Ritual Myth And Drama - Dance In Egypt
( Originally Published 1935 )
Among primitive people, magical dances were the first methods for dealing with the unknown, and as such, were the earlier manifestations of both science, religion, and forms which were more immediately impressive, of poetry, drama, and their combined use. Imitation of animal movements by dancers is recognized all over the world. In early stages of the history of hunting tribes these simple ceremonies were probably purely descriptive. By the employment of sympathetic magic, by flapping arms like wings, raising feet like a bear's paw, the food supply would be increased. But later the cult grew into an animal worship. Tribal ancestors were believed to return to their old homes in the guise of animals, an efficient way to preserve some animals from extinction by totem tabu. This belief also served as a rudimentary externalization of the hunter's admiration for stealth, grace and courage inherent in animal energy. Tribal clans took as their badge ancestral bear, wolf or buffalo, and in return for propitiatory behavior, the spirits residing in the beasts interested themselves in their clan's welfare and continuation. With the periodic repetition of these songs and dances two important features emerge: the more or less conscious codification of ritual; the creation of position of priest-dancer, who, responsible for the correct maintenance of rites, wields great power. In most primitive society there is an imperative necessity for the identical rehearsal of ceremonies. Strict accuracy of detail, careful repetition of all the various elements ate believed to be essential to the success of the rite. And it was, of course, a convenient loophole for the witch-doctors when rain wouldn't fall, or when game continued scarce, to show their people that the guilt lay in their faulty performance. In the Bear dances of the Kwakiutl Indians of Vancouver Island,
All dancers who made mistakes in their performances must always fall down, as if dead, and the Bear impersonators fell upon them and tore them to pieces. Sometimes this was a pretense, but, according to the traditional teaching for certain errors there was no mitigation of the penalty.*
Just as the essence of magic is faith in some secret sympathetic link, so ritual, or the methodology of achieving magical results, consists in the doing of what is wanted to be done. When warriors return from a victorious foray, they reenact their success in a mimic dance, for the benefit of those who stayed at home. From a particular victory this easily tends to become a generalized war game, which not only commemorates that one particular triumphant day, but which is important to practice before the next expedition or battle to insure success. The dance becomes a wishful prayer, a wishful prophecy which, when courage, boldness and cunning are needed, rehearses these virtues in imitation, keeping a battle technique fresh in mind and body for that near moment when its use will be actual.
The phenomenon of periodicity regulates the repetition of rituals. Every one is conscious of the pulse under his left breast. Mornings follow nights, and, compassed by sun and moon, the day's phrase in seven given numbers. The return of the wheeling seasons regulates the presence or absence of food-supply. The exact dates are regulated by geographical features of the land itself, and its place on the globe. In the South Seas dancing men await the hour of the Monsoon; in Egypt, the minute of the Nile's flooding.
In the extremely complex, highly organized patterns of Egyptian civilization we can see ritual in a high form, becoming a fine art separate from the belief which was the source of its arising. Not only can parallels be taken from the Egyptian cult to match subsequent degenerations in Greece and Rome, but an understanding of how they treated their resurrection myth and how they produced it as a dramatic act-of-faith will prepare us for striking similarities with ancient Greece, Rome, and early Christianity in the origins of their dramatic dance. In a homogeneous culture, which suffered, until its precipitate decline, from so few exterior influences that each at its inception is at once apparent, we can find a rich mine of documentation and vital testimony. Every factor, from the prompting geographical necessity, the historic myth, the tribal deification, the ritual honors and supplication, the priest-ordained laws for repetition, and finally the myth, become mass dance-dramas, is clearly displayed.
