Tail of the Moon, Vol. 6: v. 6

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The starry ceilings of the pyramids reproduce the aspect of the sky, but without giving the names of the stars: on the ceilings of some of the Ramesside rock-tombs, on the other hand, the constellations are represented, each with its proper figure, while astronomical tables give the position of the heavenly bodies at intervals of fifteen days, so that the soul could tell at a glance into what region of the firmament the course of the bark would bring him each night.

In the earlier Ramesside tombs, under Seti I. But in the tomb of Ramses III.

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This decline is even more marked under the succeeding Ramessides; the drawing has deteriorated, the tints have become more and more crude, and the latest paintings seem but a lamentable caricature of the earlier ones. Hastily prepared copies of these were sold by unscrupulous scribes, often badly written and almost always incomplete, in which were hurriedly set down haphazard the episodes of the course of the sun with explanatory illustrations.

The representations of the gods in them are but little better than caricatures, the text is full of faults and scarcely decipherable, and it is at times difficult to recognize the correspondence of the scenes and prayers with those in the royal tombs. Although Amon had become the supreme god, at least for this class of the initiated, he was by no means the sole deity worshipped by the Egyptians: the other divinities previously associated with him still held their own beside him, or were further defined and invested with a more decided personality.

It was now incumbent on the Pharaoh to erect to this newly made favourite a temple whose size and magnificence should be worthy of the rank to which his votaries had exalted him. To this end, Ramses III. Its proportions are by no means perfect, the sculpture is wanting in refinement, the painting is coarse, and the masonry was so faulty, that it was found necessary in several places to cover it with a coat of stucco before the bas-reliefs could be carved on the walls; yet, in spite of all this, its general arrangement is so fine, that it may well be regarded, in preference to other more graceful or magnificent buildings, as the typical temple of the Theban period.

It is divided into two parts, separated from each other by a solid wall. In the centre of the smaller of these is placed the Holy of Holies, which opens at both ends into a passage ten feet in width, isolating it from the surrounding buildings. To the right and left of the sanctuary are dark chambers, and behind it is a hall supported by four columns, into which open seven small apartments. This formed the dwelling-place of the god and his compeers. The sanctuary communicates, by means of two doors placed in the southern wall, with a hypostyle hall of greater width than depth, divided by its pillars into a nave and two aisles.

The four columns of the nave are twenty-three feet in height, and have bell-shaped capitals, while those of the aisles, two on either side, are eighteen feet high, and are crowned with lotiform capitals. The roof of the nave was thus five feet higher than those of the aisles, and in the clear storey thus formed, stone gratings, similar to those in the temple of Amon, admitted light to the building.

The courtyard, surrounded by a fine colonnade of two rows of columns, was square, and was entered by four side posterns in addition to the open gateway at the end placed between two quadrangular towers. This pylon measures feet in length, and is 32 feet 6 inches wide, by 58 feet high. It contains no internal chambers, but merely a narrow staircase which leads to the top of the doorway, and thence to the summit of the towers.


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In these grooves were placed Venetian masts, made of poles spliced together and held in their place by means of hooks and wooden stays which projected from the four holes; these masts were to carry at their tops pennons of various colours. Even in their half-ruined condition there is something oppressive and uncanny in their appearance.

The gods loved to shroud themselves in mystery, and, therefore, the plan of the building was so arranged as to render the transition almost imperceptible from the blinding sunlight outside to the darkness of their retreat within. In the courtyard, we are still surrounded by vast spaces to which air and light have free access.

The hypostyle hall, however, is pervaded by an appropriate twilight, the sanctuary is veiled in still deeper darkness, while in the chambers beyond reigns an almost perpetual night. The effect produced by this gradation of obscurity was intensified by constructional artifices. The different parts of the building are not all on the same ground-level, the pavement rising as the sanctuary is approached, and the rise is concealed by a few steps placed at intervals.

