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100 years ago: Pharaohs and antiquaries

24 February 2023

February 24th, 1923.

IT SEEMS to be generally agreed that while it would be the grossest sacrilege to violate the tomb of a king who died three years ago, it is a highly meritorious act to rifle the tomb of a king who died three thousand years ago. We do not pretend to understand the line of reasoning along which this conclusion is reached, but enlightened public opinion has decided that it is sound. Nevertheless, we think that a good many persons who cannot be accused of depreciating the labours of the antiquary will not have read without a scruple or a pang the account of the latest discoveries in the Valley of Kings. The broken seals, the vain texts inscribed upon the walls, the useless protective symbols, above all, the four fair goddesses with their pitiful faces turned to the invaders of the shrine, as if pleading not to be disturbed — these are things of which it is not an unmixed pleasure to read. For we know that these kings who died thirty centuries ago desired above all that their resting-places should remain inviolate, their tombs impenetrable, their bodies preserved from corruption and mutilation. Their religion was, no doubt, dark and imperfect, but it held firmly the belief in a future life, and all its ceremonies of burial were ordered in conformity with that belief. They believed, as we do, that judgment follows upon death, that the way to salvation lies along the path of innocence and justice. The splendour of their funerary furniture provokes our curiosity, but perhaps the keenest antiquary may hear, even as he stands in triumph within the shrine to which he has gained entrance at so high a cost, some faint whisper of appeal to his pity from the slumbering dead.

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