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Egyptian Pyramids

Pyramid (Greek, puramu), in architecture, a colossal structure of masonry having a rectangular base and four triangular sides terminating in a point, used by the ancients in various parts of the world either for sepulchres or for religious purposes. The derivation of the term is unknown. Some derive it from the Greek pur (fire), because the form of the pyramid is like a flame; others from puros (wheat, grain); while others again assign to it an Egyptian origin. According to Herodotus the Egyptians considered the pyramidal form as an emblem of human life. The broad base was significant of the beginning, and its termination in a point of the end of existence in the present state; for which reason they made use of this figure in their sepulchres.

They were erected as monuments of the kings and designed to preserve the bodies of the kings in power, and were really burial vaults, though they were monuments to the kings and designed to preserve the body of the kings. It was the belief in immortality that was the ruling motive, but an immortality which consisted in the preservation of the material form rath er than the survival of the spirit as separated from the body.

The pyramids now standing, all in Middle Egypt, are divided into five groups, containing in all about forty pyramids. The district in which the pyramids stand begins above Dashur, and extends by Sakkara and Memphis along the western margin of the valley of the Nile for about 60 or 70 miles, the last or Gizeh group being but a few miles above Cairo. Of the other groups of pyramids that at Abusir contains five; another at Sakkara contains eleven, one with a doorway inlaid with porcelain tiles and having a royal name; and a third group at Dashur contains five. Other pyramids are at Meydun and Illahun, and there are two at Biahmu. The pyramids of Nubia are very numerous; a single group north of Gebel Barkal comprises no fewer than 120.

The situation of the pyramids marked the dividing line between life and death. On one side is the River Nile, with the luxuriant fields bordering the river, but on the other side all is desolation and dreary waste. The drifting sand shines under the glare of the noonday sun, dotted here and there with the crumbling remains of ancient tombs. The pyramids were illustrative of the belief of the people. According to this belief every individal consisted of three distinct parts; the body belonged to this world, the soul belonged to another world, and the double which belonged to the two worlds. A double was generally in the form of a statue and was prese-ved in the tomb. The pyramid itself, however, was the means of preserving the body, and the utmost precaution was taken lest the tomb should be opened and the pyramid be despoiled of the body.

The size of the pyramids shows the great power which the king had, and at the san>e time illustrates the mechanical contrivances which were in use at the period. Still the expense of constructing the early pyramids was so great that it nearly exhausted the resources of the kingdom, and the successors to the first monarch were obliged to build on a smaller scale, and finally to cease pyramid building altogether.

Julius Solinus tells the world that "the pyramids are sharp-pointed towers in Egypt, exceeding all height which may he made by man." Ammianus Marcellinus echoes the same idea, saying, "the pyramids are towers erected altogether exceeding the height which may be made by man. In the bottom they are broadest, ending in sharp points at the top, which figure is, therefore, by geometricians called pyramidal." Propertius talked of their leading up to the stars.

"While astonishing the ancients by its vast dimensions, the pyramid failed to excite much interest further in the minds of Greek and Eoman writers. Some moderns are hardly astonished at it any way. Major Furlong merely calculates that it would now cost a million of pounds to build. M. Grobert, artillery officer under Bonaparte in Egypt, could not understand the fuss a few tavans made about it. In his official report, he says, "Travellers have not entertained their readers about these pyramids. Their construction is rude and not very remarkable." Denon, who brought out, under Napoleon Bonaparte's patronage, the most magnificent work ever published on Egypt, was just sufficiently interested in the subject to acknowledge in his book, "We had only two hours to be at the pyramids."

Yet there are others who look upon the edifice as an echo of the Past. Every stone in the fabric has a weird look. The very outline seems to melt into the blue sky against which it reposes. On it, around it, and within it, the spiritual eye sees forms not now of earth. The ear is supernaturally quickened, and the heart pulses in sympathy with the men that were, and are. It is not the object of undefined dread, but of nameless soul attraction. To such enthusiasts the pyramid is alive, and they wait anxiously for expected revelations from it.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:35:56 ZULU