Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
During the last few years I have repeatedly had occasion to point out the fundamental fallacy underlying much of the modern speculation in ethnology, and I have no intention of repeating these strictures here. 2 But it is a significant fact that, when one leaves the writings of professed ethnologists and turns to the histories of their special subjects written by scholars in kindred fields of investigation, views such
as I have been setting forth will often be found to be accepted without question or comment as the obvious truth.
There is an excellent little book entitled "Architecture," written by Professor W. R. Lethaby for the Home University Library, that affords an admirable illustration of this interesting fact. I refer to this particular work because it gives lucid expression to some of the ideas that I wish to submit for consideration. "Two arts have changed the surface of the world, Agriculture and Architecture" (p. 1). "To a large degree architecture" [which he defines as "the matrix of civilization"] "is an Egyptian art" (p. 66): for in Egypt "we shall best find the origins of architecture as a whole" (p. 21).
Nevertheless Professor Lethaby bows the knee to current tradition when he makes the wholly unwarranted assumption that Egypt probably learnt its art from Babylonia. He puts forward this remarkable claim in spite of his frank confession that "little or nothing is known of a primitive age in Mesopotamia. At a remote time the art of Babylonia was that of a civilized people. As has been said, there is a great similarity between this art and that of dynastic times in Egypt. Yet it appears that Egypt borrowed of Asia, rather than the reverse." [He gives no reasons for this opinion, for which there is no evidence, except possibly the invention of bricks for building.] "If the origins of art in Babylonia were as fully known as those in Egypt, the story of architecture might have to begin in Asia instead of Egypt" (p. 67).
But later on he speaks in a more convincing manner of the known facts when he says (p. 82):
When Greece entered on her period of high-strung life the time of first invention in the arts was overthe heroes of Craft, like Tubal Cain and Daedalus, necessarily belong to the infancy of culture. The phenomenon of Egypt could not occur again; the mission of Greece was rather to settle down to a task of gathering, interpreting, and bringing to perfection Egypt's gifts. The arts of civilization were never developed in watertight compartments, as is shown by the uniformity of custom over the modern world. Further, if any new nation enters into the circle of culture it seems that, like Japan, it must 'borrow the capital'. The art of Greece could hardly have been more self-originated than is the science of Japan. Ideas of the temple and of the fortified town must have spread from the East, the square-roomed house, columnar orders, fine masonry, were all Egyptian.
Elsewhere 1 I have pointed out that it was the importance which
the Egyptian came to attach to the preservation of the dead and to the making of adequate provision for the deceased's welfare that gradually led to the aggrandisement of the tomb. In course of time this impelled him to cut into the rock, 1 and, later still, suggested the substitution of stone for brick in erecting the chapel of offerings above ground. The Egyptian burial customs were thus intimately related to the conceptions that grew up with the invention of embalming. The evidence in confirmation of this is so precise that every one who conscientiously examines it must be forced to the conclusion that man did not instinctively select stone as a suitable material with which to erect temples and houses, and forthwith begin to quarry and shape it for such purposes.
There was an intimate connexion between the first use of stone for building and the practice of mummification. It was probably for this reason, and not from any abstract sense of "wonder at the magic of art," as Professor Lethaby claims, that "ideas of sacredness, of ritual rightness, of magic stability and correspondence with the universe, and of perfection of form and proportion" came to be associated with stone buildings.
At first stone was used only for such sacred purposes, and the pharaoh alone was entitled to use it for his palaces, in virtue of the fact that he was divine, the son and incarnation on earth of the sun-god. It was only when these Egyptian practices were transplanted to other countries, where these restrictions did not obtain, that the rigid wall of convention was broken down.
Even in Rome until well into the Christian era "the largest domestic and civil buildings were of plastered brick". "Wrought masonry seems to have been demanded only for the great monuments, triumphal arches, theatres, temples and above all for the Coliseum." (Lethaby, op. cit. p. 120).
Nevertheless Rome was mainly responsible for breaking down the hieratic tradition which forbade the use of stone for civil purposes. "In Roman architecture the engineering element became paramount. It was this which broke the moulds of tradition and recast construction into modern form, and made it free once more" (p. 130).
