarily a moon-goddess.
The girls offered to do things for Elvis, but he wasn’t really interested. What he liked was to lie in bed and watch television and then eat and talk all night — the companionship seemed as important for him as the sex — and then in the early-morning hours they would make love. “He had an innocence at that time,” said one of them. “He really just wanted company.”
“He was very clean cut about it. There were a lot of things that he didn’t like. Another thing that you could not do around him was mention drugs; he was dead set against them. There was a lot of grass available in Hollywood but, the cousins said, ‘If you have dope, don’t use it around Elvis.’ If anyone wanted to turn on, they had to leave and not let Elvis see it.”
“Hathor presided over amorous pursuits; music, dance and enjoyment were her preserve and it was through them that she was honored.” Once inside the portico we find that it is graced systematically with triads. Blue and red caps surmount the heads of Hathor that serve as capitals. “This pan-Egyptian divinity also took the form of a fierce lioness who killed humans, a celestial cow, and life-giving flood waters.” Eighteen columns here are followed by 72 in the next hall, where the ceiling is carved with stars. “Dendera is only one of her many temples but today is among the best preserved and the best known in Egypt. The back wall of the second hall is also shaped like a pylon, inviting another entrance. We proceed past six lotus capitals.
The original form under which Hathor was worshipped was that of a cow. Later she is represented as a woman with the head of a cow, and finally with a human head, the face broad, kindly, placid, and decidedly bovine, sometimes retaining the cow’s ears or horns. She is also shown with a pair of horns, the moon disk between them.
We enter the first of two antechambers before the Sacrum. The Inner Sanctum is mausoleum-like but lively with variation. The Barque (the ship to the Other World) faces its mirror image. Even the side chapels repeat, with a heavy solemnity, the Hathor motif. Chapel follows chapel with an exiguous clarity. “Hathor, ancient Mother of the Gods, Lady of Joy and Love.” The temple was restored in the 2nd century BC. “The Sun’s course itself was seen as being born of the goddess, Nut.” (Relatively unprepared for his visit, author is reading the guidebook in situ.) From the temple’s courtyard we proceed to the Mamissi of Nectanebo (341-349 BC). The muezzin howls from a nearby minaret. The sky is streaked in constellation-like configurations.
Sometimes Hathor is met with in the form of a cow standing in a boat, surrounded by tall papyrus-reeds. That Hathor as a cow is shown in a boat suggests that she was also a water-goddess and heightens the probability that she had been identified with the moon, for the latter was regarded by the Egyptians as the source of all moisture.
The closed doors of the birth chamber are intended to prevent any further births. A passageway leads out through a side door to the Sanatorium.
The name Hathor signifies “House of Horus,” that is, the sky, herein dwelt the sun god Horus, and there is no doubt that at one time Hathor was regarded as a sky-goddess, or a goddess of the eastern sky, where Horus was born; she has also been identified with the night sky and with the sunset sky. Sometimes she also stands in the South.
Within its courtyard archaeological reconstruction is still underway. Author returns at last to circumambulate the principal temple, Hathor’s.
That she was considered Mistress of the Underworld is not surprising, when we consider her as identical with the moon, for does not the moon make a daily pilgrimage through Amentet? Neither is it astonishing that a goddess of moisture and vegetation should be found in the underworld dispensing water to the souls of the dead.
A cliff, 200 meters off, is fronted by a mud brick wall. Between it and us stand palms, rustling in the breeze. Through 270 degrees they define the precinct.
Likewise we may explain the paradoxical statement that Hathor is “mother of her father, daughter of her son,” that she is mother, wife and daughter to Ra. The moon, when she appears in the heavens before the sun, may be regarded as his mother; when she reigns together with him, as his wife; when she rises after he has set, as his daughter.
Among this massive collaboration of temples not a blade of grass or other vegetation is visible, apart from the palms and a few patches of cultivated grass.
It was as the ideal of womanhood, therefore, whether as mother, wife or daughter, that she received the homage of Egyptian women, and became the patron deity of love, joy and merry-making, “lady of music and mistress of song, lady of leaping, and mistress of wreathing garments.” In time she became identified with many local goddesses.
