(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Writing and Literature                      65
source of their philosophy. Thales, Solon, Pythagoras, Demo-
:ritus of Abdera, and Plato are all asserted to have visited Egypt
md to have sat at the feet of the Egyptian priests. Of Pytha-
goras it is even related that he had been initiated into ancient
Egyptian literature by the high-priest Sonchis. And where
philosophy owed so great a debt, 'could belles lettres owe none
at all ? The answer to such an argument would begin by show-
ing that the supposed dependence of Greek upon Egyptian
philosophy proves on examination to be the merest moonshine.
Thales may indeed have travelled in Egypt, but if he did so he
could hardly have come into close relations with the priests,
who, moreover, would have looked with extreme disfavour upon
his purely physical speculations. As for the other sages above
enumerated, it is significant that the reports of their voyages
become frequent only as the distance from their historical life-
time widens. The explanation of the Greek tradition is twofold.
On the one hand, it acquires intensity only at a time when the
Ptolemies had made themselves the masters of Egypt and the
priesthoods of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes felt their
authority seriously challenged. In such a situation their insist-
ence upon the priority of their own civilization would become
increasingly vocal. On the other hand, just at the same time
the Greeks, weary of two centuries of purely intellectual dis-
cussion, were beginning to seek refuge in mysticism and the
revival of religion, and thus were willing enough to give ear to
the Egyptian claims, provided that the crudities of the old
mythology might be mitigated by purely Hellenic allegorical
interpretations. Again, if we examine the actual literature of
the Greeks and Romans, little or no trace of Egyptian influence
can be detected. Under the Ptolemies and Romans Alexandria
was an entirely Greek city, deemed by its inhabitants to be
adjacent to Egypt (Alexandria ad Aegyptum), but not in it.
Callimachus and Theocritus are purely Greek in both feeling
and expression. The quality of such pretensions as the Egyptians
4473                                                       r