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The Origin and Significance of the Great Pyramid, by C. Staniland Wake, [1882], at

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DURING how many centuries before the foundation of the monarchy by Menes the Egyptian culture had been developing, we do not know, but we cannot doubt that under Cheops it was well able to give origin to the Great Pyramid, the construction of which must be regarded as the chief glory of his reign. We have now to consider, from the testimony of ancient writers, what was the object of that gigantic structure. From the inscriptions, it would seem to have been called "the Great Temple of Shofo," and with its precinct to have been dedicated at one time to the worship of that king. We are, however, dependent entirely on the Greek writers for any account of its construction. Herodotus, who lived in the 5th century before Christ, states that the founder of the Great Pyramid, Cheops, was a prince whose crimes and tyranny rendered

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his name odious, even to posterity. He closed all the temples and forbade the Egyptians to perform sacrifices; after which he made them all work for him. Some were employed to cut stones in the quarries of the so-called Arabian Hills, on the east side of the Nile, and to convey them to the other side of the river, whence the stones were dragged to the Libyan hills; 100,000 men were thus employed at a time, and they were relieved by an equal number every three months. The construction of the causeway for the transport of the stones occupied ten years, which was exclusive of the time spent in levelling the hill on which the Pyramids stand, and in making the subterranean chambers intended for the tomb. The building of the pyramid itself occupied twenty years. After describing the mode of construction, Herodotus states that on the exterior was engraved in Egyptian characters the sum expended in supplying the workmen with food, amounting to 1,600 talents, equal to £200,000 sterling. After other statements, the historian continues, "Cheops, having reigned 50 years, died, and was succeeded by his brother Cephren, who followed the example of his predecessor. Among other monuments he also

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built a pyramid, but much less in size than that of Cheops. . . . It has neither underground chambers nor any canal flowing into it from the Nile, like the other, where the tomb of its founder is placed in an island surrounded by water." * The Greek writer adds that the priests informed him that Cephren reigned 56 years, so that "the Egyptians were overwhelmed for 106 years with every kind of oppression, and the temples continued to be closed during the whole time. Indeed, they have such an aversion for the memory of these two princes that they will not even mention their names, and for this reason they call the Pyramids after the shepherd Philitis, who at the time of their erection used to feed his flocks near this spot." Herodotus concludes by referring to the erection of the Third Pyramid, which he ascribes to Mycerinus, the son of Cheops. This monarch, disapproving of the conduct of his father, "ordered the temples to be opened, and permitted the people, who had been oppressed by a long series of cruelties, to

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return to their work and their religious duties; and administering justice with great equity, he was looked upon by the Egyptians as superior to all the kings who had ever ruled the country."

The next Greek writer whose description of the pyramids of Ghizeh is preserved to us, is Diodorus, who lived about the beginning of the Christian era. He gives the name Chemmis, or Chembis, as that of the builder of the Great Pyramid, which had lasted to his time at least 1,000 years, or "as some say, upwards of 3,400 years," and the whole structure was then uninjured. The building, he says, was by means of mounds (inclined planes), machines not having yet been invented. In this statement he differs from Herodotus, whose account is not otherwise contradicted. After referring to the erection of the Second Pyramid by Cephren, Diodorus says: "Of the two kings who raised these monuments for themselves, neither one nor the other was destined to be buried therein. The people who had endured so much fatigue in building them, and had been oppressed by their cruelty and violence, threatened to drag their bodies from their tombs and tear them to pieces, so that these princes at their death ordered their friends

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to bury them privately in some other secret place." Strabo, writing at about the same date, remarks that the pyramids were the sepulchres of kings, and he adds, what is not mentioned by the earlier writers quoted, that "near the centre of the sides is a stone which can be taken out, from which a passage leads to the tomb." Finally, Pliny the Roman historian, who lived about 100 years later, refers to the Egyptian pyramids, which he describes as being an "idle and silly display of royal wealth." The three largest pyramids he affirms were all built in 68 years and 4 months. He refers to the supposed use of mounds in their erection, but as these had disappeared he mentions another suggestion, that bridges were made of mud bricks, which, when the work was completed, were used to build private houses. Pliny adds to the details given by other writers, that within the Great Pyramid is a well 86 cubits (129 feet) deep.