Having reached the front of the temple, author pauses to scratch his arm on a Cyclopean stone. As we exit, another dog is sleeping on the other side of the path.
There is another aspect to Hathor. As the eye of Ra she once descended and smote men in the desert and slew them, then returned to the court of Ra, and when the king had given her welcome said, “I have been mighty among mankind. It is well pleasing to my heart.” All night Sekhmet waded in the blood of those that Hathor had slain.
On the exterior wall of the Mamissi we make out the figure of Bes, another primitive god, where she sits atop the capital of one of the small temple’s pillars.
Sekhmet feared that on the morrow Hathor would slay the remnant, wherefore he said unto his attendants, “Fetch to me swift messengers who can outstrip the wind.” When they appeared, the majesty of Ra bade them bring a great number of mandrakes from Elephantine. These Ra gave to Sekhmet to mix with the blood of the slain.
“What is your name?” author inquires of a 10-year-boy, with a friend, before the temple. “Abu,” he says? “And what his yours?” “Hosni. Hosni Mubarak.”
Meanwhile servants prepared beer from barley, and into it Ra poured the mixture. Thus were seven thousand jars of beer made. The next morning Ra bade his attendants carry the beer to the place where Hathor would seek to slay the remnant and pour it out there. For the son-god said to himself, “I will deliver mankind from her.”
They are joined by two more friends, who offer their names to author’s question. Up steps a man who volunteers to author in Arabic that his name is “Mohamed.”
It came to pass that at dawn Hathor reached the place where the beer flooded the fields, four spans. She was pleased with her beautiful reflection, which smiled at her from the flood; and so deeply did she drink of the beer that she became drunk, and thus was no longer able to destroy men. Henceforth festivals commemorated this event.
A young boy steps forward declaring that his name too is “Mohamed.” “Your name Mohamed? So is mine!” says author. “His name Mohamed,” the kids all shout.
The beer represents the annual rise of the Nile, the vengeance of Ra, doubtless the plagues and starvation that accompany the dry season immediately preceding the rise of the river. The eye of Ra, i.e. Hathor, must be either the sun or the moon, but Ra himself is the sun-god, therefore Hathor is most probably the moon and her inundation.
The sun has begun to set over Dendera. Across from the temple’s precinct a white stucco, palm-thatched café receives its brilliant rays. Instead of his name, a twelve-year-old steps up to author’s side to have him record a snatch of Arabic song. White, pink and blue plastic chairs sit before the magenta door of the white stucco building. A farmer arrives to park his orange tractor against an adjacent wall. A colorful bedspread has been hung out to dry between the café and the tractor. Another tractor labors by, two turbaned farmers atop it. Through two intervals in the thatch, behind the café, rise two Trees of Life. As we are pulling away, the kids scamper up to our car window to offer their names, make funny remarks, ask for money.
Pan came, the god of Arcady, guised as I’ve often seen him,
Vermilion-stained with the juice of elderberries; he said, “Weep
No more. The Love-god has no compassion for sorrow. Goats never
Have enough leaves and weeping can never appease the Love-god.”
“Have you heard?” cxclaimed an aide-de-camp to Lord Carnarvon. A wire came last night from the minister of culture forbidding the ladies to visit Tutankhamen’s tomb.” Pierre Lacau, head of antiquities, had been wringing his hands, and his beard, till midnight. “What do I do?” he said. “H.C. will start filling in the tomb at once.” In his three-piece suit, bow-tie and Homburg hat, walking-stick in hand, Harold Carter had already crossed the Nile early that morning, February 13, 1924. Once inside the sprawling Winter Palace, just south of Luxor temple, he “fumed as he paced nervously up and down in our room,” recalled Charles Breasted, who was staying with his father, James, the American pioneer of Egyptology.
(Shirley Johnston, Egyptian Palaces and Villas [New York, Abrams, 2006])
In 1906 a small private affair financed and directed by Lord Carnarvon started excavating at the eastern end of the great flat plain in front of the temple of Deir el Bahri. He had dug unsupervised for his first season, but for his future work Maspero had suggested that he engage the assistance of an archeologist and had introduced him to Harold Carter who, at that time, was earning a modest living in Luxor painting watercolors or making drawings of the monuments for friends and patrons, and, in common with most of the antiquarians of the day, keeping an expert eye on the antiquities trade.