From the pylon to the wall at the further end the height decreases as we go on; the peristyle is more lofty than the hypostyle hall, this again is higher than the sanctuary and the hall of columns, and the chamber beyond it drops still further in altitude. Karnak is an exception to this rule; this temple had in the course of centuries undergone so many restorations and additions, that it formed a collection of buildings rather than a single edifice. It might have been regarded, as early as the close of the Theban empire, as a kind of museum, in which every century and every period of art, from the XIIth dynasty downwards, had left its distinctive mark.

All the resources of architecture had been brought into requisition during this period to vary, at the will of each sovereign, the arrangement and the general effect of the component parts. Columns with sixteen sides stand in the vicinity of square pillars, and lotiform capitals alternate with those of the bell-shape; attempts were even made to introduce new types altogether.

This awkward arrangement did not meet with favour, for we find it nowhere repeated; other artists, however, with better taste, sought at this time to apply the flowers symbolical of Upper and Lower Egypt to the decorations of the shafts. In front of the sanctuary of Karnak two pillars are still standing which have on them in relief representations respectively of the fullblown lotus and the papyrus. The revenues of Amon must, indeed, have been enormous to have borne the continual drain occasioned by restoration, and the resources of the god would soon have been exhausted had not foreign wars continued to furnish him during several centuries with all or more than he needed.

The gods had suffered severely in the troublous times which had followed the reign of Seti II. The spoil taken from the Libyans, from the Peoples of the Sea, and from the Hittites had flowed into the sacred treasuries, while the able administration of the sovereign had done the rest, so that on the accession of Ramses IV. Two examples will suffice to show the extent of this latter item: the live geese reached the number of ,, and the salt or smoked fish that of , It is easy to understand the influence which a god thus endowed with the goods of this world exercised over men in an age when the national wars had the same consequences for the immortals as for their worshippers, and when the defeat of a people was regarded as a proof of the inferiority of its patron gods.

The most victorious divinity became necessarily the wealthiest, before whom all other deities bowed, and whom they, as well as their subjects, were obliged to serve. The chief of their hierarchy, however, did not bear the high titles which in ancient times distinguished those of Memphis and Heliopolis; he was content with the humble appellation of first prophet of Amon. He had for several generations been nominated by the sovereign, but he was generally chosen from the families attached hereditarily or otherwise to the temple of Karnak, and must previously have passed through every grade of the priestly hierarchy.

He finished the great pylon, erected the obelisks and gateways, built the bari or vessel of the god, and found a further field for his activity on the opposite bank of the Nile, where he helped to complete both the chapel at Qurneh and also the Ramesseum. Ramses II. The priestly office, from having been elective, was by this stroke suddenly made hereditary in the family.

The kings preserved, it is true, the privilege of confirming the new appointment, and the nominee was not considered properly qualified until he had received his investiture from the sovereign. Practically the Pharaohs lost the power of choosing one among the sons of the deceased pontiff; they were forced to enthrone the eldest of his survivors, and legalise his accession by their approbation, even when they would have preferred another. It was thus that a dynasty of vassal High Priests came to be established at Thebes side by side with the royal dynasty of the Pharaohs.

The new priestly dynasty was not long in making its power felt in Thebes.

CHAPTER I—THE CLOSE OF THE THEBAN EMPIRE—(continued)

It seemed as if the god delighted to prolong the lives of his representatives beyond the ordinary limits, while shortening those of the temporal sovereigns. The lack of energy and independence in these sovereigns may not, however, be altogether attributable to their feebleness of character; it is possible that they would gladly have entered on a career of conquest had they possessed the means. It is always a perilous matter to allow the resources of a country to fall into the hands of a priesthood, and to place its military forces at the same time in the hands of the chief religious authority.

The warrior Pharaohs had always had at their disposal the spoils obtained from foreign nations to make up the deficit which their constant gifts to the temples were making in the treasury. The sons of Ramses III. The priests of Amon had not as yet suffered materially from this diminution of revenue, for they possessed property throughout the length and breadth of Egypt, but they were obliged to restrict their expenditure, and employ the sums formerly used for the enlarging of the temples on the maintenance of their own body.

