The Colossi of Memnon. Colossal Statues in The Plain of Thebes.

David Roberts, Memnon, Colossi, Egypt, Pharaoh, Travel, Nile, Valley, Thebes-West,
Colossal Statues in The Plain of Thebes, during the Inundation of the Nile.

The Memnon Colossi (Arabic el-Colossat or also es-Salamat) are two ancient Egyptian colossal statues standing side by side from the 14th century BC. They are located in the Nile Valley not far from the Valley of the Kings (Bibân el-Molûk) in Thebes-West. In the past, the statues were located in front of the pylons of the entrance to the temple of Amenophis III. (Egyptian Amenhotep III), a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty.


If the solitude of these stupendous figures, seated here for more than thirty-three centuries from the period of their erection, in the midst of a great and populous city, to the present time, where, in the solemn silence of a desert, they exist only as the relics of a remote age, is capable of exciting increased emotion, it is when the waters spread over the plain of Thebes, and, isolating these statues, render them inaccessible and make their dreariness still more impressive.

The annual rise of the Nile is the unfailing evidence of unchanged nature. Its course may have been guided into other channels, or embanked to guard the sacred edifices in the valley from its power; the ability and skill of the ancient Egyptians may have controlled and directed it and distributed its blessings ; still it returned at the same period, averaged the same quantity, fertilized the same soil, and was governed by unerring laws, ages before the reign of Menes as at the present day.

These statues and the distant temples, the works of man, though passing slowly to decay, attest the grandeur which once existed in this mighty city, of which these ruins are all that remain to attest what Thebes and her people were. The same rising sun still gilds the land in unchanged brightness and undiminished fervour, and the artist, by availing himself of the union of those enduring elements with the transient character of the works of man, makes his picture a moral and its effect sublime.

Note:  Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire in 1777.

In the description which has been given of another view of these statues, it is stated that they both represented the Pharaoh Amunoph III., the sovereign of the Hebrew Exodus; but the romance of history has given interest to that statue which, as they are here presented from behind, is seen on the left. It is the Vocal Memnon, so called from the early belief, that at sunrise sounds issued from it; and this is attested by travelers who heard and recorded it by inscriptions on the statue eighteen centuries ago.

When Strabo was at Thebes, the upper portion of the statue had been destroyed, as he was told, by an earthquake, but an inscription exists which refers this injury to Cambyses,— one of the acts of that barbarian when he conquered Egypt.

It was, at a later period, restored imperfectly by masonry in blocks of sandstone cramped together, and this condition of the statue is represented in both our sketches: the restoration was made about the time of Adrian. Pausanias says that “the Thebans deny this to be the statue of Memnon, but that of Phamenoph.” An inscription on the left foot of this statue bore the name of Phamenoth. The examination of the hieroglyphics by Champollion has discovered the name of Amunoph, and no doubt remains of his accuracy.

The sound said to be emitted by the statue has been attested by many hearers, who have recorded their impressions in inscriptions which are legible on the legs and feet of the statue. That it was a trick of the priests there can be no doubt, as a stone is still found in the lap of the statue which when struck is sonorous like brass : this was verified by Wilkinson, and confirms what is recorded in an inscription by one Ballilla, that the sound might be compared to that produced by the striking of brass. The Emperor Hadrian heard it three times,—a princely compliment to the sovereign and his consort, or to the ladies who accompanied them; for the names still appear, among others in the inscriptions, of Julia Romilla and Cecilia Treboulla.

Note:  Edinburgh Castle. View from the south side of the Grass-Market.

Wilkinson’s Egypt.

Source: The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, & Nubia, by David Roberts, George Croly, William Brockedon. London: Lithographed, printed and published by Day & Son, lithographers to the Queen. Cate Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1855.


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