(John Romer, Valley of the Kings [London: Phoenix Press, 2005])
The junta was magnanimous and did not begrudge its old enemies their joy. One day after the Muslim Brotherhood set off fireworks over Tahrir Square to celebrate its historic presidential victory, Major General Mohamed Said el-Assar, one of the nineteen members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has officially ruled Egypt for sixteen months (apart from tacitly commanding the nation since 1952) sounded proud not defeated.
Soon anyone who was anyone in archaeology had arrived at Breasted’s room, for Carter’s showing of king Tutankhamen’s tomb to the wives of his colleagues had capped a season of disputes and only disguised the real issue: The Egyptians wanted Carter to renounce any claim to the object that he had found in the pharaoh’s death chamber and was planning new, restrictive rules that were retroactive to his and everyone else’s expedition. Carter blurted out one acerbic statement after another, “each one, as his anger ebbed, a shade less vitriolic than its predecessor,” the junior Breasted later recalled. Only after his father had mollified H.C. did he post a notice: “The tomb will be closed, and no further work can be carried out.”
“Now we have a newly elected President, a great accomplishment for SCAF,” the general enthused in an interview, even though the Islamists’ candidate, Mohamed Morsi, had beaten Ahmed Shafik, a retired air force commander and former member of SCAF, by 2% of the vote. “So we would like to hand over power” Still, he made sure that the military got credit for doing so. “We have done the best we can for our country. We saved the revolution.”
(“How the military won the Egyptian Election,” Time, July 9, 2012)
The Cairo Museum already had huge collections and, provided the illicit antiquities sold by the dealers were not considered to be unique or, like the royal mummies, of particular importance to the national heritage, the exploration of antiquities purchased from the illegal markets but bound for display in the museums and drawing rooms of Europe and America was not the subject of great alarm. The robbery of paintings and reliefs from the walls of standing monuments was, however, considered in a different light, and this traffic had been mercilessly attacked since the days of Mariette.
It was just another unpredictable day at the Winter Palace, the majestic hotel across the Nile from the Theban necropolis. (Most guests ignored Pierre Loti, who had sniped: “It dominates the town, and may be seen five miles away, a sham of plaster and mud on a framework of iron, twice as high as a pharaonic temple.” Hardly. This was not “Poor Luxor!” inundated by “millionaire daughters of Chicago merchants, Baedekers in hands, the world that frequents the Riviera.” This was a return to ancient Thebes, which had not had such excitement since the Eighteenth Dynasty! But then the calm, colonial atmosphere of slowly revolving ceiling fans and cushioned settees was rudely disrupted, once Tut’s tomb revealed its golden treasures.
With the advice of Carter, Carnarvon had already begun to build a private collection of Egyptian antiquities that later became one of the finest of the century. He had enjoyed excavation and loved his visits to Egypt but his hobby was expected to pay its way. It became obvious to Carter that another unknown royal tomb in the Theban necropolis was being plundered by villagers. A funerary papyrus of early 18th Dynasty date, had surfaced on the Paris market and Carter himself had bought fragments of alabaster vases with the names of Amenhotep I and Ahmose Nefertari upon them.
Author, starting out from his own hotel (like the Winter Palace, just south of the temple), stops to orient himself with two signs: “Nile Street” and “Luxor Temple.” On a blank plastered wall in Tuthmosis IV’s tomb, Carter found a fine graffito of inspection: Author has moved along to a larger, dirty yellow-on-blue sign reading: Distances and Locations. “Horemheb, beloved of Amun, His Majesty, Life, Prosperity, Health.” Ferry Boat for West Bank 162 meters. “Ordered that it should be recommended to the Royal Scribe, the Superintendant of the Treasury, the Superintendent of the Works in the Place of Eternity.” Temple of Luxor, Entry 262 meters. To renew the burial of Tuthmosis IV. Luxor City Council 735 meters. Justified in Precious Western Thebes.” Luxor Museum 1235 meters.
