THE EGYPTIAN OBELISKS

The association of fountains at its base with this obelisk seems at first sight as incongruous as the crowning of its apex with a metal cross, for the Christian emblem can never alter the nature of the pagan monument. There is no natural harmony in the association, for there are no fountains or streams of running water in the desert. The obelisk belongs essentially to the dry and parched east; the fountain is the birth of the happier west, bright with the sparkle and musical with the sound of many waters. The obelisk relieves the monotony of immeasurable plains over which a sky of serene unstained blue arches itself in infinite altitude, the image of eternal purity, and the sun rises day after day with the same unsullied brilliance, and sets with the same unmitigable glory. The fountain, on the other hand, is the child of lands whose mountains kiss the clouds and gleam with the purity of everlasting snows, and where each day brings out new beauties, and each season reveals a fresh and ever-varying charm. But although there is no geographical reason why these two objects should be associated, there is a poetical fitness. The obelisk is the symbol of the perpetual past, holding in its changeless unity, as on its carved sides, the memories of former ages; the fountain is the symbol of the perpetual present, ever changing, ever new. The one speaks to us of a petrified old age; the other of an immortal youth. And thus it is in life, each passing moment flowing on with all its changes beside the stern, hard, enduring monument of the irrevocable past on which what is written is changelessly written. How different too are the bright sparkling fountains that leap with ever-varying beauty at the foot of the Flaminian obelisk now, from the dull, sleepy monotonous river that, like a Lethe flood, flowed past it in the old days at Heliopolis! Are they not both symbolical of the new and the old world, of the Christian faith, with its progressive thought and varied expanding life, and the stagnant pagan creed, which impressed the soul with the sense of human helplessness in the face of an unchangeable iron order alike of nature and of society?

Another of the great obelisks of Rome is that which stands on Monte Citorio, in front of the present Parliament House. It was brought to Rome by Augustus, who dedicated it anew to the sun, and placed it as the gnomon of a meridian in the midst of the Campus Martius. Originally it had been erected at Heliopolis in honour of Psammeticus I., who reigned about seven hundred years before Christ. This monarch lived during a time when the national religion had become corrupted, and the whole land had come under the influence of Greek thought and Greek customs. But the obelisk which he erected is worthy of the best period of Egyptian art. It is universally admired for the remarkable beauty of its hieroglyphics. The anonymous pilgrim of Einsiedlen mentions that this obelisk was still erect when he visited Rome about the beginning of the ninth century. It seems, however, to have fallen and to have been broken in pieces, nearly three hundred years later, during the terrible conflagration caused by the Norman troops of Robert Guiscard. Several fragments of it were dug up, one after another, during the sixteenth century. The principal part of the shaft was discovered in 1748, among the ruins beneath the choir of the Church of San Lorenzo in Lucina. These portions were damaged in such a way as to show clearly the action of fire, proving that the obelisk had been destroyed in the great fire of 1084. Pope Pius VI. gathered together the fragments, and with the aid of granite pieces taken from the ruined column of Antoninus Pius, which stood in the neighbourhood, he formed of these a whole shaft, which represents, as nearly as possible, the original obelisk. It is seventy-two feet high, and is surmounted by a globe and a small pyramid of bronze, which, along with its pedestal, increases its height to one hundred and thirty-four feet. A portion of the lines of the celebrated sun-dial, whose gnomon it formed, was brought to light under the sacristy of San Lorenzo in Lucina in 1463.