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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Predecessors of Cleopatra » CHAPTER TWENTIETH. DAILY LIFE.
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“How lived, how loved, how died she?” are questions that rise in the mind in thinking of these royal ladies of the past. Of their individual lives but few records remain, and it is from inscriptions and paintings on the tombs, especially of those of less prominence than the kings, we may gather something of the daily life of the queens.

“No nation of the earth has shown so much zeal and ingenuity, so much method and regularity in recording the details of private life as the Egyptians,” says Brugsch. The kings’ tombs chiefly celebrated their victories, the king riding forth in his chariot, or with his captives by the hair, in the act of slaying them, or the king—sometimes accompanied by the queen—making offerings to the gods, these are the favorite subjects for the artist’s pencil, but for the details of female life we must look elsewhere.

From the tomb of Ti, of the Fifth Dynasty sometimes called the Pepys of that period, and from the sepulchres at Beni Hassen, much has been learned of the domestic life. Ti was a favorite subject of the king’s, an official of high rank, and his wife a lady of noble birth, of kin[300] to the royal house. So we have pictures of all the household arrangements, the feeding and preparing of animals for food, the tenants, male and female, bringing of the fruits of the earth to their master, and he himself, after the Egyptian manner, painted of larger size than his inferiors, going forth to fish and to hunt. Sometimes, but rarely, the women also accompanied their husbands on these expeditions.

A statue of Ti bears the same likeness as the figure in the tomb. It is that of a fine young man, with regular features, and the statue of his wife Nofre-hoteps, grand-daughter of a Pharaoh, was also found.

As has been said before, the women in Egypt had no such separate and secluded life as those in the Eastern countries, they appear to have mingled freely with their male relatives, and the queens acted as regents during the absence of their husbands, or the minority of their sons, or sometimes ruled in their own right, from the earliest times.

There were the apartments of the women or the king’s harem, but not in such an exclusive sense as in many other Eastern countries, nor was the chief official in charge invariably an eunuch.

The seat of government changed from time to time under the different dynasties, so that some of the queens lived chiefly in Memphis, some in Thebes, some in Tanis, and, among the later rulers, in Sais and Napata.

The palaces were not many stories in height, and had, sometimes, pylons and columns in front,[301] the rooms were built round a succession of open courtyards, which were shaded by palm, orange, olive, fig and other trees, and they also had large and beautiful gardens with fountains, especially in the royal country villas. On the flat roofs the people passed many hours, and disported themselves under awnings, and slept there on rugs and mats. In the country the houses and grounds were usually surrounded by high walls. Large mansions stood detached and had doors opening on various sides, and before the columns or colossi, at the entrance, hung ribbons or banners, especially on festival occasions. Sometimes a portico had a double row of columns, with statues between, these were also colored, and, when not of stone, were stained to represent it. The walls and ceilings of the palaces were brilliantly painted. They were also at times inlaid or adorned with lapis-lazuli, which was a favorite stone, amber and malachite. In the royal establishments there were porticoes and vestibules, constructed with great splendor, numerous columns, walls glittering with jewels, and curtains of gold tissue.

Floors were of stone or composition, roofs with rafters of date palm, and transverse beams of larger palm. Stone arches have been found both of the time of Rameses III and Psamettichus. Rare woods were imported, and also demanded as tribute from foreign nations, conquered by the Egyptians, as well as gold, silver, precious stones and slaves.

After passing through the servants’ offices one came to the store-rooms, the great dining hall,[302] the sleeping rooms, and the kitchens, and at the further end of a piece of ground two buildings, turned back to back, and separated by small gardens, were the women’s apartments, which often had shutters closed with valves to keep out the heat.

The lady is spoken of as “Mistress of the House,” or “Lady of the House,” and seemed to have full rule over it—there is even a story that her husband himself was bound to obey her indoors, but this is hardly likely.

