Luxor, Egypt

Tuesday, March 12, 1929

The Tombs of the Kings are open only on alternate days and until noon. Thus I arose before seven and was across the peaceful Nile before seven-twenty, by means of the native ferry boat. The morning was perfect, keen pure air, a blue sky, and the sun not yet hot. I started out on my long walk past a couple of small clusters of mud huts and a village surrounded by mud walls; over a dry canal, past a large field of sugar-cane and past many people going to town, walking or on a small donkey. Soon I could see the two colossi of Memnon through the two long rows of trees that shaded the road. 3,000 years ago Amenophis III had these huge statues made and set in front of his mortuary temple, which now exists no more. They represent him seated on his throne with his mother and wife on either side and an unrecognized small statue between his legs. Each was originally of one block of stone, difficult to work because of its hardness. The southern statue is 65 feet high. The missing legs measures 19½ feet from sole to knee, each foot 10 feet, shoulders 20 ft. broad each, arm from tip of finger to elbow 15½ ft. About 27 B.C. the northern one was broken in two by an earthquake. Since then it has been called the Colossus of Memnon because it emitted at sunrise a plaintive musical sound that recalled to the Romans and Greeks the tragic death of mythical Memnon, son of Eos or Aurora. Mythology tells us that Memnon, who fell at Troy, appeared at Thebes as a singing stone statue and at break of day used to greet his mother, Aurora, with his sweet, plaintive, musical song. The goddess, hearing his cry, shed her pearly tears, in the form of morning dew, on the cold stone of the statue that stood in the Theban plain. This phenomenon was lately explained by science. The dampness absorbed during night-time by the shattered, gigantic stone, emitted musical strains in its passage out through the crevices of the colossus at dawn. About A.D. 193–211, Septimus Severus crudely repaired it. When the cracks were filled, the giant became dumb.

Half mile farther on and to the right is the mortuary temple of Ramses II, the Ramsesseum, which he dedicated to Amon, the president of the gods. Much of this noble temple is in ruins. Many tall columns still rear their lotus-capitaled shafts toward the heavens. In the ruined first court lies the colossal statue of Ramses the Great. It originally weighed about 1,000 tons, but today it is broken and all scattered about. The head and shoulders remain intact, though. It was about 57½ ft. high. The dimensions are almost unbelievable: ear 3½ ft., breast from shoulder to shoulder 22½ ft., index fingers 3¼ ft., nail of middle finger 7½”; circumference of arm at elbow 17½ ft. The larger pylon depicts battle scenes, but much is in ruins. Other parts are in various stages of decay. However, there is still much to be seen of scriptures, etc., some even retaining the colors.

I did not remain here long, but hurried on toward the Valley of the Kings. I went out of the way some to visit a hill of shaley rock, honeycombed with tombs dug far back under the hill and many far down into the hill. Not much of anything in most of them. The walls were hewn roughly from the living rock, the roof supported by pillars of stone left uncut. In some were mummy wrappings and bones scattered about. A few were inscribed with pictures.

From this hill I had an excellent view of the famous Temple of Queen Hatshepsut al Der al Bahari. It is built in terraces on a wide open space, bounded at its further [end] by the semi-circular wall of cliffs which divides this space from the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings; it is approached from the plain through a shallow gorge, both sides of which are honeycombed  with tombs. The Great Queen called it Tcheser Tcheseru, i.e., Holy of Holies. The site was not cleared till 1858 and was found to be a funerary temple like the Ramsesseum and the great temple at Midinat Habu. It was approached by an avenue of sphinxes, 42 ft. wide and 437 yards long. This avenue has disappeared as has all but the foundations of a wall enclosing the temple. The two terraces are reached by means of an incised approach. The two terraces are supported by low pillars inscribed, as are the walls in back of them. A roof protects these bas reliefs which depict religious scenes and the rejoicings which took place at Thebes on the return of the successful expedition to Punt. Her name has been scratched off by Thothmes III, her ward, who hated her. Amenophis IV tried to erase Amen’s name to replace his own god’s there, and Ramses II in repairing the damage added his own wherever possible. The building is 800 ft. long. Hatsheput is always represented in male attire and even a beard is attributed to her. Only when she is represented as a goddess is she in feminine role.

Just south of Deir al-Bahari and but a few feet from it is the Temple of Menthu-Hetep Neb-hap-Ra. This is the oldest of the temples at Thebes, dating from 2500 B.C. It too is backed by this large serrated cliff. A platform was cut out of the living rock which was approached by stairs or a ramp. Then a pyramid was built on this. A colonnade, a wall, and another colonnade were built around this. But the base of the pyramid and of the pillars [are all that] now remain.

