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A Popular Account Of The Ancient Egyptians: Volumes 1&2 -Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson F.R.S.

WHILE the party was amused with music and dancing, and the late arrivals were successively announced, refreshments continued to be handed round, and every attention was shown to the assembled guests. Wine was offered to each new comer, and chaplets of flowers were brought by men servants to the gentlemen, and by women or white slaves to the ladies, as they took their seats. An upper servant, or slave, had the office of handing the wine, and a black woman sometimes followed, in an inferior capacity, to receive an empty cup when the wine had been poured into the goblet. The same black slave also carried the fruits and other refreshments; and the peculiar mode of holding a plate with the hand reversed, so generally adopted by women from Africa, is characteristically shown in the Theban paintings. To each person after drinking a napkin was presented for wiping the mouth, answering to the máhrama of the modern Egyptians; and the bearer of it uttered a complimentary sentiment, when she offered it and received back the goblet: as, “May it benefit you!” and no oriental at the present day drinks water without receiving a similar wish. But it was not considered rude to refuse wine when offered, even though it had been poured out; and a teetotaller might continue smelling a lotus without any affront. Men and women either sat together, or separately, in a different part of the room; but no rigid mistrust prevented strangers, as well as members of the family, being received into the same society; which shows how greatly the Egyptians were advanced in the habits of social life. In this they, like the Romans, differed widely from the Greeks, and might say with Cornelius Nepos, “Which of us is ashamed to bring his wife to an entertainment? and what mistress of a family can be shown who does not inhabit the chief and most frequented part of the house? Whereas in Greece she never appears at any entertainments, except those to which relations alone are invited, and constantly lives in the women’s apartments at the upper part of the house, into which no man has admission, unless he be a near relation.” Nor were married people afraid of sitting together, and no idea of their having had too much of each other’s company made it necessary to divide them. In short, they were the most Darby and Joan people possible, and they shared the same chair at home, at a party, and even in their tomb, where sculpture grouped them together.

 

156.              A party of guests, entertained with music and the dance. From Thebes, and now in the British Museum.

Figs. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Men and Women seated together at the feast. 3. A servant offering a cup of wine.

10, 11, 12. Women singing and clapping their hands to the sound of the double pipe, 13. 14, 15. Dancing women.

16. Vases on stands, stopped with heads of wheat, and decked with garlands.

 

157.              A party of guests, to whom wine, ointment, and garlands are brought. From Thebes, and now in the British Museum.

Fig. 1. A maid-servant presenting a cup of wine to a gentleman and lady, seated on chairs with cushions, probably of leather.

4. Another holding a vase of ointment and a garland.

5. presents a lotus flower; and 9, a necklace or garland, which he is going to tie round the neck of the guest, 10.

12. A female attendant offering wine to a guest; in her left hand is a napkin, I, for wiping the mouth after drinking.

The tables, a, f, have cakes of bread, c, r; meat, d, q; geese, n; and other birds, m; figs, e, k; grapes in baskets, h; flowers p; and other things prepared for the feast: and beneath them are glass bottles of wine, b, g

 

158.              A black and white slave waiting upon a lady at a party. Thebes.

The master and mistress of the house accordingly sat side by side on a large fauteuil, and each guest as he arrived walked up to receive their welcome. The musicians and dancers hired for the occasion also did obeisance to them, before they began their part. To the leg of the fauteuil was tied a favourite monkey, a dog, a gazelle, or some other pet; and a young child was permitted to sit on the ground at the side of its mother, or on its father’s knee.

In the mean time the conversation became animated, especially in those parts of the room where the ladies sat together, and the numerous subjects that occurred to them were fluently discussed. Among these the question of dress was not forgotten, and the patterns, or the value of trinkets, were examined with proportionate interest. The maker of an earring, and the shop where it was purchased, were anxiously inquired; each compared the work manship, the style, and the materials of those she wore, coveted her neighbour’s, or preferred her own; and women of every class vied with each other in the display of “jewels of silver and jewels of gold,” in the texture of their “raiment,” the neatness of their sandals, and the arrangement or beauty of their plaited hair.

 

159.              Ladies at a party talking about their earrings. Thebes.

It was considered a pretty compliment to offer each other a flower from their own bouquet, and all the vivacity of the Egyptians was called forth as they sat together. The hosts omitted nothing that could make their party pass off pleasantly, and keep up agreeable conversation, which was with them the great charm of accomplished society, as with the Greeks, who thought it “more requisite and becoming to gratify the company by cheerful conversation, than with variety of dishes.” The guests, too, neglected no opportunity of showing how much they enjoyed themselves; and as they drew each other’s attention to the many knick-knacks that adorned the rooms, paid a well-turned compliment to the taste of the owner of the house. They admired the vases, the carved boxes of wood or ivory, and the light tables on which many a curious trinket was displayed; and commended the elegance and comfort of the luxurious fauteuils, the rich cushions and coverings of the couches and ottomans, the carpets and the other furniture. Some, who were invited to see the sleeping apartments, found in the ornaments on the toilet-tables, and in the general arrangements, fresh subjects for admiration; and their return to the guestchamber gave an opportunity of declaring that good taste prevailed throughout the whole house. On one occasion, while some of the delighted guests were in these raptures of admiration, and others were busied with the chitchat, perhaps the politics, or the scandal, of the day, an awkward youth, either from inadvertence, or a little too much wine, reclined against a wooden column placed in the centre of the room to support some temporary ornament, and threw it down upon those who sat beneath it. The confusion was great: the women screamed; and some, with uplifted hands, endeavoured to protect their heads and escape from its fall. No one, however, seems to have been hurt; and the harmony of the party being restored, the incident afforded fresh matter for conversation; to be related in full detail to their friends, when they returned home.

The vases were very numerous, and varied in shape, size, and materials; being of hard stone, alabaster, glass, ivory, bone, porcelain, bronze, brass, silver, or gold; and those of the poorer classes were of glazed pottery, or common earthenware. Many of their ornamental vases, as well as those in ordinary use, were of the most elegant shape, which would do honour to the Greeks, the Egyptians frequently displaying in these objects of private luxe the taste of a highly refined people; and so strong a resemblance did they bear to the productions of the best epochs of ancient Greece, both in their shape and in the fancy devices upon them, that some might even suppose them borrowed from Greek patterns. But they were purely Egyptian, and had been universally adopted in the valley of the Nile, long before the graceful forms we admire were known in Greece; a fact invariably acknowledged by those who are acquainted with the remote age of Egyptian monuments, and of the paintings that represent them.

 

160.              Gold vases of the time of Thothmes III. Thebes.

For some of the most elegant date in the early age of the third Thothmes, who lived between fourteen and fifteen hundred years before our era; and we not only admire their forms, but the richness of the materials of which they were made, their colour, as well as the hieroglyphics, showing them to have been of gold and silver, or of this last, inlaid with the more precious metal.

Those of bronze, alabaster, glass, porcelain, and even of ordinary pottery, were also deserving of admiration, from the beauty of their shapes, the designs which ornamented them, and the superior quality of the material; and gold and silver cups were often beautifully engraved, and studded with precious stones. Among these we readily distinguish the green emerald, the purple amethyst, and other gems; and when an animal’s head adorned their handles, the eyes were frequently composed of them, except when enamel, or some coloured composition, was employed as a substitute.

That the Egyptians made great use of precious stones for their vases, and for women’s necklaces, rings, bracelets, and other ornamental purposes, is evident from the paintings at Thebes, and from the numerous articles of jewellery discovered in the tombs; and they appear sometimes to have been sent to Egypt in bags, similar to those containing the gold dust brought by the conquered nations tributary to the Egyptians, which were tied up and secured with a seal.

