previous next

Nilus

Νεῖλος). The Nile, a great river of Egypt. The name is probably cognate with the Semitic Nahar or Nahal, “river.” Homer calls it Αἴγυπτος ( Od. iv. 477); and the name Νεῖλος occurs first in Hesiod (Theog. 338) and Hecataeus (Frag. 279). The Jews called it Nahal-Misraim, “River of Egypt.” The Nile takes its rise in the two lakes Victoria Nyanza and Albert Nyanza, which are themselves fed by various streams. For three hundred miles after leaving the former, it flows with a swift current in rapids and cataracts and between high walls of rock. It leaves the northern end of Lake Albert Nyanza, where it is known as the Bahr-el-Jebel, and flows in a northerly course towards the Mediterranean Sea. The first six score miles are through a level country, then for another equal distance is contracted into a narrow stream (in places not more than a quarter of a mile in width), and then, being forced over the Yarbovah Rapids, it enters the plains and flows in a sluggish stream to Khartoum, distant some 800 miles. In

Temple of Niké Apteros. (Acropolis at Athens.)

7¡ 30' north latitude it divides into two streams, the so-called White Nile (Bahr-el-Abiad) and the Bahrel-Jebel. In 9¡ 30' north latitude the latter receives the Bahr-el-Ghazal from the west. At Khartoum (15¡ 37' north latitude) the White Nile and the Blue Nile (Bahr-el-Azrak) unite, and the great stream then flows on, taking up the Black Nile (Bahr-elAswad), whose black sediment makes the Delta so remarkable for its fertility. The point of junction is the apex of the island Meroë, where the river has a breadth of two miles. Thence it flows through

View on the Nile. (From a photograph.)

Nubia in a rocky valley, falling over six cataracts, the northernmost being known as the First Cataract, and marking now, as in antiquity, the southern boundary of Egypt. See Aegyptus.

The Nile emptied into the Mediterranean by three channels, parted into seven, of which, according to Herodotus, two were artificial and five natural. From these seven channels come the names applied to it by Moschus (ἑπτάπορος), Catullus (septemgeminus), and Ovid (septemplex). Most of the seven mouths had names derived from their cities (i. e. the Canopic, Bolbitic, Sebennytic, Pathmetic or Bucolic, Mendesian, Tanitic or Saïtic, and Pelusiac). At the present time there are only two principal mouths, known as the Rosetta on the west and the Damiat on the east. From the dark sediment deposited by the river came the native name of Egypt—Chemi or Kemi, “the black land.” A great artificial canal (Bahr-Yussouf, i. e. “Joseph's Canal”) runs parallel to the river, at the distance of about six miles, from Diospolis Parva in the Thebais to a point on the west mouth of the river about half-way between Memphis and the sea. Many smaller canals were cut to regulate the irrigation of the country A canal from the east mouth of the Nile to the head of the Red Sea was commenced under the native kings, and finished by Darius, son of Hystaspes. There were several lakes in the country, respecting which see Buto, Mareotis, Moeris, Sirbonis, and Tanis. For the use of the Nile in irrigation, see Aegyptus, p. 24.

The ancients knew little of the Nile beyond the First Cataract at Meroë. It was generally believed that the great river originated in Mauretania and flowed for a long distance underground until it

The God of the Nile. (Vatican.)

came to the southern part of Aethiopia, whence it flowed northward as the Astapas. The emperor Nero undertook to discover its sources, and sent out two expeditions for that purpose, which succeeded only in reaching the confluence of the Sobat and the White Nile, some thirty miles beyond the junction of the White Nile with the Bahr-el-Zereb. Ptolemy, however, speaks of the river as issuing from two great lakes six and seven degrees respectively south of the equator, and fed by the melting snows of the Mountains of the Moon, lately identified by Stanley with Gordon Bennett, Ruwenzovi, and adjacent peaks. This is about as much as any one had learned until the present century, when the discoveries of Speke (1858 and 1862), Baker (1864), Schweinfurth (1868-71), and Stanley (1875 and 1889) solved bit by bit the mystery of the ages.

The Nile was deified by the Egyptians and worshipped as a god. A famous statue in the Vatican at Rome represents the river deity as a reclining figure pillowed on a sphinx and holding a cornucopia (typical of the fertility caused by the river's overflow), while sixteen children, representing the affluents of the Nile, play about. The work belongs to the Graeco-Egyptian period.

See Herod. ii. 19-26; Pliny , Pliny H. N. v. 51Pliny H. N., 58; viii. 77; Dio Cass. lxxv. 13; Solin. 35; and on the deification of the river by the Egyptians, Herod.ii. 101; Diod.i. 6-26. See also Budge, The Nile (1890).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: