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ANCIENT EGYPT AND ITS HIEROGLYPHICS.
(Substance of a Lecture by the Editor.) The credulity of mankind and their willingness to take things upon trust, are among the greatest hindrances to the spread of real information. The mere fact, that any narrative has found its way into print, is often sufficient to satisfy the superficial reader that there is necessarily some truth in it. A variety of considerations ought, however, always to precede such an admission; for if truth be our object, it is necessary to enquire, who was the author of the information communicated, what was his character, what his opportunities of acquiring information ; and whether, or not, he made a proper use of those opportunities.
To refer more particularly to ancient authors : though it may excite surprise, it is nevertheless true, that as respects many of the works ascribed to them, nothing is known upon the points adverted to, and, in some cases, it is actually a question whether the reputed author ever lived at all! Many historians, again, have lived centuries after the events they pretend to describe, and at a distance from the scene of such transactions; whilst others, who have had good opportunities of observing, and collecting information, have been pitifully unfitted for the task, or sadly biassed by prejudice or interest.
To no country, perhaps, do these remarks apply with greater force, than to Egypt, so that we have not only to read all that has been written, but rigorously to canvass its truth, and examine the conclusions, the arguments, and even the very data themselves, involved in this enquiry into its history and hieroglyphics.
The accredited historian of ancient Egypt, is Manetho. He is described as “the high priest and scribe of the sacred adyta," or sanca tuaries of that country; and wrote about 270 years B. C.; or rather more than 2,100 years ago.
In the epistle dedicatory to his work, addressed to Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Greek sovereign of Egypt, he says—“I shall, according to your commands, lay before you what I have gathered from the sacred books written by Hermes Trismegistus, our forefather.” It thus appears that the thrice-great Hermes is the authority upon whom Manetho rests his statements. But this Hermes lived more than 1,000 years before Manetho, and could not consequently have supplied any account of those generations which succeeded him, whatever he might have known respecting those which lived before him : so that we see upon what insufficient data rests, what has been always considered the orthodox, the recognized, the accredited history of early Egypt. It is however urged, with the greatest boldness, that recent discoveries
in Egypt have fully confirmed the accuracy of Manetho by bringing to light the names of many of the kings he mentions, written in the hieroglyphics of the country : but I make no hesitation, in saying, that this is a complete and unqualified fallacy, for the following, amongst other reasons.
1. The hieroglyphics are but partially and imperfectly legible by our best scholars in the art.
2. The names in these hieroglyphics in very few instances indeed, and even then by accommodations and conjectures hardly warranted correspond with those recorded by Manetho.
3. We are without any evidence to prove that these hieroglyphics are coeval with the kings to whom they are severally supposed to refer ; and are in some instances, tolerably certain that they are more recent by many centuries.
So much for the external evidences to the genuineness and authenticity of Manetho : nor can we argue much more favorably by turning-our attention to the internal proofs elicited by a careful perusal of his writings. It should, however, be premised, that we possess nothing more of these writings much as we hear about them-than a few frage ments preserved by later historians: and that even these fragments, so handed down to us, will not admit of anything like a satisfactory collation or comparison. Manetho, as represented by one copyist, is at irreconcileable enmity with Manetho as given by another, so that we do not know, which of the transcripts is most trustworthy, or whether either really speaks the opinions of its reputed author. And, after all, if we except his history of the Hycsos or Shepherd kings, they consist of little more than barren lists of unpronounceable names.
It must be allowed, however, that in this wilderness of names, we find occasionally a few tempting oases, where the dusty and toil-worn antiquary may relax into the humorist. For instance, the first king in his first dynasty, is said to have reigned 7243 years and 4 days. The Nile is recorded to have flowed with honey in the reign of Nephercheres ; and in the reign of Necherophes, the moon is said to have swelled to such a size as to have frightened the revolted Lybians into subjection! The accredited historian of Egypt then entertains us, with the mention of seventy ki ngs, who reigned only seventy days between them: though it must be confessed, that these events occur in the earlier chapters of his chronicle, and may possibly belong to the thrice-great Hermes, whom he seems so proud to call his forefather. The later portions will bear a little closer examination, though very little information will be found, before the era of the Old Testament prophets, whose writings, notwithstanding all that scepticism may have said against them, contain
a fund of highly interesting and trustworthy matter relative to Egypt, and its dependencies.
Another, an earlier, and far more credible and valuable historian of ancient Egypt, is Herodotus. He travelled into that country about 450 years B. C., or nearly 2,300 years ago. As an observer, and accurate registrar of facts, he has been surpassed by none ; and the discoveries now, almost daily, making in Egypt, confirm and illustrate his narrative in a very interesting manner. But he was little more than a chronicler; and recorded with all the simplicity and candour of a child whatever was told him, without, however, staking his own fair fame on the result. His history therefore contains a full account of the twaddling pretensions of the vain and superstitious hierarchy of Egypt, for the truth of which, he himself tells us, he will not be responsible. The horizon of his historical credit is allowed to reach no further back than the era of Psammiticus the immediate predecessor of Pharaoh Necho, or about 600 B. C.
On these two historians—Manetho and Herodotus, rests all our cotemporary written information respecting ancient Egypt. But it is contended that other sources of knowledge relating?to this country exist, in the shape of astronomical proofs, architectural evidences, and hieroglyphical inscriptions. Let us look at these for a few moments.
