domingo, 11 de marzo de 2012


TEMPLE OF ESNEH. (in the picture )

Two singular little erections, built in between the columns to right and left of the steps, next attract our attention. They are like stone sentry-boxes. Each is in itself complete, with roof, sculptured cornice, doorway, and, if I remember rightly, a small square window in the side. The inscriptions upon two similar structures in the portico at Edfû show that the right-hand closet contained the sacred books belonging to the Temple, while in the closet to the left of the main entrance the King underwent the ceremony of purification. It may therefore be taken for granted that these at Esneh were erected for the same purposes.
And now we look round for the next Hall – and look in vain. The doorway which should lead to it is walled up. The portico was excavated by Mohammed Ali in 1842 ; not in any spirit of antiquarian zeal, but in order to provide a safe underground magazine for gunpowder. Up to that time, as may be seen by one of the illustrations to Wilkinson's Thebes and General View of Egypt, the interior was choked to within a few feet of the capitals of the columns, and used as a cotton-store. Of the rest of the building, nothing is known ; nothing is visible. It is as large, probably, as Denderah or Edfû, and in as perfect preservation. So, at least, says local tradition ; but not even local tradition can point to what extent it underlies the foundations of the modern houses that swarm about its roof. An inscription first observed by Champollion states that the sanctuary was built by Thothmes III. Is that antique sanctuary still there? Has the Temple grown step by step under the hands of successive Kings, as at Luxor? Or has it been re-edified ab ovo, as at Denderah? These are "puzzling questions," only to be resolved by the demolition of a quarter of the town. Meanwhile, what treasures of sculptured history, what pictured chambers, what buried bronzes and statues may here wait the pick of the excavator!
All next day, while the men were baking, the Writer sat in a corner of the outer passage, and sketched the portico of the Temple. The sun rose upon the one horizon and set upon the other before that drawing was finished ; yet for scarcely more than one hour did it light up the front of the Temple. At about half-past nine A.M. it first caught the stone fillet at the angle. Then, one by one, each massy capital became outlined with a thin streak of gold. As this streak widened, the cornice took fire, and presently the whole stood out in light against the sky. Slowly then, but quite perceptibly, the sun travelled across the narrow space overhead ; the shadows became vertical ; the light changed sides ; and by ten o'clock there was shade for the remainder of the day. Towards noon, however, the sun being then at its highest and the air transfused with light, the inner columns, swallowed up till now in darkness, became illumined with a wonderful reflected light, and glowed from out the gloom like pillars of fire.
Never go on shore without an escort is one of the rules of Nile life, and Salame has by this time become my exclusive property. He is a native of Assûan, young, active, intelligent, full of fun, hot-tempered withal, and as thorough a gentleman as I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. For a sample of his good breeding, take this day at Esneh – a day which he might have idled away in the bazaars and cafés, and which it must have been dull work to spend cooped up between a mud-wall and an outlandish Birbeh, built by the Djinns who reigned before Adam. Yet Salame betrays no discontent. Curled up in a shady corner, he watches me like a dog ; is ready with an umbrella as soon as the sun comes round ; and replenishes a water-bottle or holds a colour-box as deftly as though he had been to the manner born. At one o'clock arrives my luncheon, enshrined in a pagoda of plates. Being too busy to leave off work, however, I put the pagoda aside, and despatch Salame to the market, to buy himself some dinner ; for which purpose, wishing to do the thing handsomely, I present him with the magnificent sum of two silver piastres, or about fivepence English. With this he contrives to purchase three or four cakes of flabby native bread, a black-looking rissole of chopped meat and vegetables, and about a pint of dried dates.
Knowing this to be a better dinner than my friend gets every day, knowing also that our sailors habitually eat at noon, I am surprised to see him leave these dainties untasted. In vain I say "Bismillah" (in the name of God) ; pressing him to eat in vocabulary phrases eked out with expressive pantomime. He laughs, shakes his head, and, asking permission to smoke a cigarette, protests he is not hungry. Thus three more hours go by. Accustomed to long fasting and absorbed in my sketch, I forget all about the pagoda ; and it is past four o'clock when I at length set to work to repair tissue at the briefest possible cost of time and daylight. And now the faithful Salame falls to with an energy that causes the cakes, the rissole, the dates, to vanish as if by magic. Of what remains from my luncheon he also disposes in a trice. Never, unless in a pantomime, have I seen mortal man display so prodigious an appetite.
I made Talhamy scold him, by and by, for this piece of voluntary starvation.

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