Planning to return and see more another day, I hurried on up a steep rough path, up the side of the cliff, along the top and to the other side. There far below lay the barren Valley of the Kings, completely hemmed in by tall cliffs and high, rocky, shaley mountains. A winding road leads into this bowl depression through a narrow gorge.  The sun was well overhead by now and burned down furiously. The barren rocky valley seemed to catch the heat and hold it. Not a breath of air was stirring. I dodged into the first tomb I came to for relief from the heat. It happened to be that of Seti I, the most interesting and important of all the royal tombs. It was discovered in 1817. The tomb is entered by means of two flights of steps down, and a passage terminating in a well. Beyond this are two chambers having 4 and 2 pillars respectively , and to the left are small chambers and halls which lead to the large six-pillared hall and vaulted chamber in which stood the sarcophagus of Seti I. Another inclined plane descends into the mountain, making the total length nearly 500 ft. and the depth 150 ft.

The mummy was found at Dêr al-Baharî in 1904 (?) when it was hidden by the priests in some time of disturbance. The beautiful sarcophagus is in London. Paintings and inscriptions cover the walls and roof, of mythological and religious scenes, which refer to the passage of the sun, and of the king also, through the Underworld. On the sloping sections of the walls is a copy of the “Book of the Praisings of Ra” and on those of the chambers, 11 of the 12 sections of the “Book of That Which is in the Underworld.” For some extraordinary reason the 12th is omitted. The tomb was evidently not finished at the time of the king’s death for some of the figures of gods, etc. are only traced in outline and the scribe was stopped so suddenly in his work that he even left the section he was doing unfinished.

The excellence and beauty of the sculptures and paintings are striking. Colors still retain their luster after nearly 3,700 years. And what is more amazing—so many of the figures are raised, not only here but also in other tombs and temples. Here the whole series refers to the life of the king in the Underworld. When you stand in one of these dim subterranean chambers, it gives you a feeling of awe and curiosity.

All the tombs were built on the same general plans, the main differences being due to the length of time taken in building them, the power and wealth of the king, and structural difficulties. This valley, generally known as the Eastern Valley, contains tombs of the kings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties. They were all made between 1700 B.C. and 1050 B.C. during the most flourishing period of Egyptian history.

One of the commonest religious views of the Egyptians was that the Tuat, or Underworld, a long, narrow valley which ran parallel with Egypt, and was neither above nor below the level of this Earth. It had a river flowing through the whole length of it. This valley began on the west bank of the Nile, ran due north, bent around toward the east when the Delta was approached, and terminated at the place where the sun rose. It was divided into 10 sections; at each end was a sort of vestibule or chamber. The ante-chamber at its beginning was called Amentet and was a place of gloom; as the passenger through this valley went onwards, each of the first five sections grew darker and darker until at the end of the fifth section the darkness was absolute. As the passenger moved on through the last five sections, the darkness grew less and less dense, until at the end of the tenth section he entered the chamber, the gloom of which resembled the chamber at the beginning of the valley.

The whole night, which was supposed to consist of twelve hours, was needed to pass through the Tuat and the two chambers and ten main divisions of it were traversed each in one hour. The Tuat was a difficult place to pass through, for portions of it were filled with hideous monsters and horrible reptiles and a lake of boiling and stinking water. Religious tradition declared that the sun god Ra had made his way in it seated in his boat, but that he was only enabled to do so by employing his words of magical power, and by the exercise of the functions of deity. The priests declared that they possessed the knowledge of such words of power, and people believed that if they learned them, and learned to recognize the various divisions of the Tuat and the beings in them by means of the pictures which the priests provided, they could make the journey through the Tuat in safety, and would rise in the next world with the Sun.

This belief presided over the building of the royal tombs of the 18th dynasty, and the priests who superintended the work made them of long, narrow corridors like the Tuat. When the body was deposited in the tomb, the priests repeated the words of power which Ra was believed to have uttered, and performed ceremonies in imitation of those of the acts of the god so their king would surely be able to pass through Tuat and would rise with the sun to a new life in the next world. The sun-god traversed this valley each night in his boat and, of course, rose each day; the aim, then, of every one of his worshipers was to secure a passage in his boat, for if only this could be obtained, resurrection was certain. The doctrine was that all who died during the day made their way to Amentet where, provided they were equipped with the knowledge of the necessary “divine words,” they entered the boat of the sun-god. When they arrived at the kingdom of Osiris at midnight, they were judged and the blessed were rewarded, and the wicked annihilated; this done, the boat of the sun-god passed on toward the east where, having destroyed all the nature powers of night and darkness, i.e., cloud, mist, rain, etc., he rose on this world in glorious strength, and the souls who had chosen to stay with him rejoiced in renewed light and were happy.