This proved the earliest of all the known graffiti that record renewals of the royal burials and a rewrapping of the royal mummy, which took place within 80 years of the original burial. Temple of Karnak 3135 meters. Davis was delighted with the discovery, his first royal tomb. Through the trees on the East Bank are here visible on the West Bank the imposing cliffs, still smoky due to not yet fully dissipated morning haze. It was quickly pointed out to him that there was a good chance that another undiscovered one lay close by, for in the foundation deposits outside the tomb, some of the objects had been taken from another deposit and re-used by Tuthmosis IV’s priests. We are skirting Luxor Temple. Moreover, in the debris outside the tomb the names of two pharaohs had been found.
A minaret moves through the columns of the temple as we glide by them. Tuthmosis I, whose flooded tomb Loret had uncovered some years before. The static obelisk peeking from behind the pylons. And Queen Hatchepsut. We have entered the actual precinct of the temple. Whose name it was that had also been written upon a saucer. Another mosque emerges into view. Discovered in one of the king’s foundation deposits. Seven palm trees stand in a row ahead of us. Hatchepsut had assumed control of Egypt at the death of Tutmosis, II her husband, who died while still a young man. Each of the palms is a different height. One of her officials, Senenmut, had built the great temple of Deir el-Bahri for his queen. Author steps into a hole in the flagstones and flings his tape recorder into a moat.
In defiance of previous royal tradition, the Theban rulers of the late 17th and early 18th Dynasties accepted that their womenfolk were capable of assuming a prominent role in state affairs and, most importantly, were happy to acknowledge the unique significance attached to the positions of King’s Wife and King’s Mother.
(Joyce Tyldesley, Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh [London: Penguin, 1998])
Having purchased a new tape recorder, author continues to the Museum, where he debates with himself whether he can afford its exorbitant fee. In her elegant temple at Deir el-Bahri, Hatchepsut is shown in reliefs, in the company of her father, Tuthmosis I. Ticket seller, cigarette behind his ear, counts money for three minutes, holding up ticket purchasers. As if by emphasizing her royal descent she was underlining her claim to the throne. A Frenchman ahead of author asks if ticket seller will take a credit card. In ancient Egypt, the legitimacy of the king as assured by the marriage to the daughter of the previous ruler. His request is denied. And administer the god’s extensive portfolio. We enter to confront Amenhotep III, his colossal head in granite dominating a whole room of the museum.
Consequently the early New Kingdom is now widely recognized as being remarkable not only for its succession of strong and effective warrior-kings but for its sequence of high-profile, influential and long lived queens. It was the queens, and not the kings, who were to provide Egypt with an unbroken succession from Tetisheri to Hatchepsut.
Hatchepsut took this prerogative one step further and assumed the throne itself for the queens of Egypt. Far more modest and charming than the corrupt, polished Amenhotep head is Tutankhamen’s. Her tomb is the most individual and extraordinary in the Valley. He stands, in the posture of Amun, his brow illuminated. Its truly fantastic dimensions are like no other tomb’s. On a circular platform, beneath a circle of lights, in a Plexiglas box, sits the cow goddess, taken from Tutankhamen’s tomb. In design it is similar to an earlier group of royal monuments at Abydos. Her face is gold, her eyes hieroglyphic, taking the form of the Goddess Wadjet. Where Seti I placed his cenotaph behind his great white temple. Her forearms and neck are black. The other tomb, that of Tuthmosis I, was very long.
The dynastic Egyptians were remarkably relaxed in their attitudes to marriage. They do not seem to have felt the need to impose any state control over the choice of partners, and although the idea of a the family was always important, the impression given is that marriage was of little interest to any but the immediate families of the couple concerned.
A famous scribe curls up in his blanket of hieroglyphs. It is likely, therefore, that the great long tomb of Hatchepsut, excavated by Carter, was originally the tomb of Tuthmosis I. He is tacit, clear-purposed, powerful. The one that Ineni supervised, “no one seeing, no one hearing.” King Sesostris III, in grey-veined, purple granite, expresses an asymmetrical humanity. And that only the burial chamber was added by the queen. A blue bus with red stripes traverses the illuminated aperture of the museum’s front door. For the small flight of steps that lead up to the burial chamber at the bottom of the tomb is quite different from the rest of the architecture. King Tutmose reigns in a fashionable coif. Unlike the rest of the tomb, it uses the metrical system employed in her temple at Deir el-Bahri.
