The Temples in Egypt
This is not the right time to describe fully the temples one meets with while travelling in Upper Egypt, as such a description will be found presently in its appointed place. ‘We may, however, put at once into the reader’s hand the thread destined to guide him in the interior of those monuments. A complete temple consists of the edifice properly so. Called, and an enceinte or surrounding wall.
The temple is of stone, the outer wall is of large crude bricks, and is very high and very thick. When the entrance-gate is closed, nothing whatever can be heard or seen of what is taking place inside. It would be a mistake to look at an Egyptian temple in the light of a church, or even of a Greek temple. Here no public worship is per formed; the faithful do not congregate for public prayer ; indeed, no one is admitted inside except the priests. The temple is a royal Proscynem ” or ex voto “ that is, a token of piety from the king who erected it in order to deserve the favor of the gods. It is a kind of royal oratory, and nothing more. In fact, this circumstance can alone explain the profuse decoration that covers the temples. Let the reader bear in mind that the principle of the decoration is the picture ; that several pictures are ranged symmetrically side by side, and that several series of pictures, disposed in tiers one above the other, cover the walls of the chambers from top to bottom. Such is the invariable arrangement. As to the meaning of the pictures, it is everywhere the same. The king on one side and one or more divinities on the other — such is the sole subject of the composition. The king presents an offering (a table laden with victuals flowers, fruit, and emblems) and solicits a favor from the god. In his answer, the god grants the gift that is prayed for.
The decoration of the temple, therefore, consists of nothing more than an act of adoration from the king, repeated under every possible form. Thus a temple is the exclusively personal monument of the king by whom it was founded or decorated. Indeed, this accounts for the presence of those most invaluable battle-scenes with which the external walls of certain temples are adorned. It is to the god and to his protection that the king chiefly ascribes his victories. In fighting the enemies of Egypt, and in bringing them in chains into the temples, the king has done an act grateful to tlie gods, just as he has done an act grateful to the gods in offering to them incense, flowers, and the limbs of sacrificed animals. He therein gives proof of his piety and is all the more deserving of the favors which the construction of the temple is intended to secure.
The Egyptian temples are always dedicated to three gods. It is what Champollion calls the Triad. The first is the male principle, the second the female principle, and the third the off spring of the other two. But these three deities are blended into one. The father engenders himself in the womb of the mother and thus becomes at once his own father and his own son.
Thereby are expressed the uncreatedness and the eternity of the Being who has had no begin ning and who shall have no end. The worship consists of prayers, recited within the temple in the name of the king, and above all, of processions. In these processions, which the king is supposed to head, are carried the insignia of the gods, the coffers in which their statues are enclosed, and also the sacred barks, which latter are generally deposited in the temple, to be brought out on fete days. In the middle, concealed under a veil, stands the coffer within which lies the emblem that none must see.
The processions are commonly held within the temple ; they generally ascend the terraces and sometimes spread themselves inside the enclosure away from the profane gaze, as we have already said. On rare occasions, the processions may be seen leaving the city and wending their way, either along the Nile or along a canal called the Sacred Canal, toward some other city more or less distant. Close to every temple is a lake. In all probability the lake played an important part in the processions, and the sacred barks were deposited there, at least while the fetes lasted.