Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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extracts from the Psalms and Gospels, and an Arabic trans-
ktion beside it. I asked the old man whether he could read
Coptic ; he answered in the affirmative, but thought that
his children could read better than himself, his eyes had
already become feeble. I sat myself down upon the mat, and
the whole troop of great and smaU yeUow-brown children
and grandchildren of the old priest squatted down around
me. I asked the eldest lad to read a little, and he imme-
diately began not to read, but to sing with the greatest
fluency — that is to say, to chant in rough grumbling tones.
I interrupted him, and asked him now to read slowly in
his usual voice; he did it with far greater difficulty, and
with many mistakes, which his younger brother sometimes
corrected over his shoulder; but when I went so far as to
inquire the meaning of the individual words, he pointed
coolly to the Arabic translation, and thought it was ex-
plained there, and wanted to read this aloud to me; he
could tell me nothing as to the single words, not even about
the value of the single letters over the paragraphs, nor,
indeed, could the old man have done that at any time.
Aftenvards I made them show me the other treasures in
the way of books belonging to the church, which were
immediately brought in a great cloth tied together at the
four corners, containing some prayer-books very much worn.


some of them in Coptic, some in Arabic. I left a small
present behind for the good of the church, and had rode
on a little farther, when one of the boys overtook me, bring-
ing me breathless a small consecrated kind of biscuit cake,
stamped with a Coptic cross and a Greek inscription,
which gift I was obliged to repay by a second bakscJiisch.
These are the Epigoni, the most genuine, unmixed descen-
dants of the old Pbaraonic nation that once conquered Asia
and Ethiopia, and led its prisoners from the north and
south into the great hall of Karnak before Ammon ; in wliose
wisdom Moses was educated, and with whose priesthood the
Greek sages went to school.

Aegypte, Aegypte ! religioniim tuarum soJce supererv/nt
fahulcB, (sque incredihiles posteris,- solaque supererunt verba
lapidihus incisa tua pui facta narrantihus, et inhahitahit Aegyp-
tum, Scythes, aut Indus, aut aliquis talis, id est vicina har-

AV^e now know the meaning of this aliquis which Hermes
Trismegistus then knew not how to explain ; it is the Turks,
who at present dwell in the fields of Osiris,

At the foot of our hill, in the direction of the green plain,
stands a single group of Sont-trees. which overshadow a
pleasant reservoir nicely lined witli stones ; here the sheep
and goats are daily brought to water, and every evening and
morning the dark girls and veiled women descend from
their rock- caves, returning afterwards with a slow step, thieir
tall water-jugs on their heads ; a lovely picture from the
patriarchal times. But close to where the refreshing element
is found there is a bare white spot in the middle of the
fertile plain: on this, two limekilns are erected, in which,
as often as they are wanted, the very best blocks of the
ancient temples and rock-grottoes, with their images and

* Apuleii Asclepius sive dlahgus Hermetis Trismegisti, c. 24. — (" Oh
Egypt I Egypt! fables alone of thy religion will survive, equally in-
comprehensible to thy descendants; and words cut into stone will
alone remain telling of thy pious deeds, and the Scythian, or one from
the Indus, or some such neighbouring barbarian, will inhabit Egypt.")


inscriptions, are pounded and burnt into lime, that tliey may
again cement together other blocks, which are extracted
from these convenient and inexhaustible stone-quarries, for
some cattle-btaU or other structure for government purposes.

The same day that I visited the Coptic church, I was
deairouis of riding from that spot to the village of Kom el
BiBAT, which is situated on the other side of the great lake
of llabu, now drv. To my no small surprise, my guide, the
excellent old 'Auad, who I have engaged to be my servant
while here, on account of his great knowledge of the locality,
informed me that he could not accompany me thither, he even
almost alirank from pronouncing the name of the village, and
could not be persuaded to give me any information about it,
and about his strange behaviour. It was only when I got
home that I learnt the ground of his refusal from others,
and afterwards also from himself. Above seven or eight
years ago a man was killed in the house of the Sheikh of
Quma, to whose household 'Auad then belonged; how it
happened is not yet made out. In consequence of this cir-
cumstance, the whole family of the murdered man emigrated
from this place, and settled in Kom el Birat. Ever since
the law of vengeance for blood has hung over the two families.
Not a single member of that family has from that time trod
the ground of Qurna; and if 'Auad, or any other individual
from the Sheikh's house were to be seen in that village, any
one of the injured family would be justified in killing him
openly. This is the ancient Arabic custom.*

