The House Of The Afrit.
Soldier And Dromedary.
A Street Scene In Cairo.
Similar superstitions are associated with one of the oldest gates of Cairo, the name of. which appears in the tales of the Arabian Nights. A friend who had lived several years in Egypt took us one day to see this portal, which is supposed to be haunted by an afrit, or evil spirit. For some time we were entertained by watching several old women in succession approach the gate cautiously, spit three times over their left shoulder, to exorcise the demon, and then peer behind the door with much the same expression that some of their sex of the Occident assume, when they look timidly under a bed at night. Their object was to see if the afrit was at home. What they might have done if they had discovered it, would be difficult to conjecture. But the demon was evidently "out" that day, - possibly having been recalled to headquarters. Accordingly the women left what answered for their cards. One, for example, inserted in a crevice of the gate an old tooth, and hobbled off, believing she would thenceforth have no toothache. Another tied to a rusty nail a lock of hair (presumably her own), and smiled to think she would thenceforth be exempt from headache. Thus this demon-haunted portal is kept continually decorated with ghastly teeth and wisps of hair.
Tombs Of The Caliphs.
It is a curious fact, by the way, that if these people were requested to explain their idea of Satan, they would probably describe him as a blond. A European traveler in Africa relates that the women in one village gathered round him in astonishment, declaring that he was as "white as the Devil." Passing beyond this portal, we found, outside the city walls, some interesting structures which we recognized as the far-famed tombs of the Caliphs. The name "Caliph," or "Successor," was the title assumed after the Prophet's death by the Mohammedan rulers, some of whom reigned here in magnificence for many years. Even in their ruined condition, we can easily see that these Arabian sepulchres must once have been of exquisite beauty; for the material of many of them is white alabaster, and all their domes are well-proportioned and ornamented with an arabesque stone tracery so delicate, that one could fancy them to be covered with lace mantles. To see these graceful sepulchres of the Caliphs from a distance in the glow of sunset, is to behold what seems like a mirage of Saracenic architecture. But near approach reveals the fact that they have beer allowed to fall into shameful decay, and, incredible as it seems, bats and lizards now infest the beautifully sculptured walls, and families of Egyptian beggars make their homes within the tombs of Mohammed's successors. On the cracked side of one of them a Persian poet once wrote these words: "Each crevice of this ancient tomb resembles a half-opened mouth, which laughs at the inevitable fate of those who dwell in palaces!'
Graceful Sepui.Chres And Hideous Craves.
Around them, and in striking contrast to their former splendor, are hundreds of small gravestones, which mark one of the dreariest places in the world, - a modern Egyptian cemetery. The soil is mere yellow, burning sand, without a flower, tree, or shrub to mitigate its desolation. Moreover, the tombs themselves are hideously plain, consisting of bricks loosely cemented together and surmounted by two sharp-pointed stones. What an added horror must death possess for people who look forward to a burial-place like this!
Beyond these desolate sepulchres, a long avenue of overarching palm-trees leads us to the site of Heliopolis, that ancient City of the Sun, whose Hebrew name, On, is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. The Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis was one of the most remarkable that Egypt ever possessed, and its priests were famed throughout the world for their learning. Magnificent presents were given to this sanctuary by Egyptian kings, and its staff of officials, priests, guardians, and servants is said to have numbered nearly thirteen thousand. Joseph married the daughter of a priest of Heliopolis, and here Moses, Pythagoras, Euclid, and Plato received instruction. Yet, on the plain once occupied by this great city, the only relic of it that remains is one majestic obelisk, the second oldest monument of its kind in existence. Its companion shaft (for obelisks were always placed in pairs) was overthrown eight hundred years ago, and now its fragments are probably either buried in the vicinity beneath a mass of Nile deposit, or else form part of the foundation of some stately edifice in Cairo. The original beauty of this granite monolith must have been striking, for down each of its four sides is a hieroglyphic hymn to the gods, the letters of which were formerly filled with gold, to liken it to the lustre of the sun, since obelisks were used as symbols of the sun's bright rays. This City of the Sun was doubtless specially adorned with these tapering shafts, but all the others have disappeared. There is something indescribably mournful in this, the last memorial of Heliopolis, gazing, as it were, sadly down from its imposing height upon the solitary plain, so eloquent in its pathetic silence. Moses, no doubt, looked upon this obelisk; Herodotus and Plato may have rested in its shadow. Yet upon its sculptured surface, morning and evening, still fall the solar salutations, just as they did when Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem were the dwelling-places of barbarians.