They had low stools for tables, flat baskets for dinner plates, and pretty Syrian maidens were favorite slaves. Couches, chairs, stools and tables were of wood, bronze and silver, the feet were often of lions’ claws, and the top of the tables were upheld by figures of captives and slaves. The furniture was carved with serpents, lotus flowers and other designs, and the back of a couch or chair was sometimes a hawk with outspread wings, and the ends of the couch terminated in the head of a lion or other beast. Sometimes the couches were used for beds and made ornamental in the day time. The Egyptians had alabaster or wooden head rests, like the Japanese, though the manner of hair dressing did not seem to require it to the same extent. The ladies’ dressing tables were covered with boxes for ointment, bottles for cosmetics, perfumes, and oils, and they used small metal mirrors, often with the figure of the god Bes as a handle.

The costumes, adapted to the climate, were light, especially in the earlier times, and the chief part was of fine linen. Later there seems to[303] have been more elaboration and heavier and richer materials used. Wigs protected the head of both male and female from the sun, as did the turbans and veils of other countries. The vulture, with outspread wings, emblem of the goddess Mut, formed part of the queen’s head-dress, as did the royal asp, raised in act to strike.

Thoth was the god of learning, called “the baboon with shining hair and amiable face,” the “letter writer for the gods.” Children and youth were expected to study and exhorted, even as far back as the time of King Pepys, “Give thy heart to learning and love her like a mother.” And there is also a touch of kinship with more modern times in the statement that the boy scholar be not allowed to oversleep and that children left school “shouting for joy.” Severity was sometimes used, as we read, “The youth has a back, he attends when it is beaten.” And again, “The ears of the young are placed in the back, and he hears when he is flogged.” Copy books of 1700 B. C. have been found, and we possess the school exercises of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties. Such examples in mental arithmetic as “There were seven men, each had seven cats, each cat had eaten seven mice, each mouse had eaten seven grains of barley. How much barley had been lost in this way?” etc., etc.

But neither were the pleasures and amusements of the little ones overlooked, and there have been preserved little wooden soldiers, in the dress of ancient times, dolls, balls and many other things that still delight the child of to-day; such as tops, boats, etc.


An olive branch was hung at the door on the birth of a boy and a strip of woolen cloth at that of a girl. If a new born babe cried “Ny!” it would live, but if it cried “Nibe!” it would die. Mothers nursed their children for three years, and upon daughters more than upon sons was laid the obligation of looking after their parents in old age. The royal children had also, when they were old enough, quarters of their own, where they were under the charge of a tutor who was called a nurse. Those of the higher orders, dressed like grown people, as in the present day the children of Holland are often the amusing reproductions, in miniature, of their parents. The children of the lower orders dispensed in great part, or entirely, with any sort of covering.

Women were mistresses in their own house, came and went freely and so much so that we have an amusing story that among the lower classes the husbands sometimes hid their wives’ shoes to keep them at home, and this before the days of female clubs! But in spite of her privileges child bearing and work soon aged this class of women.

Among the moral precepts of the Egyptians in a papyrus now in the Louvre is one that says, “Ill treat not thy wife, whose strength is less than thine. Be thou her protector,” showing that it was no slavish relation that was expected to exist between man and wife. And again in another place we have a father who exhorts his son to have regard for his mother. “It is God Himself who gave her to thee, and now that thou art grown up and hast a wife and house in thy[305] turn, remember always thine helpless infancy and the care thy mother lavished upon thee, so that she may never have occasion to reproach thee, nor to raise her hands to heaven against thee, for God would fulfill her curse.”

At the door of a house where there was a bride, flowers were hung, and a vessel of water was placed where there was a death. Fragments of impassioned love songs have come down to us, and though we know little of their marriage customs, compared to their funerals, the freedom of intercourse between the sexes and the greater opportunity for personal acquaintance than was usually afforded in Eastern countries, leads to the supposition that real love matches were not infrequent. Like the Japanese, they compared the beloved object to blossoms and flowers; nor were the ladies apparently behind the gentlemen in the free expression of ardent feeling.