 

161.              Bags, generally containing gold dust, tied up and sealed. Thebes.

Many bronze vases found at Thebes, and in other parts of Egypt, are of very excellent quality, and prove the skill possessed by the Egyptians in the art of working and compounding metals. We are surprised at the rich sonorous tones they emit on being struck, the fine polish of which some are still susceptible, and the high finish given them by the workmen: nor are the knives and daggers, made of the same materials, less deserving of notice; the elastic spring they possessed, and even retain to the present day, being such as could only be looked for in a blade of steel. The exact proportions of the copper and alloys, in all the different specimens preserved in the museums of Europe, have not yet been ascertained; but it would be curious to know their composition, particularly the interesting dagger of the Berlin collection, which is as remarkable for the elasticity of its blade, as for the neatness and perfection of its finish. Many contain 10 or 20 parts tin, to 90 and 80 copper.

 

162.              Vases, with one and two handles.

Figs. 1, 2. Earthenware vases found at Thebes. 3. Bronze vase. 4. Bronze vase. 5. The same seen from above, showing the top of the handle. 6 to 19. From the paintings of Thebes.

 

163.              Vases ornamented with one and two heads, or the whole animal. Thebes.

Fig. 2 has the word “gold” upon it.

 

164.              Vases richly ornamented with animals’ heads, and figures of captives. Thebes.

Some vases had one, others two handles; some were ornamented with the heads of wild animals, as the ibex, oryx, or gazelle; others had a head on either side, a fox, a cat, or something similar; and many were ornamented with horses’ heads, a whole quadruped, a goose’s head, figures of captives, or fancy devices. They were occasionally grotesque, and monstrous; especially when introduced among the offerings brought by the conquered people of the north, which may be Asiatic rather than Egyptian; and one of them (fig. 1) appears to have for its cover the head of the Assyrian god represented in the Nimroud sculptures, supposed to be a vulture, a bird whose name, nisr, recalls that of “Nisroch, the god” of Nebuchadnezzar. They were either made of porcelain, or an enamel on gold, and were remarkable for the brilliancy of their colours. The head of a Typhonian monster also served for the cover of some of these vases, as it often did for the support of a mirror (contrasted daily with the beauty of an Egyptian lady); but both this, and the head of the bird, are of early time, being found on vases brought as part of the tribute from Asia to the kings of the 18th and 19th dynasties. The Typhonian head bears some analogy to that of Medusa. It is thought to be of the Syrian god Baal; whose name was sometimes associated with that of Seth, or Typhon, the Evil Being.

 

165.              Fig. 1. Vase, with the head of a bird as a cover.

2. With head of a Typhonian monster.

3. A golden vase, without handles. Thebes.

They are of the time of the 18th and 19th dynasties.

There was also a rhyton, or drinking-cup, in the form of a cock’s head, represented among the tribute of the people of Kûfa brought to Thothmes III.

These very highly ornamented vases, with a confused mixture of flower and scroll patterns, appear to have been mostly brought from Asia; and it is remarkable that the Nineveh ornaments have much the same kind of character. They are occasionally as devoid of taste as the wine bottles and flower-pots of an English cellar and conservatory; but many of those brought by the people of Rotñn have all the beauty of form found in those of Greece.

Some had a single handle fixed to one side, and were in shape not unlike our cream jugs, ornamented with the heads of oxen, or fancy devices; others were of bronze, bound with gold, having handles of the same metal. Several vases had simple handles or rings on either side; others were destitute of these, and of every exterior ornament; some again were furnished with a single ring attached to a neat bar, or with a small knob, projecting from the side; and many of those used in the service of the temple, highly ornamented with figures of deities in relief, had a moveable curved handle, on the principle of, though more elegant in form than that of their common culinary utensils. They were of bronze, ornamented with figures, in relief, or engraved upon them; and one of those found by Mr. Salt showed, by the elastic spring of its cover, and the nicety with which this fitted the mouth of the vase, the great skill of the Egyptian workmen.

 

166.              From the Paintings of Thebes.

Figs. 1 and 2. Vases of an early period. 3. Vase on a stand.

4. Drinking-cup of porcelain. 7. Bronze vase, bound with gold

Another, of much larger dimensions, and of a different form, brought by me from Thebes, and presented to the British Museum, is also of bronze, with two large handles fastened on with pins; and, though it resembles some of the caldrons represented by the paintings in an Egyptian kitchen, its lightness seems to show that it was rather intended as a basin, or for a similar purpose.

Vases, surmounted with a human head forming the cover, appear to have been frequently used for keeping gold and other precious objects, as in certain small side chambers of Medeenet Haboo, which were the treasury of King Remeses III. And if this Remeses was really the same as the wealthy Rhampsinitus of Herodotus, these chambers may have been the very treasury he mentions, where the thieves displayed so much dexterity.

 

167.              Fig. 1. Bronze vase brought by me from Thebes, now in the British Museum.

2. Showing how the handle is fixed.

3. Alabaster vase from Thebes, of the time of Neco.

4. Vase at Berlin of cut glass. 5. Stone vase.

6 to 9. From the sculptures of Thebes.

Bottles, small vases, and pots used for holding ointment, or other purposes connected with the toilet, were of alabaster, glass, porcelain, and hard stone, as granite, basalt, porphyry, serpentine, or breccia; some were of ivory, bone, and other materials, according to the choice or means of individuals; and the porous earthenware jars and water-bottles of Coptos, like the modern ones of Ballas and Kéneh in the same neighbourhood, were highly prized, even by foreigners.

 

168.              Fig. 1. Bronze vase used in the temple.

2. A larger one in the Berlin Museum.

3, 4, 5. Culinary utensils in the sculptures at Thebes.

 

169.              Large bronze vase brought by me from Thebes.

 

170.              Fig. 1. Alabaster vase in my possession, from Thebes.

2. Porcelain vase in Mr. Salt’s Collection.

 

171.              Fig. 1. Alabaster vase, containing sweet scented ointment, in the Museum of Alnwick Castle.

2. Hieroglyphics on a vase, presenting the name of a queen, the sister of Thothmes III.

3. The stopper. 4 and 9. Porcelain vases, from the paintings of Thebes.

5. Porcelain cup, in my possession, from Thebes.

6. Small ivory vase, in my possession, containing a dark-coloured ointment, from Thebes.

7. Alabaster vase, with its lid (8), in the Museum of Alnwick Castle.

 

172.              Bronze vase of Mr. Salt’s Collection.

 

173.              Glass bottle. Thebes.

Small boxes, made of wood or ivory, were also numerous; and, like the vases, of many different forms; and some, which contained cosmetics of divers kinds, served to deck the dressing table, or a lady’s boudoir. They were carved in various ways, and loaded with ornamental devices in relief; sometimes representing the favourite lotus flower, with its buds and stalks, a goose, gazelle, fox, or other animal. Many were of considerable length, terminating in a hollow shell, not unlike a spoon in shape and depth, covered with a lid turning on a pin; and to this, which may properly be styled the box, the remaining part was merely an accessory, intended for ornament, or serving as a handle.

They were generally of sycamore wood, sometimes of tamarisk, or of acacia; and occasionally ivory, and inlaid work, were substituted for wood. To many, a handle of less disproportionate length was attached, representing the usual lotus flower, a figure, a Typhonian monster, an animal, a bird, a fish, or a reptile; and the box itself, whether covered with a lid or open, was in character with the remaining part. Some shallow ones were probably intended to contain small portions of ointment, taken from a large vase at the time it was wanted, or for other purposes connected with the toilet, where greater depth was not required; and in many instances they rather resembled spoons than boxes.

 

174.              Box with a long handle Mr. Salt’s Collection

 

175.              Box in the Berlin Museum, showing the lid open.

 

176.              Wooden boxes, or saucers without covers. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

Many were made in the form of a royal oval, with and without a handle; and the body of a wooden fish was scooped out, and closed with a cover imitating the scales, to deceive the eye by the appearance of a solid mass. Sometimes a goose was represented, ready for table, or swimming on the water, and pluming itself; the head being the handle of a box formed of its hollow body; some consisted of an open part or cup, attached to a covered box; others of different shapes offered the usual variety of fancy devices, and some were without covers, which may come under the denomination of saucers. Others bore the precise form and character of a box, being deeper and more capacious; and these were probably used for holding trinkets, or occasionally as repositories for the small pots of ointment, or scented oils, and bottles containing the collyrium, which women applied to their eyes.

