Richard Lepsius.

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

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of the dead, embalming them, and swathing them, and
shutting them up in double and triple sarcophagi, made of
the strongest wood, and the hardest stone, which were
buried in deep pits, and in laboriously excavated rock-cham-
bers. Even in the most peaceful times this nation appears
always to have anticipated the possibility of future hostile
invasions, and of barbarous and rapacious races ; for that
reason they so ingeniously closed the large granite sarco-
phagi by means of metal rods, which only fell down into
the holes prepared for them in the sides, at the last
thrust of the cover, which was driven drawer-like in, so that
the sarcophagi could only be opened by the destruction of
the colossal masses of stone. They also endeavoured to
guard even the passage which led to the sarcophagi cham-
bers by heavy stone trap-doors, and by ingeniously building
up the walls, so as to divert the attention, and to protect
them in every other possible way from inroad and desecra-
tion, i'or that reason many subterranean tombs are un-
doubtedly still hidden from ns ; only a few tombs of kings are
known, and many important monuments will still be dis-
covered in the inexhaustible necropoli of ^lemphis, Abydos,
and Thebes.

However, we already possess such an abundant supply of
works of art, and other things belonging to daily life, from
the earliest, down to the latest times of the Pharaonic Mo-
narchy, that these in themselves alone, considered only ob-
jectively, would form an extremely important source of
knowledge concerning the mode of life in ancient Eg\'pt.
The great work of JS'apoleon, the " Descripion de VEgrjpte''


has splendidly demonstrated liow much in fact maj be gained
by such an objective examination of the monuments ; it con-
tains matter that will always deserve praise, and a rich
treasure was collected for the cause of science, althouo-h
the key to the hieroglyphics had not yet been discovered,
and consequently all the monuments being chronologically
uncomprehended, or "wrongly comprehended, stood beside
each other, as in a picture without perspective, on one plane

This very work, however, is an evident proof of what coidd
not be done, even with the greatest expenditure of means
and learning, without aid obtained from the inscriptions.
The history of the people in all its varied development re-
mained dark and fabulous as before. It is the same with
the monuments of all nations, which have come down to
us either without any written character, or with it unde-
ciphered, like those of our own heathen ancestors, or of the
aborigines of South America, or even of the Babylonians.
History profits very little by them.

The Egyptians, however, from the beginning, exhibit, even
on this higher stage, their historical sense and vocation.
According to the Eg}-ptian annals, it was the same King
Tosorthros who gained the highest reputation relative to the
perpetuity of the history of Egypt since his time, not only
by the introduction of hewn building stones, but still more
by the care he bestowed upon the development of the
written character ; and we see upon the monuments, at least
since the time of Cheops, between three and four thousand
years before Christ, a perfectly-formed system of writing,
and a universal habit of writing, by no means confined to
tlie priesthood. Even at that time the writing was no
longer merely monumental ; tlie signs, indeed, when they
were rapidly used, sometimes approached the hieratical
short-hand. It therefore appears to me undoubted that,
even in the time of Menes, in the very commencement of
our Egyptian history, the hieroglyphic writing had been
long invented, established, and practised, which we must of


course presuppose since we hold Menes to be historical;
for there can be no history without writing. From the
choice of the pictures in hieroglyphics, and from other rea-
sons, it appears indeed justifiable to suppose, that this won-
derful picture-writing of the Egyptians was formed, with
reference to its peculiar character in Egypt itself, without
any other influence from abroad, although they may have
brought the first beginning of it with them from their origi-
nal home in Asia. But that a people should produce any-
thing so perfect as this system of writing, which embraces at
once all the stages of human writing, from the most direct
ideographical symbolic writing through syllables, to the
equally direct notification of sound by means of vowels and
consonants, certainly indicates a long previous development.
The application, however, wliich the Egyptians made of
this early invention, from which so much resulted, is of still
more importance. Eor they not only employed it, as often
happens among nations of much higher civilisation, in tlie
most necessitous cases, and where it was most immediately
advantageous, but to an extent which surpasses everything
that we have heard of elsewhere, and which must still
astonish any one who considers the matter for the first time.
While the Greeks and Eomans, at the period when they
were most lavish of their writing, only placed a short inscrip-
tion of a few words on the front of their largest temples aud
most splendid buildings, for which reason the monumental
style still denotes among us a sliort laconic style, as seems
most suitable to the speaking stone ; among the Egyptians
the temples Avere almost covered with inscriptions. All
buildings, wliich were erected to the gods, to the kings, and
to the dead, had generally representations or inscriptions
upon all the walls, ceilings, pillars, architraves, friezes, and
posts — ^inside as well as outside. In place of only giving the
most necessary information, the writing here forms in itself
at the same time an essential ornament of the architecture,
as is the case also with representations on a larger scale. The
variegated written columns on the white or grey surfaces, not


