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MAP of Nubia and Abyssinia
To face the Vignette.
VIGNETTE-Great Pyramid at El Bellal.
View of the Temple of Soleb from the North-east........ ...Page 41
View of El Queribyn........
View of the Temple of Samné ................................ 158
NUBIA AND ABYSSINIA.
Difficulties to be encountered by the Historian of Ethiopia --Record of
Monuments; their Uncertainty-Obstacles which opposed the Knowledge of the Ancients--Supposition that Civilization descended the Nile
- Progress of Oriental Emigration-Resemblance of Nubian Temples to those of India-Fame of Ancient Ethiopians-Ambiguity of the Term-Two great Classes of Africans-Mixture of Arabians--Opinion of Heeren as to Language-Discoveries of Hornemann and LyonTuaricks and Tibboos-Nubians--Abyssinians-Hypothesis of Heeren --Connexion of Commerce and Religion-Chain of Temples-Similar Connexion among Jews and Christians-Early Improvement of Ethiopians mentioned in Scripture-Defence of the Opinion that Egypt derived Learning and Science from the Upper Nile.
In attempting to trace the history of the countries known to the ancients by the name of Ethiopia, we have to encounter the numerous obstacles which arise from the absence of a national literature, as well as from a succession of conquests made by a variety of barbarous tribes. Here indeed, as in Egypt, we possess the record of monuments which indicate the genius and religion of the people by whom the land was occupied at a very distant period; but it is manifest that, in reading the language supplied by the arts, it must be extremely difficult to avoid the ambiguity inseparable from their expression in regard to the precise date at which they flourished. The ruins of cities, of temples, and of obelisks may no doubt bear evidence to the wisdom of former ages, to the power of conquerors, and to the spirit of magnificence which threw a transient splendour even over the path of destructive armies; still, we cannot discover in ihem the genealogy of the nations to whom they were indebted for their origin, nor the earliest rudiments of that mechanical skill of which they illustrate so strikingly the progress and the perfection. A cloud hangs over the horizon of that remote antiquity with which we are desirous to become acquainted ; and as the current of time carries us still farther away from the point whither our researches are directed, we can hardly be said to enjoy the encouragement which arises from the hope of a successful result.
Egypt, from its vicinity to the Mediterranean, as also to the great thoroughfare which connects Asia with Europe, was comparatively well known to the historians of Greece. An intercourse was long maintained between the philosophers of that country and the priesthood of the Nile, which has proved the medium of much valuable information respecting the early kingdoms of Thebes and Memphis. But the difficulty of penetrating into Western Ethiopia checked at once the ardour of ambition and the enterprise of science. Neither the arms of Cambyses nor the curiosity of Pythagoras could find a path into the regions of the Bahr el Abiad, so as to lay open the wonders of Meroë, or reveal to Europe the mysteries of its learning, its science, and its religious faith.
There is little doubt, however, that the treasures of knowledge, like the fertilizing current of the Nile, have descended the valley which, beginning at Sennaar, terminates at Alexandria; and, moreover, that the progress of civilization must originally have taken the same direction, moving from the south towards the north. The ancient historians are unanimous in the opinion, that the City of a Hundred Gates owed its foundation to a people who dwelt above the Cataracts; and that at a more recent period, when Lower Egypt began to possess a rich soil fitted for all the purposes of agriculture, and prove itself equal to the maintenance of a large population, the principal seat of government was removed to Memphis. A similar cause perhaps, at a still later date, gave rise to the removal of the capital to its present position, as well as to the erection of the several towns which from time to time have occupied the productive plains of the Delta. To account for the facts just stated, we must suppose
that the stream of emigration which, issuing from the mouths of the Euphrates, pursued its course both eastward and westward along the coast of Asia, had at an early age reached
the Straits of Bab el Mandeb. The adventurers, instead of proceeding up the Red Sea, which is remarkable for its dangerous navigation, appear to have made their way into Abyssinia by some of those mountain-passes that still connect the Arabian Gulf with the higher valleys of the Nile. There is indeed the best reason to believe that those lateral defiles which form the line of communication between the sea and the great rivers of Ethiopia witnessed the earliest expeditions from the East ; consisting of those daring spirits who, in the pursuits of commerce, or in search of more fertile lands, or of hills enriched with gold, pushed their discoveries into Habesh, Nubia, and Sennaar.
The most obvious confirmation of the opinion now stated may be drawn from the striking resemblance which is known to subsist between the usages, the superstitions, the arts, and the mythology of the ancient inhabitants of Western India and those of the first settlers on the Upper Nile. The sanctuaries of Nubia, for example, exhibit the same features, whether as to the style of architecture or the forms of worship which must have been practised in them, with the similar temples that have been recently examined in the neighbourhood of Bombay. In both cases they consist of vast excavations hewn out in the solid body of a hill or mountain, and are decorated with huge figures, which shadow forth the same powers of nature, or serve as emblems to denote the same qualities in the subordinate divini. ties which were imagined to preside over the material universe.
We have elsewhere mentioned, as a proof of this hypothesis, the very remarkable fact, that the sepoys who joined the British army in Egypt imagined that they found their own temples in the ruins of Dendera, and were greatly incensed at the natives for neglecting the ancient deities whose statues are still preserved. So strongly, indeed, were they themselves impressed with this identity, that they proceeded to perform their devotions with all the ceremonies practised in their native land. There is a resemblance too in the minor instruments of their superstition-the lotus, the lin. gam, and the serpent,—which can hardly be regarded as accidental. But it is, no doubt, in the immense extent, the gigantic plan, the vast conception, which appear in all their sacred buildings, that we most readily discover the influence
of the same lofty genius, and the endeavour to accomplish the same mighty object. The excavated temple of Guerfeh Hassan, for example, reminds every traveller of the cave of Elephanta. The resemblance, indeed, is singularly striking, as are in fact all the leading principles of Nubian architecture, to that of the Hindoos. They differ only in those details of the decorative parts which trifling points of variation in their religious creeds seem to have suggested ; but many even of the rites and emblems are precisely the same, especially those of the temples dedicated to Iswara, the Indian Bacchus. In either country, the hardest granite mountains have been cut down into the resemblance of splendid buildings, the fronts of which are adorned with sculpture. In both, also, large masses of rock have been excavated into hollow chambers, whose sides are decorated with columns and statues carved out of the same stone, or lifted up into the air in the form of obelisks and pillars. By whom and by what means these wonderful efforts have been accomplished is a mystery sunk too deep in the abyss of time ever to be clearly revealed. But we need only compare the monolithic temples of Nubia with those of Mahabalipoor, the excavations of Guerfeh Hassan with those of Elephanta, and the grottoes of Hadjur Silsili with the caverns of Ellora, to be convinced that these sacred monuments of ancient days derived their origin from the same source.
It is universally admitted that, if we except the ancient inhabitants of Egypt, there is no aboriginal people of Africa who have so many claims to our attention as the Ethiopians, a nation which, from the remotest times to the present, has been regarded as one of the most celebrated and the most mysterious. In the earliest traditions of nearly all the civilized tribes of the East, the name of this remarkable section of mankind is to be found ; and when the faint glimmering of fable gives way to the clearer light of history, the lustre of their character is still undiminished. They continue the object of curiosity and admiration ; and we discover that the most cautious and intelligent writers of Greece hesitated not to place them in the first ranks of knowledge and refinement. The praise bestowed upon them by Homer is familiar to the youngest reader. He
* View of Ancient and Modern Egypt, (Family Library), p. 23.