The whole life of Egypt was based, and to a great extent still depends on the annual inundation of the river Nile. The country is a virtual desert, served by the flowing vitality of waters which split it. The river is controlled by an elaborate, ingenious system of dams, locks and irrigation-canals, regulating the floods by distributing a yearly renewal of fertile mud washed down its bed from the equatorial lakes and mountains of Abyssinia. The rise of the river is watched by the entire population with great concern. If it should become too high and run wild, or if it should be too low to enter the canals, a year's famine results. The Nile starts to swell in June. It is in flood-tide by the end of July or start of August. High-water mark passes in September, and with luck, by then the whole countryside is submerged. The river starts to recede in October, and by late December or mid-January it is back in its ancient bed. With summer's approach Egypt is parched, dry, deadened with acrid layers of desert dust. From mid-April to mid-June the brown country gasps for a new Nile. The necessity for a resurrection legend, or body of belief in human survival is obvious. If it had not expressed itself in the particular form of the Osiris myth, it must have created a similar one. The reality of the Osiris legend is literally reflected in the yearly existence of the Egyptian people.
Without trying to determine a human kingly prototype for Osiris in Egypt's remote past, let us know his story in its developed form as Plutarch collected it from various sources which in his lifetime were not yet dead. Osiris means `Many-Eyed,' which is used as the sun's name in many old cultures. He was the bastard of the Sea God and the Earth Goddess. When the Sun God, Ra, found out his wife had tricked him, he cursed her issue, vowing it would be born in no-month and no-year. But the Earth Goddess had another lover, Thoth, who, playing checkers with the Moon, won from her the sevenrysecond part of every day. Combining out of these parts five whole days, Thoth added them to the three hundred and sixty of the Egyptian year. This is the mythical origin of the supplementary time needed to reconcile the Lunar with the Solar calendar. On these five days, considered as entirely outside recorded time, the Sun's curse had no strength. Osiris was born on the first day. At his birth a loud voice proclaimed the coming of the Lord of All. On the second day his mother bore Horus, on the third his brother-adversary Set, the fourth, his sister-wife Isis.
As King, Osiris redeemed the Egyptians from barbarism, gave them laws and named them gods. Isis, his sister-wife, to whom Plato attributed the inve ntion of singing and dancing, discovered wheat and barley, and Osiris introduced the cultivation of cereals, inducing the people to stop eating men and start eating corn. Osiris first gathered fruit and grew vines for grapes. He lent the rule of Egypt to his wife and traveled over the world's face, spreading everywhere agriculture and civilization. Returning in triumph, he was adored as god. But his brother, tainted with the Sun God's curse, and seventy-two companions representing the cheated year, plotted against him. By a trick Set took his measure, had a coffin made to fit it, and in jest, contrived to place him in it. This he shut, sealed, and flung into the Nile. Isis, hearing, mourned, and through many involved adventures, sought her beloved's body. But Set, hunting a wild boar by moonlight found the coffin, and cut the corpse into fourteen parts. Isis discovered each in turn, separately buried them as she found them, so that he might be worshiped in many places. However, his penis had been devoured by the Nile fish. She made an image of it, instead, and buried that. The Sun God now took pity on bereaved Isis and when the parts of the dead god were reassembled, all the usual burial ceremonies were observed. Isis fanned the dead clay with her wings and Osiris was resurrected, and from then on ruled as King in the world of death, where he is Lord of Time, judge of death, consigner to life everlasting or hell's reward.
In Osiris as their symbol, Egyptians saw the promise of eternity and believed with literal confidence that they too would inherit eternal life if their surviving friends or families dealt with them as Osiris had been used by his. The ritual ceremonies at death were observed with a most scientific, fanatical strictness, copying the ones which jackal-headed Anubis and Horus had p r-formed over the dead god. At every human burial was reenacted the divine mystery of mourning friends attending the torn relics. By spells, offerings and manipulation the wrapped corpse was reanimated. The mummy of each dead man was Osiris, and from the time of Middle Kingdom on (ca. 2300 B.C.) it became the custom to address the corpse as Osiris Insert-His-Name. The professional mourners acted his two sisters, Isis and Nepthys; Anubis, Horus and all of the rest of the holy hierarchy. There was a national industry of funeral trades; tomb-making, decorating, furnishing, embalming. There were classes of professional mourners equipped with alabaster bottles to contain their purchased tears which were buried together with the mummy's celestial furniture; singers of funeral hymns, and dancers for funeral feasts.
