Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Colossi of Memnon.

These two statues stand on the bank of the Nile, just west of Luxor.
The region was called Thebes at the time of construction. It was the capital of the Egyptian empire.
I first saw them from the balloon. Even from that great height they were enormous.

They have stood on this site since 1350BC.... that's 3,500 years.
The Colossi of Memnon (known to locals as el-Colossat or es-Salamat) depict Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned during Dynasty XVIII.

The statues were identical. The Pharoh is in a seated position, his hands resting on his knees and his gaze facing eastwards (actually ESE in modern bearings) towards the river. They stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep's mortuary temple.

 Two shorter figures are carved into the front throne alongside his legs: these are his wife Tiy and mother Mutemwiya. The side panels depict the Nile god Hapy.

Very little remains today of Amenhotep's temple. Standing on the edge of the Nile floodplain, successive floods ate away at the foundations.

 A lithograph by David Roberts (1840's) shows the Colossi surrounded by water.

In 27BC they were partily destroyed by an earthquake and following this, the statues was then reputed to "sing" every morning at dawn. This sound was probably caused by rising temperatures and the humidity inside the porous rock playing off a cracked stone. Whatever, the reason, the statues became famous in the Roman world. They took on oracle status with many Roman emperors making the long trip to hear their song.

These mysterious songs stopped in 199 AD, when the "Africian Emperor", Septimius Severus, in an attempt to gain favour with the oracle, reassembled some of the destroyed sections. 

 Little is known about why these statues are named after Memnon and not the Pharoh Amenhotep III

Memnon was a King of Ethiopia and son of Tithonus and Eos. He led his armies from Africa into Asia Minor to help defend ancient Troy against the Greeks. The Illiad of Homer describes him as a  brave warrior who was slain by Achilles during the battle.

After his death, his mother Eos (the goddess of dawn) cried every morning. So when one of the statues started to give off a high-pitched sounds, the Greeks, and later Romans, attributed the "singing" to Eos, Memnon's mother, mourning for her son.

 The departure of Memnon for Troy. Greek, circa 550-525 BC. 
Black-figure vase. Royal Museum of Art and History, Brussels, Belgium.

So was the naming of these statues just a bit of wishful thinking on behalf of later Greek travellers?
It seems the name stuck.

When Alexander the Great came into power in 332 B.C.E., he pretty much took over everything (including Egypt). Greeks and Romans started to come in to see the sights, and that's probably how the Greek figure Memnon came to be associated with the place -- and the mysterious dawn-song.

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