Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

subject. The hierogramma of Sais indeed, that is the priest who wrote and interpreted the sacred books, was the only person who attempted at mentioning a particular spot as the place of the origin of this river. But the description he gives of this place evidently proves, that either the hierogramma pretended to be wiser than he really was, or that Herodotus himself had not understood what the priest had said; for he places the source of the Nile in the middle of two mountains, situated between the city of Siene and the island of Elephantina, which is decidedly false. He tells us, however, that the course of the Nile was known for the space of four months' journey, but that its origin was much further off. The story he adds, of some Lybians having crossed the desert, for the sake of ascertaining the source of this river, is evidently another mistake. He says that these Lybians, after a long journey, arrived at a flat country, full of fruit trees, where they were made prisoners by men of a very short stature, who led them across a marshy plain, to a town inhabited by negroes; and at the west of this town flowed a large river, which they conceived to be the Nile, as it was frequented by crocodiles. Supposing this journey to be true, the river must have been either the Senegal, or some other river that flows into it, but could never possibly be the Nile, and much less its source. Indeed, the notions the Greeks had upon this subject are of the most ridiculous nature. Strabo thought that the Nile originated in Mauritania, in a place full of monsters and wild beasts; but he relates an idle story of Alexander the Great, who, having reached the Hydaspes, finding this river inhabited by crocodiles, imagined that he had found the source of the Nile, and wished to sail with a fleet towards Egypt. General opinion, however, believed the Nile to have had its origin in Ethiopia. In modern times, the notions of the learned have been, perhaps, little less erroneous than those of the ancients. The Portuguese Jesuits placed the source of this river in Abyssinia, in the province of Goyama, on the east of the lake Dambeia. Bruce seemed to have given his authority to this supposition of the Jesuits; and it is very amusing to read in his travels, the description he gives of the spot where the supposed Nile springs from under ground, and the ceremonies he performed on tasting of its water; and he further states, that the Nile, after crossing Ethiopia, joins itself to a large river, which in the Arabian language is called the white river. According to Cailliaud, this white river seems to be the true Nile; and you may read the whole account of it in his “Voyage a Méroë,” which is a very interesting book, and from which much information may be gathered. However, before Cailliaud, the London African Society, upon the best possible information that could be obtained, had established that the white river of Bruce and the Portuguese Jesuits, was the true Nile; and that the river which they considered as the Nile, was no other than the Abawi. According therefore, to the best discoveries, this white river takes its origin to the south of Darfour, in the country of Donga, and joins the Abawi in Abyssinia, near the town of Nouabiah, which D'Anville believes to have been built on the spot where the ancient Méroë was. But although no European had been able, before Cailliaud, to go so far into the interior of Africa, Major Rennel, whose name cannot but be considered as carrying the greatest possible authority, had thought, that from the Mediterranean to the head of the Nile, there are about 1440 geographical miles, in a straight line. The Nile, therefore, must run over nearly 2000 miles. It would be an idle undertaking to describe to you the whole course of this river, and the several cataracts for which it has been celebrated by the ancients. These, modern discoveries have proved to be very insignificant, and scarcely deserving the name of waterfalls. I shall only observe, that these cataracts, or waterfalls, are many, and of them eight only are considered as deserving of attention. After having cleared them, the Nile continues its course in almost a straight channel, strewed with islands of different sizes, until it reaches the Delta; there it divides itself into several branches. In ancient times these amounted to seven ; at the

present moment they have been so neglected as to produce an immense marsh, and it is almost impossible to recognise the seven mouths of this river, so celebrated by the ancients.

Perhaps I ought now to notice the extraordinary phenomenon which, more than any other, has contributed to give celebrity to this river, and splendour to the country it washes ; I mean the periodical inundation, which begins about the summer solstice, and continues for nearly three months. The ancients have left us a detailed account of the influence which the height of the waters had upon the produce of agriculture, and the harvest of Egypt. “ The proper increase of the water,” says Pliny, “ is sixteen cubits. Smaller inundations are not sufficient to cover the whole country, and larger ones require too much time to subside. If the inundation be no higher than twelve cubits, there will be a scarcity ; if thirteen, a deficiency; but fourteen cubits produce hilarity, fifteen'security, and sixteen luxury." By thus spreading its waters over the country, this river inundated the land to the distance of about two days journey on both sides; but whether the old Egyptian priests wished to conceal from the public the cause of this phenomenon for the sake of inspiring a greater idea of the power of the Deity, and consequently to assume a greater authority to themselves, or that their ignorant successors, after the fall of the empire, had sunk into a profound ignorance, certain it is that the Greek travellers, who asked from

the priests to know the cause of this phenomenon, could not obtain a proper explanation. From Herodotus and Plutarch the scholar has learned the different opinions which they had heard on this subject, and no doubt he more than once has been tempted to smile. But it is very curious, that while the later writers referred the inundation to false or imaginary causes, Homer, who lived long before, had given to the Nile the epithet of AINETEOX, which, according to the best interpretation, means, “swelled by rain.” It is, in fact, the profuse rain that falls in Ethiopia a little before the summer solstice, that produces the overflowing of this river.

Like the country which the Nile crosses, this river has been distinguished amongst the ancients by different names. The passage of Tzetzes related by Diodorus, has recorded them all.

« The Nile, (says this writer,) has had three names. The first is Ocean, the second Aetos, on account of its rapidity, the third is Egyptus. The name of Nile is a modern one.”

Perhaps, in regard to its first name, I might observe, the word keavns is evidently a mistake, and it ought to be read Ωκεαμης. Ωκεαμης, in fact, is a mere alteration of the Egyptian word orkell, (oukamé,) which means black, on account of the black colour of its sediment.

I am ignorant of the real origin of the term Nile ; Diodorus indeed, asserts that this river received such an appellation from Nedos, a king of

А а

« FöregåendeFortsätt »