Co-habitation with slaves, foreigners, brothers or sisters and even relatively young children were all legally permissible, as was polygamy and, though we have no known examples, polyandry. Therefore it was possible for any Egyptian man openly to marry or sleep with his sister or one of his unmarried daughters without incurring legal penalties.
Amenhotep sits under a golden light, in golden marble, taking his place next to the alligator god, Sobek, the latter’s coif diabolic, his guise animal, alien but relieved by a human arm. Sobek’s snout has been broken and restored, but he continues to proffer the ankh. Author continues his stroll from room to room, beneath the constant gaze of the gods and god-kings. A wealthy official is represented in the attitude of a beggar, Hathor enshrined before his seated knees. The tip of King Ramesses III’s obelisk still shines, in polished red granite. The lion goddess Sekhmet’s breasts are partly covered by her headdress, her expression menacing, her face only apparently benevolent. Earlier she had resided, says the label, along with many other gods, in the Temple of Mut. We mount a long ramp as though approaching a temple.
On the death of her father the young Hatchepsut, only twelve years old, emerged from the obscurity of the women’s palace to marry her half-brother and become queen consort of Egypt. We know little of her life in the harem, but we have a badly damaged sandstone statue showing her as a miniature adult pharaoh on the knee of her nurse, Inet.
Arriving on the second floor, we are greeted by a sandstone Menuhotep III, his flattened front bearing the iconography of Osiris, his beard long, his lips full. A bust of Osiride II represents, we are told, one of Ramesses II’s contemporaries; seated next to a more realistic bust of yet another friend of the great king (a god in his own time). The suavity, grace and reflective power of the two servants are unequalled among representations of courtiers. One of them views us through the mask of divinity, the other as a new god himself, a god renewed. Four white, black-eyed gods lend their forms to canopic jars, squinting out over the top of a box that contained the entrails of some great king. Two dozen Egyptian schoolgirls troop on by, all well-mannered, smiling, their dark capes complementing yellow-white-and-black blouses.
Tuthmosis II and Hatchepsut, after burying their father, set out to rule Egypt as a conventional New Kingdom king and queen consort, following the successful internal and foreign policies developed by Amenhotep I and Tuthmosis II. At home the now traditional construction of the Karnak temple of Amen continued and the country prospered.
The fashion parade of other museum visitors is also lively. A pink silk overjacket and white embroidered shirt reveals hints of a red undershirt. A green high-shouldered, black-decorated jacket, reveals a pink-and-white underblouse, accentuated by a green hair-catch. It is not the fashion of Paris or Milan but of Cairo: an elegantly long dress; a peasant skirt; a long-sleeved blouse in scarlet, worn with a red headband. A teacher shepherds her minions in a white shawl. Following them out through the museum’s exit are three French children, privileged, 15, 11 and 7, all in their expensive sneakers and khaki shorts. The two older girls beam at one another, as they whisper secrets. At the exhibition’s end stands a monumental Seosostris I, in limestone, from Karnak, 20th century BC. His crossed hands support two ankhs.
Hatchepsut bore her brother one daughter, the Princess Nefurure, earlier thought to be a second, contemporary royal princess but now regarded as the undisputed daughter of Hatchepsut and Tuthmosis II. In the record she is invisible, as we might expect of a young royal child, throughout her father’s reign. After his death, however, she begins to play a role, suddenly appearing in public postures alongside her mother, the new King.
Back out on “Nile Road” (the Corniche) again, we come to the closed gateway of The University of Chicago’s “Oriental Institute, Headquarters in Egypt.” Its palms have grown tall; an arcade of seven, bordering either side of a walkway, reaches their fronds to the sun, which reciprocates by shining down upon them. Through an archway at the end of the walkway is visible a bed of red phlox, other flowers, yellow and orange, in a Romantic garden. We reach a triangular plaza, at the end of which stands a mosque, its muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. On colored plastic prayer rugs, spread on the grass beside the road, men in robes are prostrating themselves before Allah. In yellow letters on a blue background (again), reads a message: “You are in Motherland of Civilization.” We continue on through a clean, well-ordered, district.