“Thou beautiful one my wish is to be with thee as thy wife,” says or sings the enthusiastic maiden, and Miss Edwards and others give instances where each strophe begins with an invocation to a flower, thus curiously resembling the stornelli of the Tuscan peasantry, of which every verse begins and ends with a similar invocation to some familiar blossom or tree.
“O flower of henna,
My heart stands still in thy presence.
I have made mine eyes brilliant for thee with kohl,
When I behold thee, I fly to thee, oh, my beloved!
Oh, lord of my heart, sweet is this hour.
An hour passed with thee is worth an hour of eternity!”

“Oh, flower of marjoram!
Fair would I be to thee as the garden in which I
Have planted flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs!
The garden watered by pleasant rivulets, and
Refreshed by the north breeze!
Here let us walk, oh, my beloved, hand in hand, our
Hearts filled with joy. Better than food, better
Than drink, is it to behold thee.
To behold thee, and to behold thee again!”

This shows clearly the freedom of intercourse permitted, and with what naivete and frankness it is written! No effort at dissimulation in acknowledging the artificial enhancement of her charms. Rather perhaps did she feel herself worthy of commendation for the pains she had taken. It reminds one of the Southern girl who remarked casually to a party of friends, of both sexes: “How chilly it is this morning! Oh, now I know why; I forgot to pencil my eyebrows!”

In their feasts and amusements men and women met together and scenes in the tombs of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties show ladies discussing their earrings and jewelry, as they might be doing to-day. To perform toilettes together, put on necklets and exchange flowers was[307] part of the entertainment, and talking, eating and dressing all went on to the sound of music. Birthdays and many other festivals, religious and social, were celebrated, and there were lucky and unlucky days for music, as well as for many other things. It was especially to be avoided on the fourteenth Tybi. Pollard mentions “a musical at-home” among the pictures on the walls of the tombs at Beni-Hassan, where two harpists, a sistrum player and others are helping to entertain the visitors.

The guests sat on chairs, or on the floor, and did not recline at table, as was the custom of many other Eastern nations. Their entertainment consisted of meat, chiefly beef and kid, geese, fish, vegetables, of which leeks and onions formed a large part; fruit, bread, cakes, which the bakers made in various shapes, and wine. This was freely used and the pictures sometimes show over indulgence on the part of the women as well as that of the men. Sometimes there were separate tables for men and women, sometimes they sat together, and frequently dipped into a common dish. They had spoons for fluids with various designs for handles, but the use of fingers was general for most purposes, hence the necessity of frequent washing of the hands.

Of the use of leeks and onions Story says, speaking of an Italian: “Nor is he without authority for his devotion to those twin saints, Apollo (or is it Cipollo) and Aglio. There is an odor of sanctity about them, turn up our noses as we may. The ancient Egyptian offered them as first fruits, upon the altars of their gods, and[308] employed them also in the service of the dead, and such was their attachment to them that the followers of Moses hankered after them, despite the manna, and longed for ‘the leeks and the onions and the garlic, which they did eat in Egypt freely.’ Nay the fastidious Greeks not only used them as a charm against the ‘evil eye,’ but ate them with delight—there is a certain specific against them—eat them yourself—you will smell them no longer.”

The host and hostess sat together, flowers were abundant, and a special token of regard was a wreath placed around the neck of the guest. Women were attended by women slaves who offered them ointment and other toilette articles. Oil poured upon the head is an attention which would fail of appreciation in these modern times, but was then considered so agreeable that a ball was sometimes soaked in oil and placed on the head of the master of the feast, so that it might trickle down into his hair. At the close of the banquet a mummy in miniature, richly gilded, was carried round to remind them of their latter end, or may it not have been to suggest that happy as they were, they could be happier still in another world?

We can imagine the olfactories of the Egyptians to have been abnormally developed, so constantly were they smelling flowers and holding them under each others noses—even the sacred nose of royalty.

