Richard Lepsius.

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

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3. (Oh) Happiness (when) the morning milk

And butter pour over me.
Maim, in the first line, is really only "food,'" but it has
become a general expression for dates, because, in the huta
of the Fellah, this is the chief, and, for many people, the only
food. Another rather more animated melody is this one :







-^ ^r






in which till- cliorus, in exception to the general rule, se-
parates into two parts. I hardly think, however, that these
thirds are intentional, they slip in of themselves ; for it
sometimes happens that single voices join in singinor the
same cadence in a totally different strain without paying any
regard to whole hours of discord. The Arab — I might almost
say, the people of the East generally — are devoid of the
sense of making the simplest complications of several voices
into a harmony. The most artistic music of the best singers
and performers, which often inexpressibly delights the most
civilised Musidman in Cairo, and collects large masses of
people as an audience, consists only in a melody a hundred
times repeated, flourishing, restless, and whirling, whose
theme cannot be retained, and can scarcely be detected by
a European ear. Xor are the different instruments, when


played together, employed for any harmonious united variety,
beyond what is suggested by the rhythm.

"We have eight watchmen during the night, who really do
watch, as I often convince myself by making a nightly
round. One of them walks constantly up and down with
his gun on the ramparts surrounding our camp, for if any
where, we have to fear another attack here, not from the
Arabs, but from the still more dangerous Bedouins, who
inhabit the borders of the desert in many single hordes,
and are not under the control of great sheikhs, who we
might secure in our interests. From Illahun to this place,
we passed through a Bedouin camp, whose sheikh must
have known of our arrival, as he rode out to meet me on
horseback, and offered his services, if we should require any-
thing here. Farther on, we met an old man and a girl in a
distracted state, uttering loud cries of despair. They threw
dust into the air, and heaped it on their heads. As we ap-
proached nearer to them, they complained to us with incon-
solable expressions that two Bedouins had just robbed them
of their only buffalo. We actually saw the robbers still in
the distance, on horseback, driving the buffalo before them
into the desert. I was alone with my dragoman and my
little donkey-boy, Auad, a lively, dark-skinned Berber, and
I could be of no assistance to these poor people. Such thefts
are not unfrequent here. A short time ago, one tribe drove
a hundred and twenty camels away from another tribe, and
none of them have yet come back.

Nevertheless, we shall probably remain here unmolested ;
for the sentence we passed at Saqara is well known, and they
are aware that we are specially recommended to the autho-
rities. They have also now become convinced that we carry
no gold or silver with us in our heavy chests, which was for-
merly very generally believed among the Arabs. Added to
this, we are ourselves well armed against any new attack. I
have collected the most valuable chests in my own tent, and
every night an English double-barrelled gun and two pistols
lie ready beside my bed. Besides, I clear out my tent every
eveniag, that we may be prepared for anything, especially


for storms, from whicli we have Lad to suffer much latterly,
and of a degree of violence unknown in Europe. Abeken's
tent foil three times over his head in one day, and the last
time roused him in a verj' disagreeable manner out of his
sleep. Thus we are often whole days and nights in constant
expectation that during the next gust of wind our airy house
may fall dovni upon our heads ; under this apprehension, it
requires some habit to continue to work or to sleep quietly.

It appears that we are to have a taste of all the plagues of
Egypt. Our experience began with the inundation at the
Great Pyramids ; then came the locusts, whose young fry
has now increased like sand upon the sea-shore, and is again
devouring the green fields and trees, which, combined with
the previous cattle disease, is indeed sufficient to cause a
famine ; then occurred the hostile attack which was pre-
ceded by a daring robbery. ISTor has even a conflagration
been wholly wanting. By an incautious salute, AVild's tent
was set on fire and partly burnt in Saqara, while we stood
around in bright sunshine, which prevented the fire being
scon by us. Xow comes, in addition to this, the annoyance
of mice, which we had not hitherto experienced ; they gnaw,
play, and squeak away in my tent, as if they had always been
at home there, quite unconcerned whether I am within it or
not. During tlie night they run over my bed, and over my
face ; and yesterday I started up frightened, out of my sleep,
because I suddenly felt the sharp little tooth of one of these
audacious guests upon my foot. I sprang up in a rage,
struck a light, and knocked against all the chests and pegs ;
but on lying down once more, I was soon driven out of bed
again. In spite of all these annoyances, however, we con-
tijiue to keep up a good and cheerful spirit, and God be
thanked, they have hitlierto only threatened us, and made
us heedful, not materially injured us.