By Year 7 of her regency, Hatchepsut was acknowledged to be king of Egypt. She was, however, the first pharaoh to play down the story of her own divine conception and birth, ordering that the tale be told in a cartoon-like sequence of tasteful images and descriptive passages carved on the north side of the middle portico fronting her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. Her relationships with Amun and with her father were important to her.
We have arrived in Karnak. It is tempting to see the rise of Amen as a more calculated gesture, perhaps aimed at reducing the influence of the northern-based cult of Re. In search of the entrance to the temple, ready for a lunch break (to catch up on his reading), author opts for “Tut-Ankh-Amun,” the sign again yellow on blue. Promoting a new Egyptian state god, one who had demonstrated his powers by granting victory in battle, may have been a shrewd move aimed at unifying a demoralized country recovering from the ignominy of foreign rule. “Restaurant, Cafeteria, Bar.” Hatchepsut herself was to make great use of her filial relationship with Amen, continually stressing the doctrine of the divine birth of kings to support her claim to the throne. Restaurant interior in turquoise walls, blue-lined white arches.
It is no coincidence that the only other cycle of divine birth scenes occurs in the Luxor temple of the later 18th Dynasty king Amenhotep III, which was dedicated to the celebration of the royal Ka, or the divine royal identity. Amenhotep III, not generally regarded as an insecure monarch, was the first pharaoh to promote himself as a god in his own lifetime. His own birth scenes bear a striking similarity to those of Hatchepsut.
The restaurant opens into a mirrored bar with triangular architraves. Amenhotep III also paid more attention to the other gods of the Egyptian pantheon. A grey marble wainscoting leads down to a floor tiled in rose-marble veined in flesh and light grey. Partly reverting to Old Kingdom theology by re-allying the monarchy with Re of Heliopolis. Pink rectangular table cloths on circular wooden tables are covered with cerulean squares. His son, Amenhotep IV (now known as the heretic King Akhenaton, “Serviceable to the Aten”) took this policy to extremes. Seated in the dining area’s new green extension, author looks out onto a sunny terrace. By completely rejecting the traditional polytheistic religion and imposing a new monotheistic cult based upon the worship of the sun disc, or Aten, on his people.
At Deir el-Bahri, the story of Hatchepsut’s conception starts in heaven, where Amun has assembled before him a group of twelve divinities, including Isis, Osiris, Nephthys, Horus, Seth and Hathor, in order to make a momentous pronouncement. Amun has decided that the time has come to father a princess who will govern Egypt with a glorious reign: “I will join for her the Two Lands . . . I will give her all lands, and all countries.
Beyond the restaurant, across a walkway, on a low wall, sit two young Egyptian men, the first in blue shirt and white pants, the second in yellow shirt and blue Levis. In the inscriptions the Queen makes several emphatic points (Obelisk Inscriptions of Queen Hatchepsut in the Temple of Karnak). They are sitting among five other people in their late twenties: (In Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume II: The New Kingdom, “Inscriptions from Royal Monuments.”) A man in a black jacket, standing; a woman in a white babushka, sweater and slacks, seated. Her devotion to her divine father Amun and to her earthly father Thutmose I. The latter holds a fringed red umbrella with black and white stripes. The obelisks are erected to the glory of Amun and to the memory of Thutmose I.
Thoth, here acting Hermes-like as the messenger of Amun, proclaims the name of the chosen mother-to-be: Queen Ahmose, wife of Tuthmosis I, for “she is more beautiful than any other woman.” We then move to Egypt, where Queen Ahmose, sleeping alone in her boudoir, is visited by the god, her husband; they sit on her bed, in a scene representing one of the few occasions that an Egyptian queen is allowed to communicate with a deity.
The second woman, also in a babushka, wears a long, mid-thigh sweater. Furthermore, she wants it correctly understood that each obelisk consists of a single monolith of granite, and that their gilding had required inordinate amounts of the finest gold. In horizontal, pastel stripes. Lastly, there is the theme of her right to the throne, an ever present concern in her inscriptions. The actual inscription, which author studies at his table (the original will be in hieroglyphs) begins: Hours: Mighty-of-ka’s; Two Ladies: Flourishing-in-years; Gold-Horus: Divine-of-diadems; King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the two Lands: Makare. Author calls for his bill, so as to be ready to continue on to the temple. She made as her monument for her father Amun, the erecting of the two great obelisks.
