III — THE "OLD EMPIRE"
Egypt was now launched upon a new-career. The "double country" had passed under the dynasty of the kings of Teni. The princes of the several nomes were in authority at home, and the divinities, customs and local usages were little changed, but the Pharaoh (1) was the Overload.
He was recognized as representative of divinity itself, and was even styled Neter or God. His name seems to have been considered as too sacred to be familiarly uttered. (2) Protessor J. P. Lesley has described this early period as characterized by great simplicity of manners. Making reference to the wooden and stone images which had been found by Mariette-Bey, he represented them as exhibiting features of undeveloped intellect and homely affection, "bourgeoise faces" never crossed by the frowns of serious conflict. He also declared that there was then no "impious race" in the valley of the Nile; no sail woven by an Egyptian hand. "The horse was not yet even a dreamed idea. Arms and smoking altars were alike unknown: they loved and feasted; dug the ground and danced at harvest time; died, and were gathered to their fathers 'on the other shore.' The Pharaoh wore no crown, he affirms; "not even the Uraeus on his headband. He had a simple collar of beads around his neck, and a breech-cloth about his loins, and sat with naked waist and thighs and legs upon a wooden throne, smiling and peaceful, like a May-fair prince."
This picture so quaintly drawn might have been fairly descriptive of the social condition of the Egyptians in the days of King Bitys of the preceding period and of some African Chief away in the heart of the Dark Continent. But Egyptian Kings of the dynasty of Mena were hardly so simple in manners, so peaceful, or so primitive and easy-going. Mena belonged to a city and district of an undetermined antiquity, that possessed the arts and culture of a ripe civilization. The accounts of him, although so fragmentary and circumscribed as to make many mistrustful of his actual existence, are, nevertheless sufficiently explicit to exhibit him as possessing the practical talent of a statesman, the bravery of a veteran warrior, and the zeal of an earnest religious man.
The dyke which he built to turn the Nile from its bed and thus to procure a site for his new city, can hardly be considered as the work of a "smiling and peaceful" chieftain. The sacred precinct (3) which he set apart for the worship of the demiurgic god, Ptah, contained not only the living serpent, always present in Egyptian shrines, but the symbols and statues of the Sacred Triad; and there was likewise a complete hierarchy of initiated priests, prophets and scientific men to fulfill all the requirements of worship, instruction and professional skill. There were all these in Mena's own country at Abydos, for the Egyptians had passed through many ages of civilization before his accession to power, and he established them in his new metropolis and dominion.
The new city was oftenest called Ha-ka-Ptah, from being the place where Ptah was the Supreme Divinity, but the various precincts had names of their own as so many towns. It was perhaps more generally known as Men-nefer, the "place of the Good One," the god Osiris. There was a practice of grouping the houses around sacred precincts, and the several regions were named accordingly from the sanctuary. The whole district was named Seket-Ra, the field of Ra. The dead were buried in the stony ground at the west of Memphis, and the region was called Ankh-ta, the land of life.
Mena is recorded by Manetho as having reigned sixty-two years. He found it necessary to defend his dominion against foreign adversaries, and in an expedition against the Libyans, "perished by a wound from a hippopotamus." He left no monuments, and the material of Memphis was carried away in modern times to build the city of Cairo, thus making it difficult to find memorials.
The successor of Mena was his son, Atuti or Athothis, whose reign is recorded as fifty-seven years. It was a common practice of ancient kings to associate with them the heir apparent during their lifetime, and thus to familiarize him with administration and likewise avoid the perils of a disputed succession. Whether Athothis reigned conjointly with his father is not certain, but by no means improbable. He was succeeded by his son of the same name, who is said to have reigned thirty-one years. It is recorded that Athothis, probably the father, but perhaps the son, built the Royal Palace at Memphis, thus establishing that city as the capital of all Egypt. It is also stated that "anatomical works were produced, for he was a physician." A medical papyrus, now in the Royal Museum in Berlin, which was composed in the reign of Ramases II., illustrates the probable accuracy of this statement. It contains directions for the cure of leprosy, which it declares to have been discovered in a writing of very ancient origin in a writing-case under the feet of the god Anubis at Kakemi, where Se-Ptah or Usaphaidos was king. Professional employment was open to persons of every rank who might possess the necessary skill. It was high praise to describe a gifted individual as "being of an unknown origin." On the other hand, it was usual in all ages for members of the royal family of Egypt to engage in useful vocations. They became priests and prophets at the temples, scribes, physicians, architects or whatever suited their genius. It was in no sense demeaning, or a lowering of royal dignity for the king to be a physician and author. The custom of embalming the dead was now in full operation, and great care was taken in regard to the procedure. The bodies of the sacred animals as well as of human beings were thus preserved.