The superintendence over the servants, and the manage-
ment of much extra business, has now been considerably
alleviated, by my having brought a well-qualified Kawass
\yit\i me from Cairo. These Kawass, who form a peculiar
band of sub-officers of the Pascha, are considered here, in the


country, a peculiar and important class of persons. Only-
Turks are appointed, and they possess, through their na-
tionality alone, an innate superiority over every Arab. There
are probably few nations who have so much natural ability
to rule as the Turks, who, nevertheless, we are often accus-
tomed to regard as rude, uncouth, and half barbarians. On
the contrary, as a nation, they have some degree of distinction.
Imperturbable repose, calmness, reserve, and energy of will,
appear to belong to every Turk, down to the common soldier,
and do not fail to make a certain impression upon the Euro-
pean on first acquaintance. This external bearing with the
appearance of deliberate firmness, this reserved proud polite-
ness easily passing into nice shades of ceremonial, is met
with in a still higher degree among the upper rank of Turks,
who have all, from childhood upwards, passed through a school
of the strictest etiquette in their own families. They have
an innate contempt for everything which does not belong to
their own nation, and appear to have no feeling for the
natural superiority of higher mental culture and civilisation
which the ordinary European usually inspires among other

Nothing is to be gained from the Turk by kindness, con-
siderate attention, demonstration, or even by anger ; these
he considers as proofs of weakness. The greatest reserve
alone, and the most careful distant politeness towards the
great, or the bearing of a person of some consequence, and
absolute commands to inferiors, answers the purpose here.
A Turkish Kawass drives a whole village of Eellahs, or Arabs,
before him, and makes a decided impression even on the still
prouder Bedouins. The Pascha employs the Elawass-corps
as special messengers, and on commissions, throughout the
whole country. They are the chief executive servants of the
Pascha, and of the governors of the pro\inces. Every foreign
consul has also a similar Kawass, without whom he hardly
takes a single step, since he is his guard of honour, the sign,
and -the right hand of his indisputable authority. When he
rides out, the Kawass rides before him with a great silver
fitick, and drives the people and animals with words or blows


out of his path ; and woe to him who should make a move-
ment, or even a gesture of disobedience. The Pascha some-
times also gives such a guard of honour, with similar autlio-
rity, as an escort to strangers who are specially recommended
to him, and thus we also received a Kawass at the commence-
ment of our journey, who however, during our long period
of repose in Gizeh was only a burden, and at length, on
account of his making extravagant demands, was not very
graciously dismissed by me. On the occasion of the attack in
Saqara, I caused another to be given me by Scherif Pascha ;
but he still is not the sort of man that we want, so I have
now brouirht a third with me from Cairo, who hitherto has
proved an excellent one. He relieves me from the entire
superintendence over the servants, and manages admirably
all that I have to transact with the people and authorities of
the country. If I were in Europe I should have supposed
that I had more than sufficient strength for the whole external
guidance of the expedition, as well as for its more immediate
object, but in this climate one must measure by a diHerent
scale. Patience and repose are here, just as necessary ele-
ments of life, as meat and drink.


The Labyrinth, the 25th June, 1843.

These lines are Avritten to you from the distinctly recog-
nised Labyrinth of Maoris and the Dodecarchs, not from the
doubtful spot whose identity is still contested, of which I
myself was unable to form any conception from the hitherto
more than deficient descriptions even of those who have
removed the Lab}-rinth hither. An immense cluster of
chambers stiU remahis, and in the centre lies the great
square, where the courts once stood, covered with the re-
mains of large monolithic granite columns, and of others of
white hard limestone, shining almost like marble.