I turn from my wanderings through the ruins of the great
royal city, and through the changes of thousands of years
which have passed over them, to our castle on the detached
hill of Abd el Qurna. Wilkinson and Hay have rendered
an essential service to later travellers by building up the
habitable rooms, which, from our being desirous of spending
a long time in Thebes, we have profited by. A broad, con-
venient road leads by windings from the plain to a spacious

* I did not imagrino, when I wrote this down, that this crime of blood
would so speedily be avenged. See Letter XXXIV,


court, the left side of which (the mountain side) is formed
by a long shady colonnade ; beyond this there are several
habitable rooms. At the end of the court stands a single
watch-tower, on which the Prussian flag waves, and beside it
a small house with two rooms, one above the other, the
lowest of which I occupy myself. There is no want of
accommodation either for the kitchen department, the ser-
vants, and the asses.

The wide, boundless prospect across the Theban plain
over the wall of the court, low on the inner side, but with a
deep fall externally, is most beautiful and enchanting. The
eye from this point, and still more perfectly from the sum-
mit of the tower, or from the top of the hill rising directly
behind our dwelling, commands all, that still remains of
Ancient Thebes. In front of us the splendid ruins of the
Memnonia, from the angle of the hills at Quma on our
left, to the lofty Pylones, whicli tower up above the mounds
of ruins of Medinet Habu on our right; then the green
meadow encircled by the broad Nile, from which the solitary
Colossi of Amenophis rise on the right hand, and beyond the
river the groups of temples at Karnak and Luqsor, behind
which tlie lower plain extends several hours farther to the
clear outline of the sliglitly undulating Arabic ranges, which
every morning were lit up by the first rays of the sun casting
a wonderful richness of colouring over the valley and rocky
desert all around us. There is no other spectacle in the
world that I can compare with this, a scene which daily im-
presses us with fresh wonders and delight ; but it reminds
me perhaps of the view, for two years before my window,
looking down from the Tarpeian Eock, which comprised the
whole of Ancient Eome from the Aventine, with the Tiber
at its foot, to the Quirinal, and beyond that the undulating
Campagna, with the beautiful profile of the Alban hills
(strikingly like those we now behold) in the background.

We never, however, look out into the distant country
without being peculiarly attracted to the silvery water-high-
way, and without our eyes following the pointed sails, which


may bring us letters or travellers from the Xortli. "U^inter
licre, as iu all other places, is the season of sociability. Xot
a week passes that we do not see several guests among us.
A stranger's book, which I have placed here for future tra-
vellers, and furnished with an introduction, was inaugurated
(ju New Year's Day by our own signatures. Since then
above thirty names have been added, although the book has
hitherto been kept exclusively iu our castle, and will only
be handed over to our faithful castellan 'Auad on our de-

On Christmas Eve we for the third time selected a palm
for our Christmas-tree. This sjTubol, still more beauti-
ful than our fir-tree, was decorated with lights and small
irifts. Our artists celebrated the cheerlul festival in other

iiaginative ways, and an illuminated Christmas crib, exe-
cuted in the t}-]^)ical manner, and placed at the end of the
long rock-passage, was most successful.

As it is natural to expect, England is by far the most
numerously represented among travellers; the French are

lOre rarely seen, but among their numbers I must mention
I he well-known and amiable savant Ampere, who, as he told
lue, intends to spend several months in this country, in order
lo make some solid progress in his Egyptian studies.* "We
are not, however, without some of oiu' Grerman countrymen,
and one beautiful Sunday morning, at the close of the year,
we had the pleasure of seeing Lie. Strauss, the son of the
iourt chaplain iu Berlin, and his cousin Dr. EJrafft. We were
just about to begin our simple Sunday service, which ever
siuce Abeken, our dear friend and former preacher of the
desert, has quitled us, 1 have been in the habit of conducting

