CHAPTER IV. ART IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
But architecture is conventional, and demands a knowledge of its system and a mind informed as to the principles on which it depends for beauty. Hence, in the oldest temples of India and Egypt, there was probably vastness, without elegance or even embellishment. But no nation ever left structures that, in extent and grandeur, can compare with those of ancient Egypt; and these were chiefly temples. Nothing remains of the ancient monuments of Thebes but the ruins of edifices consecrated to the deity - neither bridges, nor quays, nor baths, nor theatres. It was when the Israelites were oppressed by Pharaoh that the great city of Heliopolis, which the Greeks called Thebes, arose, with its hundred gates, and stately public buildings, and magnificent temples. The ruins of these attest grandeur and vastness. They were built of stone, in huge blocks, and we are still at a loss to comprehend how such heavy stones could have been transported and erected. All the monuments of the Pharaohs are wonders of science and art, especially such as appear in the ruins of Carnack - a temple formerly designated as that of Jupiter Ammon. It was in the time of Sesostris, or Rameses the Great, the first of the Pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty, that architecture in Egypt reached its greatest development. Then we find the rectangular cut blocks of stone in parallel courses, and the heavy piers, and the cylindrical column, with its bell-shaped capital, and the bold and massive rectangular architraves extending from pier to pier and column to column, surmounted by a deep covered coping or cornice. But the imposing architecture of Egypt was chiefly owing to the vast proportions of the public buildings. It was not produced by beauty of proportion, or graceful embellishments. It was designed to awe the people, and kindle sentiments of wonder and astonishment. So far as this end was contemplated, it was nobly reached. Even to this day the traveller stands in admiring amazement before those monuments which were old three thousand years ago. No structures have been so enduring as the Pyramids. No ruins are more extensive and majestic than those of Thebes. The temple of Carnack and the palace of Rameses the Great, were probably the most imposing ever built by man. This temple was built of blocks of stone seventy feet in length, on a platform one thousand feet long and three hundred wide, with pillars sixty feet in height. But this and other structures did not possess that unity of design, which marked the Grecian temples. Alleys of colossal sphinxes form the approach. At Carnack the alley was six thousand feet long, and before the main body of the edifice stand two obelisks commemorative of the dedication. The principal structures do not follow the straight line, but begin with pyramidical towers which flank the gateways. Then follows, usually, a court surrounded with colonnades, subordinate temples, and houses for the priests. A second pylon, or pyramidical tower, now leads to the interior and most considerable part of the temple, a portico inclosed with walls, which only receives light through the entablature or openings in the roof. Adjoining to this is the cella of the temple, without columns, inclosed by several walls, often divided into various small chambers, with monolith receptacles for idols or mummies or animals. The columns stand within the walls. The Egyptians had no perpetual temples. The colonnade is not, as among the Greeks, an expansion of the temple; it is merely the wall with apertures. The walls, composed of square blocks, are perpendicular only on the inside, and beveled externally, so that the thickness at the bottom sometimes amounts to twenty-four feet, and thus the whole building assumes a pyramidical form, the fundamental principle of Egyptian architecture. The columns are more slender than the early Doric, are placed close together, and have bases of circular plinths; the shaft diminishes, and is ornamented with perpendicular or oblique furrows, but not fluted like Grecian columns. The capitals are of the bell form, ornamented with all kinds of foliage, and have a narrow but high abacus, or bulge out below, and are contracted above, with low, but projecting abacus. They abound with sculptured decorations, borrowed from the vegetation of the country. The highest of the columns of the temple of Luxor is five and a quarter times the greatest diameter. [Footnote: Muller.]
But no monuments have ever excited so much curiosity and wonder as the Pyramids, not in consequence of any particular beauty or ingenuity, as from their immense size and unknown age. None but sacerdotal monarchs would ever have erected them - none but a fanatical people would ever have toiled upon them. They do not indicate civilization, but despotism. We do not know for what purpose they were raised, except as sepulchres for kings. They do not even indicate as high a culture as the temples of Thebes, although they were built at a considerable period subsequently, even several generations after Sesostris reigned in splendor. The pyramid of Cheops, at Memphis, covers a square whose side is seven hundred and sixty-eight feet, and rises into the air four hundred and fifty-two, and is a solid mass of stone, which has suffered less from time than the mountains near it. And it is probable that it stands over an immense substructure, in which may yet be found the lore of ancient Egypt, and which may even prove to be the famous labyrinth of which Herodotus speaks, built by the twelve kings of Egypt. According to this author, one hundred thousand men worked on this monument for forty years. What a waste of labor!
The palaces of the kings are mere imitations of the temples, and the only difference of architecture is this, that the rooms are larger and in greater numbers. Some think that the labyrinth was a collective palace of many rulers.