1. The astronomical proofs are the famous zodiacs of Esneh and Denderah, which were supposed to represent the aspect of the stars, and other heavenly bodies as they presented themselves to the eye of the Egyptian astronomer many thousand years ago. The former, was said to be nearly 19,000 years old, and the latter about 6,000! These conjectures, at one time insisted on, as proved beyond all dispute, have been long since exploded; and indeed, owed all the credit they obtained to the ignorance or indolence of those against whom they were especially directed. These “ accurate” astronomical diagrams, as they were once miscalled, are now known to be nothing better than fanciful and exceedingly incorrect astrological horoscopes : the name of Augustus Cæsar, has been deciphered on that, at Dendera, and the name of Antoninus, on that at Esneh, so that the earliest is about 1,800 years old, and the other a century more recent.
2. With regard to architectural proofs, it is urged that almost all the monuments of Egypt are of much earlier date than the period embraced by the history of Herodotus—I mean, that portion of it, for which he makes himself responsible. But this is, I think, very questionable; at all events, it ought not to be thoughtlessly admitted. For amongst all the buildings which he visited and described, it is, to say the least, very singular, that few or none, now exist, or can, at all events, be identified. This is indeed the case with most of those mentioned by later writers; and it is not, therefore, quite fair to presume, that the buildings now remaining, belong to an age, even prior to the first of these periods. There are, certainly, some caves and tombs which belong to an earlier date, though there is little doubt upon the whole, that the age of the monuments of Egypt has been greatly overrated. The sacred edifices of Egypt, indeed, carry with them internal evidences of their origin, as they are for the most part, constructed on the plan of Solomon's temple, and resemble it so closely in their arrangement, as to shut us up to the idea, that they are copied from it, and are, consequently, of later date than about 1000 B.C. For we are assured upon the indisputable evidence of the Bible, that the directions for the Jewish tabernacle, the recognized type of the temple, emanated from God himself, and could not, therefore, have been adopted from Egypt, as has been unwarrantably and impiously asserted. The temple not very long since discovered between the paws of the great Sphynx in front of the second pyramid, admirably illustrates the usual character of these Egyptian structures, and shews the court, the holy place, and Holy of Holies.*
We hear much of the ruins of Thebes; and these, we are told, are at least 3000 years old, as Homer describes that city in very glowing terms as it existed 1200 years B. C. But it is very questionable, whether any of the buildings remaining at the present day, belong to the original city. The hieroglyphics by which the name Thebes is expressed, answer exactly to the Hebrew terms Amon, No, used by the prophet Nahum, about 700 B, C, to designate some great city in Egypt which had been desolated before that time, or in the comprehensive words of Scripture, “ carried away.” It is therefore probable, that very few, if any, remains of ancient Thebes have come down to our own day, especially as Herodotus makes no mention of it, though he describes the other cities, towns, and even villages of Egypt with so much exactness.
3. In speaking of those hieroglyphical inscriptions of ancient Egypt, which throw light upon its history, we must confine ourselves at present, to one or two of the most interesting and comprehensive. Of these, the tablet of Abydos occupies the foremost place. Before, however, we can understand this, it will be necessary to give some account of hieroglyphics.
Clement, of Alexandria, says, the writing of the Egyptians was of three kinds.
See Youths' Magazine for 1835, p. 361, where an engraving and an account of this singular temple are given.
1. Epistolographic; that in which epistles or letters were written : common writing, sometimes called demotic or popular. This consists simply of written characters, and has no connection with hieroglyphics properly so called.
2. Hieratic or priestly; a kind of running hieroglyphic, from which, in fact, it differs only as a business-hand does from a school boy's; and can therefore, hardly be considered as a separate class.
3. Hieroglyphic. This was divided into two orders, the phonetic, and the symbolic.
The phonetic characters are, properly speaking, the only real hieroglyphics. They represent objects, such as a man, a house, an ox, or a bird, for example; the names of which begin with the several letters which they are intended to signify. Thus in writing the word “BRITAIN,” the short vowels being omitted, as in the Hebrew and other ancient languages, the scribe or artist would select such objects as the following :-For the letter B, the figure of a hawk, in Coptic, Beej ; for R, the Sun, Ré; for T, a hand, or a hatchet, Tot or Ter ; for A, a leaf, Ake ; and for N, a vulture, Nouri. He would thus express the letters BRTAN, an abbreviated form of the word, “Britain.”
The symbolic characters are divided by Clement, into three sub-orders, the imitative, the figurative, and those which are “ like some riddles.”
The imitative characters are simply pictures. Thus, a view of London, or a portrait of the queen, would be the imitative representations of those objects.
The figurative characters, consisted either of a curtailed, or symbolic representation of the thing intended to be expressed. Thus, a figure of Britannia, would typify Great Britain; or the city arms, be indicative of London.
The characters described as “ like some riddles,” expressed by a pun or series of puns, the word intended ; just as those signs which are called canting arms in heraldry furnish a clue to the name of the family which bears them. Thus, the name of Robins would be expressed by the picture of a robin with the plural sign affixed : the name of Smith by the representation of a smith; or those of the villages of Bow or Poplar, by drawings of the objects so called. These characters differ from the imitative before described, in as much as they depictsounds and not things; and are in this respect allied to writing, as well as painting.
In describing these various kinds of hieroglyphics, the illustrations have been borrowed from our own language, and must therefore, be regarded rather as adaptations of the system, than as bona fide examples. But I shall now select from the genuine hieroglyphics of Egypt, some instances of each of the kinds adverted to.