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See the: Egyptian Secrets Library.
The Spell of Egypt
by Robert Hichens,
published 1911, The
Century Co., New York.
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
Adapted for AscendingPassage.com.
CHAPTER XII -- DEIR-EL-BAHARI
Queen Hatshepsut's Temple - an architectural treasure
Make Way for Queen Hatshepsut (Hatshepsu)!
Surely she comes to a sound of flutes, a
merry noise of thin, bright music, backed by a clashing of barbaric
cymbals, along the corridors of the past; this Queen who is shown upon
Egyptian walls dressed as a man, who is said to have worn a beard, and
who sent to the land of Punt the famous expedition which covered her
with glory and brought gold to the god Amun.
To me most feminine she
seemed when I saw her temple at Deir-el-Bahari, with its brightness
and its suavity; its pretty shallowness and sunshine; its white, and
blue, and yellow, and red, and green and orange; all very trim and
fanciful, all very smart and delicate; full of finesse and laughter,
and breathing out to me of the twentieth century the coquetry of a
woman in 1500 B.C.
After the terrific masculinity of Medinet-Abu,
after the great freedom of the Ramesseum, and the grandeur of its
colossus, the manhood of all the ages concentrated in granite, the
temple at Deir-el-Bahari came upon me like a delicate woman, perfumed
and arranged, clothed in a creation of white and blue and orange,
standing--ever so knowingly--against a background of orange and pink,
of red and of brown-red, a smiling coquette of the mountain, a gay and
sweet enchantress who knew her pretty powers and meant to exercise
Hatshepsut with a beard! Never will I believe it. Or if she ever seemed
to wear one, I will swear it was only the tattooed ornament with which
all the lovely women of the Fayum decorate their chins to-day,
throwing into relief the smiling, soft lips, the delicate noses, the
liquid eyes, and leading one from it step by step to the beauties it
Mr. Wallis Budge says in his book on the antiquities of Egypt: "It
would be unjust to the memory of a great man and a loyal servant of
Hatshepsu, if we omitted to mention the name of Senmut, the architect
and overseer of works at Deir-el-Bahari." By all means let Senmut be
mentioned, and then let him be utterly forgotten.
A radiant Queen
reigns here--a Queen of fantasy and splendor, and of that divine
shallowness--refined frivolity literally cut into the mountain--which
is the note of Deir-el-Bahari. And what a clever background! Oh,
Hatshepsut knew what she was doing when she built her temple here. It
was not the solemn Senmut (he wore a beard, I'm sure) who chose that
background, if I know anything of women.
photograph by Lekegian, c.1895.
Long before I visited Deir-el-Bahari I had looked at it from afar. My
eyes had been drawn to it merely from its situation right underneath
the mountains. I had asked: "What do those little pillars mean? And
are those little doors?" I had promised myself to go there, as one
promises oneself a bonne bouche to finish a happy banquet. And I had
realized the subtlety, essentially feminine, that had placed a temple
And Menu-Hotep's temple, perhaps you say, was it not there
before the Queen's? Then he must have possessed a subtlety purely
feminine, or have been advised by one of his wives in his building
operations, or by some favorite female slave. Blundering, unsubtle man
would probably think that the best way to attract and to fix attention
on any object was to make it much bigger than things near and around
it, to set up a giant among dwarfs.
Little remains of Menu-Hotep's Temple, seen in the background.
Photograph: Photoglob, c.1895.
Not so Queen Hatshepsut. More artful in her generation, she set her
long but little temple against the precipices of Libya. And what is
the result? Simply that whenever one looks toward them one says, "What
are those little pillars?" Or if one is more instructed, one thinks
about Queen Hatshepsu. The precipices are as nothing. A woman's wile
has blotted them out.
And yet how grand they are! I have called them tiger-colored
precipices. And they suggest tawny wild beasts, fierce, bred in a land
that is the prey of the sun. Every shade of orange and yellow glows
and grows pale on their bosses, in their clefts. They shoot out
turrets of rock that blaze like flames in the day. They show great
teeth, like the tiger when any one draws near. And, like the tiger,
they seem perpetually informed by a spirit that is angry. Blake wrote
of the tiger:
"Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night."
