Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 20These excavations cover a large area. Upper, Middle, and Lower Egypt and Nubia have been extensively explored, likewise the Sinai Peninsula and Syria, with its numerous tablets of conquest. In Nubia, states an authority, owing to the poverty of the country and its scanty population, the proportion of monuments surviving is infinitely greater than in Egypt. Many temples, tombs, quarries, forts, grottos, and pyramids have been found in a good state of preservation. In Upper Egypt are to be found the great pyramids and the necropolis of Memphis, with various smaller pyramids to the south, and it also boasts of the stupendous ruins of Thebes on both sides of the river, the tombs and quarries of Assuan, and the temples of Philæ, though these by no means exhaust the list of sites which have been excavated, while it is well known that many still hold mysteries as yet untouched.
The existence of Egypt as a native monarchy stretched over such an extended period that it is extremely difficult to generalize concerning the method of its government or the life of its people. At the same[Pg 44] time no civilization with a record of thousands of years behind it exhibits less change either in political or domestic affairs. It is certain that once an agricultural mode of life was accepted by the Egyptians they quickly contracted those manners and customs which they retained up to the period of foreign invasion; and so far as the lower classes are concerned, there can be little doubt that the stream of daily life flowed on from century to century placid and unaltered. The science of folklore has of late years proved to us how little alteration the passage of time brings to the life and thought of a people whose environment is such that outward forces are seldom brought to bear upon them. Especially was this the case with the inhabitants of the Nile valley, who for many centuries were sheltered by geographical and other peculiarities from the inroads of other civilized races, and who by the time that foreign invaders mingled with them had attained such a settled course of existence, and were so powerfully influenced by tradition, as to be practically immune from the effects of racial intermixture. It must also be borne in mind that such invaders as Egypt knew would not bring their womankind with them, and that their marriage to Egyptian women would have the effect in a generation or two of completely absorbing them into the native population, so that the racial standard remained practically unaltered. Again, their numbers would be relatively small compared with the population of Egypt. The environment of the Nile valley is exceptionally well suited to the continuance of type, as is evidenced by the persistence of form in its domestic and other animals. Time and again have foreign sheep, goats, asses, and so forth been introduced into it, with the result that shortly afterward they became absorbed into the prevailing Egyptian[Pg 45] type of their kind, with scarcely any modification. The horse and the camel were comparatively late importations into Egypt, and the tardy introduction of the former is eloquent of the isolated character of the country.