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autumnal months, the attributes of Spring, surrounded with the usual emblems of reviving nature. This peculiarity arises from the singular circumstances of Egypt, which derives its fertility from the annual overflow of its rivers, and not from the genial influences of the atmosphere, created by the returning sun in the vernal weeks of the year. But it is of more consequence to res mark that, owing to the retrocession of the vague year through all the months of the tropical year, the various feasts in honour of the gods came, at an after-period, to be observed at seasons which bore no relation to the characters of the divinities themselves, nor to the events, physical or mythological, which were therein commemorated. For example, the religious institutions which had a reference to the departure and return of the sun in the winter and summer months, ceased to have any meaning in the eyes of an ignorant man, who, at the very time the solar orb was fast emerging from the low south, saw the priests bewailing his retirement, and while he was descending to the tropic of Capricorn, found them uttering the most animated expressions of joy, as if he were approaching the equator. To explain this seeming contradiction became one of the duties of the sacerdotal class, who alone understood the cause of so remarkable a discrepancy. Achilles Tatius, in treating of the Zodiac, observes, that the Egyptians, perceiving the descent of the sun from Cancer to Capricorn, and the night prolonged, were wont to mourn, as if fearing lest he should leave them altogether, and this, says he, is the time of what they call the Isia; again, when he began to reascend, they put on gay clothes and decked themselves with garlands.
These Isia, it is universally admitted, are the same with what Plutarch describes as the Death of Osiris, and which took place towards the close of the year. This inference is confirmed by an observation of Geminus, who, in illustrating the peculiarities of the Egyptian calendar, maintains that it was a vulgar error among the Greeks to suppose that the Isia fell in the winter solstices, as fixed by Eudoxus: adding, however, ** a hundred and twenty years ago that was the case; but as the Egyptian feasts, in consequence of the deficiency of their calendar, go back a day in the seasons every four years, there has arisen in one hundred and twenty years a difference of a full month; so that those who sup pose them still to be celebrated at the winter solstice, show very great ignorance."
Now we find by calculation that, in the year B.C. 195, the seventeenth of Athyr, the first day of the solemnity described by Plutarch, coincided with the 26th December old style, which was also the winter solstice as fixed by Eudoxus. Deduct from that
number the years mentioned by Geminus, 195-12075, and we have B.C. 75, which, on the hypothesis that the two feasts are the same, ought to prove the period at which the latter author wrote. We find, accordingly, that this is, in fact, the era assigned him by the best chronologers, partly on the authority of the above coincidence, and partly from its being amply established by internal evidence of his own works. And here it will be remarked, that this same vulgar error of the Greeks, noticed by Geminus, leads to an inference of some importance; for as this feast, as both he and Eratosthenes observe, wandered through the year falling successively in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter it is not likely that their countrymen of different ages should thus so curiously agree in connecting the mysterious signification of its rites with the sun's motion at the winter tropic, unless the period of its celebration, to which those rites bore respect, had really coincided with that season at its original insti tution.
"As it may be safely assumed that many of the favourite superstitions of the Egyptians are as ancient as the first formation of their calendar, it will appear evident that, if we would attempt to explain at all the mysterious import of those obscure and enigmatical ceremonies, which were attached to particular days of their months, on the supposition, which will hardly be disputed, that they bore reference in their origin to particular seasons of the year, or phenomena of the heavenly bodies, we can only hope for success by going back to the original position of the months in the early ages of their civilization, when those feasts were first established. There can, indeed, be little doubt but that the regular shifting of the feasts, which formed the essential peculiarity of the reformed calendar, gave rise to a portion at least of the mysterious significations ascribed by the Egyptian priests to many of their religious rites, which, to an ordinary observer, appeared fanciful or unmeaning. Take for example the death of Osiris, which was celebrated towards the end of the month Athyr, and was accompanied by certain solemnities significant of the distance of the sun from the zenith and the low state of the Nile; this month we shall find, at its primeval institution, to have been that immediately preceding the winter solstice, when such rites were peculiarly appropriate. But seven hundred years afterwards, the same ceremonies, though strictly adhered to, were apparently altogether unmeaning, and therefore the knowledge of their true import became what is called a mystery; namely, a hidden or esoteric doctrine attached to the solemnity, and only familiar to the priests themselves, or those to whom they were pleased to communicate it under a strict pledge of secrecy."