In the reign of the fourth king, Uenephes, great famine prevailed in Egypt. Whether the annual inundation in the Nile was deficient, or whether the excessive overflow destroyed the chances for harvest, we are not informed. It was probably the latter. The king, either in the exuberance of religious fervor, resulting from misfortune, or else from a benevolent desire to furnish employment to indigent subjects, engaged in the building of pyramids. The site of these structures was at Kakami, the town of "the Black Bull," near Sakkara, the necropolis of Memphis. The principal pyramid was erected on a base of about four hundred square feet and was one hundred and ninety-six feet high. It was built of granite and limestone, and had seven steps like the towers at Babylon. It was evidently a royal sepulchre, and contained a sarcophagus, but it was employed afterward as a receptacle for the bodies of the Apis bulls.
Hesep or Usaphaidos, the succeeding king, has left no memento beyond his name and the memorandum of the medical work which has been mentioned. He is said to have reigned twenty-six years. He was succeeded by Merba or Miebies and he by Semempsis. The accession of this king was marked by various wonderful occurrences, and by terrible pestilence. The next monarch was Bienaches, with whom the direct line of Mena was completed. None seems to have equalled the head of the dynasty in achievement. It is significantly stated, however, by Manetho that every king was succeeded by his son.
The Second Dynasty began by the accession of Butan, Neter-Bau (God of Spirits) or Boethos, also belonging to Teni. During his reign an earthquake took place in Egypt, and a chasm opened near Bubastis, accompanied by the destruction of many of the inhabitants. The succeeding monarch was Ka-kau (4) or Kaiakhos, who reigned thirty-eight years. He established the worship of the bulls, Hapi or Apis, at Memphis, and Mena or Mnevis at Heliopolis, and that of the god Ba-en-tatta at Mendes. (5) This was probably a measure of public policy; the deifying of these animals rendered all others of their kind secular, and so permitted the people to employ them for common use accordingly.
The next king bore the name of Bino-thris or Bai-en-netera, commemorative of the new worship at Mendes. (6) Under this monarch the custom was enacted into a decree that women should be eligible to the royal dignity. The effect of this is traceable through Egyptian history. A queen upon the death of her husband would take the reins of government or occupy the place of her son in his minority; and where there were no sons, the daughter of a king transferred the crown to a new dynasty. Her husband in such case was king only in power, but her son had full right to the throne. Where the king married a wife of lower rank, her children had not equal rights with children of a wife who was of royal blood. Most of the dynasties succeeded the previous ones by virtue of marriage with such princesses.
The successor of Binothris was Utnas or Tlas, who in turn was followed by Sen-ta or Sethenes. There is at the Ashmolean Library at Oxford part of the architrave of a door, which belongs to the tomb of a prophet who belonged to the worship of this monarch. The kings were adored as gods, having their priests and other functionaries.
We now observe the introduction of the name of Ra in royal names. Kha-Ra and Nefer-ka-Ra were the next sovereigns. It was reported of the latter that during his reign, the Nile flowed with honey for eleven days. Nefer-ka-saker, his successor, is described by Greek writers as five cubits, or about ten feet high, with corresponding breadth; probably taking the notion from some bust or picture. One more king only is named in the Second Dynasty; the monuments mention Hutefa as reigning a few months; the chronicles designate Kheneres with a term of thirty years.
In regard to the Third Dynasty, the several writers, old and recent, widely differ. The kings made Memphis the sole metropolis, and Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson is of opinion that they ruled at the same time with those of the First Dynasty. It has also been supposed that for a long period Upper and Lower Egypt had again distinct rulers. Other writers generally consider those of the Third Dynasty as succeeding the Second, and arrange them accordingly. The first king in the series was Neb-ka, (7) or Nekherophes. Under his reign the Libyans revolted from under the Egyptian rule, but upon beholding the spectacle of a sudden increase of the size of the moon they were terrified and returned to their allegiance.
The heir of this king was Ser or Serhes, the Tosorthros or Sesorthos of Manetho. Wilkinson was of opinion that he was the same as Athothis of the First Dynasty, which also seems to be favored by the description which has been preserved. "He was denominated the Egyptian Esculapius, for his medical skill, and invented the art of building with hewn stones, and also gave attention to the art of engraving." Doubtless under his encouragement these arts were more diligently cultivated, but the Egyptians were proficient in them long before.
