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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 3. - 1/10 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
AN EGYPTIAN PRINCESS, Part 1.
By Georg Ebers
Psamtik went at once from his father's apartments to the temple of the goddess Neith. At the entrance he asked for the high-priest and was begged by one of the inferior priests to wait, as the great Neithotep was at that moment praying in the holiest sanctuary of the exalted Queen of Heaven.
[The temples of Egypt were so constructed as to intensify the devotion of the worshipper by conducting him onward through a series of halls or chambers gradually diminishing in size. "The way through these temples is clearly indicated, no digression is allowed, no error possible. We wander on through the huge and massive gates of entrance, between the ranks of sacred animals. The worshipper is received into an ample court, but by degrees the walls on either side approach one another, the halls become less lofty, all is gradually tending towards one point. And thus we wander on, the sights and sounds of God's world without attract us no longer, we see nothing but the sacred representations which encompass us so closely, feel only the solemnity of the temple in which we stand. And the consecrated walls embrace us ever more and more closely, until at last we reach the lonely, resonant chamber occupied by the divinity himself, and entered by no human being save his priest." Schnaase, Kunstaeschirhtc I. 394.]
After a short time a young priest appeared with the intelligence that his superior awaited the Prince's visit. Psamtik had seated himself under the shadow of the sacred grove of silver poplars bordering the shores of the consecrated lake, holy to the great Neith. He rose immediately, crossed the temple-court, paved with stone and asphalte, on which the sun's rays were darting like fiery arrows, and turned into one of the long avenues of Sphinxes which led to the isolated Pylons before the gigantic temple of the goddess. He then passed through the principal gate, ornamented, as were all Egyptian temple-entrances, with the winged sun's disc. Above its widely-opened folding doors arose on either side, tower-like buildings, slender obelisks and waving flags. The front of the temple, rising from the earth in the form of an obtuse angle, had somewhat the appearance of a fortress, and was covered with colored pictures and inscriptions. Through the porch Psamtik passed on into a lofty entrance-chamber, and from thence into the great hall itself, the ceiling of which was strewn with thousands of golden stars, and supported by four rows of lofty pillars. Their capitals were carved in imitation of the lotus-flower, and these, the shafts of the columns, the walls of this huge hall, and indeed every niche and corner that met the eye were covered with brilliant colors and hieroglyphics. The columns rose to a gigantic height, the eye seemed to wander through immeasurable space, and the air breathed by the worshippers was heavy with the fragrance of Kyphi and incense, and the odors which arose from the laboratory attached to the temple. Strains of soft music, proceeding from invisible hands, flowed on unceasingly, only occasionally interrupted by the deep lowing of the sacred cows of Isis, or the shrill call of the sparrow-hawk of Horus, whose habitations were in one of the adjoining halls. No sooner did the prolonged low of a cow break like distant thunder on the ear, or the sharp cry of the sparrow-hawk shoot like a flash of lightning through the nerves of the worshippers, than each crouching form bent lower still, and touched the pavement with his forehead. On a portion of this pavement, raised above the rest, stood the priests, some wearing ostrich- feathers on their bald and shining heads; others panther-skins over their white-robed shoulders. Muttering and singing, bowing low and rising again, they swung the censers and poured libations of pure water to the gods out of golden vessels. In this immense temple man seemed a dwarf in his own eyes. All his senses even to the organs of respiration, were occupied by objects far removed from daily life, objects that thrilled and almost oppressed him. Snatched from all that was familiar in his daily existence, he seemed to grow dizzy and seek support beyond himself. To this the voice of the priests directed him and the cries of the sacred animals were believed to prove a divinity at hand.
Psamtik assumed the posture of a worshipper on the low, gilded and cushioned couch set apart for him, but was unable to pay any real devotion, and passed on to the adjoining apartment before mentioned, where the sacred cows of Isis-Neith and the sparrow-hawk of Horus were kept. These creatures were concealed from the gaze of the worshippers by a curtain of rich fabric embroidered with gold; the people were only allowed an occasional and distant glimpse of the adorable animals. When Psamtik passed they were just being fed; cakes soaked in milk, salt and clover-blossoms were placed in golden cribs for the cows, and small birds of many-colored plumage in the beautifully-wrought and ornamented cage of the sparrow-hawk. But, in his present mood, the heir to the throne of Egypt had no eye for these rare sights; but ascended at once, by means of a hidden staircase, to the chambers lying near the observatory, where the high-priest was accustomed to repose after the temple-service.