Amun tells Ahmose that she is to bear a daughter whom she will name Khnemet-Amen Hatchepsut (“The one who is joined with Amen, the Foremost of Women”). This daughter is destined to be the future ruler of Egypt. He then passes Ahmose the ankh, or sign of life and, in the tradition of the best romantic novels, we learn how “She smiled at his majesty and he went to her, his penis erect before her. He gave his heart to her,” etc.
We at last reach Karnak. The Great Temple of Amun-Re. Which author is focusing on, for its manageable (if nonetheless still immense size), its thematic significance, and its relationship to Hatchepsut. The ancient name of Karnak, Ipet Sut, means “The most hallowed of places.” Neither this temple nor the temple of Luxor can be adequately treated by anyone but a life-long professional specialist. It designates the “center of the world,” where Amun, creator of the universe, first created himself, then all things and living beings.” Moreover, either he or she will have problems that cannot be solved, after a mere 200 years of Egyptology. He combined the power of the Theban demiurge (Amun) with that of the supreme sun-god of Heliopolis (Re). Through a squared colonnade we proceed into a courtyard.
If we do not have a date for Hatchepsut’s coronation, we at least have a date for her jubilee, or sed-festival, which is recorded on the walls at both Karnak and Deir el-Bahri. The celebration of the heb-sed, a tradition stretching back over a thousand years to the dawn of the dynastic age, and perhaps even beyond, was a public ritual of rebirth and renewal intended to vivify the aging king and increase public confidence in his reign.
The columns here are reminiscent of the Temple of Luxor, which author has already toured. Amun was the guarantor of the continued survival of the universe that he had created. The remains of a farther pylon lie in ruins beyond. And therefore of the kingdom ruled by his “beloved son,” the pharaoh, the only official priest. Again we turn Nile-ward, past the main temple’s enceinte. Mankind, by worshipping in the temple, could help preserve the cosmic harmony so essential to life. Into the vicinity of the Sacred Lake, its relation to mountain behind, sky above, to temple beyond, even to the Universe, is clear (if worthy of further study). And encompassed by the Egyptian concept of ma’at, which signified truth, order and justice. (The Knopf guide, titled, simply, Egypt.) Profound, and yet superficial.
The ritual of rebirth and renewal marked the start of a new cycle in the monarch’s life and provided the excuse for a nationwide celebration; the ancient Egyptians were never ones to deny themselves a good party. Tradition dictated that it be proclaimed from Memphis on the first day of spring, the season of rejuvenation, and that there would then follow five days of festival culminating in a grand procession of the state and local gods.
But, sick at heart, Gallus said: “Arcadians, you’ll be singing
The tale of my love to your mountains, whatever befall. You are
Masters of music, Arcadians. How tranquil my bones would rest,
If over them your reed-pipes were making my love immortal!”
“Here, read this,” cried the reporter: “Rock ‘n’ roll smells phony,” says Frank Sinatra. “It is sung by cretinous goons, has imbecilic reiteration and sly, lewd, dirty lyrics. It manages to be the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the earth. It is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression that I have had the misfortune to hear.”
It defines for all the principles of time and eternity, but of neither of change nor of individuality.
“Ah but I wish I had been of your company, and lived there
A shepherd of your sheep or a worker in these vineyards.
Why, then I would have had a flame to lie among the sally trees
Sheltered by drooping vines. Amyntas is dark? But look at
Violets and blueberries — they have the same dusky glow.
Phyllis would pick me garlands, Amyntas sing for me. ‘Soft meads,
Cool streams you would find here, and woodlands, dear Lycoris —
A paradise where we could have grown old together.”
We return by way of the Nile Road, in a horse-driven carriage. A considerable amount of Egypt’s new-found foreign wealth was diverted toward the Great Temple of Amen. Photos of earlier passengers have been posted above the seat opposite author. So that it grew physically, becoming an economic force in its own right. They have been slipped into blue plastic sleeves bearing red circles of, seven-pointed stars, at whose centers golden suns. And employing an increasingly large staff. In between the two sleeves is an inverted crescent, atop which a five-pointed star. To carry out the cult ceremonies. At the return from our outing, which at the start was hot and humid. And administer the god’s extensive portfolios. It is now cool and relatively dry, as we wind down toward our final understanding of Nilotic Egypt.