I approached the spot, fearing that we must only endear
vour, as others had done before us, to confirm the information
of the ancients on the geographical position of the place ;


that all form of the edifice itself had disappeared, and that an
unshapely heap of ruins might deter us from making any ex-
aminations. Instead of this, at the first superficial survey of
the ground, a number of complicated spaces, of true laby-
rinthine forms, immediately presented themselves, both above
and below ground, and the eye could easily detect the prin-
cipal buildings, more than a stadium (Strabo) in extent.
"Where the French expedition had vainly sought for cham-
bers, we literally at once find hundreds of them, both next to,
and above one another, small, often diminutive ones, beside
greater ones, and large ones, supported by small columns,
with thresholds, and niches in the walls, with remains of
columns, and single casing-stones, connected by corridors,
without any regularity in the entrances and exits, so that the
descriptions of Herodotus and Strabo, in this respect, are
fully justified. But at the same time also, the opinion, which
was never adopted by me, and is irreconcileable with any
architectonic view, that there are serpentine, case-like wind-
ings, in place of square rooms, is decidedly refuted.

The whole is so arranged, that three immense masses of
buildings, 300 feet broad, enclose a square place, which is
600 feet long and 500 feet wide. The fourth side, one of the
narrow ones, is bounded by the P}Tamid, which lies behiad
it ; it is 300 feet square, and therefore does not quite reach
the side wings of the above-mentioned masses of bmldings.
A canal of rather modern date, passing obliquely through
the ruins, and which one can almost leap over, at least at the
present season, cuts ofi" exactly the best preserved portion of
the lab}Tinthian chambers, together with part of the great
central square, which at one time was divided into courts.
The travellers preferred not wetting their feet, and remained
on this side, where the continuation of the wings of the build-
ings is certainly more concealed beneath the rubbish. But
the chambers lying on the farther side, especially their
soutliern point, where the walls rise nearly ten feet above the
rubbish, and about twenty feet above the base of the ruins,
are to be seen very well even from this, the eastern side ; and
viewed from the summit of the Pyramid, the regular plan of


the whole desi^ lies before one as on a map. Erbkam has
been occupied ever since our arrival, in making the special
plan, on which even* chamber or wall, however small, will be
noted down. The farther portion of the ruins is, therefore,
by far the most difficult to record. On this side it is an
easier task, but so much the more difficult to understand.
Here the labyrinth of chambers passes on southwards. The
courts were situated between this and the Pvramid Ivinsr
opposite on the northern side. But almost all of these have
disappeared. AVe have, therefore, nothing to guide us but the
dimensions of the square, which lead us to suppose that it
wa-s divided into two halves, by a long wall, against which the
twelve courts (for we cannot, indeed, witli any certaintv,
make out that there were more) abutted on both sides, so
that their entrances turned towards opposite sides, and had
immediately facing them the extensive mass of innumerable

But who was the Maros, Mendes, Imandes, who, by the
account of the Greeks, erected the Labyrinth, or rather the
P\Tamid belonging to it, for his tomb ? In tlie Manethonic
list of Kings, we find the builder of the LabjTinth introduced
towards the end of the 12th Dynasty, the last of the Old
Monarchy, shortly before the invasion of the Hyksos. The
fragments of the mighty columns and architraves which we
have dug up from the great square of the halls, exhibit the
name-shields of the sixtli king of this same 12th Dynasty,
Amenemha III. Thus the important question of its place
in histor}' is answered,* AVe have also made excavations on
the north side of the Pyramid, because it is here that we con-
jecture the entrance must have been. But it has not been
hitherto discovered. AVe have only as yet penetrated into a
chamber which lay in front of the Pyramid, and which was
covered by a great quantity of rubbish, and we have several
times found the name of Amenemha here also. The builder
and occupier of the P}Tamid is therefore determined. But
this does not refute the statement of Herodotus, that the
Dodecarchs, only 200 years before his time, had undertaken
* Compare my Chronology of the Egyptians, i., p. 262, &c.


the building of the Labyrinth. We have found no inscrip-
tions in the ruins of the great masses of chambers which
surround the central space. It may be easily proved by
future excavations that this whole building, and probably
also the disposition of the twelve courts, belong only, in
fact, to the 26th Dynasty of Manetho, so that the original
temple of Amenemha formed merely part of this gigantic ar-
chitectural enclosure.