only express a feeling for ornamental drawing, by the great
variety in their lines, which run backward and forward with
the utmost regularity, and satisfy the painter's eye by the
brilliancy of the varied colours, but they also excite the ob-
servation of the unlearned by the figurative and direct mean-
ing of the written objects, taken from all the natural king-
dom, and, lastly, the intelligent curiosity of the inquirer,
especially of every cultivated man, by the peculiar significa-
tion of their religious or historical purport. Thus hiero-
glyphics becomes a monumental writing^ in a sense and to a
degree of perfection, beyond any other written character on

They liad also so far overcome the technical difficulty of
engraving these signs, both in the most fragile and the
hardest kinds of stone, that it seems hardly to have been
considered at all, though these signs were not composed
of simple mathematical strokes, like the Eoman or G-reek
monumental \vriting, or the cuneiform wiiting of the Asiatics,
but were at the same time writing and artistic drawing.

Among the Egyptians the written character was not alone
the constant and indispensable accompaniment of archi-
tecture, and of the larger representations upon the walls
of the temples, but was placed with an equal predilec-
tion upon all, even the smallest objects of art and of daily
Hfe. How precious among other nations of antiquity are
those statues, vases, gems, or other objects, which bear upon
them inscriptions with respect to their origin, their owners,
or their intended use! This is the universal practice in
Egypt. There, no Colossus was so great, and no amulet so
smaU, that it should not itself express for what it was de-
signed by means of an inscription ; no piece of furniture that
did not bear the name of its owner. Not only the temples
had their dedications, in which the builder was named, and
the god to whom it was consecrated by him, but they were
considered of such importance that a particular class of in-
dependent monuments were especially pevoted to them, viz.,
the obelisks at the entrance of the gates ; and besides this.


every fresh, addition to the temple, every newly-erected pillar,
actually even the restoration of separate representations,
which had been accidentally injured upon the old walls, had
a written information respecting which of the kings built it,
and what he had done for the enlargement, embellishment,
and restoration of the temple. "We sometimes find the name
of the reigning king recorded upon the separate building
stones, as the stone-cutter's mark, and it was usually stamped
upon the bricks of royal manufacture.

Finally, however, writing was employed among the Egj-p-
tians in its last and highest destination, as hooh-icriting for
literary purposes ; and, indeed, as we have already mentioned,
from the earliest times, for the use of the papyrus goes
thus far back, and we frequently see upon the representa-
tions from the time of the great Pyramids of Memphis, one
or more scribes occupied in registering upon sheets their
master's possessions in flocks, corn, and other treasures.
We learn from the historical accounts relative to the first
Dynasties, which are still preserved, that even at that time
they possessed Annals oftlie Monarcliy.

If we now reflect upon the period from which the ori-
ginal fragments of such annals have come down to us,
namely, the beginning of the New ^Monarchy, we find tliat
this extends one thousand five hundred years farther back
than the oldest remains of book literature in the whole of
antiquity put together. For it is known that the greater
proportion of our manuscripts only go back about as far as
the tenth century of our era ; previous to this their number
rapidly diminishes, and the small fragment of a manuscript
of Livy, which was lately brought to Berlin, and was there
recognised as probably belonging to the first century after
Christ, may be viewed as the earliest remains of a book
which can be referred to out of Egypt ; even the rolls — which
were reduced to coal at Herculaneum — do not go farther
back ; whereas in Egypt not alone numerous papyri have
been preserved from the time of Ptolemy, but a much greater
number from the centuries previous to that time, namely


from the sixteenth to the thirteenth century, some of them
of extraordinary length^. The greatest proportion of them
were deposited with the mummies, and therefore only contain
what relates to death and a future life ; but other rolls were
interred in the tombs as the most seciu-e places, carefidly
packed in particular vases or baskets, and they contain lau-
datory songs upon kings or gods, historical annals, the ac-
counts of the temple, that which relates to the calendar,
and many other things with reference to this life, frequently
contracts, law-suits, and similar documents from the time
of tlie Greeks, sometimes also with Greek translations or