The inscriptions on these tombs were written to effect this object and may be grouped into three divisions:

I. The Book of the Praisings, or Litanies of Ra, which contains 75 short paragraphs; each paragraph supplies one of Ra’s names and a certain attribute.

II. The Book of the Gates, i.e., the 12 gates or pylons of the 12 divisions of Tuat. This book gave the names of the gates and their guardians, and described the various beings that were to be found in each section, and the texts repeated the addresses made to Ra, and the answers which Ra made to them. One portion of this book is exceedingly old and the sympathetic magic described in it must date from pre-dynastic times.

III. The Book of that which is in the Underworld which treats of the 12 divisions of the Underworld and contains texts, the knowledge of which was of vital importance to the deceased. It describes at some length the kingdom of the god Seker, and the monster serpents that guard it, and reveals the belief in the existence of a place of doom where the darkness was impenetrable and the depth unfathomable.

The tombs of Ramses I and Ramses III, Thothmes III, and others that I visited are in the main similar to that of Seti I, though usually much smaller and not so elaborate. Tut-Ankh-Amen’s tomb is not very large, and the burial chamber is hardly 30 feet from ground level. Steps lead down to an incline at the bottom of which is a small room or vestibule; in an adjoining room of lower level is the beautifully carved sarcophagus and in it, covered by a glass, the outer gold mummy case. The rock staircase to the ante-room is but 27 feet long. To the left is a small low opening leading to an annex which was full of furniture and precious objects, now in Cairo. The Sepulchral Hall is 25 by 12. In it is the pink sarcophagus and a dismantled shrine wrapped in cotton and muslin leans against the walls hiding the inscriptions and paintings there. When the mummy case was opened in 1925, three years after the discovery of the tomb, the mummy was found to be in a very bad state of preservation and scientists revealed that Tut faded out at sweet 18. His mummy was covered with precious ornaments of gold and precious stones and his head and shoulders were encased in a solid gold mask.

When I had finished seeing the tombs (because they closed them), I found a cool spot under a cliff and stowed away a lunch of sardines, bread, and a hard-boiled egg. The climb over the ridge was plenty hot. It was one, and the temperature in the valley was certainly no less than 95°. Had a nice long rest at the top of the ridge and discarded my sweater and shirt because of the heat. I then became real ambitious and climbed to the summit of the range of mountains bordering the fertile valley. This took 40 minutes due to the excessive heat— consequently many rests. The view was worth the climb. From this point of vantage, 1,600 feet above the plain, the whole Nile valley spread itself before my feet, meandering to the north and south like some huge tortured serpent. On either side a narrow strip of green fields clung desperately to the life-giving river. The desert to the southeast crouched down near the river. Below, to the north, lay the tombs of the kings and to the southeast a small valley containing the tombs of the queens. A high, eroded ridge of mountains shuts out the Liberian Desert. To the east, far down on the flat plain, ruins of the Ramsesseum and nearby Madinet-Habu, defy time and heat. At the edge of the desert, the two colossi stand guard. Such a scene is hard to get to and harder to leave. But after an hour, I again pressed the groaning dogs into service for the descent. Such a view is not to be forgotten, and I celebrated by slipping on some loose rocks in a narrow steep gorge, and sliding down on my back and bare shoulders, carrying plenty of real estate on top of me.

Near Derxal Bahari I visited several tombs, one containing a pile of over a half dozen mummies in various stages of decomposition. In another I came across a small mummy chamber (?) full of fragments of inscribed stones. These (4) I wrapped in my sweater and put that in my helmet. Then, annexing the guide book and camera, I set out across the hot, dusty, stony road  to Madinet-Habu. Having no free hand, the flies took unfair advantage of the situation and flew in a swarm about my head, trying to get in my ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. I expanded the English language, but they didn’t take the hint. Thus, when I got to the shade of a huge pylon where I could rest my aching arms and swing on the flies, I felt worse than a wreck.

Madinet-Habu is a collection of several temples and similar to the Ramesseum in a way. There are some beautiful colonnades and numerous inscriptions of such vicious scenes as Ramses III hunting enemies with a club and smiting them; or of Ramses III torturing his prisoners by cutting off their hands, etc. I met a couple of Egyptian scouts there with a Mr. Harna Fam, who is the secretary of the Y at Asimt and who had two degrees from Chicago U. My speech refused to function till I had tipped the gate-keeper for a glass and a half of precious H2O. I determined to use patience and tolerance with all flies on the long tramp to Luxor, instead of adjectives and nouns. Seeing they could learn no more, they desisted and I arrived, or rather dragged in with me a ton of rocks, just in time to see another marvelous sunset over the Thebean Hills.

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