This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 At the distance of 40 stadia from Memphis is a brow of a hill, on which are many pyramids, the tombs of the kings.1 Three of them are considerable. Two of these are reckoned among the seven wonders [of the world]. They are a stadium in height, and of a quadrangular shape. Their height somewhat exceeds the length of each of the sides.2 One pyramid is a little larger than the other. At a moderate height in one of the sides3 is a stone, which may be taken out; when that is removed, there is an oblique passage [leading] to the tomb. They are near each other, and upon the same level. Farther on, at a greater height of the mountain, is the third pyramid, which is much less than the two others, but constructed at much greater expense; for from the found- ation nearly as far as the middle, it is built of black stone. Mortars are made of this stone, which is brought from a great distance; for it comes from the mountains of Ethiopia, and being hard and difficult to be worked, the labour is attended with great expense. It is said to be the tomb of a courtesan, built by her lovers, and whose name, according to Sappho the poetess, was Doriche. She was the mistress of her brother Charaxus, who traded to the port of Naucratis with wine of Lesbos. Others call her Rhodopis.4 A story is told of her, that, when she was bathing, an eagle snatched one of her sandals from the hands of her female attendant and carried it to Memphis; the eagle soaring over the head of the king, who was administering justice at the time, let the sandal fall into his lap. The king, struck with the shape of the sandal, and the singularity of the accident, sent over the country to discover the woman to whom it belonged. She was found in the city of Naucratis, and brought to the king, who made her his wife. At her death she was honoured with the above-mentioned tomb.
1 We have reason to be surprised that Strabo, who had seen the pyramids, has said so little concerning them. Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus enter into more particulars, and in general are more exact. Some idea of the immense labour required may be obtained from considerations such as follow:— The base and height being given, we find for the solid contents—
|1. of the great pyramid||2,864,000|
|2. of Chephren||2,056,000|
|3. of Mycerinus||211,000|
|1. from the great pyramid in length||1626|
|2. from Chephren or Cheops||1167|
|3. from Mycerinus||117|
2 This is a palpable error, and greater than that of Herodotus, who makes the base equal to the height. The ratio of the height to the base in the great pyramid was as 0ċ627 to 1; and in the second, as 0ċ640 to 1. Diodorus approaches nearest of all to the truth, as he makes this ratio to be as 6 to 7 or as 0ċ817 to 1. Strabo should rather have said, ‘the sides are rather greater than the height;’ but all that he says respecting the pyramids is vague and inexact.
3 ἐν ὕψει μέσως πως μιