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and violent, in those places where it is pent up and restrained ; after having at last broke through all obstacles in its way, it precipitates from the top of some rocks to the bottom, with so loud a noise, that it is heard three leagues off.
The inhabitants of the country, accustomed by long practice to this sport, exhibit here a spectacle to travellers that is more terrifying than diverting. Two of them go into a little boat; the one to guide it, the other to throw out the water. After having long sustained the violence of the raging waves, by managing their little boat very dexterously, they 'suffer themselves to be carried away with the impetuous torrent as swift as
The affrighted spectator imagines they are going to be swallowed up in the precipice down which they fall; when the Nile, restored to its natural course, discovers them again, at a considerable distance, on its smooth and calm waters. This is Seneca's account, which is confirmed by our modern travellers.
3. Causes of the inundations of the Nile. The ancients have invented many subtile reasons for the Nile's great increase, as my be seen in Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Seneca ; but is now no longer a matter of dispute, it being almost universally allowed, that the inundations of the Nile are owing to the great rains which fall in Ethiopia, from whence this river flows. These rains swell it to such a degree, that Ethiopia first, and then Egypt, are overflowed; and that which at first was but a large river, rises like a sea, and overspreads the whole country.
Herod. I. ii. c. 19-27. Diod. 1. i. p. 35–39. iv. 0.1 & 2.
Senec. Nat. Quæst. I
Strabo observes, that the ancients only guessed that the inundation of the Nile were owing to the rains which fall in great abundance in Ethiopia ; but adds, that several travellers have since been eyewitnesses of it: Ptolemy Philadelphus, who was very curious in all things relating to arts and sciences, hav. ing sent thither able persons, purposely to examine this matter, and to ascertain the cause of so uncommon and remarkable an effect.
4. The time and continuance of the inundations. Herodotus, and after him Diodorus Siculus, and several other authors, declare, that the Nile begins to flow in Egypt at the summer solstice, that is, about the end of June, and continues to rise till the end of September; and then decreases gradually during the months of October and November; after which it returns to its channel, and resumes its wonted coursé. This account agrees almost with the relations of all the moderns, and is founded in reality on the natural cause of the 'inundation, viz. the rains which fall in Ethiopia. Now, according to the constant testimony of those who have been on the spot, these rains begin to fall in the month of April, and continue during five months, till the end of August and beginning of September. The Nile's increase in Egypt must conse. quently begin three weeks or a month after the rains have begun to fall in Abyssinia ; and, accordingly, travellers observe, that the Nile begins to rise in the month of May, but so slowly at the first, that it probably does not yet overflow its banks. The inundation
* Herod. l. xviii. p. 789.
1 Herod. I. ï. c. 19. Diod. 1. i. p. 22.
happens not till about the end of June, and lasts the three following months, according to Herodotus.
I must point out to such as consult the originals, a contradiction in this place between Herodotus and Diodorus on one side ; and on the other between Strabo, Pliny, and Solinus. These last shorten very much the continuance of the inundation, and suppose the Nile to draw off from the lands in three months or a hundred days; and that which adds to the difficulty, is, Pliny seems to ground his opinion on the testimony of Herodotus: In totum autem revocatur Nilus intra ripas in Libra, ut tradit Herodotus, centesimo die. I leave to the learned the reconciling of this contradiction.
5. The height of the inundations. m The just height of the inundation, according to Pliny, is sixteen cubits. When it rises but to twelve or thirteen, a famine is threatened ; and when it exceeds sixteen, there is danger. It must be remembered that a cubit is a foot and a half. " The emperor Julian takes notice, in a letter to Ecdicius, prefect of Egypt, that the height of the Nile's overflowing was fifteen cubits, the 20th of September, in 362. The ancients do not agree entirely with one another, nor with the moderns, with regard to the height of the inundation ; but the difference is not very considerable, and may proceed, first, from the disparity between the ancient and modern measures,
In Justum incrementum est cubitorum xvi. Minores aquæ non omnia rigant : ampliores detinent, tardius recedendo. Hæ serendi tempora absumunt solo madente : illæ non dant sitiente. Utrumque reputat provincia. In duodecim cubitis famem sentit, in tredecim etiamnum esurit : quatuordecim cubita hilaritatem afferunt, quindecim securitatem, sexde. cim delicias. Plin. l. y. c. 9.
* Jul. Epist. 50 VOL. I.
which it is hard to estimate on a fixed and certain foot ; second, from the carelessness of the observators and historians; third, from the real difference of the Nile's increase, which was not so great the nearer it approached the sea.
• As the riches of Egypt depended on the inundation of the Nile, all the circumstances and different degrees of its increase have been carefully considered; and by a long series of regular observations, made during many years, the inundation itself discovered what kind of harvest the ensuing year was likely to produce. The kings had placed at Memphis a measure on which these different increases were marked ; and from thence notice was given to all the rest of Egypt, the inhabitants of which knew, by that mean, beforehand, what they might fear or promise themselves from the harvest. P Strabo speaks of a well on the banks of the Nile, near the town of Syene, made for that purpose.
The same custom is observed to this day at Grand Cairo. In the court of a mosque there stands a pillar, on which are marked the degrees of the Nile's increase; and common criers every day proclaim in all parts of the city, how high it is risen. The tribute paid to the Grand Seignior for the lands, is settled by the inundation. The day it rises to such a height, is kept as a grand festival, and solemnized with fireworks, feastings, and all the demonstrations of public rejoicing : and in the remotest ages, the overflowing of the Nile was always attended with an universal joy throughout all Egypt, that being the fountain of its happiness.
4 The heathens ascribed the inundation of the Nile to their god Serapis ; and the pillar on which was marked the increase, was preserved religiously in the temple of that idol. The emperor Constantine having ordered it to be removed into the church of Alexandria, the Egyptians spread a report, that the Nile would rise no more by reason of the wrath of Serapis; but the river overflowed and increased as usual the follow. ing years. Julian the apostate, a zealous protector of idolatry, caused this pillar to be replaced in the same temple, out of which it was again removed by the command of Theodosius.
6. The canals of the Nile and spiral pumps. Divine Providence, in giving so beneficent a river to Egypt, did not thereby intend that the inhabitants of it should be idle, and enjoy so great a blessing, without taking any pains. One may naturally suppose, that as the Nile could not of itself cover the whole country, great labour was to be used to facilitate the overflowing of the lands, and numberless canals cut, in order to convey the waters to all parts. The villages, which stood very thick on the banks of the Nile on eminences, had each their canals, which were opened at proper times, to let the water into the country. The more distant villages had theirs also, even to the extremities of the kingdom. Thus the waters were successively conveyed to the most remote places. Persons are not permitted to cut the trenches to receive the waters till the river is at such a height, nor to open them alto. gether; because otherwise some lands would be too much overflowed, and others not covered enough
• Socrat. 1. i. c. 18. Sozom, l. 5. 6.3.