It is evident from the agreement of the descriptions given by Herodotus and other Greek writers with the facts, that they must have derived them from well-informed sources. The entrance to the Great Pyramid mentioned by Strabo, near the centre of the side, was discovered

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by Col. Vyse, and the well referred to by Pliny is a remarkable feature of the building. No excavation or structure answering to the subterranean chamber upon an island surrounded by water from the Nile described by Herodotus, has yet been discovered, but Col. Vyse seemed to think nevertheless that it actually exists. The outer casing of the Great Pyramid having been removed, the inscription in the Egyptian character seen by Herodotus must have disappeared, but those modern writers who ascribe the erection of that structure to divine inspiration suppose it to have been unique in being entirely without inscriptions. The statement of Herodotus is, however, confirmed by various Arab authors, who, according to Dr. Sprenger, "have given the same accounts of the Pyramids, with little or no variation, for above 1000 years." It appears from Masoudi, one of the earliest of these authors, that the pyramids were covered with continuous inscriptions, and he relates the Coptic tradition that the builder ordered the prophecies of the priests to be inscribed on columns and upon the large stones of the pyramids, and written accounts of their wisdom and acquirements in arts and sciences to be depicted on

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them. * It is impossible now to ascertain how far this statement was correct, but Col. Vyse found the cartouche of Cheops (Suphis) in the rubbish near the Great Pyramid, and recently a piece of the casing has been discovered showing remains of a Greek inscription, which is the more valuable as, says the discoverer, "nothing besides a few fragments with single letters had been previously discovered of the many inscriptions that existed on the casing." 

As the accounts given by the ancient Greek writers are true in so many particulars, we cannot doubt that they have correctly reported what they had heard as to the object with which the Pyramids were erected. They all agree in declaring them to be the tombs of the kings by whom they had been built, although, according to Diodorus, the Egyptian priests asserted that neither Cheops nor Cephren were actually buried in the pyramids which are ascribed to them. That this story was an invention, however, may be assumed from its not being mentioned by

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[paragraph continues] Herodotus, although he refers to the aversion which the Egyptians had for the memory of those kings, and accounts for it by their oppressive conduct, and the closing of the temples during the continuance of their reigns. If the sacred places were actually closed, we should have a sufficient reason for the hatred of the memory of Cheops and Cephren exhibited by the Egyptian priests; a hatred which led them afterwards to declare that the people would not allow their bodies to be deposited in the monuments prepared for them.

It has been often pointed out that it is extremely improbable Cephren would have been at the trouble and expense of erecting a gigantic pyramid for his tomb if the body of his predecessor, Cheops, had not been deposited in the pyramid tomb prepared for its reception. There is some reason to believe, however, that these two monarchs, who were brothers, reigned during the same period, a warrant for which belief is found in the statement of Pliny that the three largest pyramids were all erected in 63 years and 4 months. * It is possible, indeed, that the priests

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knew of the absence of any corpse, not only from the rock-cut chamber, but also from the coffer in the so-called King's Chamber, and that they invented the story of the people's hatred to account for such absence. Some ground for the belief in the irreligion of Cheops and Cephren may perhaps be found in the fact that their names were not preceded by that of Osiris, as was the case with their successor Mycerinus. * "Among the ancient Egyptians, the departed soul," says Dr. Ebers, "if it were found pure and faithful, became absolutely one with the universal soul whence it was derived, and received the same name, Osiris."  It is true that Dr. Ebers denies that Cheops and Cephren were wicked contemners of the god, on the ground that "as long as Egypt was governed by independent sovereigns, there were prophets or priests of the Osirian or deceased Cheops,  and of the other principal pyramid builders, who conducted the worship in the fallen temple of Isis, and who

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usually belonged to the oldest families of Memphis." This is consistent, however, with the fact of the deceased monarchs having worshipped a "strange" god and given him priority oar Osiris, which would be sufficient to stamp them in the eyes of the orthodox priests as enemies of the Gods of Egypt.

