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OBELISKS - A Short History

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Author Topic: OBELISKS - A Short History  (Read 6579 times)
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« on: October 16, 2007, 08:04:41 pm »


                                   Relations of the Obelisk and the Pyramid.

THE first mention of the obelisk, or tekhen, occurs in connection with the pyramid: and both are alike designated sacred monuments on the funeral stele of the early empire, and also were undeniably devoted to the worship of the sun; occasionally the obelisk was represented as surmounting a pyramid, a position which it has never actually been found to occupy. The fundamental idea of the obelisk was doubtless that of light and creation, but towards the period of the XXIInd dynasty, the syllabic value of stability was attached to it, a characteristic hitherto only symbolised by the Nilometer, or tat.

The monuments of the usurping kings of the XIIIth and subsequent dynasties, have been defaced and appropriated by the Pharaohs of the XVIIIth or XIXth. Atefnuter Ai, of the XVIIIth dynasty, had his name erased by his successors on account of his illegitimacy; Amenhotep IV., on account of his heresy in the proscription of the worship of Amen for that of Aten Ra; and Shabaka the Ethiopian, because he was an usurper. The chief defacers of the monuments of their predecessors were the famous monarchs Thothmes III. and Rameses II., both actuated apparently by motives of jealousy and the monument was then termed; Men, which was a portion of the divine name of the deity Amen-Ra, to whom it was generally dedicated. These ideas came naturally: as the expression of Egyptian mythology Amen-Ra, or Ra as the generator could be properly represented as "Lord of Obelisks," implying lord of stability in the heavenly world, as Osiris was called "Lord of Tattu," and was represented by two tats, emblems of his stability as judge of the dead, and lord of the lower world; while the pyramid ab mer symbolised the midnight or subterranean sun.    Hence arose both the connection and the differentiation between the two classes of votivi, a differentiation not sufficiently regarded, but which was in itself highly significant.  These differences deserve numerical notice here:     

The obelisks of Egypt are all situated on the eastern side of the Nile, that being the district of the rising sun; while all the pyramids are located on the western bank of the river, the land of the sun setting; located amidst rock cut cemeteries, and the tumuli of the undistinguished dead of many generations.

The obelisk was invariably a monolith, and stood upon a base either cubiform, or of one or two steps or gradines. The pyramids were always composed of several courses of stone, even where the position of the ground allowed of their being like the sphynx cut out of the natural rock.

Obelisks were almost invariably erected in pairs, fronting the chief pylons of the greater temples; they preserved a symmetrical relation to each other; and they were surrounded by colonnades and aediculi, or smaller temples, dedicated to the lesser deities, or to the king as himself a deity.

On the other hand, with the sole exception of the so-called pyramids of Moeris or Amenemha III., of which no remains now exist, the pyramids were always though congregated in groups, yet arranged independently of each other; and the principle of duplication was not followed in their distribution.

The obelisks were generally inscribed, and those which remain without an inscription were evidently prepared to receive one, Their intention was to exalt the glory of the living monarch the son of the sun, or Ra.    The pyramids have no external inscription (the testimony of Herodotus notwithstanding); whatever hieroglyphics there were, were reserved for the sepulchral coffin, and the chamber in which it was deposited. The inscription in a pyramid had reference to the dead, the Osiride Pharaoh, and not to the reigning sovereign.

The obelisks were in many cases tipped with a metal covering; the pyramids were on the other hand covered by a casing of polished stones, which several of them still retain in a more or less perfect condition, a fate which has not befallen the brasen summits of the more slender monuments.

Many of the obelisks of Egypt occupy no longer, even in their own country, their original situation: those of Alexandria were removed from On to Alexandria, and that of Heliopolis was probably reerected in a later period than that of the monarch whose name it bears. Twelve, if not more obelisks, were carried off to Italy by the Romans, two were transported to Nineveh by Assurbanipal on the establishment of the Dodecarchy, and these two it is to be regretted have not yet been found, probably they still remain under the debris of the city of Assur. On the other 'hand, not one of the pyramids has been removed from its place, several have been destroyed, and many mutilated, but though the Romans imitated the work of the Egyptians in the pyramid of Caius Cestius, and probably other funereal monuments also, they never attempted to carry and re-erect any of the smaller pyramids, which they might easily have done.

Lastly, it may be observed that the name of the erecters of the obelisks are mostly all known to us, while those of the founders of the lesser pyramids are either lost or else are difficult to identify. The stelae of the priests of many of the deified pyramid builders of the Vth dynasty re-main, but the identical structures to which they were attached cannot now be verified, they are among the many historical data which time, more revengeful even than ambition, has erased from the tablets of archaeology.

It is in itself a remarkable peculiarity of everything connected with the worship of the Ancient Egyptians, that it had its rise long prior to the genesis of Classic history; that it existed in full power contemporaneously with the theologies of India, Greece, Etruria, and Rome, and that it, overlapping Christianity itself, only ceased to become venerated when all material worship had been swept away; neither the philosophy of Plato, nor the atheism of Cicero could influence beyond a certain limit the term of the Egyptian mythology; it still awed the mixed multitudes in Alexandria under the sway of the Caesars, as it had done the ancient Egyptians, "the pure men," as they called themselves in the time of Menes and Athothes ; the tributes of distant countries were still brought by the Ptolemies to the shrine of Tum, as they had been a thousand years before by Rameses III., and Alexander and Darius paid homage to Amen-Ra in the temple which his Egyptian votaries had erected to his glory, when the Greeks were a Nomadic herd, and the Persians unknown barbarians.

The most ancient of all the existing obelisks, if we except a small model, one discovered by Lepsiusin a tomb of the VIIth dynasty, is that of Usirtesen I of the XIIth dynasty, circa 3064 B.C. ; and the most recent that of Domitian; now in the Piazza Navona at Rome, A.D. 81. Thus the Egyptian faith, as attested by the obelisks alone, covered a space of more than 3000 years, not including the long prior period occupied by the first twelve dynasties. In all that long stretch of time the obelisk was a sacred monument; was the emblem at once of the vivifying power of the sun, and of the divine nature of the king; a witness for the "right divine to govern wrong, for thirty-one centuries at least. There does not exist in any of the capitals of Europe, and perhaps not even in the more ancient cities of Hindustan, a class of objects which have received uninterrupted veneration for as long a time as have obelisks.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2007, 08:24:02 am by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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