The large number still in preservation leave therefore
no doubt concerning the remarkable fact communicated by
Diodorus I. 49, on good authority, that King Osymandyas,
?. e. Eamses-Miamun, built a library in his temple at Thebes,
as early as the fourteenth century before Christ. The de-
scription which he gives us of tliis splendid building may still
be traced from one chamber to the other among its ruins,
and at the entrance — behind which, according to Diodorus,
the library was situated — Champollion perceived on both
sides the representations of Thoth, the God of AVisdom, and
of Saf, the Goddess of History ; then, behind the former, the
God of Hearing, and, behind the latter, the God of Seeing,
which significantly reminded the person wlio was entering of
the locality. Several hieratical papyri, which we still possess,

are dated from the Eameseion, ^ I ( ©linUD^^^^ I audit

is also frequently mentioned in the so-called Historical
Papyri. I found in Thebes the tombs of two Librarians of
the time of Eamses-]Miamun, therefore probably belonging to
the library described by Diodorus ; they are situated to the
south-west of the palace of Eamses, behind Der el Medinet.
The occupants Avere father and son, since this office was
hereditary, as most of them were. The father was called

> The great Book of the Dead, at Turin, is upon a single Roll, 57' 3"
Ehineland feet in length.


JSTeb-nufre, the son Nufre-hetep, and they bore the titles of

I lier sclia' tu, " Superior over the Books," aud ^v^vyw^il*

naa en scJia' tic, " Chief over the Books." In the tomb of
the son, Eamses sacrifices to Amen-Ea, and portions of two
statues of the deceased are still scattered about. We have
good reason to suppose that this library, of which we have
incidentally received still further information, was neither
the first, nor the only one, and this is inferred, among other
things, because the two gods above mentioned bear as one of
tlieir fixed titles, not only here, but upon other monuments
of all classes, the one the Master and the other the Mistress
of the Sail of Books, and that, consequently, the idea of gods
of libraries must have been A^ery familiar to the Egyptians.

This also explains how, in the earliest times of the Greek
dominion, under Ptolemy Philadelphus, it was possible to fill
the library founded in Alexandria in the space of a few years
with 400,000^ rolls, at a time when there was no precedent
in the Grecian motherland except the private collection of
Aristotle. It is explained, when we remember that Phila-
delphus found such an abundant store already existing in the
Egyptian archives and libraries. It no longer seems anything
remarkable when lamblichus-, referring to a Seleucus, tells
us of 20,000 hermetic books, which we must understand to
be a rough computation of all Egyptian literature ; the notice
does not obtain a mythological character until the introduc-
tion into it of the cyclical number 36,525, which lamblichus
quotes from Manetho — of course from the false one.

The fame of Egyptian wisdom^, which was universally dif-
fused throughout the ancient world, was grounded upon an
abundant literature, and the stock of knowledge deposited
therein, which increased from year to year like a well-invested
capital. This fame was never disputed even by the Greeks

1 Eitschl. The Alexandrian Libraries. 1838. P. 32, &c.

- De Myster. viii. 1. According to Bockh, Manetho, p. 117. J.
Firmicus also speaks somewhere of 20,000 books of Hermes. Compare
Fabr. Bih. gr. ed. Harl. t. i. p. 85.

2 1 Kings iv. 30; Acts vii. 22.


themselves ; possessing so mueli higher natural endowments
than others, they were more just in this point than many
of our modem critics, who would rather consider the genius
of the Greeks as auto-didactic, grown up in a barbarous
wilderness. Herodotus calls the Egyptians " by far the best
instructed people with whom he has become acquainted, since
they, of all men, store np most, for recollection^ When the
Eleians wished to establish their Olympian games, they sent
an embassy to the Egyptians, they being the wisest people of
all the earth, to obtain their judgment and their good advice
upon this great project^.

The distinguished series of celebrated men^ who are said
to have carried Egj^ptian -wisdom to the Greeks, begins as
early as the mythical times. Danaus brought the first germ
of higher civilisation from Egypt to Argos-^, and Erectheus,
King of Athens, was considered by some an Egyptian*, and
taught the Eleusinian mysteries according to the manner of
the Eg}^ptians. The holy singers of antiquity, Orpheus^,
Musaeus^, Melampus''', and Eumolpus^, thence acquired
their theological wisdom ; and even to Homer^ himself
Egypt may not have been unknown. The most ancient
artists of Greece, Daedalus^^, Telecles^^, and Theodorus^^,
are said to have educated themselves in this land of pri-
meval art, and have employed the Egyptian canon of pro-
portions. Lycurgus"^^ and Solon^* introduced into their

1 Herod, ii. 160.

- See the general accounts in Diodor. Sic. i. 69, 96—98; Plut. de Is.
et Osir. c. X. ; Clem. Alex. Strom, p. 131 ; Sylb. Cedren. Hist. comp.
p. 94 B.

