Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 12The Pyramid
From such a resting-place was gradually evolved the stupendous conception of the pyramid. The pyramid is, in effect, nothing but a vast funeral cairn, a huge grave-mound, on which, instead of stones or pieces of rock, enormous blocks of granite were piled. Often the burial-chamber it contains is nothing more than a mere vault, to which access is gained by a narrow passage or gallery, which was carefully blocked up after the royal funeral.
Originally these burial-chambers were quite unadorned, and it was not until the end of the Middle Kingdom that it became usual to inscribe their walls[Pg 24] with texts relating to the future life. Thus originated those wonderful Pyramid Texts from which we have learned so much of the lore of ancient Egypt. On the eastern side of the pyramid was built a temple dedicated to the defunct monarch, in which offerings to his manes were duly and punctually made. As he became deified upon death, so his statue in his character of a divinity was placed in an apartment specially prepared for it. The pile of stones proper from which the pyramid was evolved may be traced to the retaining wall of the tomb. By the Third Dynasty this small retaining wall had become roofed over and expanded into a solid mass of brickwork, called by the Arabs a mastaba, which was practically a truncated pyramid. This pile of brickwork was later in the same dynasty copied in stone, as at Saqqara, and enlarged by repeated additions and successive coats of masonry. Lastly, the whole received a casing of limestone blocks, and we have such a structure as the pyramid of Medum.
The pyramidal form of architecture is peculiar to Egypt, and even there is confined to the period from the Fourth to the Twelfth Dynasty, or before 3000 B.C. The Mexican and Central American teocalli, or stepped temple, has frequently been erroneously compared to the pyramid, but whereas it was a place of worship, the Egyptian form was purely a place of sepulture. A definite design lay behind each of these vast structures. It seems to have occurred to some writers that the pyramids were built haphazard and by dint of brute force. So far from this being the case, they were constructed with extraordinary care, and mathematical computations of considerable complexity are manifest in their design.
The early pyramids were composed of horizontal layers of rough-hewn blocks of stone, held together principally by their own weight, but between the interstices of which mortar was placed. In the later stages of the type the core of the structure was formed chiefly of rubble, of which stone, mud, and mud bricks were the principal constituents. This was faced outwardly with a fine casing of stone, carefully dressed and joined, and the mortuary-chambers showed similar care in construction. These were generally placed below the ground level, and access was gained to them by a gallery opening on the northern side of the pyramid. These are usually blocked once or more by massive monoliths, and were sometimes closed externally by stone doors revolving on a pivot in order that the priests might gain entrance when desired.
The first pyramid has been definitely attributed to Cheops or Khufu, and is situated at Gizeh. The second is credited to Dad-ef-ra, and was built at Abu Roash. Khafra was entombed in the second pyramid of Gizeh, and that known as 'the Upper' at the same place was tenanted by the corpse of Menkaura. The smaller structures at Gizeh near the great and third pyramids were constructed for the families of Khufu and Khafra.