But Egypt was not only responsible for inaugurating the use of stone for building. For another forty centuries she continued to be the inventor of new devices in architecture. From time to time methods of building which developed in Egypt were adopted by her neighbours and spread far and wide. The shaft-tombs and mastabas of the Egyptian Pyramid Age were adopted in various localities in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, 1 with certain modifications in each place, and in turn became the models which were roughly copied in later ages by the wandering dolmen-builders. The round tombs of Crete and Mycenae were clearly only local modifications of their square prototypes, the Egyptian Pyramids of the Middle Kingdom. "While this Ægean art gathered from, and perhaps gave to, Egypt, it passed on its ideals to the north and west of Europe, where the productions of the Bronze Age clearly show its influence" (Lethaby, p. 78) in the chambered mounds of the Iberian peninsula and Brittany, of New Grange in Ireland and of Maes Howe in the Orkneys. 2 In the East the influence of these Ægean modifications may possibly be seen in the Indian stupas and the dagabas of Ceylon, just as the stone stepped pyramids there reveal the effects of contact with the civilizations of Babylonia and Egypt.
Professor Lethaby sees the influence of Egypt in the orientation of Christian churches (p. 133), as well as in many of their structural details (p. 142); in the domed roofs, the iconography, the symbolism, and the decoration of Byzantine architecture (p. 138); and in Mohammedan buildings wherever they are found.
For it was not only the architecture of Greece, Rome, and Christendom that received its inspiration from Egypt, but that of Islâm also. These buildings were not, like the religion itself, in the main Arabic in origin. "Primitive Arabian art itself is quite negligible. When the new strength of the followers of the Prophet was consolidated
with great rapidity into a rich and powerful empire, it took over the arts and artists of the conquered lands, extending from North Africa to Persia" (p. 158); and it is known how this influence spread as far west as Spain and as far east as Indonesia. "The Pharos at Alexandria, the great lighthouse built about 280 B.C., almost appears to have been the parent of all high and isolated towers. Even on the coast of Britain, at Dover, we had a Pharos which was in some degree an imitation of the Alexandrian one." The Pharos at Boulogne, the round towers of Ravenna, and the imitations of it elsewhere in Europe, even as far as Ireland, are other examples of its influence. But in addition the Alexandrian Pharos had "as great an effect as the prototype of Eastern minarets as it had for Western towers" (p. 115).
I have quoted so extensively from Professor Lethaby's brilliant little book to give this independent testimony of the vastness of the influence exerted by Egypt during a span of nearly forty centuries in creating and developing the "matrix of civilization". Most of this wider dispersal abroad was effected by alien peoples, who transformed their gifts from Egypt before they handed on the composite product to some more distant peoples. But the fact remains that the great centre of original inspiration in architecture was Egypt.
The original incentive to the invention of this essentially Egyptian art was the desire to protect and secure the welfare of the dead. The importance attached to this aim was intimately associated with the development of the practice of mummification.
With this tangible and persistent evidence of the general scheme of spread of the arts of building I can now turn to the consideration of some of the other, more vital, manifestations of human thought and aspirations, which also, like the "matrix of civilization" itself, grew up in intimate association with the practice of embalming the dead.
I have already mentioned Professor Lethaby's reference to architecture and agriculture as the two arts that have changed the surface of the world. It is interesting to note that the influence of these two ingredients of civilization was diffused abroad throughout the world in intimate association the one with the other. In most parts of the world the use of stone for building and Egyptian methods of architecture made their first appearance along with the peculiarly distinctive form
of agriculture and irrigation so intimately associated with early Baby-Ionia and Egypt. 1
But agriculture also exerted a most profound influence in shaping the early Egyptian body of beliefs.
I shall now call attention to certain features of the earliest mummies, and then discuss how the ideas suggested by the practice of the art of embalming the dead were affected by the early theories of agriculture and the mutual influence they exerted one upon the other.
10:2 See, however, op. cit. supra; also "The Origin of the Pre-Columbian Civilization of America," Science, N.S., Vol. XLV, No. 1158, pp. 241-246, 9 March, 1917.
11:1 Op. cit. supra.
12:1 For the earliest evidence of the cutting of stone for architectural purposes, see my statement in the Report of the British Association for 1914, p. 212.
13:1 Especially in Crete, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Southern Russia, and the North African Littoral.
13:2 For an account of the evidence relating to these monuments, with full bibliographical references, see Déchelette, "Manuel dArchéologie préhistorique Celtique et Gallo-Romaine," T. 1, 1912, pp. 390 et seq.; also Sophus Müller, "Urgeschichte Europas," 1905, pp. 74 and 75; and Louis Siret, "Les Cassitérides et lEmpire Colonial des Phéniciens," LAnthropologie, T. 20, 1909, p. 313.
15:1 W. J. Perry, "The Geographical Distribution of Terraced Cultivation and Irrigation," Memoirs and Proc. Manch. Lit. and Phil. Soc., Vol. 60, 1916.