3 Herod, ii. 91 ; vii. 94, &c. [Diod. i. 28.] ^ Diod. i. 29.

^ Diod. i. 69, 96; iv. 25. [Justin. Mart, ad Graec. c. xiv.]

« Diod. i. 96. [Clem. Protr. p. 12; Uireph. Synes, p. 421.]

: Ibid. s Diod. i. 29.

9 Diod. i. 69, 96. Heliodor. Aeth. iii. 14; Clem. Div. i. p. 130.
[Justin. Mart. c. xiv. 17.]

1'^ Diod. i. 96. ^^ Diod. i. 98. ^- Ibid.

13 Diod. i. 96; Plut. de Is. et Osir. c. x. [Plut. Lye. i. p. 41; F.
Isocr. Laud. Busir. p. 329.]

'* Plato. Tim. p. 21 ; Diod. i. 69, 96; Plut. de Is. c. x.; Vita Solon,
0. xxvi. [Justin. Mart. c. xiv.; Cyrill. c. Julian, i. p. 15.]


fatherland all the ^Yise regulations they there became ac-
quainted with ; and Herodotus^ especially tells us that the
Egyptian laws relating to the surveying of the land, by
which every one was obliged to declare to the monarch his
annual revenue, were transferred to Athens by Solon, and
were in use even in his time. Cleobulus, tlie sage of Lindus,
is said also to have visited Egypt-. It signifies little how
much historical foundation there is for these accounts. The
general direction taken by tradition, with reference to it,
proves even more than separate facts could do, the early and
late general universal recognition of Eg}^tian wisdom. It
was considered a glory to participate in it.

But Egypt was especially regarded as a university for
philosophy, and for all that could be gained through science
and learning. "We therefore see philosophers, mathematicians,
physicians, historians, resorting to Eg}'|)t, each emulating
with the other, and studying for many years under Egyptian
teachers. Tlie houses in Heliopolis in which Plato and the
mathematician Eudoxus had lived for tliirteen years, were still
shown to Strabo^. The observatory of Eudoxus, in which he
is said to have made certain observations of the stars, and on
Canobus, in particular, bore his name"* in the time of Strabo.
Even Thales'"' was instructed by the Egyptian priests, and as it
is expressly said, had besides them, no other teachers. Here he
became acquainted with the division of the year into seasons,
and into 365 days ; and here also he learnt how to take the
measurement of high objects, such as the Pyramids by their
shadow, at a particular hour of the day^. Archimedes^ in-
vented his celebrated water screw in Egypt, and there applied
it, in the establishments which were devoted to the irrigation

1 ii. 177. - Diog. Laert. i. 89.

3 Strab. xvii p. 806. 807; Cic. de fin- ^'- 29; Diod. Sic. i. 96; Plut.
dels. c. X. de genio Socr. p. 578; Clem. Al. Strom, i. p. 131; Diog.
Laert. iii. 6.

^ Strab. ii. p. 119; xvii. p. 807.

^ Plut. de Is. c. X. de placit philos. i. 3 ; Clem. i. p. 130; Diog.
Laert i. 27. [Theod. Melit. Proem, in Astr. c. xii.; Cyrill. c. Jul. i.
p. 15.]

" Diog. Laert. i. 27; Plin. H. N. xxxvi. 17. ' Diod. v. 37.


of the land. Pythagoras^ was a long time in Egypt, and all
that -we know concerning the dogmas of this influential man
agrees with this account-. His doctrine of the immortality
of the soul, especially, is very decidedly referred, by Hero-
dotus, to 'Egypt. He says, " This doctrine is wrongly pro-
nounced hy certain GreeTcs, whom he will not inention, a^
belonging 'peculiarly to them^^^ by which he evidently has
Pythagoras and his master Pherecydes in view, for it is also
related of the latter that he was in Egypt*. And it is in
fact now sufficiently known, from the monuments, that the
Eg}'ptians possessed from the earliest times very distinct
ideas about the transmigration of souls, and of judgment
after death^. The philosophers Anaxagorim^, Bemocritus^ ,
Sphaerus^, the mathematician Oinopidea^, the physician
Chrysippus'^^, also Alcaeus^^ and Euripedes'^^, are enume-
rated among the visitors to Egypt, Einally, the same is
known of Hecateus^^, Herodotus, Diodorus'^^, Straho, and
many less celebrated Grreeks.