Two chief cities were associated with the Osirian cult, Busiris, in lower Egypt, which enshrined his backbone, and Abydos in upper Egypt, reliquary of the divine head. From about the year 2400 B.C., Abydos, previously an obscure village, became the Holy Sepulcher of the kingdom, and every pious subject longed to rest near his god's grave. As in all these mortuary affairs, the economic consideration was important; those who were not rich enough to afford propinqual burial had their remains piloted past the spot before reburial in their native land, or had cenotaphs or memorials raised nearby to share, in sympathy, the god's reflected glory.
A festival for Isis was celebrated when the Nile started to rise. It was believed that the wife-sister was mourning for her loss, and her tears falling fast flooded the river. Osiris, as god of corn, was mourned in midsummer. The harvest past, the fields lay barren, the river was dry mud, life itself static. A signal for the river-rising was given from heaven. Sirius, clearest of fixed stars, which they named Sothis, appeared in the eastern dawn, nearing the time of the summer solstice, just when the river slowly commenced to swell. Sothis was the star of Isis. Its apparition marked the start of the Holy Year, and the first work of great importance was cutting the dams, which up till now had checked the pregnant Nile. August released the waters. In November there was enough subsidence for sowing. In March and April wheat, barley and sorghum could be reaped. After the dam-breaking, the next great observance was the committal of seed to the soil. It was a mournful November ritual, shrouded with preventive and protective magical fear. The Egyptian harvest was not in autumn as is ours and most European and Mediterranean peoples, but in the three spring months. The harvest, though really an occasion for joyful thanksgiving, was marked with show of grief by the precautionary conventions of the Egyptian literalists, in order to give no offense to the god deprived of his fruit. The fanner, in cutting the first gilded sheaf, was severing the body of the corn-god and trampling it to bits under the hooves of his cattle on his threshing floor. A melancholy hymn of apologetic invocation, which the Greeks knew as the Maneros, propitiated ever-suffering Osiris.
On the night of the memorial of his divine passion, there was a festival of nocturnal illumination observed throughout the kingdom, whose oil-lamps commemorated not only dead Osiris, but all the ghostly company who lived with him from all time, for all time. It was All Souls' Night which has been anciently observed with us in the form of All Hallow's Even, and which remnants of disguising have descended to us with all sense of the magic mummery forgotten. The purpose of the ceremonies, detailed by Plutarch, were to represent in dramatic form, with the agency of dance, music, song and pageantry, the search for the god's dead body, its joyful discovery and assembly, followed by its resurrection. With shaven heads the celebrants annually mourned a buried idol, slashing their breasts, opening old wounds, until after the several days they professed to find the mangled pieces.
The rites lasted eighteen days, and set forth the nature of Osiris in his triple aspect as dead, dismembered, and finally reconstituted by the union of scattered limbs. Small images of the god were molded of sand or vegetable earth and corn, to which incense was sometimes added; his face was painted yellow and his cheek-bones green. These images were cast in a mold of pure gold, which represented the god in the form of a mummy, with the white crown of Egypt on his head. The festival opened with a ceremony of plowing and sowing. Two black cows were yoked to the plow, which was made of tamarisk wood, while the share was of black copper. A boy scattered the seed. One end of the field was sown with barley, the other with spelt, and the middle with flax. During the operation the chief celebrant recited the ritual chapter of `the sowing of the fields.' On the tenth day, at the eighth hour, the images of Osiris, attended by thirty-four images of deities, performed a mysterious voyage in thirty-four tiny boats made of papyrus, which were illuminated by three hundred and sixty-five lights. On the twelfth day, after sunset, the effigy of Osiris in a coffin of mulberry wood was laid in the grave, and at the ninth hour of the night the effigy which had been made and deposited the year before was removed and placed upon boughs of sycamore. Lastly, on the eighteenth day, they repaired to the holy sepulcher. Entering the vault by the western door, they laid the coffined effigy of the god reverently on a bed of sand in the chamber. So they left him to his rest, and departed from the sepulcher by the eastern door. Thus ended the ceremonies in the month of Khoiak!