We shall probably never know what event caused Hatchepsut to proclaim herself king. It is possible that she had always intended to seize power, and that following her husband’s death she had merely been biding her time, awaiting a politically opportune moment to strike. Hayes is the most persuasive proponent of the theory, arguing that at Tuthmosis’ death, she had to be bent on stabilizing the government and consolidating her own position
But which revolution was that? We are familiar with the people-powered street uprising fostered by Twitter and Facebook, driven by the protests of a youth movement that toppled the 30-year-long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Then there was the dramatic political surge of the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood, which used its immense person-to-person social network to dominate the messy democratic space opened up by Mubarak’s fall.
In Egypt today, all is new, the kids along the road flashing their infectious smiles. It won the bulk of seats in parliament and seemed to augur apocalypse for Egypt’s relatively secular constitution. Our contemporary perspective on Ancient Egypt itself, for that matter, is new and is always changing. The generals, however, appear to have trumped both developments with an effort that began so modestly that it seems more palace coup than upheaval: Tourists, Egyptologists from abroad, the Egyptians themselves, bring a new perspective to these hoary materials. the imperial guard decided that Mubarak, the modern pharaoh, had to go in order to preserve its own prerogatives, including control of up to a third of Egypt’s, now failing, economy. A very pretty, modern, delicate Egyptian girl smiles at author.
As a king of Egypt, Hatchepsut was entitled to a splendid monarch’s tomb. Therefore, soon after her accession, work on the rather understated tomb in the Wadi Sikkat Taka ex-Zeida cease and excavation for a far more regal monument commenced in the Valley of the Kings. Following recent 18th Dynasty tradition, it was to have a burial chamber hidden away in the Valley and a highly visible mortuary temple, the Djeser Djeseru.
And what was Elvis Presley’s response to that? he was asked, standing in front of a roomful of reporters. It was an hour before his October 28 performance at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, which would mark his Hollywood debut. “I admire the man,” said Elvis, “He has a right to say what he wants to say. He is a great success and a fine actor.
The pretty girl has seen nothing and yet has seen it all. The Egyptologists have seen it all, and understood most everything. The boy in the blue smock and red pajama pants, turning his gaze toward author, has seen it all and yet seen nothing. After Morsi’s victory, the generals exuded graciousness, but it took a while for the results of the voting to be certified. The man in his olive uniform sweeping the street has understood it all, has seen it all. The Supreme Presidential Election Commission waited a week from the end of the polling to declare a winner, and the delay gave rise to conspiracy theories. The tourists from Stuttgart and Lyon, from Padua and Manchester, have seen it all and felt everything. The SCAF dissolved the legislature, because it deemed the parliamentary election law unconstitutional.
“But I think that he shouldn’t have said it. Frank Sinatra is mistaken about this. Rock ‘n’ Roll is a trend, just like the trend that he cause when he started years ago. I consider this new music to be the greatest,” Elvis added mischievously, throwing the reporters off balance. “It is very noteworthy — and moreover it is also the only thing that I can do!”
The government official has felt it all but seen nothing. His life is in shambles. He does not wish to understand it. Official developments contained ominous signs that the junta was entrenching itself in power in this, the most populous country yet to be swept up in the Arab Spring. The Democratic Party, its English and Arabic names in white on a green ground, has seen it all, felt it all, and understood nothing. Then, it decreed a constriction of the powers of the presidency. We have reached again the precinct of the Luxor Temple. Morsi will have no real control over the budget and no decisive role in foreign policy, defense or national security matters. Its colossal figures in stone, its obelisks have seen nothing, felt nothing, yet understood all. He won’t even have the symbolic status of commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
There are those who have felt something, seen something, and even understood a little. Are you, dear reader, one of these? Surely author is one of these. By fiat, the junta has kept all these governmental functions for itself. Surely Amun-Re is one of these. Or is he? Has he understood more than something? Has he felt it all? Has he understood? According to theological doctrine perhaps, but not according to his representation. Has Osiris seen it all? Felt it all? Understood it all? Perhaps he has seen it all, lived it all, in this and other earlier lives.