* I have since been informed (7?^y. Arch., vol. iv. p. 82) that M
AmpL-re ha.i U-cn expressly sent to Egypt by the Paris Academy, for
the purpose of cupviii}; tlic bilingual inscription atPhilae, which 1 have
noticed in mv letters. i>ec above, p. 121. The exceedingly abridged
representation of the Demotic text, which was communicated by M, de
Pauley in the Jit cue ArchtuUHjique, is borrowed from the copy which
was taken back to I'aris, in wliich, however, the commencement ot
tlie Demotic lines, and along with them the date of the decree, arc



myself. I therefore immediately resigned my place to one
of these two rev. gentlemen, which more befitted them than
me ; and as it happened that we had with us the very ser-
mons written by the two fathers of our dear guests, one of
these was selected for a discourse.

Messrs. Seuffeeheld and Dr. Bagge, from Frankfort,
visited us almost simultaneously with them, and soon after-
wards our friend Dr. Sciiledehatjs from Alexandria, with
the Austrian painter Sattlee, and when Messrs. Strauss and
Krafft called on us a second time, on their journey back, they
met some other guests here, Messrs. TA^nt, Stamm, Schwab,
and the Assessor von Rohe, from Berlin. This very day
twelve Germans (nine of them Prussians) sat down to dinner
with us.


On the Retl Sea, hetici en Gebcl ZcU and Tor.

GT:n. SEID HrssE>-. 275

Weideiibach accompanied me, iu order to give me some
aasiiJtance in the drawings, which would be absolutely re-
quired; besides him, I took our Dragoman Jussuf along
with me, the Kawai^s Ibraliim Aga, Gabre Mariam, and
two additional servants. AVe first went down the Nile as
&r a» Qeneh. After it became dark and the stars had
Bsen, the conversation, which had hitherto been animated,
ceased, and, Ipug on the deck, I watched the star of Isis,'
the sparkling Sothis (Sirius), this Polar star of Egy23tian
chronok>gy, aa it gradually ascended over our heads. Our
two oarsmen were only too musically inclined, and went
tbrough their whole stock of songs, quivering them with
imiumenible repetitions, sometimes interrupted by the short
cry of >Scherk, Gharh (East, West), which was softly answered
by the feeble and obedient boy's voice of our little steersman.
Half waking, half dreaming, we then glided down the river
till about midnight, when the Arab quivering also ceased;
the strokes of the oar became fainter, and at length the boat
was left entirely to the waves. The rising of the moon in
her K'ust quarter, and dawning day, first aroused them to
reneweil activity.

We arrived early in Qeneh, where we were very kindly
received in the house of the illustrious Se'id Hussen. He is
the important man through whose hands all our letters pass,
both going and coming, and Avho is thus highly deserving of
our gratitude. He and his two sons were of great assistance
to ua in obtaining the innumerable things which were re-
quisite for our departure for the desert, which we were
desirous of accelerating as much as possible. Meanwhile, I
was delighted with the patriarchal manners which prevailed
iu this most estimable Arabian family. All business was
carried on there, as it is throughout the East, in public, and
most commonly in the street. In front of each house there
is a long divan, another in the room ; friends come in, make
a short salutation, sit down almost unnoticed, and business
goes on as usual. Guests of higher rank are offered coffee,
or the long pipe. Slaves stand round, ready at the slightest


276 MA>>EES or AEA.EIA>' rAMILT.

sign. Acquaintance of inferior rank kiss the hand of the
master of the house, even if they are only passers by ; they
do it all seriously and quietly, without the least demonstra-
tion of feeling, but with the usual greetings, frequently
murmured for a long time from one to another. If there is
no more space left on the divan, or if it is occupied by per-
sons of higher rank, the new comer squats down on the
ground beside it. Every one rises and goes at his pleasure,
and, what strikes us as very singular, without any parting
words, though the forms of greeting are so long. The
master of the house, also, quits his guests without any salu-
tation, if the visitor is not a person of distinction ; wlien sucl»
is the case, he is frequently detained for a long while by
the monotonous, and almost always empty, conversation.
This domestic life in the street, sucli as prevailed more or
less among the ancient Greeks and ]{omans, and which is so
fundamentally difterent from the life in our studies and
oiHces, is closely uuited with the Eastern character in gene-
ral. Individuals always deport themselves with propriety
and reserve, but they are compliant, and ready for anything
that occurs. In respectable fandlies, such as this, there
also exists an amiable ri'ligious feeling, originating in a true
and kindly disj)osition. Old llussen is above seventy, with
a white beard, but, in spite of his age, taking a lively interest
in all that occurs, and meeting ever}' one in a friendly man-
ner. The two sons, who are nearly fifty, carry on the
business. They treat the old man with extreme reverence.
Both are great smokers, but they never smoke in the pre-
sence of their father ; this would be regarded as a want of
tlie respect which is due to him ; they immediately lay aside
their pipes when he enters. In the evening after supper,
when it would have been too great a privation to resign
them, the sons sit in front of the thresliold to smoke ; while
we, as the guests, sit with the old man in the room, they
only take part in the conversation through the open door.