But is there any evidence besides the statements of Greek writers that the Great Pyramid was really used as the tomb of Cheops or any other person? That it was thus used, might perhaps be inferred from the fact, sometimes forgotten, that it is situate in a vast necropolis. M. Perrot in his "Histoire de l’Art," remarks that "the nobles of Egypt, all those who had assisted in the work of the monarchy and received a reflection of its glory, grouped themselves as near as possible around the prince they had served. Distributed thus by reigns and quarters, the private tombs lie close together, all furnished with steles which preserve the name of the dead, most of them ornamented with bas-reliefs painted in brilliant colours, some even decorated with statues placed before their façade." * We know that the smallest

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of the three Great Pyramids was the tomb of its builder Mycerinus or Men-ke-ra, as Col. Vyse found in the burial chamber a basalt sarcophagus, with the lid of its wooden coffin having on it in hieroglyphs an address to the deceased monarch, as identified with Osiris. * Vyse states that great precautions had been taken to conceal the position of the sarcophagus, and he doubted whether the real tombs had been discovered in the two larger pyramids.  He adds that the three larger pyramids were all intended for the same purpose, and their construction was carried on upon the same principles. The sarcophagus of the Second Pyramid has no inscription, and is, according to Belzoni, not larger than is necessary for the wooden case of an embalmed human body.  It is true that a piece of bone, supposed to be that of an ox, was found in this sarcophagus, but it may not have had anything to do with the original burial, as the Arab writers say nothing apparently of the discovery

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in this pyramid of any human or other remains, when it was opened by their countrymen. As to the Great Pyramid, if we are to believe those writers, an embalmed human body was actually discovered in the so-called King's Chamber when it was opened by the Caliph Mamoon. This is said to have taken place in the year 820 A.D., and the Arab historian, Abd-el-Hôkm, relates that "a statue resembling a man was found in the sarcophagus, and in the statue (mummy case) was a body with a breastplate of gold and jewels, bearing characters written with a pen which no one understood." * Alkaisi gives much the same story, and he adds that the case stood at the door of the king's palace at Cairo in the year 511—that is, 1133 A.D.  It may be doubted, however, whether this had anything to do with the Great Pyramid. Dr. Ebers mentions that in the middle of the 15th century, "an Emir caused the destruction of the much admired 'green shrine,' which was formed out of a single block of a stone as hard as iron, and ornamented with figures and inscriptions. It was smashed to pieces." He adds, "the golden statue, with

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eyes of precious stones, which had once been enshrined in this marvel of art—dedicated probably to the Moon-god Chonsu—had long before disappeared. * In this shrine and statue we have no doubt the case and body mentioned by Abd-el-Hôkm, as Alkaisi when referring to these speaks of an image of a man in green-stone, containing a body in golden armour with a large ruby overhead.

It must be admitted, therefore, that there is no reliable evidence of any human body having been found in the Great Pyramid. Nevertheless this is not any proof that the building was not used as a tomb. The Arab writer Abd Allatif refers to an early statement that when the Persians conquered Egypt they took away great riches from the Pyramids, which were the sepulchres of the kings,  and, therefore, no doubt the receptacle of their treasures. Moreover, according to Sir Gardner Wilkinson, the Egyptians themselves had in many instances plundered the tombs of Thebes,  and he seems to think that the Great Pyramid met with the same fate at their hands.

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[paragraph continues] The Meydoom Pyramid, which is said to be that of the last king of the Third Dynasty, has been recently opened, and inscriptions have been found showing that it had been opened before the Twentieth Dynasty. * M. Lenormant states that the priestly legend as to the popular hatred of the builders of the two Great Pyramids, had at least a real historical foundation. He says: Everything seems to indicate that the end of the Fourth Dynasty, immediately after the princes constructors of the great pyramids, was a time of revolutions and of troubles caused by the preceding oppression.  The comparison of the list of Manetho and of the monuments of the necropolis of Sakkarah reveal during this period violent competitions. The splendid statues of Kha-f-Râ (Cephren) in diorite, in rose granite, in alabaster, and in basalt, which decorated the temple near the Great Sphinx, have been found in pieces in a well where they had been precipitated in a revolutionary movement, evidently but little posterior to his reign. These statues,

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moreover, of which some represent him in the vigour of manhood, and the others in a state of advanced age, confirm the tradition which attributed to him a reign of 50 years." * Remains of this character have not yet been found in association with the Great Pyramid, notwithstanding the tradition as to its being the tomb of Cheops, and the fact that it became dedicated to his worship.