 

 

177.              Other open boxes, whose form is taken from the oval of a king’s name Alnwick Castle, and Leyden Museum

 

178.              Box in the form of a fish, with turning lid. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

 

179.              Box with and without its cover. Museum of Alnwick Castle.

 

180.              Boxes in form of geese. Mr. Salt’s Collection and Leyden Museum.

 

181.              One part open, and one covered. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

 

182.              Box with the lid turning, as usual, on a pin. Mr. Salt’s Collection

 

183.              A box with and without its lid. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

Some were divided into separate compartments, covered by a common lid, either sliding in a groove, or turning on a pin at one end; and many of still larger dimensions sufficed to contain a mirror, combs, and perhaps even some articles of dress.

 

184.              Fig. 1. A box, with devices carved in relief, divided into cells.

2. The lid, which slides into a groove. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

These boxes were frequently of costly materials, veneered with rare woods, or made of ebony, inlaid with ivory, painted with various devices, or stained to imitate materials of a valuable nature; and the mode of fastening the lid, and the curious substitute for a hinge given to some of them, show the former was entirely removed, and that the box remained open, while used. The principle of this will be better understood by reference to woodcut 185, where fig. 1 represents a side section of the box, and fig. 2 the inside of the lid. At the upper part of the back c, fig. 3, a small hole E is cut, which, when the box is closed, receives the nut D, projecting from the cross-bar B, on the inside of the lid; and the two knobs F and G, one on the lid, the other on the front of the box itself, serve not only for ornament but for fastening it, a band being wound round them, and secured with a seal.

Knobs of ebony, or other hard wood, were very common. They were turned with great care, and inlaid with ivory and silver; an instance of which is given in fig. 5.

 

185.              Fig. 1. Section of the box. A, the lid. K, the bottom. C, D, the two sides.

2. The inside of the lid. B, H, cross-bars nailed inside the lid. Found at Thebes.

Some boxes were made with a pointed summit, divided into two parts, one of which alone opened, turning on small pivots at the base, and the two ends of the box resembled in form the gable ends, as the top, the shelving roof, of a house. The sides were, as usual, secured by glue and nails, generally of wood, and dovetailed, a method of joining adopted in Egypt at the most remote period; but the description of these belongs more properly to cabinet work, as those employed for holding the combs, and similar objects, to the toilet.

Some vases have been found in boxes, made of wicker-work, closed with stoppers of wood, reed, or other materials, supposed to belong either to a lady’s toilet or to a medical man; one of which, now in the Berlin Museum, has been already noticed.

Bottles of terra cotta are also met with, in very great abundance, of the most varied forms and dimensions, made for every kind of purpose of which they were susceptible; and I have seen one which appears to have belonged to a painter, and to have been intended for holding water to moisten the colours; the form and position of the handle suggesting that it was held on the thumb of the left hand, while the person wrote or painted with his right.

 

186.              Terra-cotta bottle, perhaps used by painters for holding water, and carried on the thumb. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

Besides vases and bottles of stone, and of the materials above mentioned, the Egyptians made them of leather or prepared skin; and some of these were imported into Egypt from foreign countries. As with the Greeks and Romans, skins were often used for carrying wine; but leathern bottles are never seen at an Egyptian party, either for drawing wine from the amphora, or for handing it to table.

Bottles and narrow-mouthed vases, placed in the sitting-room, and holding water, were frequently closed with some light substance, through which the warm air could pass, as it rose, during the cooling process, being submitted to a current of air, to increase the evaporation: leaves were often employed for this purpose, as at the present day, those of a fragrant kind being probably selected; and the same prejudice against leaving a vase uncovered evidently existed among the ancient, as among the modern, inhabitants of Egypt.

While the guests were entertained with music and the dance, dinner was prepared; but as it consisted of a considerable number of dishes, and the meat was killed for the occasion, as at the present day in Eastern and tropical climates, some time elapsed before it was put upon table. An ox, kid, wild goat, gazelle, or an oryx, and a quantity of geese, ducks, teal, quails, and other birds, were generally selected; but mutton was excluded from a Theban table. Plutarch even states that “no Egyptians would eat the flesh of sheep, except the Lycopolites,” who did so out of compliment to the wolves they venerated; and Strabo confines the sacrifice of them to the Nome of Nitriotis. But, though sheep were not killed for the altar or the table, they abounded in Egypt, and even at Thebes; and large flocks were kept for their wool, particularly in the neighbourhood of Memphis. Sometimes a flock consisted of more than 2000; and in a tomb below the Pyramids, dating upwards of 4000 years ago, 974 rams are brought to be registered by his scribes, as part of the stock of the deceased; implying an equal number of ewes, independent of lambs.

Beef and goose constituted the principal part of the animal food throughout Egypt; and by a prudent foresight, in a country possessing neither extensive pasture lands, nor great abundance of cattle, the cow was held sacred, and consequently forbidden to be eaten. Thus the risk of exhausting the stock was prevented, and a constant supply of oxen was kept up for the table and for agricultural purposes. A similar fear of diminishing the number of sheep, so valuable for their wool, led to a preference for such meats as beef and goose; though they were much less light and wholesome than mutton. In Abyssinia it is a sin to eat geese or ducks; and modern experience teaches that in Egypt, and similar climates, beef and goose are not eligible food, except in the winter months.

A considerable quantity of meat was served up at those repasts, to which strangers were invited, as among people of the East at the present day; whose azooma, or feast, prides itself in the quantity and variety of dishes, in the unsparing profusion of viands, and, whenever wine is permitted, in the freedom of the bowl. An endless succession of vegetables was also required on all occasions; and, when dining in private, dishes composed chiefly of them, were in greater request than joints, even at the tables of the rich; and consequently the Israelites, who, by their long residence there, had acquired similar habits, regretted them equally with the meat and fish of Egypt.

Their mode of dining was very similar to that now adopted in Cairo, and throughout the East; each person sitting round a table, and dipping his bread into a dish placed in the centre, removed on a sign made by the host, and succeeded by others, whose rotation depends on established rule, and whose number is predetermined according to the size of the party, or the quality of the guests.

Among the lower orders, vegetables constituted a very great part of their ordinary food, and they gladly availed themselves of the variety and abundance of esculent roots growing spontaneously, in the lands irrigated by the rising Nile, as soon as its waters had subsided; some of which were eaten in a crude state, and others roasted in the ashes, boiled, or stewed: their chief aliment, and that of their children, consisting of milk and cheese, roots, leguminous, cucurbitaceous, and other plants, and the ordinary fruits of the country. Herodotus describes the food of the workmen, who built the Pyramids, to have been the “raphanus, onions, and garlic;” the first of which, now called figl, is like a turnip-radish in flavour; but he has omitted one more vegetable, lentils, which were always, as at the present day, the chief article of their diet; and which Strabo very properly adds to the number.

The nummulite rock, in the vicinity of those monuments, frequently presents a conglomerate of testacea imbedded in it, which, in some positions, resemble small seeds; and Strabo imagines they were the petrified residue of the lentils brought there by the workmen, from their having been the ordinary food of the labouring classes, and of all the lower orders of Egyptians.

Much attention was bestowed on the culture of this useful pulse, and certain varieties became remarkable for their excellence, the lentils of Pelusium being esteemed both in Egypt and in foreign countries.

In few countries were vegetables more numerous than in Egypt; as is proved by ancient writers, the sculptures, and the number of persons who sold them; and at the time of the Arab invasion, when Alexandria was taken by Amer, the lieutenant of the caliph Omer, no less than 4000 persons were engaged in selling vegetables in that city.

The lotus, the papyrus, and other similar productions of the land, during and after the inundation, were, for the poor, one of the greatest blessings nature ever provided for any people; and, like the acorn in northern climates, constituted perhaps the sole aliment of the peasantry, at the early period when Egypt was first colonised. The fertility of the soil, however, soon afforded a more valuable produce to the inhabitants; and long before they had made any great advances in civilisation, corn and leguminous plants were grown to a great extent throughout the country. The palm was another important gift bestowed upon them: it flourished spontaneously in the valley of the Nile, and, if it was unable to grow in the sands of the arid desert, yet wherever water sufficed for its nourishment, this useful tree produced an abundance of dates, a wholesome and nutritious fruit, which might be regarded as an universal benefit, being within the reach of all classes of people, and neither requiring expense in the cultivation, nor interfering with the time demanded for other agricultural occupations.

Among the vegetables above mentioned, is one which requires some observations. Juvenal says that they were forbidden to eat the onion, and it is reported to have been excluded from an Egyptian table. But even if, as Plutarch supposes, onions were prohibited to the priests, who “abstained from most kinds of pulse; they were not excluded from the altars of the gods, either in the tombs or temples; and a priest is frequently seen holding them in his hand, or covering an altar with a bundle of their leaves and roots. They were introduced at private as well as public festivals; and brought to table with gourds, cucumbers, and other vegetables; and the Israelites, when they left the country, regretted “the onions” as well as the cucumbers, the water-melons, the leeks, the garlic, and the meat they “did eat” in Egypt.

The onions of Egypt were mild, and of an excellent flavour. They were eaten crude as well as cooked, by persons both of the higher and the lower classes; but it is difficult to say if they introduced them to table like the cabbage, as a hors-d’œuvre, to stimulate the appetite, which Socrates recommends in the Banquet of Xenophon. On this occasion, some curious reasons for their use are brought forward, by different members of the party. Nicerates observes that onions relish well with wine, and cites Homer in support of his remark; Callias affirms that they inspire courage in the hour of battle; and Charmidas suggests their utility “in deceiving a jealous wife, who, finding her husband return with his breath smelling of onions, would be induced to believe he had not saluted any one while from home.”

In slaughtering for the table, it was customary to take the ox, or whatever animal had been chosen for the occasion, into a court-yard near the house; to tie its four legs together, and then to throw it upon the ground; in which position it was held by one or more persons, while the butcher, sharpening his broad knife upon a steel attached to his apron, proceeded to cut the throat, as near as possible from one ear to the other; sometimes continuing the opening downwards. The blood was frequently received into a vase or basin for the purposes of cookery, which was repeatedly forbidden to the Israelites by the Mosaic law; and the reason of the explicit manner of the prohibition is readily explained, from the necessity of preventing their adopting a custom they had so recently witnessed in Egypt. Nor is it less strictly denounced by the Mohammedan religion; and all Moslems look upon this ancient Egyptian, and modern European, custom with unqualified horror and disgust. But black-puddings were popular in Egypt.

 

187.              A butcher killing and cutting up an ibex or wild goat: the other two sharpening their knives on a steel. Thebes.

The head was then taken off, and they proceeded to skin the animal, beginning with the leg and neck. The first joint removed was the right foreleg or shoulder; the other parts fallowing in succession, according to custom or convenience; and the same rotation was observed, in cutting up the victims offered in sacrifice to the gods. Servants carried the joints to the kitchen on wooden trays, and the cook having selected the parts suited for boiling, roasting, and other modes of dressing, prepared them for the fire by washing, and any other preliminary process he thought necessary. In large kitchens, the chef, or head cook, had several persons under him; who were required to make ready and boil the water of the caldron, to put the joints on spits or skewers, to cut up or mince the meat, to prepare the vegetables, and to fulfil various other duties assigned to them.

The very peculiar mode of cutting up the meat frequently prevents our ascertaining the exact part they intend to represent in the sculptures; the chief joints, however, appear to be the head, shoulder, and leg, with the ribs, tail, or rump, the heart, and kidneys; and they occur in the same manner on the altars of the temple, and the tables of a private house. One is remarkable, not only from being totally unlike any of our European joints, but from its exact resemblance to that commonly seen at table in modern Egypt: it is part of the leg, consisting of the flesh covering the bone, whose two extremities project slightly beyond it; and the accompanying drawing from the sculptures, and a sketch of the same joint from a modern table in Upper Egypt, show how the mode of cutting it has been preserved by traditional custom to the present day.

 

188.              Peculiar joint of meat at an ancient and modern Egyptian table.

The head was left with the skin and horns; and was sometimes given away to a poor person, as a reward for holding the walking sticks of those guests who came on foot; but it was frequently taken to the kitchen with the other joints; and, notwithstanding the positive assertion of Herodotus, we find that even in the temples themselves it was admitted at a sacrifice, and placed with other offerings on the altars of the gods.

 

189.              One head given to a poor man Thebes.

The historian would lead us to suppose that a strict religious scruple prevented the Egyptians of all classes from eating this part, as he affirms, “that no Egyptian will taste the head of any species of animal,” in consequence of certain imprecations having been uttered upon it at the time it was sacrificed; but as he is speaking of heifers slaughtered for the service of the gods, we may conclude that the prohibition did not extend to those killed for table, nor even to all those offered for sacrifice in the temple; and as with the scapegoat of the Jews, that important ceremony was perhaps confined to certain occasions, and to chosen animals, without extending to every victim which was slain.

The formula of the imprecation was probably very similar with the Jews and Egyptians. Herodotus says the latter pray the gods “that if any misfortune was about to happen to those who offered, or to the other inhabitants of Egypt, it might fall upon that head:” and with the former it was customary for the priest to take two goats and cast lots upon them, “one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat,” which was presented alive “to make atonement” for the people. The priest was then required to “lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.” The remark of Herodotus should then be confined to the head, on which their imprecation was pronounced; and being looked upon by every Egyptian as an abomination, it may have been taken to the market and sold to foreigners, or if no foreigners happened to be there, it may have been given to the crocodiles.

The same mode of slaughtering, and of preparing the joints, extended to all the large animals; but geese, and other wild and tame fowl, were served up entire, or, at least, only deprived of their feet and pinion joints. Fish were also brought to table whole, whether boiled or fried, the tails and fins being removed. For the service of religion, they were generally prepared in the same manner as for private feasts; sometimes, however, an ox was brought entire to the altar, and birds were often placed among the offerings, without even having the feathers taken off.

 

190.              An ox and a bird placed entire on the altar.

In Lower Egypt, or, as Herodotus styles it, “the corn country,” they were in the habit of drying and salting birds of various kinds, as quails, ducks, and others; and fish were prepared by them in the same manner both in Upper and Lower Egypt.

Some joints were boiled, others roasted: two modes of dressing their food to which Herodotus appears to confine the Egyptians, at least in the lower country; but the various modes of artificial cookery which Menes introduced, and which offended the simple habits of King Tnephachthus, had long since taught them to make “savoury meats,” such as prevented Isaac’s distinguishing the flesh of kids from venison.

For though the early Greeks were contented with roast meats, and, as Athenæus observes, the heroes of Homer seldom “boil their meat, or dress it with sauces,” the Egyptians were far more advanced in the habits of civilisation in those remote times.

The Egyptians never committed the same excesses as the Romans under the Empire; but they gave way to habits of intemperance and luxury after the Persian conquest, and the accession of the Ptolemies; so that writers who mention them at that period, describe the Egyptians as a profligate and luxurious people, addicted to an immoderate love of the table, and to every excess in drinking. They even used excitants for this purpose, and hors d’œuvres were provided to stimulate the appetite; crude cabbage, provoking the desire for wine, and promoting the continuation of excess.

