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MEMPHIS (Mit Riheina) Egypt.

About 32 km S of Cairo, a short distance E of El-Bedreshein, the first capital of the united Upper and Lower Egypt (cf. Diod. 1.50 et passim; 16.48-51). Menes (ca. 3000 B.C.) had founded a fortress here, the White Wall (Mennofer), which became Memphis in Greek and later also Pephis (Hierocles, Synecdemus, ca. A.D. 535). The city venerated the god Ptah, who in his capacity as a creator of the universe, was identified with the Grecian Hephaistos. Consequently, the Egyptian temple was known as the Hephaisteion. Herodotos (ca. 450 B.C.), wrote at length (2. passim; 3.27) about the city and her kings, mentioning a chapel, dedicated to Aphrodite the Refugee, which was erected within the court of the Palace of King Proteus (cf. Hom. Od. 4384ff). This Aphrodite is not the goddess, wife of Hephaistos, but Menelaus' wife (Herod. 2.1 lf), who, having been rescued from Paris, resided with the king until she was claimed by her husband. In 332 B.C., when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, he celebrated his victories here in the Greek manner. On his return from the Oasis of Ammon (Siwa), he was crowned Pharaoh in the Hephaisteion and when he died in 323 B.C., his body was kept here until his tomb was completed in Alexandria. Politically, Ptolemy I transferred the capital to Alexandria, but Memphis continued to be the religious capital (cf. the decree of the Rosetta Stone) with Ptah, however, losing his importance and prestige to Serapis. The Bull Apis, the incarnation of Osiris, resumed his functions as symbol of the new official god Serapis and, consequently, the burial place of the sacred bulls has since been known as the Serapeion. Imitating Alexander, the Ptolemies were crowned in the Temple of Ptah, a custom that survived until Ptolemy Physkon ca. 171-130 B.C. (Diod. 33.13). When Strabo visited Egypt (ca. 25 B.C.), Memphis still attracted visitors. They saw (Strab. 17.31) the Temple of Apis room and the Hephaisteion. They could amuse themselves by watching the bullfight until an edict of Theodosius in A.D. 389 put an end to all such diversions. In 640, when Fustat was chosen to be the capital of Arabic Egypt, it was built out of the ruined blocks of the edifices of Memphis. The colossal statue of Ramses II, now erected in front of Cairo Railway Station, was probably the one seen by Strabo at Memphis. Although there is little now to be seen at Memphis, its necropolis, Saqqara, reflects its lost prosperity. This lies a short distance to the W, where the site is easily recognized by the Step Pyramid. Apart from the rich tombs of the Old Kingdom, the sanctuaries and the labyrinth of subterranean galleries related to Imhotep, there are the Serapeion and the Exedra of the poets and philosophers. The Serapeion, N of the Step Pyramid, contains in its subterranean passages the granite and basalt sarcophagi of 24 sacred bulls. These sarcophagi were kept in separate rooms, hewn in either side of the passage. The latest sarcophagi were in use until the late Ptolemaic period. The approach to the Serapeion was flanked by a long corridor of sphinxes, confirming what Strabo had seen (17.32), and nearby in the Exedra were set up statues of ten of the Greek poets and philosophers arranged in a semicircle around Homer. They date from the reign of Ptolemy I.


A. Mariette, Le Serapeum de Memphis (1857); Porter & Moss, Top. Bibl., III. Memphis (1931); C. Picard, “La Statue-portrait de Démetrius de Phalère au serapeion de Memphis: exèdre des poètes et des sages,” Mon Piot 47 (1953) 77-97PI; id., “Autour de Serapeion de Memphis,” RA 47 (1956) 65-77I; J. P. Lauer, “Fouilles et travaux effectués it Saqqarah de novembre 1951 à juin 1952,” ASAE 53 (1955) 153-66I; W. Emery, “Excavation at Saqqara,” 35,2 (1939); 36,2; E. Brunner-Traut & V. Hell, Aegypten (1966) 452-66MP; K. Michalowski, Aegypten (1968) 452-53, 462-64MPI.


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