Meanwhile public works had been almost everywhere suspended; administrative discipline became relaxed, and disturbances, with which the police were unable to cope, were increasing in all the important towns.

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Nothing is more indicative of the state to which Egypt was reduced, under the combined influence of the priesthood and the Ramessides, than the thefts and pillaging of which the Theban necropolis was then the daily scene. The robbers no longer confined themselves to plundering the tombs of private persons; they attacked the royal burying-places, and their depredations were carried on for years before they were discovered. In the reign of Ramses IX. The severe means taken to suppress the evil were not, however, successful; the pillagings soon began afresh, and the reigns of the last three Ramessides between the robbers and the authorities, were marked by a struggle in which the latter did not always come off triumphant.

As his wife Nozmit was of royal blood, he assumed titles and functions to which his father and grandfather had made no claim. A century scarcely had elapsed since the abdication of Ramses III.

Tail of the Moon, Vol. 6: v. 6

What then happened when the last Ramses who bore the kingly title was gathered to his fathers? The royal lists record the accession after his death of a new dynasty of Tanitic origin, whose founder was Nsbindidi or Smendes; but, on the other hand, we gather from the Theban monuments that the crown was seized by Hrihor, who reigned over the southern provinces contemporaneously with Smendes. The origin of this Tanite sovereign is uncertain, but it would appear that he was of more exalted rank than his rival in the south.


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  8. The official chronicling of events was marked by the years of his reign, and the chief acts of the government were carried out in his name even in the Thebaid. It would have been impossible for him to have exercised any authority over so rich and powerful a personage as Hrihor had he not possessed rights to the crown, before which even the high priests of Amon were obliged to bow, and hence it has been supposed that he was a descendant of Ramses II. The descendants of this sovereign were doubtless divided into at least two branches, one of which had just become extinct, leaving no nearer heir than Hrihor, while another, of which there were many ramifications, had settled in the Delta.

    The majority of these descendants had become mingled with the general population, and had sunk to the condition of private individuals; they had, however, carefully preserved the tradition of their origin, and added proudly to their name the qualification of royal son of Ramses. They were degenerate scions of the Ramessides, and had neither the features nor the energy of their ancestor.

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    It seems probable that one branch of the family, endowed with greater capability than the rest, was settled at Tanis, where Sesostris had, as we have seen, resided for many years; Smendes was the first of this branch to ascend the throne. The remembrance of his remote ancestor, Ramses IL, which was still treasured up in the city he had completely rebuilt, as well as in the Delta into which he had infused new life, was doubtless of no small service in securing the crown for his descendant, when, the line of the Theban kings having come to an end, the Tanites put in their claim to the succession.

    We are unable to discover if war broke out between the two competitors, or if they arrived at an agreement without a struggle; but, at all events, we may assume that, having divided Egypt between them, neither of them felt himself strong enough to overcome his rival, and contented himself with the possession of half the empire, since he could not possess it in its entirety.

    We may fairly believe that Smendes had the greater right to the throne, and, above all, the more efficient army of the two, since, had it been otherwise, Hrihor would never have consented to yield him the priority. The unity of Egypt was, to outward appearances, preserved, through the nominal possession by Smendes of the suzerainty; but, as a matter of fact, it had ceased to exist, and the fiction of the two kingdoms had become a reality for the first time within the range of history.

    Henceforward there were two Egypts, governed by different constitutions and from widely remote centres. Theban Egypt was, before all things, a community recognizing a theocratic government, in which the kingly office was merged in that of the high priest. Separated from Asia by the length of the Delta, it turned its attention, like the Pharaohs of the VIth and XIIth dynasties, to Ethiopia, and owing to its distance from the Mediterranean, and from the new civilization developed on its shores, it became more and more isolated, till at length it was reduced to a purely African state.

    Northern Egypt, on the contrary, maintained contact with European and Asiatic nations; it took an interest in their future, it borrowed from them to a certain extent whatever struck it as being useful or beautiful, and when the occasion presented itself, it acted in concert with Mediterranean powers.