So much for the Labyrinth and its Pyramid. The exact
position which its biiilder occupies in history is by far the
most important result that we could altogether hope to
obtain here. I must now say a few words respecting the
other world's wonder of this province, Lake Mceris.

The obscurity which has hitherto hung over it seems at
length to have been dispersed, by a beautiful discovery, which
was made a short time ago by the excellent Linant, the
director of the water-works of the Pascha. Hitherto there
was only one point of agreement, that the lake was situated
in the Paium. Now, as at the present day there is only one
single lake in this remarkable semi-oasis, the Birqet-el-Qorn,
which is situated in its most remote and lowest parts, this
must be the Lake Moeris ; we have no other choice. Its
celebrity, however, rested principally upon this, that it was
an artificially designed (Herodotus says an excavated) and
extremely profitable lake, which was filled by the Nile when
it was high, and when the water was low, flowed off again by
the connecting canal; and irrigating on the one side the
grounds of tlie Faium, on the other, during its reflux, the
adjacent tracts of the Memphitic district, at the same time
yielded extremely rich fishing near the double sluices at the
mouth of the Paium. To the annoyance of Antiquarians
and Philologists, not one of all these peculiarities belonged to
the Birqet-el-Qorn. This is not an artificial, but a natural
lake, which is only in part fed by the water of the Jussuf
canal. One of its useful quahties can be hardly said to exist,
since no fishing-boat enlivens its surface, encircled by an
arid desert, because the brackish water contains scarcely any
fish, and is in no degree favourable to the vegetation on its


shores. When the Nile is at its height, and there is a more
abundant supply of water, it certainly rises; but it is
situated at far too low a level to allow a di'op of the water
with which it has been supplied, ever to flow back again.
The whole province must be buried beneath the flood before
the waters could find their way back into the valley, for the
artificially lowered rocky channel through which "the Bahr.
Jussuf id brought hither, branching oft' from the Nile about
forty miles south, lies higher than the whole oasis. The
surface of the Birqct-el-Qorn is now about seventy feet below
the point where the canal flows in, and can never have risen
to a much greater height,* which is proved by some remains
of a temple upon its shores. As little does it agree with the
statement, that the Labyrinth, and the capital Arsinoe, the
present Medinet-el-Faium, were situated on its shores.

Linant has now discovered huge dams, miles in length, of
the most ancient solid construction, which separates the
ujjpermost portion of the shell-like, convex-formed basin of
the Faium from those parts which are situated lower and
lie farther back, and, according to him, could only have been
intended to retain artificially a great lake, which now, how-
ever, since the dams have been long broken through, lies
completely dry. This lake he holds to be that of Maoris. I
must confess that the whole thing, when he first communi-
cated it to me by word of mouth, impressed me with the idea
that it was an extremely happy discovery, which will also
spare us in future many fruitless researches. An inspection of
the ground has now removed all my doubts as to the correct-
ness of this view. I hold it to be an insubvertible fact.

♦ According to Linant, the diflFerence amounts to 22 metres, that is,
70 feet ]iheiulaud (72 English). In June, 1843, an engineer of the
Viceroy, Nascimboni, who was engaged in making a new map, and
levelling the P'aium, visited us in our camp, at the Pyramid of Moeris.
lie had only found a descent of 2 metres (6 feet 6 inches English) from
Illalum to Medinct, but from tlience to Birqet-el-Qorn, 75 metres (246
feet English). I am not aware that anything has been published about
this considerable difference of measurements. Sir G. Wilkinson, in his
Mod. Eg. and Thebes, vol. ii., 346, states the surface of the water to be
about 125 English feet below the bank of the Nile at Beuisuef.


Linant's treatise is now being printed, and I will send it to
you as soon as it is to be had.*

But finally, if you ask me wbat tbe name of Moeris has
to do with that of Amenemha, I can only answer, nothing.
The name Moeris neither appears on the monuments, nor in
Manetho. I rather think that here again we find one of the
numerous misunderstandings of the G-reeks. The Egyptians
called the lake, Phiom en mere, the Lake of the Nile-inunda-
tion (Copt. UHpe^ inundatio). The Greeks made out of
mere^ the water which formed the lake, a "King Moeris who
designed the lake, and then troubled themselves no further
about the true originator, Amenemha. At a later period the
whole province received the name c|)iou, Phiom, the Lake,
from which the present name Paium has been derived.