As is the custom in Egypt, and other hot climates, at the present day, they cooked the meat as soon as killed; with the same view of having it tender, which makes northern people keep it until decomposition is beginning; and this explains the order of Joseph to “slay and make ready” for his brethren to dine with him the same day at noon. As soon, therefore, as this had been done, and the joints were all ready, the kitchen presented an animated scene, and the cooks were busy in their different departments. One regulated the heat of the fire, raising it with a poker, or blowing it with bellows, worked by the feet; another superintended the cooking of the meat, skimming the water with a spoon, or stirring it with a large fork; while a third pounded salt, pepper, or other ingredients, in a large mortar, which were added from time to time during this process. Liquids of various kinds also stood ready for use, which were sometimes drawn off by means of siphons; and those things they wished to raise beyond the reach of rats, or other intruders, were placed upon trays, and pulled up by ropes running through rings in the ceiling, answering the purposes of a safe.

Other servants took charge of the pastry, which the bakers or confectioners had made for the dinner table; and this department, which may be considered as attached to the kitchen, appears even more varied than that of the cook. Some sifted and mixed the flour, others kneaded the paste with their hands, and formed it into rolls, which were then prepared for baking, and, being placed on a long tray or board, were carried on a man’s head to the oven. Certain seeds were previously sprinkled upon the upper surface of each roll, and, judging from those still used in Egypt for the same purpose, they were chiefly the nigella sativa, or kamóon aswed, the simsim, and the caraway. Pliny also mentions this custom, and says that seeds of cummin were put upon cakes of bread in Egypt, and that condiments were mixed with them.

 

191.              An Egyptian kitchen, from the tomb of Remeses III., at Thebes.

Fig. 1. Killing and preparing the joints, which are placed at a, b, c.

2. Catching the blood for the purposes of cookery, which is removed in a bowl by fig. 3.

4. and 5. Employed in boiling meat, and stirring the fire.

7. Preparing the meat for the caldron, which fig. 6 is taking to the fire

8. Pounding some ingredients for the cook.

f, h. Apparently siphons.

i, j. Ropes passing through rings, and supporting different things, as a sort of safe.

g. Probably plates. u, v, Tables.

 

191 a.              Cooks and Confectioners. In the Tomb of Remeses III. at Thebes.

Fig. 1, 2. Kneading the dough with their feet. 3, 4. Carrying it to the confectioner (5), who rolls out the paste, which is afterwards made into cakes of various forms, d, e, f, g, h.

6, 7. Making a sort of maccaroni (l, m, n), on a pan over the fire, m. 9. Cooking lentils, which are in the baskets, p, p.

8. Preparing the oven. 11, 12. Making cakes of bread sprinkled with seeds. 15, 16. Kneading paste with the hands.

19. Carrying the cakes to the oven y, which is now lighted. At a, b, the dough is probably left to ferment in a basket, as is now done at Cairo.

Sometimes they kneaded the paste with their feet, having placed it in a large wooden bowl upon the ground; it was then in a more liquid state than when mixed by the hand, and was carried in vases to the pastrycook, who formed it into a sort of maccaroni, upon a shallow metal pan over the fire. Two persons were engaged in this process; one stirring it with a wooden spatula, and the other taking it off when cooked, with two pointed sticks, who arranged it in a proper place, where the rest of the pastry was kept. This last was of various kinds, apparently made up with fruit, or other ingredients, with which the dough, spread out with the hand, was sometimes mixed; and it assumed the shape of a three-cornered cake, a recumbent ox, a leaf, a crocodile’s head, a heart, or other form,* according to the fancy of the confectioner. That his department was connected with the kitchen† is again shown, by the presence of a man in the corner of the picture, engaged in cooking lentils for a soup or porridge;‡ his companion § brings a bundle of faggots for the fire, and the lentils themselves are seen standing near him in wicker baskets.

The large caldrons containing the meat for boiling, having been taken from the dresser, where they were placed for the convenience of putting in the joints, stood over a wood fire upon the hearth, supported on stones, or on a metal frame or tripod. Some of smaller dimensions, probably containing the stewed meat, stood over a pan containing charcoal, precisely similar to the magoor, used in modern Egypt; and geese, or joints of meat, were roasted over a fire of a peculiar construction, intended solely for this purpose; the cook passing over them a fan, which served for bellows. In heating water, or boiling meat, faggots of wood were principally employed; but for the roast meat charcoal, as in the modern kitchens of Cairo; and the sculptures represent servants bringing this last in mats, of the same form as those of the present day. They sometimes used round balls for cooking, probably a composition of charcoal, and other ingredients, which a servant is represented taking out of a basket, and putting on the stove, while another blows the fire with a fan.

 

192.              Cooking geese and different joints of meat. Tomb near the Pyramids

Figs. a a. Joints in caldrons, on the dresser b. c. A table.

1. Preparing a goose for the cook (2), who puts them into the boiler d.

3. Roasting a goose over a fire (e) of peculiar construction.

4. Cutting up the meat. l. Joints on a table.

g.              Stewed meat over a pan of fire, or magoor.

That dinner was served up at midday, may be inferred from the invitation given by Joseph to his brethren; but it is probable that, like the Romans, they also ate supper in the evening, as is still the custom in the East. The table was much the same as that of the present day in Egypt: a small stool, supporting a round tray, on which the dishes are placed; but it differed from this in having its circular summit fixed on a pillar, or leg, which was often in the form of a man, generally a captive, who supported the slab upon his head; the whole being of stone, or some hard wood. On this the dishes were placed, together with loaves of bread, some of which were not unlike those of the present day in Egypt, flat and round as our crumpets. Others had the form of rolls or cakes, sprinkled with seeds.

It was not generally covered with any linen, but, like the Greek table, was washed with a sponge, or napkin, after the dishes were removed, and polished by the servants, when the company had retired; though an instance sometimes occurs of a napkin spread on it, at least on those which bore offerings in honour of the dead. One or two guests generally sat at a table, though from the mention of persons seated in rows according to rank, it has been supposed the tables were occasionally of a long shape, as may have been the case when the brethren of Joseph “sat before him, the first born according to his birth-right, and the youngest according to his youth,” Joseph eating alone at another table where “they set on for him by himself.” But even if round, they might still sit according to rank; one place being always the post of honour, even at the present day, at the round table of Egypt.

In the houses of the rich, bread was made of wheat; the poorer classes being contented with cakes of barley, or of doora (holcus sorghum), which last is still so commonly used by them; for Herodotus is as wrong in saying that they thought it “the greatest disgrace to live on wheat and barley,” as that “no one drank out of any but bronze (or brazen) cups.” The drinking cups of the Egyptians not only varied in their materials, but also in their forms. Some were plain and unornamented; others, though of small dimensions, were made after the models of larger vases; many were like our own cups without handles; and others may come under the denomination of beakers, and saucers Of these the former were frequently made of alabaster, with a round base, so that they could not stand when filled, and were held in the hand, or, when empty, were turned downwards upon their rim: and the saucers, which were of glazed pottery, had sometimes lotus blossoms, or fish, represented on their concave surface.

 

193.              Drinking cups.

Fig. 1. An alabaster beaker, in the Museum of Alnwick Castle.

2. A saucer or cup of blue glazed pottery, in the Berlin Collection.

3. Side view of the same.

The tables, as at a Roman repast, were occasionally brought in, and removed, with the dishes on them; sometimes each joint was served up separately, and the fruit, deposited in a plate or trencher, succeeded the meat at the close of dinner; but in less fashionable circles, particularly of the olden time, fruit was brought in baskets, which stood beside the table. The dishes consisted of fish; meat boiled, roasted, and dressed in various ways; game, poultry, and a profusion of vegetables and fruit, particularly figs and grapes, during the season; and a soup, or “pottage of lentils,” as with the modern Egyptians, was not an unusual dish. Of figs and grapes they were particularly fond, which is shown by their constant introduction, even among the choice offerings presented to the gods; and figs of the sycamore must have been highly esteemed, since they were selected as the heavenly fruit, given by the goddess Netpe to those who were judged worthy of admission to the regions of eternal happiness. Fresh dates during the season, and in a dried state at other periods of the year, were also brought to table, as well as a preserve of the fruit, made into a cake of the same form as the tamarinds now brought from the interior of Africa, and sold in the Cairo market.