After this enlightened monarch followed a list of whom only the names have been preserved. There were Tota or Tyris, Toser-tota or Mesokhris, Setes or Soiphis, Neb-ka-Ra, or Tosertosis, Nefer-ka-Ra, Huni or Akhis, and Se-nefer-u or Siphuris. When no history is made a people is generally happiest.
Brugsch-Bey is unwilling to say much in commendation of these princes. The old names, he remarks, suggest, according to their original significance, the ideas of strength and terror, which are very suitable as designations for the men who succeeded in subjecting the great masses of the people to their own will and law. "It is only later that the sacred names of the gods occur in the Pharaonic escutcheons, reminding us by their positions of the circle of gods specially venerated by the royal house."
The last king of note of this dynasty was Se-nefer-u, the "doer of good," a name bestowed apparently by a grateful people. He left behind him many memorials of his career. The "oldest scripture," as Professor Lesley terms it, the Papyrus Prisse, dates from his reign. The following two chapters verify its date and give a fair impression of the religious sentiment of that remote period:
1. Health be to him that honoureth me! Honor be to him that goeth with me willingly.
2. Open lies the casket of my speech! Uncovered the place of my word building.
3. Furnished with swords to attack the negligent, who is never found present at his post.
4. When thou sittest in the company of men, scorn thou thy favorite viands: for a short moment renounce them with thy heart.
5. For gluttony is a vice and scandal lies hidden therein. A cup of water slakes one's thirst: a mouthful of Shuu (8) strengthens the heart.
6. Virtue is the end of good things, and what is of no account determines greatness.
7. Miserable is he who is slave to his belly, or who spends his time in senselessness. Fatness lauds it over the house of such.
8. When thou sittest with a banqueter who eats till his girdle bursts,
9. When thou drinkest with a wine-bibber, who receives thee, his heart rejoicing itself with drink more than a butcher with flesh,
10. Take thou what he handeth thee: reject it not.
11. Nevertheless, it is disgusting when one who cannot possibly make himself intelligible in any word, tortures himself in vain to win for himself a favorable heart.
12. He is a shame to his mother and to his friends.
13. When he knocketh as a suitor at the door, every one crieth out: "Make haste!" "Depart!"
1. The word out of thy mouth, it instructeth thee.
2. Let not thy heart lift itself above the ground on account of strength.
3. Be not of a stiff-necked mind.
4. Teach thy posterity in that thou regulatest thyself.
5. Not to be comprehended is the world: God who made it has forbidden it.
6. What a man hath to do after he has finished the lot of man is to teach his children wisdom.
7. Their duty stands in going up the ladder which he has set for them.
8. It happens that all this stands written in the Book of Proverbs: therefore follow it, as I tell it, after the example of the more useful.
9. These committed it to memory. These had so read it; it was in the Scripture.
10. Its excellence was in their slight greater than all things which are in the whole land, whether they be great or small.
11. So soon as his holiness, Huni, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, had reached the [other] shore.
12. There arose his holiness Se-nefer-u, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, as beneficent king of the whole land.
13. Lo! Then became Kadjimna, governor of the city and its environs. This is the end.
Before these two chapters, there had been written another scripture, which was carefully erased: as well as another after it, written by one Ptah-hetep at a later period. It has been guessed that the author of the erased writing was Kheops himself.
The reign of Se-nefer-u was characterized by many significant events. The fashion was adopted of taking several names at the enthroning of the monarch. He had the name conferred by his parents, the escutcheon of his sacred name and three titles of honor. Each name was believed to have a magic power influencing the character and destiny. The first title began with the symbol of Horos, the sparrow-hawk wearing the double crown. Then followed a hieroglyphic group, setting forth the second title and exhibiting the king as the lord of the two diadems. The third contained the image in honor of Horos, and under it a praise of the monarch. The fourth was the sacred name of the king, and the fifth his own proper name with the standing title as a prefix. "Son of Ra." In later periods it was usual after the name of the king to give that of his pyramid. That of Se-nefer-u was of green stone near Meidum, and bore the name of Kha.
Se-nefer-u was a conqueror as well as a sovereign, and added the peninsula of Sinai to the dominion of Egypt. Its mines of copper and "mafka" or turquoise and other gems were for many centuries a prolific source of wealth. On the wall of rock in one of the caves he is pictured as a warrior with a club striking down a foe. The inscription gives his name and the designation. "Vanquisher of a foreign people."
