The Tombs in Egypt
The tombs are situated in the desert or in the side of a mountain more or less distant from the river. This accounts for their being relatively so well preserved. Less conspicuous than the houses of cities and the temples, they have been less exposed to devastations. When complete a tomb consists of three parts.
It is indicated from a distance by a small building rising in the necropolis — this is the first part. A rectangular and vertical well opens in some corner of the building and leads down into a vault—this is the second part. The third is the subterranean mausoleum, where the mum mies repose. The exterior building is not always solid. It sometimes contains one or several chambers, open at all times and to all comers, where the relatives of the defunct assemble with the offerings they have brought. There is also the serdab, that is, a kind of narrow passage left within the brickwork and walled in as soon as statues representing the defunct have been deposited inside. Of course this mysterious and inaccessible place remains forever closed.
The well presents no feature worthy of special attention. Its depth varies, as also its dimensions, according to the localities. Generally speaking, when once the mummy has been posited in its place, the well is stopped up either by a stone which hides its aperture, or by materials of all kinds heaped up there. Ropes are necessary for the descent.
The vault is cut into the rock, and so disposed that the sarcophagus is placed right under the principal chamber of the building, the one where the survivors assemble. The traveller who visits the tombs of Sakkdrah, of Beni-Hassan, of Goornah, and of El-Kab, must therefore understand that the chamber into which he will first enter, whether built of stone or whether hollowed in the rock, is the accessible chamber reserved for the relatives.
The mummies are in a vault underground, to which access is obtained by a narrow passage, which we call a well. The decoration of the tombs is in accordance with certain laws, which vary according to the period or according to that part of the tomb which is to be ornamented. The well, the vault, and the serdab, are always without inscription. The stone sarcophagi and the wooden coffins of the mummies are often adorned with a vast amount of texts, interspersed with illustrations.
All splendor of ornamentation was reserved for the chamber of the outer building. It is not easy to point out the precise meaning of the decoration of the tombs of the Ancient Empire. The defunct is evidently at home. He fishes, he hunts ; his servants bring him the products of his lands ; dancing is held before him ; his wife and children are by his side. But was it intended to represent the deceased as still of this world? And Avas it the object of the representations on the wall to preserve to us the remembrance of what he was during his lifetime ? Or is he already in the other world, and, according to the somewhat naive promises made to the Egyptians, will he continue in that other world to lead the same sort of life as he led here ? We cannot discuss this question now. All we can say is that the promises of which we have just spoken are real : the defunct will someday live again in the plenitude of his faculties; he will have need of the same objects, he will occupy himself with the same interests ; again will his family and servants be by his side. But never again will he suffer pain, nor be in appre hension of death. This seems to be the main idea which has presided at the decoration of the tombs under the Ancient Empire. But a little later the decoration changes in its character : the defunct must prove that he had gained this immortality which is promised liim, and that by his merits he had deserved it.
The journey of the soul in the subterranean regions, the ordeals Avhich it has to undergo, and its judgment, are the subjects which adorn the walls of the chambers in the exterior building. No more do we behold the varied scenes of hunting and fishing and of labor in the field. In their place appears the mournful procession of infernal deities.
At Sakkarah and at Beni-Hassan are found per fect examples of these chambers, where the de funct is represented as leading in the other world that domesticated and pastoral life which Egyptians regarded as the highest state of felicity. It is at Bab-el-Molouk, in the tomb of Sethi I. that the type of the second sort of tomb is found.