All these men did not merely desire to acquire a knoAV-
Icdge of Egypt as eye-witnesses, but went there principally
to gain instruction from the learned priests on particular
branches of knowledge. This is the light in which those
historians regarded it, who give us more detailed accounts of
these wanderings of the Greek scholars to Egypt^^. The
Egyptians themselves indeed valued it so highly that the
priests, as Diodorus, i. 96, expressly recounts, recorded in
their annals the visits of celebrated Greeks. It thence

' Cic. de Jin. v. 29; Diod. i. 96; Strab. vii. p. 297; xiv. p. 638;
Plut. dc Is. c. X.; Diog. Laert. viii, 3, 11; Clem. 1. 1. [Justin, ilart.
c. xiv. 19; Isocr. Busir. p. 227.]

^ Herod, ii. 81 ; Diog. Laert. viii. 24, 33, 34; Diosr. Laert. viii. 4.

3 IJerod. ii. 123; Diog. Laert. viii. 14; Cic. Tusc. i. 16.

* Clem. Alex. i. p. 129; Cedreu. p. 94, B. [Theod, Melit. Pr. in
Astr. c. 12.]

* See preface to the Todtenbuche der ^Egi/pter, p. 13, &c.

6 Cedren. p. 94, B. ' ])iod. i. 96; Diog, L. IX. 35.

« Diog. L. VIL 177. ^ Diod. i. 96.

'° Diog. L. VIL 186; viii. 87. " Strab. L ii. p. 37.

•2 Diog. L. III. 6. '3 Ikroil. ii. 143.

'* Diod. i. 44. '5 _oiod. i. 69.

2 C


arose that the most distinguished among them, even the
individual teachers, remained known by name and descent,
and were handed down to us^. These names bear upon
them a genuine Egyptian stamp, and therefore offer no
grounds for any material doubt from this side. Plutarch
calls the teacher of Solon, SoficJiis, from Sais ; of Pythagoras,
OnnupMs, from Heliopolis ; and of Eudoxus, Chonuphis,
from Memphis. Clemens adds to these the teacher of Plato,
SechmipMs; all of them names whose Egyptian form may
be easily restored.

It is evident that this instruction must have contained
more than an unintelligible knowledge of symbols, a petri-
fied mysticism, and empty dreams, as people have been
hitherto frequently inclined to believe. Real knowledge
and scientific experiences could only be founded upon a
copious literature, carefully fostered for many ages. Its
great treasures had indeed been long known and envied
before the time of the Ptolemies ; the Persians, under
Artaxerxes, carried off a portion of them, together with other
treasures, from the ancient archives of the temples, and only
restored them for a high ransom^. But their contents
began for the first time to be better known, and more per-
fectly understood, when the translations appeared, which
were extensively made for the Greeks^ after the time of the
first Ptolemies. Strabo, among others, affords us a valuable
proof of this, where he speaks of the thirteen years' resi-
dence of Plato and Eudoxus in Egypt^. " These priests (he
says) were versed in astronomy, but, mysterious and far
from communicative, it was only after the lapse of time and
by polite attentions that they allowed themselves to be in-
duced to communicate some of their doctrines ; but still the
most part was kept concealed by these barbarians. For in-
stance, to complete the perfect year, they added that portion
of the day and night which goes beyond the 365 days ;

* Plut. de Is. c. X. ; de genio Socr. p. 578, F ; Clem. Al. Str. i.
p. 131.

* Diod. xvi. 51 . » Sync. p. 271, D. * xvii. p. 806.

to"lgtptian cheo^'ologt. 387

neveHJieless, the perfect year remained unJtnoicn to tlie GreeJcs,
as well as many other things, until the later astronomers learnt
it from the treatises of the priests, which were translated into
Qreelc ; and they still refer to the writings of the Egyptians,
as icell as to those of the Chaldeans^.

But, in order to view more distinctly the multiplicity of
the Egyptian branches of learning, I shall mention the forty-
two Hermetic books, probably chieily sacred, described to us
by Clemens of Alexandria, from a genuine ancient authority^.
"We learn from it that the ten first and principal books, those
of the Prophets, called the Hieratical, or Priest Books, treated
of the laws and the gods, namely, of the highest theological
education, which embraced at once di^^ne and human laws^,
and pliilosophy*. To this was appended, as an immediate
and necessary complement, the ten books of the Stolistes —
liturgical in their contents — containing ordinances about the
sacrifice, and the ofiering of the first-fruits, of hymns, prayers,
processions, feasts, &c.

To these twenty writings, which were in a stricter sense
sacerdotal, succeeded fourteen others, treating of more