 

194.              The table brought in with the dishes upon it. Tomb near the Pyramids.

 

195.              A cake of preserved dates, found by me at Thebes. At a is a date stone.

The guests sat on the ground, or on stools and chairs, and, having neither knives and forks, nor any substitute for them answering to the chopsticks of the Chinese, they ate with their fingers, like the modern Asiatics, and invariably with the right hand; nor did the Jews and Etruscans, though they had forks for other purposes, use any at table.

 

196.              A dinner party. Tombs near the Pyramids.

a, j, n, r. Tables with various dishes

b, p. Figs.

d, e, and q, s. Baskets of grapes.

Fig. 3 is taking a wing from a goose.

4 holds a joint of meat.

5 and 7 are eating fish.

6 about to drink water from an earthen vessel.

l is the figl, or raphanus.

Spoons were introduced when required for soup, or other liquids; and, perhaps, even a knife was employed on some occasions, to facilitate the carving of a large joint, which is sometimes done in the East at the present day.

 

197.              Fig. 1. Ivory spoon, about 4 inches long, in the Berlin Museum, found with the vases of wood-cut 181.

2. Bronze spoon, in my possession, 8 inches in length.

3, 4. Bronze spoons, found by Mr. Burton, at Thebes.

 

198.              Of wood, in Mr. Salt’s Collection.

The Egyptian spoons were of various forms and sizes. They were principally of ivory, bone, wood, or bronze, and other metals; and in some the handle terminated in a hook, by which, if required, they were suspended to a nail. Many were ornamented with the lotus flower; the handles of others were made to represent an animal, or a human figure; some were of very arbitrary shape; and a smaller kind, of round form, probably intended for taking ointment out of a vase, and transferring it to a shell or cup for immediate use, are occasionally discovered in the tombs of Thebes. One in the Museum of Alnwick Castle is a perfect specimen of these spoons, and is rendered more interesting from having been found with the shell, its companion at the toilet-table.

 

199.              Figs. 1, 2. Front and back of a wooden spoon.

3. Ivory spoon. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

 

200.              Alabaster shell and spoon. Museum of Alnwick Castle.

 

201.              Figs. 1, 2. Bronze simpula in the Berlin Museum.

3. Of hard wood, in the same Museum.

4. Bronze simpulum, in my possession, 1 foot 6 inches long. It has been gilt.

Simpula, or ladles, were also common, and many have been found at Thebes. They were of bronze, frequently gilt, and the curved summit of the handle, terminating in a goose’s head, a favourite Egyptian ornament, served to suspend them at the side of a vessel, after having been used for taking a liquid from it; and, judging from a painting on a vase in the Naples Museum, where a priest is represented pouring a libation from a vase with the simpulum, we may conclude this to have been the principal purpose to which they were applied. The length of some was eighteen inches, and the lower part or ladle nearly three inches deep, and two and a half inches in diameter; but many were much smaller.

Some simpula were made with a joint, or hinge, in the centre of the handle, so that the upper half either folded over the other, or slided down behind it; the extremity of each being furnished with a bar which held them together, at the same time that it allowed the upper one to pass freely up and down (figs. 1, 2). Two of these are preserved in the Berlin Museum. There is also a ladle of hard wood, found with a case of bottles. It is very small; the lower part, which may properly be called the handle, being barely more than five inches long, of very delicate workmanship; and the sliding rod, which fits into a groove in the centre of the handle, is about the thickness of a needle (fig. 3).

Small strainers, or cullenders, of bronze have also been found at Thebes, about five inches in diameter; and several other utensils.

The Egyptians washed after, as well as before, dinner; an invariable custom throughout the East, as among the Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, and others; and Herodotus speaks of a golden basin, belonging to Amasis, which was used by the King, and “the guests who were in the habit of eating at his table.”

An absorbent seems also to have been adopted for scouring the hands; and a powder of ground lupins, the doqáq of modern Egypt, is no doubt an old invention, handed down to the present inhabitants.

Soap was not unknown to the ancients, and a small quantity has been found at Pompeii. Pliny, who mentions it as an invention of the Gauls, says it was made of fat and ashes; and Aretæus, the physician of Cappadocia, tells us, that the Greeks borrowed their knowledge of its medicinal properties from the Romans. But there is no evidence of soap having been used by the Egyptians; and if by accident they discovered something of the kind, while engaged with mixtures of natron or potash, and other ingredients, it is probable that it was only an absorbent, without oil or grease, and on a par with steatite, or the argillaceous earths, with which, no doubt, they were long acquainted.

The Egyptians, a scrupulously religious people, were never remiss in expressing their gratitude for the blessings they enjoyed, and in returning thanks to the gods for that peculiar protection they were thought to extend to them and to their country, above all the nations of the earth. They therefore never sat down to meals without saying grace; and Josephus says that when the seventy-two elders were invited by Ptolemy Philadelphus to sup at the palace, Nicanor requested Eleazer to say grace for his countrymen, instead of those Egyptians, to whom that duty was committed on other occasions.

It was also a custom of the Egyptians, during or after their repasts, to introduce a wooden image of Osiris, from one foot and a half to three feet in height, in the form of a human mummy, standing erect, or lying on a bier, and to show it to each of the guests, warning him of his mortality, and the transitory nature of human pleasures. He was reminded that some day he would be like that figure; that men ought “to love one another, and avoid those evils which tend to make them consider life too long, when in reality it is too short;” and while enjoying the blessings of this world, to bear in mind that their existence was precarious, and that death, which all ought to be prepared to meet, must eventually close their earthly career. Thus, while the guests were permitted, and even encouraged, to indulge in conviviality, the pleasures of the table, and the mirth so congenial to their lively disposition, they were exhorted to put a certain degree of restraint upon their conduct; and though this sentiment was perverted by other people, and used as an incentive to present excesses, it was perfectly consistent with the ideas of the Egyptians to be reminded that this life was only a lodging, or “inn” on their way, and that their existence here was the preparation for a future state.

 

202.              Figure of a mummy in the form of Osiris, brought to an Egyptian table, and shown to the guests.

Widely different was the exhortation of Trimalchio, thus given by Petronius: “To us, who were drinking, and admiring the splendour of the entertainment, a silver model of a man was brought by a servant, so contrived that its joints and moveable vertebræ could be bent in any direction. After it had been produced upon the table two or three times, and had been made, by means of springs, to assume different attitudes, Trimalchio exclaimed, ‘Alas, unhappy lot, how truly man is nought! similar to this shall we all be, when death has carried us away: therefore, while we are allowed to live let us live well.’ ”

“The ungodly,” too, of Solomon’s time, thus expressed themselves: “Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy; neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave. For we are born at all adventure, and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been,.… come on, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present,.… let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments; and let no flower of the spring pass by us; let us crown ourselves with rosebuds, before they be withered; let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness; let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place.”

But even if the Egyptians, like other men, neglected a good warning, the original object of it was praiseworthy; and Plutarch expressly states that it was intended to convey a moral lesson. The idea of death had nothing revolting to them; and so little did the Egyptians object to have it brought before them, that they even introduced the mummy of a deceased relative at their parties, and placed it at table, as one of the guests; a fact which is recorded by Lucian, in his “Essay on Grief,” and of which he declares himself to have been an eyewitness.

After dinner, music and singing were resumed; hired men and women displayed feats of agility; swinging each other round by the hand; throwing up and catching the ball; or flinging themselves round backwards head-over-heels, in imitation of a wheel; which was usually a performance of women. They also stood on each other’s backs, and made a somerset from that position; and a necklace, or other reward, was given to the most successful tumbler.

The most usual games within doors were odd and even, mora, and draughts; for the first of which (called by the Romans “ludere par et impar”) they used bones, nuts, beans, almonds, or shells; and any indefinite number was held between the two hands.