“Smell of my lotus!” “How charming, how delicious!” We can almost hear the echo. Statues often show husband and wife sitting with[309] hand on knees, or across the breast, or sometimes on the same chair with arms around each other’s waist or neck. Doubtless they offered each other what we may call the tribute of the lotus, or the lotus courtesy, murmuring, “My dearest, how lovely you are looking.” Chiefly to the lady, of course, etc., etc.

In the earliest times musical instruments seem to have been played chiefly by men, and women sang without accompaniment. But later, female, as well as male, voices combined with all sorts of instruments. There were kettle-drums, round and square, harps, lyres, guitars, flutes or pipes, and lastly, specially Egyptian, the sistrum, not melodious in sound we may judge, but used chiefly, though not invariably in, the service of the gods. Wilkinson gives many illustrations of these various instruments, and the picture of a lady with a guitar is in the Berlin museum. The flute, so easily handled, has always seemed to be reserved for male performers. Perhaps it takes too much breath from the ladies, or perhaps Minerva, having discovered that it was unbecoming, they have all resolved to shun it.

Pollard speaks of a harp inlaid with gold, silver and gems, which had been presented by a royal personage to the temple of Amen-Ra and was kept near the sanctuary, and of the hymns sung to the deity to the accompaniment of this precious instrument. We also have the song of a harper found on the wall of the tomb of a certain Nefer-hotep, who lived under King Horus, of the Eighteenth Dynasty. It is called “the word of the harper, who tarries in the tomb of[310] Osiris,” etc. “Celebrate the great day, O prophet. Well is to thee fragrant resin and ointments are laid before thee. Here are wreaths and flowers for the vases and shoulders of thy sister, who is pleasant to thy heart, as she rests beside thee. Let us then sing and strike the harp in thy presence. Leave all cares behind and think of the joys, until the day of the voyage comes when man casts anchor on the land which delights in silence.”

To rejoice and to dance were synonymous terms, and the royal ladies had dancing women to perform before them as well as gymnasts. They played draughts and checkers sitting on the ground, while dice belonged to the subsequent Roman period.

Dwarfs and deformed persons formed, occasionally, part of the king’s or queen’s household. As a rule dancing seems to have been rather for princesses to look upon than share in, unless they danced in the temples before the gods.

Female dancers wore short skirts, necklets, anklets, ribbons round their bodies and wreaths of flowers, with plain wigs that made them look like children, and they sometimes dressed their hair to look like a crown. Ball playing was considered a variety of dancing. The dances of the older period were more quiet and measured than in later times, but none appear to have been objectionable, according to modern standards, to the extent of some now practiced in the East.

The maids of honor and princesses carried fans, which they held over the queen, and bore the title of “dearest friend.” When the queen[311] and royal ladies drove forth, it was in chariots, sometimes of gold, and drawn by a pair of horses (after the introduction into Egypt of that valuable animal, of which there is no representation on the monuments of the very earliest times), adorned with plumes, while an umbrella was occasionally fixed to the chariot to protect them from the sun.

But the queen’s highest position was as priestess, concubine, daughter, wife, of the god. Egyptian queens or princesses held the service of Amon or Jove and the queen followed in the king playing on the sistrum and making offerings. No queen held the highest priestly office, but they were called “singers of Amon,” and “wives of the god.” Occasionally the mummy of the daughter will be found among the priests, the mother among the royalties.

The queen was “Neter-Hemt, prophetess,” “Neter-hemet, divine wife,” or “Neter-tut, divine handmaid.” The sistrum was from eight to eighteen inches in length, Hathor-headed, cow-eared, and sometimes inlaid with silver or gilt and the noise was supposed to frighten away Typho, the spirit of evil. The action of shaking was called “Art Ses.” A sistrum in either hand standing before the altar of the god, the queen had reached the highest pinnacle of human greatness or human ambition.


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