Howard Carter copied this lion(?)
from the wall of Hatshepsut's temple c.1890
These tiger-precipices of Libya are burning things, avid like beasts
of prey. But the restored apricot-colored pillars are not afraid of
their impending fury--fury of a beast baffled by a tricky little
woman, almost it seems to me; and still less afraid are the white
pillars, and the brilliant paintings that decorate the walls within.
As many people in the sad but lovely islands off the coast of Scotland
believe in "doubles," as the old classic writers believed in man's
"genius," so the ancient Egyptian believed in his "Ka," or separate
entity, a sort of spiritual other self, to be propitiated and
ministered to, presented with gifts, and served with energy and ardor.
On this temple of Deir-el-Bahari is the scene of the birth of
Hatshepsut, and there are two babies, the princess and her Ka. For this
imagined Ka, when a great Queen, long after, she built this temple, or
chapel, that offerings might be made there on certain appointed days.
Fortunate Ka of Hatshepsut to have had so cheerful a dwelling!
Liveliness pervades Deir-el-Bahari. I remember, when I was on my first
visit to Egypt, lunching at Thebes with Monsieur Naville and Mr.
Hogarth, and afterward going with them to watch the digging away of
the masses of sand and rubbish which concealed this gracious building.
I remember the songs of the half-naked workmen toiling and sweating in
the sun. and I remember seeing a white temple wall come up into the
light with all the painted figures dancing with joy upon it.
And they are surely dancing still.
Trees in pots, wall carvings in Hatshepsut's Temple,
photograph by Sebah, c.1890.
Here you may see, brilliant as yesterday's picture anywhere,
fascinatingly decorative trees growing bravely in little pots, red
people offering incense which is piled up on mounds like mountains,
Ptah-Seket, Osiris receiving a royal gift of wine, the queen in the
company of various divinities, and the terrible ordeal of the cows.
Cows being weighed, wall carving in Hatshepsut's Temple,
photograph by Sebah, c.1890.
The cows are being weighed in scales. There are three of them. One is
a philosopher, and reposes with an air that says, "Even this last
indignity of being weighed against my will cannot perturb my soaring
spirit." But the other two sitting up, look as apprehensive as old
ladies in a rocking express, expectant of an accident.
of the colors in this temple is quite wonderful. And much of its great
attraction comes rather from its position, and from them, than
essentially from itself. At Deir-el-Bahari, what the long shell
contains--its happy murmur of life--is more fascinating than the
shell. There, instead of being uplifted or overawed by form, we are
rejoiced by color, by the high vivacity of arrested movement, by the
story that color and movement tell. And over all there is the bright,
blue, painted sky, studded, almost distractedly studded, with a
plethora of the yellow stars the Egyptians made like starfish.
The restored apricot-colored columns outside look unhappily suburban
when you are near them. The white columns with their architraves are
more pleasant to the eyes. The niches full of bright hues, the arched
chapels, the small white steps leading upward to shallow sanctuaries,
the small black foxes facing each other on little yellow pedestals--
attract one like the details and amusing ornaments of a clever woman's
boudoir. Through this most characteristic temple one roves in a gaily
attentive mood, feeling all the time Hatshepsut's fascination.
You may see her, if you will, a little lady on the wall, with a face
decidedly sensual--a long, straight nose, thick lips, an expression
rather determined than agreeable. Hatshepsut's mother looks Semitic, her father, Thothmes II, has a
weak and poor-spirited countenance--decidedly an accomplished
performer on the second violin.
Queen Ahmes, mother of Hatshepsut
photograph of a plaster cast made at Deir el Bahari
The mother wears on her head a vulture headdress,
the symbol of maternal care. Thothmes
is clad in a loin-cloth. And a god, with a sleepy expression and a
very fish-like head, appears in this group of personages to offer the
key of life.
Another painting of the Queen shows her on her knees
drinking milk from the sacred cow, with an intent and greedy figure,
and an extraordinarily sensual and expressive face. That she was well
guarded is surely proved by a brave display of her soldiers--red men
on a white wall. Full of life and gaiety all in a row they come,
holding weapons, and, apparently, branches, and advancing with a gait
of triumph that tells of "spacious days." And at their head is an
officer, who looks back, much like a modern drill sergeant, to see how
his men are marching.
