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Small Egyptian Antiques For The Collector
( Article orginally published June 1945 )
"Where did the Egyptians come from, who were they, what was their race or tribe? . . . the answers of the learned and great are hesitating too, or at least they should be, some have been who think the origins Nubian, others Mesopotamian and others Indian." So writes Professor John C. Van Dyke in his interesting book, In Egypt.
The origins of Egyptian history are shrouded in the remote past and the first dynasty was founded before 5000 B. C. In purely legendary times the Egyptians considered that their king was the god of Osiris. The wise Osiris redeemed them from savagery and taught them their arts. His wicked brother, Seth, invited him to a banquet and induced him to enter a coffin which Seth shut tight and threw into the Nile. The wife of Osiris, Isis, sought and found the body of her husband but Seth cut it into fourteen pieces and distributed it through Egypt. Isis, by her arts brought them together again, and Osiris became the ruler of the land of the dead. The figure of Osiris is the most dominating one in a country in which there were many gods. At times he was identified with Ra, the sun god, at times he was the god of the earth, of the moon, of the Nile. His son, Horns, the falcon god, was the third member of the Egyptian trinity: Osiris, Isis and Horns. He is often shown sitting on his mother's knee, Isis wearing the horns of the cow with the moon disc between them. The figure of Osiris became closely associated with the cult of the dead. The soul of the deceased was addressed as an Osiris. Thus, if the deceased person's name were Anhai, the prayers which his relatives would say for him would refer to him as Osiris-Anhai. Figures of Osiris would be placed in the tomb along with the many Ushabii figures which were sometimes present to the number of two hundred. The Ushbabti were the servants of the dead who would perform all the tasks that were expected of him in the other world.
The tombs were truly homes of the dead; furniture, utensils, chairs, weapons and musical instruments were placed in the tomb for their use. In very early times statuettes of actual servants showing them at their tasks were placed there too, but about the time of the Middle Kingdom, around 3500 B. C., these statuettes of servants were replaced by figures of the mummy itself and these were supposed to do whatever was required of the deceased. These Ushabti figures were made of stone, faience or wood and they can be recognized by the inscriptions around the lower part of the body, which are engraved with rows of hieroglyphics representing prayers from the Book o f the Dead. The Book o f the Dead was a compilation of prayers and might much better be called a prayer book for the living but the name has clung to it through the centuries and has doubtless repelled many from reading this truly great aggregation of prayers in which so much of EgEgyptian thought and ideals are contained. The idea of living on after death was of paramount importance to the Egyptian and the higher he stood in life the greater were his preparations for magnificent surroundings in the world to come writes Professor Van Dvke. "The Pharaohs planned to remain until the judgment day. They lived mightily in temple and palace, in pageant and parade, in war and peace, as became the kindred of the gods, and they died and were entombed mightily-again, as became the kindred of the gods. Straight through the Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak where during the summer solstice the western sun casts golden shafts, through pylon after pylon, down the avenue of sphinxes to the water's edge, the procession took its way. At the Nile was the Boat of the Dead that carried across to the opposite bank and so on from there to the Valley of the Kings in the Libyan Mountains. There the mummied dead were hidden away in the. vast corridors and chambers of the rock, walled up, sealed in, there to remain until the couxing of Anubis."
As to the permanance of their resting place, it was thwarted by modern archaeological expeditions as well as by the earlier, tomb robbing Arabs. Contents of the tombs are of the greatest variation in artistic quality. There were ivory and gold furnishings in the tomb of Tutankhamen, and the beautiful jewels of the Princess Sat-Hathor-Iunut are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but in addition to such evidences of grandeur there are many small objects from the Egyptian tombs which are of interest to the collector and may very well be used as decorative objects. They have about them the aura of romance that belongs to the far away and long ago. An explorer of modern times who was about to enter the last door of an Egyptian tomb suddenly hesitated at the entrance. Inside the tomb was the print of a naked foot in the dust, the toes were toward the door. It was the footprint of the last person who went out of the tomb 4000 years ago.
One of the earliest Egyptologists of modern times might be said to be Napoleon, although as early as the seventeenth century travellers began to bring back to Europe examples of Egyptian art, such as the stele from Sakkara which was given to the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford in 1683. Napoleon was accompanied by artists and archaeologists in 1798 and the acquisition of the famous Rosetta stone made it possible for scholars to decipher the old Egyptian inscriptions. Nineteenth century archaeologists have been many, from the time of Champollion to Lord Carnarvan and Howard Carter.
The Valley of the Kings in the Libyan Mountains, the Hall of Karnak, the temple of Edfu, the temple of Luxor, have revealed the Egyptian to be the greatest builders of all times. Although the Nile rises and floods many of the temples they have not washed away from their foundations but have stood through the centuries. It is a mystery how their foundations were made so secure on the silt of the Nile valley. The ideal of the imperishable for which they strove so earnestly seems to have been realized in all that they created. Even the small statuettes and bronzes seem to have acquired this duality and to have provided the collector of antiquities with many interesting evidences of the life and thought of past ages.