The evening before our departure we visited a manufac-
toiy of the celebrated Qulleh (cooling vessels), 200,000 of


which are annually made ; and also the field from ^vhIch the
cUv of which they are made is taken. It is only one Eeddan
(160 sijiiare roods) in extent.

After spendin^^ a couple of days at Qeneh, we quitted it,
on the 6th March, with fifteen camels. The first day we
only rode three hours, as far as the copious spring of Bib
AifBAK, charminijly situated between Palms and Nebek-
trces.* and provided by Ibrahim Pascha with a dome-shaped
buildini^ for tlu* caravans. AVe also reached early on the
followinpf day the second night-encampment, at the station
of Leqeta. Tlie ancient road to Kosser from Koptos, the
prcRont Quft, the mounds of which we saw in the distance on
our riE:ht hand, leads immediately to the projecting moun-
tains of Kl (^orn (the Horns). AVe did not descend into
the broad Kosser road until we approached these mountains,
and arter a march of six hours arrived at Leqeta at the junc-
tion of the roads from Qeneh, Quft (Koptos), Qiis (the ancient
Kcoc or ApoUinopoJis parva), and a fourth road, also, lead-
int; direct Irom Luqsor hither. Five wells furnisli here a
supply of tolerably c:ood water; two buildings, with domes
lialf fallen down, are destined for the reception of travellers,

I here noticed a trait of Arabian hospitality which I must
also mention. At our last repast at Qeneh a fresh draught
of the delicious Nile water was brought me in an orna-
mental izilt cup, decorated with pious sayings from the
Koran. 1 was pleased with its simple and yet agreeable
form, the segment of a sphere, and expressed this to old
Uus94*n, without anticipating the answer I immediately re-
ceivod :— " The cup belongs to you." As I had nothing
about me which I could give in return for the gift, I went
away shortly after, declining the civility, and left the cup
standing unnoticed. That night, when I went to rest, I
found it placed beside my bed, but the following morning I
gave express orders that it should not be packed up.
We started on our journey, and in Leqeta, where for the
Hrat time 1 opened my trav*elling-bag, my surprise was great
• lifiamnus nabeca, Wilkinson, Mod. Eg. and Thebes— Te.


when the first thing I beheld was the cup carefully placed
withm it. Gabre Mariam had closed mj baggage, and in
reply to my almost angry inquiry how it was that the cup
was here, contrary to my order, he confessed that he had been
obliged to place it at the top, by the express wish of old Seid
Hussen. I was now, indeed, compelled to yield, and to
think of some present for him, on my return.

We again started from Leqeta the same evening, and rode
three hours farther to an old station, at the Gebel Maauad,
very little used now, and deficient in water. Our Arabs,
from the tribe of the Ag'aize, are not so animated as the
Ababde, or Bischariin, and their camels are also inferior.

After Gebel Maauad, we entered the hilly, sandy plain of
QsuE EL Benat, and after another pass, the plain of Kesch-
EAScni. At the end of this, Gebel .Abu Gueii rises on the
left, upon wliich we turned our backs and went to the right,
round an angle of rock, on the precipitous sides of which,
composed of sandstone, 1 found engraved the Shields of
the sun-worshipper Amenophis IV,, along with his consort,
and over it the Sun, with rays spread out like hands around
it. Their names, as everywliere else, were partly erased,
although tlie King had not yet altered his name into that of
Bech-en-atex. Towards mid-day we entered the primitive
mountain range, and in tluve-quarters of au hour arrived at
the well of Hamamat.