The rocks bear the remains of many inscriptions, which have been the occasion of much curious speculation. The territory was carefully fortified against invasion from the East, and numerous temples were built to the gods of Egypt. Chief among them all was the Sanctuary of Hathor, the Great Mother, Queen of Heaven, and there was also a shrine to the divinity of the East. The mountain was thus "holy ground," centuries before the reputed period of Moses.
It was a common practice for Egyptians to have their tomb, the "everlasting house" (9) in the neighborhood of the royal pyramid. Many years ago some curious natives discovered the entrance to one of these near the pyramid of Se-nefer-u. They found the walls covered with pictures and hieroglyphics, executed skillfully in mosaic and admirably colored, as fresh as though the work had been done at a period comparatively recent. They also brought out to daylight two statues of a man and his wife seated beside each other in a chair. The eyes were of crystal, white ivory and a black ore, and exhibited the appearance of life. The man sat on the right, and his name was given as Ra-hotep. He was the son of a king, had commanded troops, and was at the time of his death a high priest at the temple in Heliopolis. His wife was named Nefert and she was the granddaughter of a king.
There were also found in other tombs at Gizeh the names of members of Se-neter-u's family. This king was held in high esteem till the later periods of Egyptian history, and his worship as a divine being was maintained till the time of the Macedonian conquest. He was emphatically a prince who had regarded the welfare of his people all the days of his life, and throughout all their vicissitudes they loved and venerated his memory. He gave to Egypt a new life, new instruction, a new genius and policy that changed but little in the succeeding years.
Thus was Mr. Gliddon's description fully realized: "The time-honored chronicles carry us back to the remotest era of earliest periods: and even there display to us the wonderful and almost inconceivable evidences of a government organized under the rule of one monarch; of a mighty and numerous people, skilled in the arts of war and peace; in multifarious abstract and practical sciences, with well-framed laws and social habits of highly civilized life, wherein the female sex was free, educated and honored; of a priesthood possessing a religion in which the unity of the godhead, and his attributes in trinities or triads, with a belief in the immortality of the soul, a certainty of ultimate judgment and a hope of the resurrection of the dead are discoverable."
1. This designation is now translated literally as meaning the "Great Gate," or "High Gate" — the same as "Sublime Porte" at Constantinople. The ancient Orientals held their courts at the gates of the cities as places of public resort, and litigants brought their causes thither for judgment. See Deuteronomy xvi., 18; Ruth iv., i; II. Samuel xv., 2, 6. The title of the place naturally became the official designation of the king. In an analogous manner the gate of the Temple in Memphis was designated as representing Osiris as judge of the dead. (return to text)
2. It became a custom for the kings in coming to the throne to adopt some new designation, which was often from some divinity, and indeed many had several titles, perplexing later historians. When speaking of him it was usual to say "he" and to denominate him as "His Holiness." An individual coming into his presence prostrated himself and kissed the ground; but favored persons were permitted as a great privilege to embrace his knees. (return to text)
3. Temples or temenoi anciently consisted of plots of ground marked out by a priest or sacred person, and set apart to religious purposes. They were often very large, and abounded with cloisters and buildings for the occupants. As astrology was a part of the religious system, to contemplate was to resort to the temple to consider and study the aspects of the sky. Caves and grotto-structures were employed for secret worship and initiations. (return to text)
4. This name seems to have been given in commemoration of the instituting of animal worship. The term ka signifies a male, a bull, or he-goat. Ka-kau therefore signifies the Great Father. (return to text)
5. In the symbolic meaning, the bull Hapi represented Osiris. Mena at Heliopolis was the living image of Tum or Atum, the sun-god of evening, and the goat was the living anaglyph of Neph, its name, Bin-el-tatta, signifying the Eternal Soul. (return to text)
6. R. S. Poole. (return to text)
7. The monuments give the name of Bebi as preceding Neb-ka, and give the latter the Greek appellation Tosorthros. (return to text)
8. Shuu is a kind of mace. (return to text)
9. Ecclesiastes xii. – "For thus man goes to his everlasting house, while the mourners walk about the streets. And dust goes hence to earth from whence it came. And spirit returns again to him who gave it. Fear the Godhead and keep his commandments, for this is the All of man; for every work, every secret act, good and evil, God will bring to the judgment." (return to text)
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