 

203.              Tumblers. Fig. 1, one of four holding the rewards. Beni Hassan.

 

204.              Women tumbling, and performing feats of agility. Beni Hassan.

The game of mora was common in ancient as well as modern Italy, and was played by two persons, who each simultaneously threw out the fingers of one hand, while one party guessed the sum of both. They were said in Latin, “micare digitis,” and this game, still so common among the lower orders of Italians, existed in Egypt, about four thousand years ago, in the reigns of the Osirtasens.

 

205.              Fig. 1. Playing at mora.

2. At odd and even. Thebes.

 

206.              Games of draughts and mora. Beni Hassan.

The same, or even a greater, antiquity may be claimed for the game of draughts, or, as it has been erroneously called, chess. As in the two former, the players sat on the ground, or on chairs, and the pieces, or men, being ranged in line at either end of the tables, moved on a chequered board, as in our own chess and draughts.

The pieces were all of the same size and form, though they varied on different boards, some being small, others large with round summits: some were surmounted by human heads; and many were of a lighter and neater shape, like small nine-pins, probably the most fashionable kind, since they were used in the palace of king Remeses. These last seem to have been about one inch and a half high, standing on a circular base of half an inch in diameter; but some are only one inch and a quarter in height, and little more than half an inch broad at the lower end. Others have been found, of ivory, one inch and six-eighths high, and one and an eighth in diameter, with a small knob at the top, exactly like those represented at Beni Hassan, and the tombs near the Pyramids (fig. 4).

 

207.              Draughtsmen.

Fig. 1. From the sculptures of Remeses III.

2. Of wood, and 4, 5, of ivory, in my possession.

3. Of glazed pottery, from Thebes.

They were about equal in size upon the same board, one set black, the other white or red; or one with round, the other with flat heads, standing on opposite sides; and each player, raising it with the finger and thumb, advanced his piece towards those of his opponent; but though we are unable to say if this was done in a direct or a diagonal line, there is reason to believe they could not take backwards as in the Polish game of draughts, the men being mixed together on the board.

 

208.              Game of draughts. Beni Hassan and Thebes.

It was an amusement common in the houses of the lower classes, as in the mansions of the rich; and king Remeses is himself portrayed on the walls of his palace at Thebes, engaged in the game of draughts with the ladies of his household.

The modern Egyptians have a game of draughts, very similar, in the appearance of the men, to that of their ancestors, which they call dámeh, and play much in the same manner as our own.

 

209.              A game perhaps similar to the Greek kollabismos. Beni Hassan.

 

209 a.              Fig. 1. Remeses III. playing at draughts.

2. Seated in a chair, on the principle of our camp stools. Thebes.

 

210.              Game with a hoop. Beni Hassan.

 

211.              Other games. Beni Hassan.

 

212.              Wooden boards. In the Collection of Dr. Abbott.

Analogous to the game of odd and even was one, in which two of the players held a number of shells, or dice, in their closed hands, over a third person who knelt between them, with his face towards the ground, and who was obliged to guess the combined number ere he could be released from this position.

Another game consisted in endeavouring to snatch from each other a small hoop, by means of hooked rods, probably of metal; and the success of a player seems to have depended on extricating his own from an adversary’s rod, and then snatching up the hoop, before he had time to stop it.

There were also two games, of which the boards, with the men, are in the possession of Dr. Abbott. One is eleven inches long by three and a half, and has ten spaces or squares in three rows; the other twelve squares at the upper end (or four squares in three rows) and a long line of eight squares below, forming an approach to the upper part, like the arrangement of German tactics. The men in the drawer of the board are of two shapes, one set ten, the other nine in number.

Other games are represented in the paintings, but not in a manner to render them intelligible; and many, which were doubtless common in Egypt, are omitted both in the tombs, and in the writings of ancient authors.

The dice discovered at Thebes, and other places, may not be of a Pharaonic period, but, from the simplicity of their form, we may suppose them similar to those of the earliest age, in which too the conventional number of six sides had probably always been adopted. They were marked with small circles, representing units, generally with a dot in the centre; and were of bone or ivory, varying slightly in size.

 

213.              Dice found in Egypt. Berlin Museum.

Plutarch shows that dice were a very early invention in Egypt, and acknowledged to be so by the Egyptians themselves, since they were introduced into one of their oldest mythological fables; Mercury being represented playing at dice with the Moon, previous to the birth of Osiris, and winning from her the five days of the epact, which were added to complete the 365 days of the year.

It is probable that several games of chance were known to the Egyptians, besides dice and mora, and, as with the Romans, that many a doubtful mind sought relief in the promise of success, by having recourse to fortuitous combinations of various kinds; and the custom of drawing, or casting lots, was common, at least as early as the period of the Hebrew Exodus.

The games and amusements of children were such as tended to promote health by the exercise of the body, and to divert the mind by laughable entertainments. Throwing and catching the ball, running, leaping, and similar feats, were encouraged, as soon as their age enabled them to indulge in them; and a young child was amused with painted dolls, whose hands and legs, moving on pins, were made to assume various positions by means of strings. Some of these were of rude form, without legs, or with an imperfect representation of a single arm on one side. Some had numerous beads, in imitation of hair, hanging from the doubtful place of the head; others exhibited a nearer approach to the form of a man; and some, made with considerable attention to proportion, were small models of the human figure. They were coloured according to fancy; and the most shapeless had usually the most gaudy appearance, being intended to catch the eye of an infant. Sometimes a man was figured washing, or kneading dough, who was made to work by pulling a string; and a typhonian monster, or a crocodile, amused a child by its grimaces, or the motion of its opening mouth. In the toy of the crocodile, we have sufficient evidence that the notion of this animal “not moving its lower jaw, and being the only creature which brings the upper one down to the lower,” is erroneous. Like other animals, it moves the lower jaw only; but when seizing its prey, it throws up its head, which gives an appearance of motion in the upper jaw, and has led to the mistake.

 

214.              Wooden dolls.

 

215.              Children’s toys. Leyden Museum.

 

216.              Playing the game of ball mounted on each other’s backs. Beni Hassan.

 

217.              Throwing up and catching one, two, and three balls. Beni Hassan.

The game of ball was of course generally played out of doors. It was not confined to children, nor to one sex, though the mere amusement of throwing and catching it appears to have been considered more particularly adapted to women. They had different modes of playing. Sometimes a person unsuccessful in catching the ball was obliged to suffer another to ride on her back, who continued to enjoy this post until she also missed it: the ball being thrown by an opposite player, mounted in the same manner, and placed at a certain distance, according to the space previously agreed upon; and, from the beast-of-burden office of the person who had failed, the same name was probably applied to her as to those in the Greek game, “who were called ονοι (asses), and were obliged to submit to the commands of the victor.”

 

218.              Different positions in the game of ball. Beni Hassan.

Sometimes they caught three or more balls in succession, the hands occasionally crossed over the breast; they also threw it up to a height and caught it, like the Greek ουρανια, our “sky ball;” and the game described by Homer to have been played by Halius and Laodamus, in the presence of Alcinöus, was known to them; in which one party threw the ball as high as he could, and the other, leaping up, caught it on its fall, before his feet again touched the ground.

When mounted on the backs of the losing party, the Egyptian women sat sidewise. Their dress consisted merely of a short petticoat, without a body, the loose upper robe being laid aside on these occasions: it was bound at the waist with a girdle, supported by a strap over the shoulder, and was nearly the same as the undress garb of mourners, worn during the funeral lamentation on the death of a friend.

The balls were made of leather or skin, sewed with string, crosswise, in the same manner as our own, and stuffed with bran, or husks of corn; and those which have been found at Thebes are about three inches in diameter. Others were made of string, or of the stalks of rushes, platted together so as to form a circular mass, and covered, like the former, with leather. They appear also to have had a smaller kind of ball, probably of the same materials, and covered, like many of our own, with slips of leather of a rhomboidal shape, sewed together longitudinally, and meeting in a common point at both ends, each alternate slip being of a different colour; but these have only been met with in pottery.

