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Diodorus mentions three different classes of persons who assisted in preparing the body for the funeral, the scribe, who regulated the incision in the side; the paraschistes, or cutter; and the embalmers. To these may be added the undertakers, who wrapped the body in bandages, and who had workmen in their employ to make the cases in which it was deposited. Many different trades and branches of art were constantly called upon to supply the undertakers with those things required for funereal purposes: as the painters of mummy cases; those who made images of stone, porcelain, wood, and other materials; the manufacturers of alabaster, earthenware, and bronze vases; those who worked in ivory; the leathercutters, and many others. And it is not improbable that to the undertakers, who were a class of priests, belonged a very large proportion of the tombs kept for sale in the cemeteries of the large
I have stated that the body was enveloped and placed in its case previous to its delivery to the relations of the deceasedt; but Herodotus seems to say that the undertakers having received it from the embalmers, and swathed it in bandages, sometimes returned it without any other covering than the linen wrappers, or, when of the better quality of mummies, in the painted cartonage; and these last employed other persons to make the coffins or mummy cases, in which it was finally deposited.
* Vide Vol. III. p. 183.
+ Suprà, p. 425.
We may however conclude that even in these instances the undertakers were again applied to for the purpose; and we see among people far less prejudiced than the Egyptians, and far less inclined to favour monopolies in religious matters, that few have arrogated to themselves the right of deviating from common custom in their funeral arrangements.
The number of days, seventy or seventy-two*, mentioned by the two historians, is confirmed by the scripture account of Jacob's funeral; and this arbitrary period cannot fail to call to mind the frequent occurrence of the numbers 7 and 70, which are observed in so many instances both among the Egyptians and Jews. But there is reason to believe that it comprehended the whole period of the mourning, and that the embalming process only occupied a portion of it; forty being the number of days expressly stated by the Bible to have been assigned to the latter, and "three score and ten" to the entire mourning.
The custom of embalming bodies was not confined to the Egyptians: the Jews adopted this process to a certain extent, "the manner of the Jews" being to bury† the body "wound in linen cloths with spices."
The embalmers, as I have already observed ‡, were probably members of the medical profession,
Diodorus (i. 72.) assigns only about thirty to the embalming process; and from Genesis we learn that "forty days were fulfilled" for Jacob, as was customary for those who were "embalmed." Gen. 1. 3. Vide suprà, p. 452. 454.
+ John, xix. 40.
Vol. III. p. 397.
as well as of the class of priests. Joseph is said to have "commanded the physicians to embalm his father;" and Pliny states that during this process certain examinations took place, which enabled them to study the disease of which the deceased had died. They appear to have been made in compliance with an order from the governmentt, as he says, the kings of Egypt had the bodies opened after death to ascertain the nature of their diseases, by which means alone the remedy for phthisical complaints was discovered. Indeed it is reasonable to suppose that a people so far advanced as were the Egyptians in knowledge of all kinds, and whose medical art was so systematically arranged that they had regulated it by some of the very same laws followed by the most enlightened and skilful nations of the present day, would not have omitted so useful an inquiry, or have failed to avail themselves of the means which the process adopted for embalming the body placed at their disposal. And nothing can more clearly prove their advancement in the study of human diseases than the fact of their assigning to each his own peculiar branch, under the different heads of oculists, dentists, those who cured diseases in the head, those who confined themselves to intestinal complaints, and those who attended to secret and internal maladies.+
Their knowledge of drugs, and of their effects, is sufficiently shown by the preservation of the
* Gen. 1. 2.
+ Plin. xix. 5. Herodot. ii. 84. Vide suprà, Vol. III. p. 389, 390.
mummies, and the manner in which the intestines and other parts have been removed from the interior. And such is the skill evinced in the embalming process, that every medical man of the present day, who witnesses the evidence derived from an examination of the mummies, willingly acquiesces in the praise due to the ability and experience of the Egyptian embalmers.*
Certain regulations respecting the bodies of persons found dead were wisely established in Egypt, which, by rendering the district or town in the immediate vicinity responsible in some degree for the accident, by fining it to the full cost of the most expensive funeral, necessarily induced those in authority to exercise a proper degree of vigilance, and to exert their utmost efforts to save any one who had fallen into the river, or was otherwise exposed to the danger of his life. From these too we may judge of the great responsibility they were under for the body of a person found murdered within their jurisdiction.†
"If a dead body," says Herodotus, "was accidentally found, whether of an Egyptian or a stranger, who had been taken by a crocodile, or drowned in the rivert, the town upon the territory of which it was discovered was obliged to embalm it according to the most costly process,
Till lately some medical men doubted the possibility of their extracting the brain through the nostril, and other parts of the process. Vide Pettigrew, p. 52.
+ In Vol. II. p. 36., I have shown how severe the Egyptian law was towards any one who did not assist in protecting human life.
and to bury it in a consecrated tomb. None of the friends or relations were permitted to touch it; this privilege was accorded to the priests of the Nile alone, who interred it with their own hands, as if it had been something more than the corpse of a human being."
Another reason assigned for their embalming the dead (independent of those already mentioned *) has been supposed to be a belief that the soul remained in the body as long as the latter was preserved, and was thus prevented from passing to any other. But this is directly opposed to the known opinion of the Egyptians, which, as we see even from the sculptures, was that the soul left the body at the moment of death; and, according to Herodotus, they asserted that having quitted the body, it returned again after a certain period. +
Cassian gives another reason, still more at variance with truth,-" that they were unable to bury their dead during the inundation; " which is at once disproved by the fact of the tombs being accessible at all seasons of the year. Herodotus §
* Suprà, p. 445.
+ Servius ad Virg. Æn. iii. v. 68. " Ægyptii periti sapientiæ condita diutius reservant cadavera, scilicet ut anima multo tempore perduret, et corpori sit obnoxia, ne citò ad aliud transeat. Romani contrà faciebant, comburentes cadavera, ut statim anima in generalitatem, id est, in suam naturam rediret." The latter assertion is as erroneous as the former : the Romans did not always burn their dead in early times, as Pliny (vii. 54.) tells us; Sylla having ordered his body to be burnt that the limbs might not be scattered about and insulted, as those of Marius were. It was, however, done sometimes in the early as well as the later periods of their history, being mentioned in the laws of Numa; but not universally.
Vide suprà, p. 440. et seq.; and Vol. I. (2d Series) p. 74. and 316.