THE EGYPTIAN OBELISKS

And how admirably did the obelisk lend itself to its symbolical purposes! There was a most wonderful harmony between the idea and the object which expressed it. Being composed of the most durable of all materials, the hard indestructible granite, the eternal sun was thus fittingly represented by an object that lifts its stern finger in unchangeable defiance of the vicissitudes of the seasons and the ages. Its highly polished surface and rich rosy red colour, its sharply defined lines and narrow proportions, combined with its immense height, suggested the brilliancy and hue and form of a pencil of light. Its tall red column flashing in the strong morning radiance, like a tongue of flame mounting up to its source in the solar fire, or like a ray of the halo that rises up on the low horizon of the Libyan desert, when the dawn has crimsoned all the eastern heavens, might thus well be selected as the most suitable object to bring the invisible sun-god within the ken of human vision and the range of human worship. The poetical imagination may detect a significance even in the difference between the material used in the construction of the obelisk, and that used in the construction of the pyramid, though this may not have been designed by the makers. The obelisks are all formed of granite, the foundation-stone of the globe, belonging to the oldest azoic formation, which laid down the first basis for the appearing of life. The pyramids were nearly all made of nummulitic limestone composed of the remains of organic life; a material which belonged to the latest geologic ages, when whole generations and different platforms of life had come and gone. Thus significantly does the obelisk of granite suggest by its material as by its form the origin of life, as the pyramid suggests by its material and form the extinction of life.

But not only was the obelisk raised in connection with the worship of the sun,—it was also intended to honour the reigning monarch who erected it, and whose name and titles were engraved upon it along with the name of the sun. For it was a fundamental idea of the Egyptian religion that the king was not only the son of the solar god, but also the visible human representative of his glory. This was a favourite conception of the ancients. The Incas of Peru regarded themselves as direct descendants of the sun; and the monarchs of the burning Asiatic lands, where the sun rules and dominates everything, assume the name and title of his sons, and clothe themselves with his splendour. The obelisks were thus the symbols of the two great correlative conceptions of the sun in the heavens, and his satellite and representative on the earth—god and the king. This Egyptian faith, as attested by the obelisks, the oldest of all the creeds, antecedent to the theologies of India, Greece, and Rome, ceased not to be venerated till the advent of Christianity swept all material worship away. It awed, as Mr. Cooper has well observed, the mixed multitude in Alexandria under the Cæsars, as it had done the primitive Egyptians under the oldest Pharaohs. It extended over a space of more than three thousand years. During all that long period the obelisk was "the emblem at once of the vivifying power of the sun and of the divine nature of the king, a witness for the divine claim of the sun to be worshipped, and of the right divine of the king to rule." Where is there in all the world, in its most ancient cities, in its loneliest deserts, any class of objects which has been held continuously sacred for so long a time? The description of the sun itself by Ossian applies almost equally well to his worship as thus represented.

Obelisks as symbols of the sun and of the creative power of nature, were not confined to Egypt. They belonged to the mythology of all ancient nations. There are modifications of them in India, in prehistoric America, and among the archæological remains of our own country. They were common objects in connection with the Assyrian, Persian and Phoenician religions. And it has been conjectured with much plausibility that the image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth six, the usual proportions of an obelisk, which Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon, and commanded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to adore, was in reality an obelisk after the Egyptian pattern. Such an obelisk was often gilded, and was associated with the worship of the king as its material purpose, and with the creation and origin of life as its symbolic meaning. And if this was the case, there was an unusual aggravation in this idolatry; for the Egyptian obelisks themselves were never worshipped, but were always regarded as the signs of the higher powers whose glory they expressed.