The Labyrmth, the I8ih July, 1843.

"We have accomplished our journey round that remarkable
province, the Paium, very rarely visited by Europeans, which,
on account of its fertility, may be named the Garden of
Egypt ; and precisely because these parts are almost as un-
known as the distant oases of Libya, you will, perhaps, be
glad to hear some more details about them from me.

I started with Erbkam, E. AYeidenbach, and Abeken, on
the 3rd of July. We went from the Labpinth along the
Bahr "Wardani, which skirts the eastern border of the desert,
and forms the boundary, to which the shore of Lake Moeris
at one time extended towards the East. The canal is now
dry, and is replaced by the still more recent Bahr Scherkieh,
which, as they say, was made by the Sultan Barquq, and is
conducted through the middle of the Labyrinth ; it at first
crosses the Wardani several times, but afterwards keeps more

* Memoire sur le las Mceris, presente et lu a la Societe Egyptienne
l9 5 Juillet, 1842, par Linant de Bellefonds, inspecteur-general des
ponts, et chaussees, publie par la Societe Egyptienne. Alexandrie,
1843. 4to. Compare my Chronology, vol. i., p. 26ii &c.


inland. In three hours we reached the point where the huge
dam of Moeris projects from the middle of the Faium into the
desert. It runs out in this spot for about one and a half geo-
graphical miles as far as El Elam. In the middle of this tract
it is intersected by Bahr-bela-ma, a deep bed of a stream, wliich
now cuts througli the old lake-bottom, and is usually dry, but
when there is a great supply of water, it is used as an outlet
for the Buperlluity towards Tamieh, and into the Birqet-el-
Qom. Tliis enabled us to examine the dam itself from a
nearer point of view. The current, which at times is swollen
and rapid, has scooped out a passage for itself since the de-
struction of the lake, not only tlirough the alluvial soil that
formed the bottom of the lake, but also through several other
layers of earth, and even through the slightly indurated
limestone lying undermost ; so that the water, at this season,
reduced certainly to a minimum, flows about sixty feet lower
than the present dry bottom of the lake. I measured accu-
rately the separate layers of earth, and carried away with me
a specimen of each. The breadth of the dam cannot be
detenniued with certainty, but may, perhaps, have amounted
to 150 feet. The height of the dam has probably become
somewhat lower with time. I found it to be 1 m. 90 (6 feet
;3 inches Euglish) above the present bottom of the lake, and
5 m. GO (IS feet 4 inches English) above the opposite plain.
If we suppose this last to be on a similar level with the
original bottom of the lake (which was, however, probably
lower, because the external ground was irrigated, and con-
sequently became elevated), then the dam, apart from its
gradual levelling from above downwards, must have been
formerly as much as 5 m. GO, consequently 17 feet high, and
the ground in the inner part of the lake, during its existence
of more than two thousand years, must have risen by deposits
of earth about 11 feet. But if we admit that the black earth
also, from 11 to 12 feet thick, which is still to be found outside
of the dams, was deposited within the historical times, then
the above numbers would even require to be doubled. Thus
we have some idea how its utility must have been much


diminished with time; for the lake (if we assume that its
circumference is what Linant asserts), by the filling up of the
11 feet of earth, must have lost 13,000 millions of square
feet of ^the water, which it might have formerly contained.
An elevation of the dams could in no possible manner have
prevented this, because they had been already placed in
exact relation to the point of the influx of the Bahr Jussuf
into the Eaium. This may have been one of the most
substantial reasons why Lake Moeris was allowed at a later
period to fall into decay; and even Linant's bold project to
restore the lake could not wholly repair this loss, even if he
were to make the Bahr Jussuf branch off from the Nile at a
much higher point than was thought necessary by the old

In two hours and a half from this intersection, following
the dam to El Elam, where it ceases, we reached the remark-
able remains of the two monuments of Biahmu, which Linant
considers to be the Pyramids of Moeris and his consort, which
were seen by Herodotus in the lake. They were built out
of great massive blocks ; the nucleus of each of them is still

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 8 of 54)