Osiris as a preeminent type of resurrection god, was the hero of a real mystery-play, or tragedy annually produced at Abydos. In this purely ritual drama we can recognize the three essential ingredients of Greek popular tragedy which by the time it was written, some thousand years later, would, in spite of religious and moral significances, be pretty well secularized. There is for Osiris an agon, or contest with his enemy-brother Set; there is his pathos of suffering: defeat, death and dismembering: there is his anagnorisis, or recognition. Similarly were celebrated in Babylon the rites of Dumuz-i-absu or Tamuz `true-son-of-the-waters: The midsummer ceremonies of gored Adonis echo the fading of the year's flower. In Syria the cults of Tammuz and Attis can be considered as purely ritual features rather than as ritual become art. But in Egypt and Greece the rituals of Osiris and Dionysos are represented as much or more in art as they are in ritual.
Art is not an imitation of nature. It arose from the breaking down and intensification of religious essences by magical methods for desirable ends, just as in chemistry certain substances must be split up for a new gas. It involved synthesis, intensification and repetition of observation. A rite, as something done for a purpose, had no intention of imitating, competing with or imposing on nature. A rite was an aid in deriving strength from nature and frequently sympathetic mimicry was employed. In ritual dances or dramas, the priest, leader, chief-actor, or first-dancer becomes in his person as god or hero, the personification or personalization of the entire enacted legend. The ritual is expressed en masse by the dancing group, but the first-dancer is used as a focus, with which every other dancer can identify himself and gain emotional tension. The Pharaoh could represent the incarnation of Osiris. This human mortality would be fused with his god's divine immortality. The emotion of a nation could be polarized for religious and political reasons on the personal drama of a first-dancer. Dancing is a constant reminder of life and death, in its various aspects as rite, tragedy, or mass. In Egypt this periodic festival framed with dancing-praise not an immortal, but a perennial god. This aspect of divinity was perhaps more attractive to a people constantly at the mercy of opposing seasons than the Christ, who, once resurrected, was never to die again.
An inscription of one I-Kher-Nefert, an official of the King, Usertsen III (ca. 2400 B.C.) has left us a record of the annual mystery performed at Abydos. I-Kher-Nefert seems to have been responsible for the organization of the spectacles; and tells us of the roles which he himself took.
I performed the coming forth of Apuat when he set out to defend his father; I drove back the enemy from the Neshmet boat; I overthrew the foes of Osiris; I performed the 'Great Coming-Forth'; I followed the god in his foot-steps; I made the boat of the god to move and Thoth....I caused Osiris to set out in the Boat, which bore his beauty. I made the hearts of the dwellers in the East to expand with joy, and caused gladness to be in the dwellers in the West, when they saw the beauty as it landed at Abydos, bringing Osiris Khenti-Amenti, the Lord of Abydos, to his palace.
As with dancing, music and religion in ancient Egypt were interdependent, though in all likelihood the cults modified and controlled music, which was primarily an accessory. The Egyptians had wind, stringed and percussive instruments as well as bone and clay whistles, harps and buzzers. Bands of female singing dancers were attached to temples for the constant honor of its god. The royal houses possessed troupes of entertainers which could serve on secular as well as sacred occasions. Slaves were taught dancing as well as music, to be domestic entertainers; and much later there was a class of professional performers who had no link with either private life or public ceremony.
However, as far back as the first Dynasty (ca. 3000 B.C.) a wooden relief of the King Semti shows dancing as plastic prayer. The King's pose would show him moving rhythmically to simple instrumental music or hand-clapping. An official of the King Assa (fourth dynasty, ca. 2400 B.C.) brought from the land of Punt a pygmy dancer who 'knew the dance of his god' and was believed to have come from the spirit-world. Negro midgets were prized as buffoons and grotesque dancers. There is a fine ivory statuette of a dancing pygmy in the Metropolitan Museum of New York City, dated ca. 1950 B.C. The little creature, clapping his hands to mark time, was part of a toy which danced if its strings were pulled. Wall reliefs at Gizeh of the Empire (ca. 1580—1150 B.C.) show girls posturing with tambourines, clacking castanets curved and carved to form conventionalized fingers. Although Egyptians were fond of buffoonery and gesticulation, they had no public shows of pure amusement like our theater, nor were there pantomimic exhibitions, accompanied by scenic representations. The nobles of later epochs forbade their children to learn dancing. Professional dancers and acrobats were enjoyed largely in private social-entertainments. In Roman times, there was public dancing at banquets in pleasure gardens at Canopus and Alexandria by night and day, involving big crowds and considerable license.
Important religious festivals did, nevertheless, use dancers who had at least a degree of preparatory training. The goddess Hathor, who is frequently represented with the attributes of Isis, the sister-wife of Osiris, presided over the dance. Pharaoh, in his capacity as son of Hathor, is often seen, jingling a sistrum before her, while her priests are represented as dancing and clattering castanets. At all her festivals dancing was an indispensable feature. The god Bes was originally a dancing figure from the Sudan, and is depicted as per-forming grotesque dances before the young Sun-God. Eventually he, to'), became a patron of dance and music. At Thebes and in other places, on Hathor's annual festival, her priestesses after the conclusion of the temple services and parades, marched in the streets, and accompanied by male priests of the cult, stopped at the houses of the people and bestowed Hathor's blessing by singing and dancing, holding out the necklace-emblems of the goddess to be touched for the sake of fertility.
One Athotus was considered the inventor of dancing. He is said to have observed that music used to accompany sacrifices naturally precipitated the body into motions. He took the occasion to reduce the movement of the feet to a proportional measure, which was already dance, as we think of it. The Egyptian clergy, with their obsession for ceremonial, were naturally conscious of the carriage of their bodies, as an attribute of majesty. What is often translated from hieroglyphs by the word `dancing' would perhaps read more accurately if understood as meaning `bearing' or `posture.' There is, for example, an inscription preserved detailing how a newly appointed minister of state should, on his reception, greet the king: He should enter the Audience Chamber dancing, so that from his gestures, poses and mimicry could be seen devotion, loyalty, grace, tenderness and energy. The king would reply to the minister with a different `dance' and the levee would terminate with a pro-cession of court functionaries, priests and musicians. The etiquette of living was scarcely less important in Egypt than the rules for dying and being buried. There was the universal persuasion, here far more highly ornamented the n among savage tribes, but of an identical nature, that the exterior form of observance directly represented the essence of the truth involved. Court and clergy developed the magical formula' to such a degree that many ceremonies were fantastic nonsense and ritual degenerated into a kind of sacred black-mail which the priests exercised over the people, corresponding to the descent of the control of power from the three social classes. At first it was only kings who knew the name of the secret of life, but this was shared later with the priests, to become their property until at last, by a similar involuntary surrender, the whole people had it.
Among the most important of their festivals, and one which contains survivals of ancient fertility rituals, were the ceremonies in honor of the consecration of the bull Apis. The sacrificial animal itself was chosen with considerable care by the priests. Its very conception was already a miracle, for it could only be fertilized by a shaft of moonlight. Also, at its birth, certain unmistakable signs showed its divine selection; entirely black, save for a triangular white patch on its forehead and another on its right flank, representing the crescent moon in the black night. The conformation of the hairs on its back represented an eagle, and under its tongue must be found a knot of skin in the form of a scarab. There were numerous other qualifications which had to be fulfilled and no doubt the priests knew well enough how to simulate the symbols.
After the official pronouncements, the bull Apis received as its home a specially constructed stable-temple, facing east. For four months he lived there fed on milk. He was presumably attended by forty nude virgins to please his eyes, and then when he had grown up a little, the priests, profiting by a renewal of the moon, had him transported on a special gilded barge to Memphis where he was greeted with music, dances and the shouts of the people. He was conducted in pomp to the Apeum, his home. Here his servants per-formed secret dances, retailing the adventures of the god of whom the bull Apis was the living image.
In their dance parades inside and outside the temple, the priests acted out the adventures and benefactions of Osiris in pantomime: his mysterious birth, the games of his childhood, his love of his sister. The birth-events of other divinities were also memorialized. The male priests in special dress, etc., represented Osiris and his companions, while the girls were Isis and hers. The spectacle closed with a violent finale which represented the conquest of India.
Perhaps the most ingenious of all their dances of which we have any record is their so-called Astronomic, or Dance of Stars. This is rather a special form of sacred rite, showing the whole cosmic order rather than praising any particular divinity. It was exclusively performed by the priest class, in temple precincts, without an audience. The dance was scientifically designed, perhaps the original choreographic plan being given by astronomer-priests who could also plot the path of Sothis and thereby regulate the cutting of the Dikes. In this science the Egyptians were considerably informed. Ranged around a fixed altar which represented the sun, priests clad in scintillating clothes made signs for the Zodiac with their hands, while turning rhythmically from east to west, following the course of the planets. After each circle the dancers froze into immobility to represent the constancy of their earth. By combining mimicry and plastic movement the priests made legible the harmonies of the astral system and the laws of the universe. Plato thought it must have been invented by a god for its ingenuity was entirely divine. Although he heard of it in a comparatively late period in Egyptian history he seems to have had fairly close contact with its observance. One of the reasons that we have no exact records of any of these dances, except by accidental report or occasional murals, is the secrecy with which the clergy zealously guarded their patterns to increase their mystery, transmitting their rules only by word of mouth.
Although most important to the cults, dancing also had not a wholly minor position in private life. Professional entertainers for dinner-parties were known in remote antiquity. Among the common people, who usually imitated the nobles, there was dancing too, but more in the nature of burlesque. Later, it would be by no means rare to find in big towns like Thebes, Memphis or Alexandria, small roving troupes of mimes or acrobats who gave impromptu shows in public-squares to the clash of cymbals and tambourines, taking voluntary offerings from passers-by. In the art of pure dance (or, rather, as we should understand it, in the craft of spectacular dance) there seems to have been in later epochs a more or less highly developed system of set steps and gesture, used in ceremonial, continually encountered in wall-paintings and low-reliefs.