Queen Hatshepsut's guard,
photograph by Beato c.1890.
In the southern shrine of the temple, cut in the rock as is the
northern shrine, once more I found traces of the "Lady of the Under-
World." For this shrine was dedicated to Hathor, though the whole
temple was sacred to the Theban god Amun. Upon a column were the
remains of the goddess's face, with a broad brow and long, large eyes.
Some fanatic had hacked away the mouth.
The tomb of Hatshepsut was found by Mr. Theodore M. Davis, and the
famous Vache of Deir-el-Bahari by Monsieur Naville as lately as
1905. It stands in the museum at Cairo, but for ever it will be
connected in the minds of men with the tiger-colored precipices and
the Colonnades of Thebes. Behind the ruins of the temple of Mentu-
Hotep III, in a chapel of painted rock, the Vache-Hathor was found.
It is not easy to convey by any description the impression this
marvellous statue makes. Many of us love our dogs, our horses, some of
us adore our cats; but which of us can think, without a smile, of
worshipping a cow? Yet the cow was the Egyptian Aphrodite's sacred
animal. Under the form of a cow she was often represented. And in the
statue she is presented to us as a limestone cow. And positively this
cow is to be worshipped.
She is shown in the act apparently of stepping gravely forward out of
a small arched shrine, the walls of which are decorated with brilliant
paintings. Her color is red and yellowish red, and is covered with
dark blotches of a very dark green, which look almost black. Only one
or two are of a bluish color. Her height is moderate. I stand about
five foot nine, and I found that on her pedestal the line of her back
was about level with my chest.
The lower part of the body, much of
which is concealed by the under block of limestone, is white, tinged
with yellow. The tail is red. Above the head, open and closed lotus-
flowers form a head-dress, with the lunar disk and two feathers. And
the long lotus-stalks flow down on each side of the neck toward the
ground. At the back of this head-dress are a scarab and a cartouche.
The goddess is advancing solemnly and gently. A wonderful calm, a
matchless, serene dignity, enfold her.
In the body of this cow one is able, indeed one is almost obliged, to
feel the soul of a goddess. The incredible is accomplished. The dead
Egyptian makes the ironic, the skeptical modern world feel deity in a
limestone cow. How is it done? I know not; but it is done. Genius can
do nearly everything, it seems.
Under the chin of the cow there is a
standing statue of the King Mentu-Hotep, and beneath her the king
kneels as a boy. Wonderfully expressive and solemnly refined is the
cow's face, which is of dark color, like the color of almost black
earth--earth fertilized by the Nile. Dignified, dominating, almost but
just not stern, strongly intelligent, and, through its beautiful
intelligence, entirely sympathetic ("to understand all, is to pardon
all"), this face, once thoroughly seen, completely noticed, can never
be forgotten. This is one of the most beautiful statues in the world.
When I was at Deir-el-Bahari I thought of it and wished that it still
stood there near the Colonnades of Thebes under the tiger-colored
precipices. And then I thought of Hatshepsut. Surely she would not
brook a rival to-day near the temple which she made--a rival long lost
and long forgotten.
Hatshepsut's Temple today, with the third terrace restored.
Image by Hajor, Dec.2001 - Wikipedia, License
Is not her influence still there upon the terraced
platforms, among the apricot and the white columns, near the paintings
of the land of Punt? Did it not whisper to the antiquaries, even to
the soldiers from Cairo, who guarded the Vache-Hathor in the night, to
make haste to take her away far from the hills of Thebes and from the
Nile's long southern reaches, that the great Queen might once more
They obeyed. Hatshepsut was appeased. And, like a delicate
woman, perfumed and arranged, clothed in a creation of white and blue
and orange, standing ever so knowingly against a background of orange
and pink, of red and of brown-red, she rules at Deir-el-Bahari.
adapted from: The Spell of Egypt
by Robert Hichens, published 1911
See the: Egyptian Secrets Library.
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