Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

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No race conferred so much importance and dignity upon the cult of the dead as the Egyptian. It is no exaggeration to say that the life of the Egyptian of the cultured class was one prolonged preparation for death. It is probable, however, that he was, through force of custom and environment, unaware of the circumstance. It is dangerous to indulge in a universal assertion with reference to an entire nation. But if any people ever regarded life as a mere academy of preparation for eternity, it was the mysterious and fascinating race whose vast remains litter the banks of the world's most ancient river, and frown upon the less majestic undertakings of a civilization which has usurped the theatre of their myriad wondrous deeds.

[1] Certain forms of belief are now spoken of by some mythologists as 'pre-animistic.' But these are not as yet sufficiently well defined to permit of accurate classification. See Marett, The Threshold of Religion.

[2] K. von den Steinen Unter den Naturvolker Zentral-Brasiliens (Berlin, 1894).

[3] See Myths and Legends of the North American Indians, p. 87.

[4] See Handbook of North American Indians, article "Cheyenne."

[5] As do many primitive supernatural beings all over the world.

[6] This is typical of many water gods in America and Australia. See Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol. i, p. 43.

[7] See Gomme, Ethnology in Folklore.

[8] See Lang, The Making of Religion and The New Mythology, for hypothesis of a monotheism prior to animistic belief.

[9] H. de Charencey, Le Mythe de Votan, p. 39. There is but little substantiation for the latter part of this statement, however. The bacabs were closely identified with the Maya chac, or rain-gods.

[10] See my Myths of Mexico and Peru.

[Pg 33]


The Nile Valley

The River Nile is the element which creates the special characteristics of Egypt, and differentiates it from other parts of the Sahara Desert. At its annual overflow this river deposits a rich sediment, which makes the fertile plains on either side such a contrast to the brown monotony of the desert. East and west of the Nile valley stretch great wastes, broken here and there by green oases, and the general scenery is too uniform to be interesting, the Delta itself presenting a richly cultivated level plain, interspersed by the lofty dark brown mounds of ancient cities and villages set in groves of palm-trees.

In Upper Egypt the Nile valley is narrow, and is bounded by mountains inconsiderable in height, and which never rise into peaks. Sometimes they approach the river in the form of promontories, and sometimes are divided by the beds of ancient watercourses. These are sufficiently picturesque, but otherwise the landscape is not striking. In colour, however, it is remarkably so. "The bright green of the fields, the reddish brown or dull green of the great river contrasting with the bare yellow rocks seen beneath a brilliant sun and deep blue sky, present views of great beauty."

Racial Origin

The question of the racial origin of the people of ancient Egypt is one of great complexity. In graves and early cultural remains we find traces of several races which at remote periods entered the country, and concerning whom the data are so scanty that it is highly dangerous to generalize about them. According to[Pg 34] Professor Sergi of Rome, the originator of the theory that a great civilizing stock arose at an early period on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, the ancient Egyptian belonged to the eastern branch of this race, along with the Nubians, Abyssinians, Galla, Masai, and Somali. The evidence of language is vague, for in this, as in other instances, it may only be cultural.