 

219.              Fig. 1. Leather ball, three inches in diameter.

2. Of painted earthenware. From Mr. Salt’s Collection.

In one of their performances of strength and dexterity, two men stood together side by side, and, placing one arm forward and the other behind them, held the hands of two women, who reclined backwards, in opposite directions, with their whole weight pressed against each other’s feet, and in this position were whirled round; the hands of the men who held them being occasionally crossed, in order more effectually to guarantee the steadiness of the centre, on which they turned.

 

220.              Men swinging women round by the arms. Beni Hassan.

 

221.              Rising from the ground. Beni Hassan.

 

222.              Throwing knives into a wooden block. Beni Hassan.

Sometimes two men, seated back to back on the ground, at a given signal tried who should rise first from that position, without touching the ground with the hand. And in this, too, there was probably the trial who should first make good his seat upon the ground, from a standing position.

Another game consisted in throwing a knife, or pointed weapon, into a block of wood, in which each player was required to strike his adversary’s, or more probably to fix his own in the centre, or at the circumference, of a ring painted on the wood; and his success depended on being able to ring his weapon most frequently, or approach most closely to the line.

Conjuring appears also to have been known to them, at least thimble-rig, or the game of cups, under which a ball was put, while the opposite party guessed under which of four it was concealed.

 

223.              Conjurors, or thimble-rig. From the work of Professor Rosellini.

The Egyptian grandees frequently admitted dwarfs, and deformed persons, into their household; originally, perhaps, from a humane motive, or from some superstitious regard for men who bore the external character of one of their principal gods, Pthah-Sokari-Osiris, the misshapen Deity of Memphis; but, whatever may have given rise to the custom, it is a singular fact, that already as early as the age of Osirtasen, or about 4000 years ago, the same fancy of attaching these persons to their suite existed among the Egyptians, as at Rome, and even in modern Europe, till a late period.

 

224.              Dwarfs and deformed persons in the service of the Egyptian grandees. Beni Hassan.

The stone is broken in that part where the hands should be.

The games of the lower orders, and of those who sought to invigorate the body by active exercises, consisted of feats of agility and strength. Wrestling was a favourite amusement; and the paintings at Beni Hassan present all the varied attitudes and modes of attack and defence of which it is susceptible. And, in order to enable the spectator more readily to perceive the position of the limbs of each combatant, the artist has availed himself of a dark and light colour, and even ventured to introduce alternately a black and red figure. The subject covers a whole wall; but the selection of a few groups will suffice to convey an idea of the principal positions of the combatants. (Woodcut 225.)

 

225.              Some of the positions of wrestlers. Beni Hassan.

Fig. 1. A man holding his girdle. Fig. 3, 4. Advancing to the attack.

2. The other binding on his girdle. 13, 14. Continuing the attack on the ground.

It is probable that, like the Greeks, they anointed the body with oil, when preparing for these exercises, and they were entirely naked, with the exception of a girdle, apparently of leathern thongs.

The two combatants generally approached each other, holding their arms in an inclined position before the body; and each endeavoured to seize his adversary in the manner best suited to his mode of attack. It was allowable to take hold of any part of the body, the head, neck, or legs; and the struggle was frequently continued on the ground, after one or both had fallen; a mode of wrestling common also to the Greeks.

They also fought with the single stick, the hand being apparently protected by a basket, or guard projecting over the knuckles; and on the left arm they wore a straight piece of wood, bound on with straps, serving as a shield to ward off their adversary’s blow. They do not, however, appear to have used the cestus, nor to have known the art of boxing; though in one group, at Beni Hassan, the combatants appear to strike each other. Nor is there an instance, in any of these contests, of the Greek sign of acknowledging defeat, which was by holding up a finger in token of submission; and it was probably done by the Egyptians with a word. It is also doubtful if throwing the discus, or quoit, was an Egyptian game; but there appears to be one instance of it, in a king’s tomb of the 19th dynasty.

 

226.              Singlestick. From the work of Professor Rosellini.

One of their feats of strength, or dexterity, was lifting weights; and bags full of sand were raised with one hand from the ground and carried with a straight arm over the head, and held in that position.

 

227.              Raising weights. From the work of Professor Rosellini.

Mock fights were also an amusement, particularly among those of the military class, who were trained to the fatigues of war, by these manly recreations. One party attacked a temporary fort, and brought up the battering ram, under cover of the testudo; another defended the walls and endeavoured to repel the enemy; others, in two parties of equal numbers, engaged in single stick, or the more usual nebóot, a pole wielded with both hands; and the pugnacious spirit of the people is frequently alluded to in the scenes portrayed by their artists.

The use of the nebóot seems to have been as common among the ancient, as among the modern, Egyptians; and the quarrels of villages were often decided or increased, as at present, by this efficient weapon. Crews of boats are also represented attacking each other with the earnestness of real strife. Some are desperately wounded, and, being felled by their more skilful opponents, are thrown headlong into the water; and the truth of Herodotus’s assertion, that the heads of the Egyptians were harder than those of other people, seems fully justified by the scenes described by their own draughtsmen. It is fortunate that their successors have inherited this peculiarity, in order to bear the violence of the Turks, and their own combats.

 

228.              Boatmen fighting with the nebóot, or pole. Tombs near the Pyramids

Fig. 1 is a small punt rowed with a paddle.

2, 3, h, boats made of rushes, the papyrus boats of ancient writers.

a, f, and k, push on the boats with poles, while the others are engaged in fighting.

d has been thrown into the water by his opponent.

Many singular encounters with sticks are mentioned by ancient authors; among which may be noticed one at Papremis, the city of Mars, described by Herodotus. When the votaries of the deity presented themselves at the gates of the temple, their entrance was obstructed by an opposing party; and all being armed with sticks, they commenced a rude combat, which ended, not merely in the infliction of a few severe wounds, but even, as the historian affirms, in the death of many persons on either side.

 

229.              A bull-fight. Thebes.

Bull-fights were also among their sports; which were sometimes exhibited in the dromos, or avenue, leading to the temples, as at Memphis before the temple of Vulcan; and prizes were awarded to the owner of the victorious combatant. Great care was taken in training them for this purpose; Strabo says as much as is usually bestowed on horses; and herdsmen were not loth to allow, or encourage, an occasional fight for the love of the exciting and popular amusement.

 

230.              Bull-fight. Beni Hassan.

They did not, however, condemn culprits, or captives taken in war, to fight with wild beasts, for the amusement of an unfeeling assembly; nor did they compel gladiators to kill each other, and gratify a depraved taste by exhibitions revolting to humanity. Their great delight was in amusements of a lively character, as music, dancing, buffoonery, and feats of agility; and those who excelled in gymnastic exercises were rewarded with prizes of various kinds; which in the country towns consisted, among other things, of cattle, dresses, and skins, as in the games celebrated in Chemmis.

The lively amusements of the Egyptians show that they had not the gloomy character so often attributed to them; and it is satisfactory to have these evidences by which to judge of it, in default of their physiognomy, so unbecomingly altered by death, bitumen, and bandages. The intellectual capabilities, however, of individuals may yet be subject to the decision of the phrenologist; and if they have escaped the ordeal of the supposed spontaneous rotation of a pendulum under a glass bell, their handwriting is still open to the criticisms of the wise, who discover by it the most minute secrets of character; and some of the old scribes may even now be amenable to this kind of scrutiny. But they are fortunately out of reach of the surprise, that some in modern days exhibit, at the exact likeness of themselves, believed to be presented to them from their own handwriting by a few clever generalities; forgetting that the sick man, in each malady he reads of in a book of medicine, discovers his own symptoms, and fancies they correspond with his own particular case. For though a certain neatness, or precision, carelessness, or other habit, may be discovered by handwriting, to describe from it all the minutiæ of character is only feeding the love of the marvellous, so much on the increase in these days, when a reaction of credulity bids fair to make nothing too extravagant for our modern gobe-mouches.

 

231.              Bull-fights Thebes.

 

F.              View of the Ruins and Vicinity of Philæ.








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