Esna, Egypt Saturday, February 11, l995
The night includes several of the usual 'I've been fired' dreams then at 6:15 we open our curtains to see goats on the breakwater right outside our window.
Susan heads out for a walk with Ann Ryan and Twing Pittman, the wife of the manager of Amoco Egypt. The Pittmans have lived in Egypt for several years. Twing speaks Arabic. The Pittmans are on the boat with a few other couples who are not on the A&K tour. They bring the grand total on the boat to 29 including the 22 in our group. Since the boat accommodates 66 we are in pretty good shape.
I hit the rear deck and sketch the street scene, minaret, tree and gathering of tourist carriages. Some of the drivers bring their horses down to the river for a bath. After breakfast we all board carriages for a short trip to the temple. Our carriage is number 354 which we're to remember so we can find it for our return trip. As we head out someone snaps our picture. No doubt there will be a purchase opportunity upon our return.
The ride through town is fabulous. This is a real town full of shops, people, a run down Semiramis Hotel which obviously has no relationship with our hotel in Cairo. Susan says this is the best. We disembark amidst a cluster of shops and I buy a galabia for LE 20 plus LE 5 for a headdress. I feel pretty good about the deal. Now to the temple.
This is the best preserved temple we've seen in terms of the structure, if not the carvings. It dates from 130 B.C. to 50 A.D., was started by Ptolomy III and finished by Ptolomy XIII, father of Cleopatra VIII (yes, that Cleopatra). We approach from the rear and a huge pylon-like wall of carvings. We continue along the right side and come to a forecourt surrounded by mud walls with the slums of the city above and beyond all around us. The well-preserved pylons facing the forecourt celebrate the victory of Horus over his uncle Set at this location thereby avenging his father's dismemberment. It was built by the Greeks on the remains of an Old Kingdom temple. Behind us is a small columned structure called the birthing room where the birth of the god (in this case Horus) was celebrated on the appropriate day.
Statues of falcons flank the entrance, the one on the left has a human figure between its legs. We enter the inner court which is complete all around with colonnades set on three sides, including the back side of the pylons we have just entered through. On the far side is a higher set of columns which define the entrance to the temple proper. The walls and columns tell the story of Horus but, because by its very nature a temple represents the entire universe, we also see carvings and paintings representing every day life, practical, mythical and historical information.
The first space in the temple is one of the best we've seen. The twelve huge columns of the hypostyle are all beautifully proportioned topped by papyrus, palm frond and composite capitals. The space is tall and majestic. Color can still be seen in some of the capitals-red, gold and turquoise. Beams rest on the capitals and give the impression that the ceiling is floating above when you stand underneath and can't see the supports. These columns are built up of stone disks mounted and centered upon each other via a center hole plugged with metal or wood.
The next room features our first bowed columns-a Greek addition to the Egyptian forms. In a side room I find a strange corner opening. I wander over and discover a stair passage and long ramped corridor leading to the outside. What looked like an architectural mistake turned out, like everything else, to be well thought out.
Typically, the temple walls are totally covered with stories and images of Horus and Hathor (Mrs. Horus). But one anteroom also has a complete pharmacology with all the ingredients of various drugs, perfumes, unguents spelled out on the walls.
The damage from when early Christians lived in the temple is extensive. Almost every area of exposed flesh has been chiseled away. The word 'defacing' takes on the same kind of new meaning we encountered with 'remembered'. We also add the obelisk to the list of symbols such as the scarab, cobra and sun that represent eternity.
As we move deeper into the temple the ceilings get lower and the floor rises up so that the space begins to close in and focus on the granite shrine in the Holy of Holies. We see holes in the walls where the Christians hung things or tied up their animals. Around the back of the alter is a small room with a boat of Horus (a modern model) showing where the boat of Hathor was kept. Hathor's magic numbers are multiples of 6. Those of Horus are multiples of 5 for the usual hocus pocus numerological reasons. There are ten rooms around the sanctuary and Horus kills Set ten times on the outer wall (Set is depicted as a hippopotamus). Speaking of Set, he was also yesterday's crocodile and also appears as a snake and an ass as well as the hippo. The exterior corridor between the temple and the outer walls has more holes where the Christians put up wooden beams and roofing.
On the way out we cross paths with a group of British tourists who ask Alan if he's a Nubian. Mona launches another of her questions: Who are the parents of Anubis? I am designated to find out. I ask Mona why the Greeks would create a temple with Egyptian gods. She says they worshipped their own gods in Egyptian form. I have trouble with that one. Either impose your gods on a subjected people or let them continue to worship their own gods, but combining them just doesn't ring true. Apollo as Horus? I don't think so.
