« السابقةمتابعة »
monsters of evil; they were fed with every costly dainty, and surrounded with every Egyptian luxury, and all the services rendered them were solemn and mysterious, and looked upon as the propitiation of powers capable of inflicting the most terrible revenge on those who neglected or insulted them.
As an incarnation of Typhon, the crocodile was universally worshipped, and most sumptuous temples were erected to his honour, where many animals of the species received all the attention which the Egyptians loved to lavish on their four-footed gods. But besides this, the worshipped crocodile was thus associated with their ideas concerning mystical numbers, they believed this animal to have sixty teeth, to lay sixty eggs, and to have sixty joints in its backbone, and to live for sixty years; while we may trace the curious symbolism involved in their mythology in their paying them homage, as the living personification of Chronos, the god of time, not unjustly imagining that time, which destroys all things, was fitly symbolized in the devouring monster of the Nile.
Birds also received a large share of religious veneration among the Egyptians. To Osiris and Horus, the heat and light of the sun, were dedicated all the varieties of the hawk. The Egyptians thought that the characteristic energy of this rapacious bird, the unerring rapidity of his flight when in pursuit of his prey, and, above all, the brightness of his beautiful eye, made him a fit symbol of the splendour and rapid motion of the sun's rays; it must strike every one that surely the Egyptians must have been little acquainted with the eagle, or must have improperly appreciated his characteristic habits, or on this noble bird-whose strength and energy raise him above the whole feathered creation, and who can gaze with unfaltering eye on the sun's meridian splendour-would have been lavished all those honours paid to the hawk. From this is derived the hawk-headed deity of Egypt,
and perhaps also the vulture and eagle-headed gods of the Assyrians.
Another bird, the most celebrated animal known in connection with the religion of Egypt, is the ibis. Many theories have been promulgated by talented writers to explain the extraordinary regard in which this animal was held, and one of the most accomplished French savans who accompanied Bonaparte to Egypt, dedicated a whole volume to its explanation. Many circumstances served to give rise to this. We know that the ibis is a bird of passage, that he arrived in Egypt in spring when the Nile was beginning to rise, that he remained during the whole inundation, and flew back across the Mediterranean to Europe when the river had returned to its channel. The Egyptians welcomed the arrival of the ibis as the herald of the Nile's rising, as we gaze with pleasure on the cuckoo or swallow as the harbingers of spring; but carrying their adoration still further, they fell into an error not unfrequently committed by other metaphysicians and logicians of our own learned day, of looking upon two coincidences in the light of cause and effect. They looked upon the ibis not as the concomitant of the Nile's rise, but as its very cause. Thus inclined to gaze on the bird in a most favourable point of view, they soon discovered other adorable qualities to swell the list of its attributes. They observed the space included between the legs of the bird to form an isoceles triangle, and this accorded with their love of geometry. When its head was under its wing as birds do when sleeping, its body was thought to resemble the heart in shape, and it was dedicated to Thoth the god of the heart, who is generally represented as a human being with the head of an ibis. To Isis, as the moon, it was dedicated, because its crooked beak, and the crossing of its wings, resembled the crescent. It was believed to possess an invincible antipathy for all venomous animals, and was worshipped as an enemy of Typhon; finally, as
the most sacred of the Egyptian animals, it was sacred to the Egyptian trinity. It was elevated on a shrine in the temple of Isis, and the nymphs of the fane danced round it joyously, and when life had departed, its dead body was embalmed and carefully preserved. At Saccara, large excavations have been discovered, containing nothing but the mummies of this sacred bird.
Before concluding the notice of the sacred animals of Egypt, we must also note the adoration of insects, and especially of the scarabeus or sacred beetle. This was a no less celebrated object of religious veneration; and an eminent French naturalist, M. Latreile, has devoted an elaborate essay to explain the causes of its singular worship. A student of this branch of Egyptian mythology will rise from its contemplation struck with the acuteness and ingenuity of the allegories associated with the history of the insects of this class. We know it to be a curious fact in the natural history of this tribe of insects, that the female forms a round ball of earth, in which she deposits her eggs; this ball she hides in the earth, and after a certain number of days, the eggs give birth to small caterpillars, which, after undergoing changes analogous to those of the butterfly, become perfect insects. The Egyptians observed this extraordinary occurrence, but as both sexes in this class are extremely similar in form and colour, they imagined all of them to be males, and would have smiled at any one who talked of a female beetle. They supposed the male scarabeus to be the personification of Osiris, as the genial heat which warmed into life all the inhabitants of the earth; the thirty joints of its body were believed to correspond with the period of the passage of the sun through one sign of the zodiac, the ball was thought to be round to correspond with the shape of the globe, and to be rolled from east to west in accordance with the motions of the heavenly bodies; it was believed to be left in the earth by the sage beetle for
twenty-eight days, the period of a lunar month, when it was cast into the Nile, and in a short time a new brood of male beetles came forth, full grown and winged for flight. It was thus that the Egyptians, conceiving the influence of the beetle over its own microcosm to be equal to that which the sun exerted on the great globe, worshipped the latter as the symbol of the former. A second species, whose head was surmounted with horns, was dedicated to the lunar crescent, and a third was consecrated to Thoth for some similar reason. We would not have dwelt at so great length on this curious branch of Egyptian worship, were it not that every fact shows that, next to the ibis, no animal was more universally worshipped than the scarabeus. Its form is found represented in every temple of Egypt. It was carved in precious stones, inscribed with hieroglyphics, and set in gold. The smaller scarabei were worn as amulets or charms, and are among the most common Egyptian relics. Thousands of them have been found in the catacombs, and they are frequently discovered on removing the swathings of mummies, laid on the breast of the dead.
Such was the animal worship of Egypt;—however ex traordinary it may appear to the well-informed mind, the striking analogies and real or imagined coincidence in which it appears to have originated, furnish a curious in sight into the origin of the grossest idolatry, from the refined symbolism of a learned and philosophical priesthood.
IDEAS OF A FUTURE STATE.
Darkness their light, and sternest fate their hope
THERE still remains for consideration the essential and ultimate doctrines of the Egyptian mythology, including the ideas entertained of the deities in reference to a higher state of being, of the human soul, and the belief entertained of the future state of the disembodied spirit. To the last some reference has already been made, but we shall now view it in another aspect in relation to the process of embalming, which is so peculiarly characteristic of ancient Egypt. Perhaps no relic of former ages, handed down to our own times, awakens more curious emotions than the embalmed body of an ancient Egyptian; we gaze with awe and solemnity on "the statue of flesh," the "imperishable type of evanescence," the rigid form snatched from the darkness and rottenness of the grave, which, if it have lost all traces of beauty, at least shows no signs of decay. We may be contemplating one who has sat on the throne of Pharaoh, and the dim and lustreless eyes may have gazed on the mighty manifestations of God's power, "when he smote Egypt with his wonders," or, spectator of all but the last, he may have been among the first victims of the destroying angel.