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Eth. HELIO´POLIS AEGYPTI (Ἡλιούπολις, Steph. B. sub voce Ptol. 4.5.54; Hdt. 2.3, 7, 59; Strab. xvii. p.805; Diod. 1.84, 5.57; Arrian, Exp. Alex. 3.1; Aelian, Ael. NA 6.58, 12.7; Plut. Solon. 26, Is. et Osir. 33; D. L. 18.8.6; Joseph. Ant. Jud. 13.3, C. Apion. 1.26; Cic. Nat. Deor. 3.21; Plin. Nat. 5.9.11; Tac. Ann. 6.28; Mela, 3.8: Eth. Ἡλιονπολίρης: the Semitic names BETH-SCHEMISCH and ON Gen. 41.45, Ezech. 30.17., as well as the Arabic Ainshems or Fountain of Light, corresponded with the Greek appellation in signifying the City of the Sun). Heliopolis was a city of Lower Egypt, 12 miles from the Egyptian Babylon (It. Anton. p. 169), on the verge of the eastern desert, and at the SE. point of the Delta, a little NE. of its apex at Cercasorum, lat. 30° N. It stood on the eastern side of the Pelusiac, arm of the Nile, and near the right bank of the Great Canal, which, passing through the Bitter Lakes, connected the river with the Red Sea. In Roman times it [p. 1.1036]belonged to the Regio Augustamnica. Its population probably contained a considerable Arabian element. (Plin. 6.34.) Heliopolis, however, the On, Rameses, or Beth-Schemesch of the Hebrew Scriptures,--for it has claims to be regarded as any one of the three,--was long anterior even to the Pharaonic portion of this canal, and was, indeed, one of the most ancient of Egyptian cities. Its obelisks were probably seen by Abraham when he first migrated from Syria to the Delta, 1600 years B.C.; and here the father-in-law of Joseph filled the office of high priest. It may be regarded as the University of the land of Misraim: its priests, from the most remote epochs, were the great depositaries of theological and historical learning; and it was of sufficient political importance to furnish ten deputies, or one-third of the whole number, to the great council which assisted the Pharaohs in the administration of justice. At Heliopolis Moses probably acquired the learning of the Egyptians, and the prophet Jeremiah wrote his Lamentations over the decline of the Hebrew people. From Ichonuphys, who was lecturing there in B.C. 308, and who numbered Enudoxus among his pupils, the Greek mathematician learned the true length of the year and month, upon which lie formed his “octaeterid,” or period of eight years or ninety-nine months. Solon, Thales, and Plato, were reputed each to have visited its schools,--the halls, indeed. in which the latter studied were pointed out to Strabo: while in the reign of the second Ptolemy, Manethon, the chief priest of Heliopolis, collected from its archives his history of the ancient kings of Egypt. Alexander the Great, on his march from Pelusium to Memphis, halted at this city (Arrian, 3.1); and, according to Macrobius (Saturn. 1.23), Baalbek, or the Syrian City of the Sun, was a priest-colony from its Egyptian namesake.

The Heliopolite none, of which this city was the capital, contained, after the decline and dispersion of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, a Hebrew population almost equal in numbers to that of the native Egyptians. (J. AJ 13.3.) But, even so early as the invasion of Cambyses, B.C. 525, Heliopolis had much declined; and in the time of Strabo, who visited it during the prefecture of Aelius Gallus, B.C. 24, its ruins had nearly vanished.

The sun, as the name of the city proves, was the principal object of worship at Heliopolis; and the legends of the Phoenix, the emblem of the solar year, centred around its temples. It was also the seat of the worship of the bull Mnevis, the rival of Apis in this region of Aegypt. In all respects, indeed, it merited the distinction ascribed to it by Diodorus of Sicily, who calls Heliopolis πόλις ἐπιφανεστάτη.

The ruins of Heliopolis occupy a quadrangular area of nearly 3 miles in extent, and were described by Abd-Allatif, an Arabian physician, who wrote his account of Egypt about the close of the 12th century A.D. He speaks of its surprising colossal figures cut in stone more than 30 cubits high, of which some were standing on pedestals and others were in sitting postures. He saw the two famous obelisks called Pharaoh's Needles, one standing and the other fallen and broken in two by its own enormous weight. The name of Osirtesen I., king of Thebes, of the xiith dynasty, who was lord of both the Upper and Lower country, was inscribed on them. The standng obelisk is still erect, and is even now studied as the earliest known specimen of Egyptian architecture. (Plin. Nat. 36.9.) Zoega (de Obeliscis, p. 642) supposes that the obelisk which was transported. to Rome and set up in the Campus Martins, by order of Augustus, came also from Heliopolis. (Comp. Ammian, 17.4.) The obelisks of Osirtesen were each 60 feet high, and consisted of a.quadrangular column or cone, rising out of a square base 10 feet high. The pointed top of the column was once covered with a copper cap, shaped like a funnel, and 3 cubits in length. These structures formed the most conspicuous figures in the centre of converging avenues of smaller obelisks.

The hamlet of Matarieh, about 6 miles NE. of Cairo, covers a portion of the ancient site of Heliopolis, and is still distinguished by its solitary obelisk of red granite, and contains--no common privilege in Egypt--a spring of sweet and fresh water. Some remains of sphinxes, with fragments of a colossal statue, indicate the ancient approaches to the Temple of the Sun. Heliopolis, from its position on the verge: of the desert, must have been contiguous to, and may have overlooked, the pastures of Goshen, where the Children of Israel were allowed to settle by the priest-kings of Memphis; and earlier still, the city, if not indeed Abaris itself, was probably one of the last fortresses held by the Shepherd Kings before their final evacuation of Egypt.


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