There are hieroglyph names for dance-figures or positions which, without describing what they actually looked like in motion, give a hint at least of their categorical variety. There is the making of the figure called the `calf,' `thesuccessful-capfture-of-the-boat,' `the-leading-along-of-an-animal,' `the-fair-capture (or rape)-of-the-beauty,' `the-taking-of-gold' and `the-colonnade.' Their acrobatic positions remind us strongly of our own contemporary vaudeville adagio, where two men hurl a woman through the air, or support her in sustained poses by her extended or bent-back arms and legs. What seems to have been an actual pirouette, a turn on one foot with the other raised, is portrayed at Beni-Hassan in a relief at least thirty-five hundred years old. Another similar figure seems either to he starting or finishing a step we call 'entrechat,' where the feet cross and beat in the air. If reconstructions from static posture have any value at all, it seems likely that many of the feminine dances were slow, to vocal or instrumental accompaniment, emphasizing with aid of the tight, transparent and pleated costumes, the plasticity and moulded muscular roundness of arms, breasts and bellies. There seem to have been soloists, pas de deux, de trois, with a choral background, as well as whole corps of semi-gymnastic dancers, who tumbled, somersaulted and made bridges with their backs like our circus tumblers. Indeed the position of `the bridge' becomes a kind of ideogram for the meaning: acrobatic-dance. Sometimes this position of hands and feet on the ground, with navel pointing to the zenith, is considered a symbol of the over-arching sky of night; at others, a single pose in a panto-mimic expression of the wind swaying back the reeds of the Nile. We shall find `the bridge' in Greek and Roman acrobats and in that mediaeval Salome who tumbles for Herod on the portal of Rouen Cathedral. Whether or not it is a carver's convention, or a formula for the actual gesture employed, several dance figures indicate a consecutive pattern; two figures, for example, often men, advancing or retreating towards or from each other, mirroring each other's gesture, not identically, but in reverse. The dancers accompanied them-selves or their team-mates with double-flutes, guitars and cymbals, or clapped their hands to mark the measure. Two reliefs show women executing the `splits' like the grand ecart of the Moulin Rouge.
The hands, in these reliefs, are never cut with spread fingers, but are portrayed, conventionally at least, like flexible fins. There were sleight-of-hand tricks at private parties, juggling with full and empty wine-goblets; feats of balance involving high degree of muscular control, stomach-dances probably not unlike those still to be seen in Cairo. Others walked on their hands and carried objects on their flat upturned naked soles. It would be hard to differentiate, as two classes, professional dancers and acrobats. They were inter-changeable. There were also, if later, satiric mimes who could parody the mannerisms of unpopular priests or potentates, though these were usually proscribed. Although they had nothing which we would know as theatre, their official ceremonies were contrived with the greatest theatricality. The dancers employed must have passed through a certain training, by means, if nothing else, of the ritual repetition. When attempting to reconstruct Egyptian dances it is important to remember that, as in Greek vase-paintings, the silhouette of the `significant-profile' was an accepted plastic limitation, since rules for perspective and foreshortening on a flat plane had not been discovered. The flat, abrupt, single-plane Egyptian dances we find in revues and motion-pictures would not be recognized, even remotely, by their models. If their great sculpture is any clue to their feeling for mass in air, they must have used all the three-dimensional possibilities of the human body admirably in space. The fact that male dancers are always painted red and women white or pale yellow, is less conventional when we remember that the men spent all day in the fields under the bronzing sun, but their women were left inside shady houses.
Osiris as dancer is not one of his chief identities, although his earlier followers knew him as dancing, as did the first Christians recognize the dance of Jesus. Dionysos was more of a dancer, even if it was a wild rout he led. And although he does not directly affect our history in any way, it may not be useless to recall that Siva, the Indian creator, danced. He is the completest type of gods who dance, and most primal divinities do. Siva Natarja is the Lord of Dancers and King of Actors. His theater is our cosmos. In the multiformity of his steps, he is both dancer and audience. Whatever the remote ethnic origins of Siva's dance were, it has come to represent the clearest symbol of the activity of a creative god. The image of his rhythmic play is understood as the source of all cosmic motion, 'action and tension. The purpose of his dance is to release the innumerable souls of mankind from the snare of illusion. The theater of his dance and the center of the universe is within the human heart. He danced the world into being and his dance keeps it alive.
Egyptian dances may have affected the early artists of Greece, or at least Crete, from sailors across the Mediterranean; Osiris quite possibly had more than accidental likenesses to Dionysos. But Egypt is primarily interesting to us as the first great culture which used the magic habits of tribal civilizations for the control of a great homogeneous nation. The system and method of this control exhausted their magical virtues by the inertia inherent in meaningless repetition after the first sources had been long forgotten; but the structure, as art, survived, and is among the foundations of western spectacle.