Neithotep, a man of seventy years, was seated in a splendid apartment. Rich Babylonian carpets covered the floor and his chair was of gold, cushioned with purple. A tastefully-carved footstool supported his feet, his hands held a roll covered with hieroglyphics, and a boy stood behind him with a fan of ostrich-feathers to keep away the insects.
The face of the old man was deeply lined now, but it might once have been handsome, and in the large blue eyes there still lay evidence of a quick intellect and a dignified self-respect.
His artificial curls had been laid aside, and the bald, smooth head formed a strange contrast to the furrowed countenance, giving an appearance of unusual height to the forehead, generally so very low among the Egyptians. The brightly-colored walls of the room, on which numerous sentences in hieroglyphic characters were painted, the different statues of the goddess painted likewise in gay colors, and the snow-white garments of the aged priest, were calculated to fill a stranger not only with wonder, but with a species of awe.
The old man received the prince with much affection, and asked:
"What brings my illustrious son to the poor servant of the Deity?"
"I have much to report to thee, my father;" answered Psamtik with a triumphant smile, "for I come in this moment from Amasis."
"Then he has at length granted thee an audience?"
"Thy countenance tells me that thou hast been favorably received by our lord, thy father."
"After having first experienced his wrath. For, when I laid before him the petition with which thou hadst entrusted me, he was exceeding wroth and nearly crushed me by his awful words."
"Thou hadst surely grieved him by thy language. Didst thou approach him as I advised thee, with lowliness, as a son humbly beseeching his father?"
"No, my father, I was irritated and indignant."
"Then was Amasis right to be wrathful, for never should a son meet his father in anger; still less when he hath a request to bring before him. Thou know'st the promise, 'The days of him that honoreth his father shall be many.'
[This Egyptian command hears a remarkable resemblance to the fifth in the Hebrew decalogue, both having a promise annexed. It occurs in the Prisse Papyrus, the most ancient sacred writing extant.]
In this one thing, my scholar, thou errest always; to gain thine ends thou usest violence and roughness, where good and gentle words would more surely prevail. A kind word hath far more power than an angry one, and much may depend on the way in which a man ordereth his speech. Hearken to that which I will now relate. In former years there was a king in Egypt named Snefru, who ruled in Memphis. And it came to pass that he dreamed, and in his dream his teeth fell out of his mouth. And he sent for the soothsayers and told them the dream. The first interpreter answered: 'Woe unto thee, O king, all thy kinsmen shall die before thee!' Then was Snefru wroth, caused this messenger of evil to be scourged, and sent for a second interpreter. He answered: 'O king, live for ever, thy life shall be longer than the life of thy kinsmen and the men of thy house!' Then the king smiled and gave presents unto this interpreter, for though the interpretations were one, yet he had understood to clothe his message in a web of fair and pleasant words. Apprehendest thou? then hearken to my voice, and refrain from harsh words, remembering that to the ear of a ruler the manner of a man's speech is weightier than its matter."
"Oh my father, how often hast thou thus admonished me! how often have I been convinced of the evil consequences of my rough words and angry gestures! but I cannot change my nature, I cannot . . ."
"Say rather: I will not; for he that is indeed a man, dare never again commit those sins of which he has once repented. But I have admonished sufficiently. Tell me now how thou didst calm the wrath of Amasis."
"Thou knowest my father. When he saw that he had wounded me in the depths of my soul by his awful words, he repented him of his anger. He felt he had been too hard, and desired to make amends at any price."
"He hath a kindly heart, but his mind is blinded, and his senses taken captive," cried the priest. "What might not Amasis do for Egypt, would he but hearken to our counsel, and to the commandments of the gods!"
"But hear me, my father! in his emotion he granted me the life of Phanes!"
"Thine eyes flash, Psamtik! that pleaseth me not. The Athenian must die, for he has offended the gods; but though he that condemns must let justice have her way, he should have no pleasure in the death of the condemned; rather should he mourn. Now speak; didst thou obtain aught further?"
"The king declared unto me to what house Nitetis belongs."
"And further naught?"
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