There appears to have been an ancient Coptic settlement
here, and the broad well, about 80 feet deep, lined with
stones, into whieh there is a descent by a winding staircase,
is even now ascribed by the Arabs to the Xazarenes (the
Christians). The ancient stone-quarries, which were onr
most immediate object, were situated another half hour from
the well.

I pitched my head-quarters here, in a spacious grotto
covered with Egyptian and Greek inscriptions, as, by a hasty
survey, we easily perceived that we should find work which
would occupy us for several days. The ancient Egyptians,
who were great lovers and eminent connoisseurs of remark-


able kinds of stone, had here found a bed of precious green
breccia, and beside it, also, some beautiful dark-coloured
veins of granite, which were worked as early as the 6tli
Dynasty, rather more than B.C. 2000. There are numerous
menjurial uiscriptious en^aved on the surrounding rocks
binet' lluit perittd. Among them there are several especially
deseniDg notice, from the time of the Persian Government.
The hiero^lypliic shields of Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes, Arta-
xerxea, are indeed abnost alone known in this spot ; and a
ro\u architect from the Dynasty of the Psammeteci,

ha.> < his whole pedigree, no less than twenty-three

I'amuiee, wiiu, without one exception, held this important post,
and some of them also, in connection with high priestly
hoQours. An ancestral mother stands at the bead of the
long series, who must have lived nearly 700 years before the
la^t link of the chain. A groat number of Greek Proscyne-
mata, allow us to infer that the stuue-quarries were still used
in the time of the Greeks aud Komans. For five whole
days we were occupied from morning to night with copying
and taking impressions, to the continual wonder of the small
caruNans which we saw almost daily pass before us, as the
principal road by wliich the pilgrims of Upper Egypt, and
a greal pari of the Sudan, pass to Kosser and Mecca, leads
through this valley.

My original phui had been to go from Qeneli to Kosser,
and to embark thence for Tor. As the voyage, however,
i»ccupies a great deal of time, I was very glad to learn in
C^eueli that there is also a road from Ilamamat, across the
mountain eliain to Gebel Zeit, nearly opposite Tor. I there-
fore determined to take that road, difficult, indeed, but in-
teresting, and far shorter. At the same time I sent a mes-
^e^g^•r in advance to Kosser to give orders that a vessel
should start for Gebel Zeit without delay, and await us

In Damamal 1 had also a severe contest with the Arabs,
who suddenly became apprehensive of the long road, but
little known luid almost devoid of water, and who wanted


rather to guide us by Kosser along the coast. But as luv
principal object was to visit certain ancient stone-quarries in
the lofty mountain range, I threatened, if they did not keep
their word, to write to the Pascha, and I made them respon-
sible for all the consequences. Thus after long capitulations
I accomplished my plan. Nevertheless, it was still very
nearly upset, as, on the evening before our departure, we
were almost poisoned by the carelessness of our cook, who
had allowed some vinegar to stand in copper vessels. How-
ever, we recovered happily after a night of great sufieriug,
and on the 13th INIarch started from Hamamat.

"We had brought with us six barrels full of water from
Qeneh ; the camel-drivers were worse provided, and must
consequently have suftered much from thirst. l^esides
SeUm, our old trustworthy guide of the caravan, 1 had
brought with me in addition a special guide from Qeneh,
Selim, who was said to bo well acquainted with the moun-
tainous district between Hamamat and Gebel Ze'it, although
he had only made the journey once before, above twelve years
ago; and under his guidance, we got in two days as far as
GrEBEL Fatireh. After great labour and long searching, we
re-discovered the remains of the ancient colony of workmen,
who quarried here a beautiful black and white granite. From
this point, however, the ignorance of the guide was mani-
fested in many ways. On the evening of the 15th of March
we arrived at a high water-shed, and were compelled to pass
the night on the hard rocky ground, there being no possi-
bility of pitching a tent. The following day, Palm Sunday,
we suddenly came early in the morning upon a steep preci-
pice, which descends about SOO feet between the two chains
of the MuNFiEii mountain range. It seemed impossible to
pass the steep and dangerous path with a caravan. The

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 24 of 54)