It is not at all improbable that the bodies of both Cephren and Cheops were removed from their resting places during the commotions which occurred at the end of the Fourth Dynasty. As to the latter monarch, at least, it is not necessary to suppose that he was buried in the so-called King's Chamber or in the cave below the base of the pyramid. A more likely place for the purpose would be the niche in the cast wall of the Queen's Chamber, where Maillet,  who in 1692 described it as being three feet deep, eight feet high, and three feet wide, supposed the mummy of the queen to have been placed upright. The niche appears, however, to have an inner shelf, on which the embalmed corpse may have been

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laid. The Queen's Chamber is stated, however, by Edrysy * to have had an empty "vessel," such as the sarcophagus of the King's Chamber, so that if the niche were used for another purpose the body of Cheops may still have been there deposited. It appears, indeed, that according to some ancient inscriptions, the Pyramids were regarded as sepulchral temples, and priests were appointed for the service of the princes who were buried there, and had attained to the divine nature. A tomb found at Sakkarah belonged to "a priest of Chufu and Chafra." 


40:* In connection with this statement it may be remarked, that from ancient inscriptions it appears that during the reign of Amenemha III. of the Twelfth Dynasty, the average height of the inundations from the Nile was 24 feet greater than at present. (See Dunckers's "History of Antiquity," Vol. i. p. 105.)

44:* Vyse, Vol. ii., 324-8.

44:† Mr. Petrie's letter in The Academy. M. de Sacy refers with approval to the statements of Abd Allatif and other Arab writers, that the surfaces of the two great pyramids were covered. with inscriptions. (See Vyse, Vol. ii. p. 342).

45:* Wilkinson says that the Great Pyramid was built by Suphis I. (Cheops), and his brother Suphis II. (Num Shufu), while Cephren (Shafra of the Fifth Dynasty), was the founder of the Second Pyramid.—Rawlinson's "Herodotus," Vol. ii. p. 346.

46:* Vyse, Vol. ii. p. 95. Dr. Birch says that the coffin of this monarch marks a new religious development in the annals of Egypt.—"Egypt," p. 41.

46:† "Egypt," Vol. ii., p. 132.

46:‡ A religious work, called "The Sacred Book," was ascribed to him by the Greek writers.

47:* Tom. i. p. 244. Abd Allatif mentions that there were formerly at Ghizeh a considerable number of small pyramids, p. 48which were destroyed by Karakousch, an Emir in the army of Salaheddin Youssef, to supply materials for the building of the walls and citadel of Cairo. (See Vyse, "Operations" etc., Vol. ii. p. 336.)

48:* Tom. i., Vol. ii. p. 94.

48:† Ditto, p. 104.

48:‡ Ditto, p. 298.

49:* Wilkinson's "Hand-Book (Egypt)," p. 168.

49:† Vyse, Vol. ii. p. 333.

50:* "Egypt" (Eng. Ed.), Vol. i. p. 125.

50:† Vyse, Vol. ii. p. 345.

50:‡ Hand-Book (Egypt)," p. 168.

51:* Miss Amelia B. Edwards, The Academy for Jan. 7th, 1882.

51:† May there not have been a religious cause, connected with a difference of race, such as the opposition, hereafter referred to, between Seth and Osiris?

52:* Tom ii. p. 73.

52:† Vyse, "Operations," etc., Vol. ii. p. 226.

53:* Vyse, Vol. ii. p. 334. May not the Eighth Pyramid, which tradition assigns as the tomb of the daughter of Cheops, have been that of his wife? The masonry has much resemblance to that of the Great Pyramid. Vol. ii. p. 70.

53:† Duncker, "History of Antiquity," Vol. i. p. 99.

Next: Chapter IV. The Religious Theory