We walk back and find carriage 354 waiting. Soon we're once again in the middle of a remarkable street scene. People are cued at a window at the police station. We pass through the central square which has a fountain and what I jokingly refer to as the digging of the Edfu subway. A tailor sits by his sewing machine, a shoe repairman, cars, donkeys, a pharmacy, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck appropriated here for signs as we have seen before without Michael Eisner's consent, I'm sure. We pass the Semiramis again and then disembark back at the boat where I buy our carriage picture for LE 5 (down from the original offer of LE 15). I figure, this is a situation where we have total leverage. After, all what will they do with the unsold pictures?
We say good-bye to Edfu and are soon on our way to Esna. The life along the river continues to captivate. A beer and binoculars and I'm happy on the back deck. A minaret rises above the trees on the far shore, mud houses down to the shore line, donkeys, people, a boat, palm trees, a timeless scene. A little down river and industrial plant spews black smoke over everything. Then another mud village totally monochromatic except for splashes of bright fuchsia-women gathering water down by the shore.
The Sun Boat wanders from one side of the river to the other avoiding sandbars and silting. More sights: Sugar cane fields with mud huts huddled between the fields and the river. Two men stand perfectly still leaning on sticks, laundry spread to dry in the sun. Cabbages being harvested. White galabias. White donkeys sheltered under a huge ficus tree. A lone boat with the same paddleless oars as we had on our felucca. Another boat all but invisible under its bundles of reeds.
I wander upstairs and discover an even higher deck with lounge chairs and a small pool but it's too windy. Lunch is called, after which I search for the Anubis answer. We find a good book on the rack outside the shop. I'm going through the gods alphabetically when we get called for the Temple of Khnum at Esna. The god Khnum formed The People on his potter's wheel out of Nile silt. This site was chosen because this is where Isis found Osiris' main organ (maybe Mona said male organ but I thought the fish got that one). Khnum is also the god of the first cataract at Aswan and is depicted as a ram.
We rendezvous up on the corniche and then walk into town up a good looking souk-like street. The temple is right in the middle of town only about ten meters below street level at the original level of the town. It's wonderful to be walking down the street, then have the space open up and look down on the temple. We walk down the steps and find ourselves in the sub-street level forecourt of the hypostyle-the only part of the temple that has been excavated. The rest is buried under the town.
The front wall slants back but the six main columns in the wall stand absolutely vertical creating a nice sequence of increasing relief. The capitals do their own thing up at the top which adds nicely to the overall composition. Inside are 18 more columns with colored bands and some colored capitals. Finding color in these temples is really wonderful and we cherish it for its ability to bring us closer to the original feel of these spaces. Up on some of the capitals Mona points out little frogs which represent an early step in Khnum's formation of Man. We also see the last recorded hieroglyphics dating from 250 A.D. By now the form is seriously debased and it will be seen no more as the Romans stop using it and the Egyptians forget how.
We reascend to the town and walk back through the bazaar. I buy a scarf for Ann Pearson who doesn't like to bargain (LE 25>LE 10). Back at the boat Bruce has picked up the same book I had borrowed from the store and one page after I had stopped reading he found the answer to Mona's question: The parents of Anubis were Osiris and Nephthys. Nephthys was the sister of Isis and couldn't have children with Set so she got Osiris (her sister's husband) drunk, did the wild thing, and became pregnant with Anubis, god of mummification and embalming. He also presides at the weighing of the heart against a feather to see if you go to heaven or hell (I think Maat is involved with this, also).
We leave Esna and proceed down river through the old locks. These don't function any more but we still have to wait for the bridge to swing out of the way. While we wait, kids try to sell us stuff from an overhead walkway. All of us engineers have a different opinion on how the bridge will retract. In the end we're all wrong although I sort of had the closest guess. A little further on are the real locks and we settle into our concrete channel while we get lowered twenty feet. It takes about twenty minutes. On the far side we pull up and dock at an unnamed village for the night. Across the river the mountains of Sinai glow in the late afternoon sun.
(The Gods family tree is as follows: Ra >Shu & Tefnut > Geb & Nut > Isis & Osiris & Set & Nephthys. Isis & Osiris > Horus and there are 15 forms of Horus.)
At 6:30 Mona launches her slide show. I've distributed the Anubis answer to everybody in case she asks for the answer tonight. The show is perfunctory and she delivers her narrative exactly as she does when we're at the sites in person.
We retire to our room to don our costumes for Galabia Night. Susan has rented a belly dancer ensemble with a black wig and silver headdress. I'm in my white number from the bazaar. In the lounge we are coerced into dancing, then have dinner with the Argentine family who are not only likeable but extraordinarily accomplished. For instance, he flew the entire family from Buenes Aires to Miami in his own twin-engine plane. He plans to fly through (not over) the Andes and so forth. We also learn that they have been to Egypt before, about twelve years ago, and they say the difference is amazing-Giza encroaching on the pyramids, deteriorated colors, formal bazaars where there only used to be tents. They find it very sad.
After a very good Egyptian dinner we head upstairs for more coerced dancing followed by the crew playing Nubian music and dancing followed by more coerced dancing. When the game playing began with 'Knock the Potato' we escaped to our room.