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Egyptian Temples

( Originally Published 1915 )

We spoke of the temples as the greatest work of the Egyptians, but we shall only be able to look at them briefly. The Egyptian temple was surrounded by a plain wall. Leading from the wall-opening to the temple is usually placed a row of sphinxes, and then comes the fore-court enclosed by rows of columns ; then a dark columned hall ; and, furthest of all, an inner sanctuary. The columns were of great size, colored in brilliant hues, some of which remain brilliant to this day. The inscriptions are all in hieroglyphics, or picture writing, and were very hard to read, until the discovery of the rosetta stone. This contains an inscription in hieroglyphics and its translation in Greek. By comparison, the meaning of the hieroglyphics became known.

Figure 2, the illustration on this page, shows the great Prophylon of the Temple of Karnak. Such a monumental gateway usually stood before the entrance to a temple. Notice the carving, the inward leaning of the Walls, and the design at the top, which was the Egyptian symbol of divinity. Figure 3 shows the portico of the temple at Edfou. Notice again, the inward slope of the sides, also the flat roof, the shape of the capitals, and columns, and the profuse carving of the walls. Figure 4 shows the hypostyle Hall of Karnak. Any structure, with or without walls, the ceiling of which is supported by columns, is called a hypostyle. The Hall of Karnak is one of the greatest temple interiors in Egypt. Figure 5 was the obelisk, another monument common in Egypt, which was supposed, by its shape, to symbolize the rays of the sun. These tapering shafts were of a single piece, the top or apex usually sheathed in a bronze top. They were probably set up in honor of the kings. Figure 6, the tomb at Beni-Hassan on the western side of the Nile, is often cited to show that the Greeks copied their Doric column from the old Egyptians. Compare the columns in the illustration of this tomb with the Greek Doric column on page 36, and see if you do not think they are similar. The truth is, that although the Greeks did borrow, they altered and improved whatever they took, until it was almost a new creation. Shakespeare borrowed the plots of some of his plays, and it seems that the mind of genius loves to seize upon something old, and give it greater life. The great architects of to-day, instead of inventing new orders and styles, recombine and apply the old ones.


It is said that, in building the pyramid of Cheops, King Khufu employed seven million men in forced labor 'for thirty years.

In the Boulak museum at Cairo, many of the instruments used by the early Egyptians are pre-served. There are set-squares, rulers, palettes, paint boxes, and models of pylons, and, among other things, plans drawn on stone and colored, to show different materials. Many architects' names have been preserved upon tombs. At Munich there is a statue of the principal architect of Thebes, Bakenhonson. Perrot says that architects were some-times recruited from among the princes of the royal blood. There is one genealogical table in which the profession is shown to have descended from father to son for twenty-two generations.

The great aim in building the pyramids was to make them last so that they might defy earthquake and other enemies, including time itself. If the stones and masses had been smaller, all might have vanished before now.

All writers do not believe that the workmen upon the pyramids were really oppressed. One writer suggests that the building work was probably done during the annual inundation of the Nile, when the king fed and clothed the poorer classes, who might not otherwise have been able to live.

The Egyptian king was looked upon as the representative of the gods.

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