The antiquities of Egypt have, of late years, attracted much attention in all the literary nations of Europe, especially among the Germans, Italians, French, and English; though, it must be acknowledged, that the success has not equalled either the
amount of exertion or the ardour of expectation. The discovery of the Phonetic alphabet promised very flattering results in respect to the age of the Egyptian monarchy, as well as the order and succession of its various dynasties. But the application of this key, so felicitously brought to light, has not hitherto revealed the treasures which the hieroglyphics were imagined to guard in the obscurity of symbolical notation. The labours of the brothers Champollion have not given entire satisfaction. It is suspected that they have supplied by conjecture numerous facts which will not bear a minute examination, even on the principles which they profess to have employed in conducting their researches. Whoever has attempted to decypher an Egyptian inscription must have been led to doubt the efficacy of the instrument which is so highly lauded. M. Champollion Figeac says, that the Phonetic alphabet is the true key of the whole hieroglyphical system, and that all hieroglyphical inscriptions are composed of signs which, for the most part, are purely alphabetical. But that neither of these assertions is beyond the reach of controversy any one may satisfy himself by trying to read a hieroglyphical inscription by means of the phonetic alphabet. The Egyptians, like the Chinese, wrote proper names alphabetically, nor was there any other mode in which these could possibly be represented; and the same manner of writing is partially extended to the accompanying legends. But the body of every inscription is composed of signs which have not an alphabetical value, and to which, therefore, the phonetical alphabet has no application whatever. Hence that alphabet is not the key to the whole nor even to a considerable portion of the hieroglyphical system; it is a key to nothing but the proper names, and cannot even be extended to the simplest legends, except where we are enabled, from the explanation of Horapollo and others, to interpret the figurative signs and tropical symbols intermixed with them in every tablet. There is no legend of more frequent occurrence than that of everliving, which is constantly applied to several divinities of the Egyptian pantheon. But how is it represented? By the heart and the aorta proceeding out of it, which is the well-known symbol of life, and by the figure of the serpent, called Uræus, which represents indefinite time: these placed in juxta-position are equivalent to sempiternus, semper vivens, everlasting, everliving. But would any one call this alphabetical writing? Sometimes, indeed, though rarely, the legend is alphabetical, and then we obtain an Egyptian word, which, with the help of Lacroze, we may probably be able to interpret; but, beyond this, the phonetic alphabet has no more application than the alphabetical signs employed by the Chinese for spelling proper names have to the vast
multitude of symbols which constitute the written language of the celestial empire. And this is true to a much greater extent in the hieratic and enchorial than even in the hieroglyphic, to which the use of phonetic signs seems to have been principally restricted. The consequence is, that Champollion has utterly failed, in this branch of the Egyptian graphic system, to make a single addition of any importance to the enchorial alphabet as left by Dr. Young, and that he has not been able to determine the value of a single group of enchorial characters taken from the text of a papyrus. Dr. Young constantly predicted that this would be the case; and his prediction has been verified to the very letter. So long as he had to deal with proper names-and he took good care never to meddle with any thing but proper names and legends-Champollion got on very well; but he never was able, by means of it, to read two lines consecutively in the body of an inscription. Other modes must be resorted to for penetrating the mystery of these compositions; for to proper names and legends the phonetic alphabet must always be confined, because, in their complex system of writing, these were the only portions of hieroglyphical texts which the Egyptians wrote alphabetically. The reader can easily verify the truth of these remarks by turning to the plates in Zoega's splendid and accurate work, and trying the phonetic alphabet on any of the inscriptions which the learned Dane has copied from the obelisks.
We have seen an ingenious attempt by Professor Renwick of New York, to ascertain the earliest date of Egyptian colonization by a reference to certain principles involved in the astronomical system of Thebes and Memphis. He pursues his object by four different and independent methods, which are stated as follows:
I. The principle on which, as is stated by ancient authors, the commencement of the agricultural and astronomical year of the Egyptians was determined; a principle that was only true at a remote period, and has since ceased to be applicable.
II. From the length assigned to the Sothiac cycle, at the end of which the beginning of the civil and astronomical year returned to the same day; this length being correct only between certain epochs, and not true at those which were more remote nor consistent at any time with the true extent of the tropical year.
III. From the group of zodiacal stars assigned as the place of the Sun at the beginning of the agricultural year of the Egyptians, excluding all dates previous to his being in this group at the time of the rising of the Nile.
IV. From a version of a remarkable passage in Herodotus, respecting the unusual rising and setting of the sun,
We shall confine our attention to the first of these methods, the only one of the four that merits any notice. The principle alluded to by the author is that which connects the rising of the Nile with the heliacal rising of Sirius or the dog-star; and he thinks that we are warranted in ascribing to a system in which these two phenomena, however dissimilar in cause, were considered identical in point of time, an origin no farther distant than the period when they were actually contemporaneous. The rising of the Nile, occasioned by the tropical rains, follows in its law the tro pical year, and recurs, on the average, on a fixed day of our present calendar. The heliacal rising of a star, on the other hand, is affected by the precession of the equinoxes, and, in còusequence, recurs later every year than it did the preceding. But it is not governed by the sideral year exactly; for, as the declination of the stars alters as well as their right ascension, the interval between the successive rising of the same star will not have a constant length corresponding to the mean duration of the sideral year, but will vary, being sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. In respect to Sirius, this interval, as we learn from the calculations of Larcher and Biot, was, for nearly 3000 years before the Christian era, exactly 365 days six hours, being greater than the tropical and less than the sideral year. The difference, then, between the real length of the year marked by the star, and that determined by the rising of the Nile, will be the same as that known to exist between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, or three days in four hundred years. Now, the rising of the Nile below the cataracts, although usually referred to the solstice, actually occurs at the isle of Phile on the 25th of June. This, therefore, is the earliest day to which we are warranted in referring the observation of the heliacal rising of Sirius, upon which the coincidence of the two phenomena is founded; but the heliacal rising of Sirius in the year of our Lord 139 is fixed by Censorinus as having happened on the 20th of July; and the truth of this statement is amply confirmed by other astronomical calculations. Between this date and the 25th of June there intervenes twenty-four days, which is a difference that will take place between the Julian and Gregorian calendars in 3200 years. The observation cannot, therefore, be carried back farther than 3060 years before the Christian era; and if made by simple inspection of the river instead of being referred to a Nilometer, may have occurred 200 or 300 years later.*
This conclusion appears perfectly accurate when we restrict it to any given or assignable date prior to the Christian era; but it is obvious, that, as it may apply to any part of a very lengthened
* See Journal of the Royal Institution, No. III. p. 458.