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Besides these rural riches, the Nile, from its fish, and the fatness it gave to the soil for the feeding of cattle, furnished the tables of the Egyptians with the most excellent fish of every kind, and the most succulent flesh. This it was which made the Israelites so. deeply regret the loss of Egypt, when they found themselves in the dreary desert. “ Who,” say they, in a plaintive, and at the same time a seditious tone, '“shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers and melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.' €“ We sat by the fleshpots, and we did eat bread to the full.”
But the great and matchless wealth of Egypt arose from its corn, which, even in an almost universal famine, enabled it to support all the neighbouring nations, as it particularly did under Joseph's administration. In later ages it was the resource and most certain granary of Rome and Constantinople. It is a well known story, how a calumny raised against St. Athanasius, viz, of his having menaced Constantinople, that for the future no more corn should be imported to it from Alexandria, incensed the emperor Constantine against that holy bishop, because he knew that his capital city could not subsist without the corn which was brought to it from Egypt. The same reason induced all the emperors of Rome to take so great a care of Egypt, which they considered as the nursing mother of the world's metropolis.
Nevertheless, the same river which enabled this province to subsist the two most populous cities in the world, sometimes reduced even Egypt itself to the
* Numb. xi. 4, 5.
* Exod. xvi. 3.
most terrible famine: and it is astonishing that Joseph's wise foresight, which in fruitful years had made provi. sion for seasons of sterility, should not have hinted to these so much boasted politicians, a like care against the changes and inconstancy of the Nile. Pliny, in his panegyric upon Trajan, paints with wonderful strength the extremity to which that country was reduced by a famine under that prince's reign, and his generous relief of it. The reader will not be displeased to read here an extract of it, in which a greater regard will be had to Pliny's thoughts than to his expressions.
The Egyptians, says Pliny, who gloried that they needed neither rain nor sun to produce their corn, and who believed they might confidently contest the prize of plenty with the most fruitful countries of the world, were condemned to an unexpected drought, and a fatal sterility, from the greatest part of their territories being deserted and left unwatered by the Nile, whose inundation is the source and sure standard of their abun. dance. They then" implored that assistance from their prince, which they used to expect only from their river. The delay of their relief was no longer than that which employed a courier to bring the melancholy news to Rome; and one would have imagined, that this misfortune had befallen them only to distinguish with greater lustre the generosity and goodness of Cesar. It was an ancient and general opinion, that our city
* Inundatione, id est, ubertate regio fraudata, sic opem Cæsaris invo. cavit, ut solet amnem suum.
Percrebuerat antiquitas urbem nostram nisi opibus Ægypti ali sustentarique non posse. Superbiebat ventosa et insolens natio, quod victorem quidem populum pasceret tamen, quodque in suo flumine, in suis manibus, vel abundantia nostra, vel fames esset. Refudimus Nilo suas copias. Recepit frumenta quz miserat, deportatasque messes revenit.
could not subsist without provisions drawn from Egypt. This vain and proud nation boasted, that, though it was conquered, it nevertheless fed its conquerors ; that, by means of its river, either abundance or scarcity were entirely in its disposal. But we now have returned the Nile his own harvests, and given him back the pro. visions he sent us. Let the Egyptians be then convinced, by their own experience, that they are not necessary to us, and are only our vassals. Let them know that their ships do not so much bring us the provision we stand in need of, as the tribute which they owe us: and let them never forget, that we can do without them, but that they can never do without
This most fruitful province had been ruined, had it not wore the Roman chains. The Egyptians, in their sovereign, had found a deliverer and a father. Astonished at the sight of their granaries, filled without any labour of their own, they were at a loss to know to whom they owed this foreign and gratuitous plenty. The famine of a people at such distance from us, and which was so speedily stopped, served only to let them feel the advantage of living under our empire. The "Nile, may in other times have diffused more plenty on Egypt, but never more glory upon us. May Heaven, content with this proof of the people's patience, and the prince's generosity, restore for ever back to Egypt its ancient fertility!
Pliny's reproach to the Egyptians, for their vain and foolish pride with regard to the inundations of the Nile, points out one of their most peculiar characteristics, and recals to my mind a fine passage of Ezekiel, where
w Nilus Ægypto quidem sæpe, sed gloriæ nostræ nunquam largior fuxit.
God thus speaks to Pharaoh, one of their kings, !“ Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.” God perceived an insupportable pride in the heart of this prince: a sense of security and confidence in the inundations of the Nile, independent entirely on the influences of heaven; as though the happy effects of this inundation had been owing to nothing but his own care and labour, or those of his predecessors : “ The river is mine, and I have made it."
Before I conclude this second part of the manners, of the Egyptians, I think it incumbent on me to be speak the attention of my readers to different passages scattered in the history of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, which confirm and illustrate part of what we meet with in profane authors upon this subject. They will there observe the perfect polity which reigned in Egypt, both in the court and the rest of the kingdom; the vigilance of the prince, who was informed of all transactions, had a regular council, a chosen, number of ministers, armies ever well maintained and disciplined, and of every order of soldiery, horse, foot, armed chariots; intendants in all the provinces; overseers or guardians of the public granaries, wise and exact dispensers of the corn lodged in them; a court composed of great officers of the crown, a captain of his guards, a cupbearer, a master of his pantry ; in a word, all things that compose a prince's houschold, and constitute a magnificent court. But above all
y Gen. zji. 10, 16.
* Ezek. xxix. 3, 9. TOL. I.
these, the readers will admire the fear in which the threatenings of God were held, the inspector of all actions, and the judge of kings themselves; and the horror the Egyptians had for adultery, which was acknowledged to be a crime of so heinous a nature, that it alone was capable of bringing destruction on a nation.
THE HISTORY OF THE KINGS OF EGYPT.
No part of ancient history is more obscure or uncer. tain, than that of the first kings of Egypt. This proud nation, fondly conceited of its antiquity and nobility, thought it glorious to lose itself in an abyss of infinite ages, as though it seemed to carry its pretentions backward to eternity. According to its own historians, first gods, and afterwards demigods or heroes, governed it successively, through a series of more than twenty thousand years. But the absurdity of this vain and fabulous claim is easily discovered.
To gods and demigods, men succeeded as rulers or kings in Egypt, of whom Manethon has left us thirty dynasties or principalities. This Manethon was an Egyptian highpriest and keeper of the sacred archives of Egypt, and had been instructed in the Grecian learning. He wrote a history of Egypt, which he pretended to have extracted from the writings of Mercu rius and other ancient memoirs preserved in the
Diod. I. i. p. 41.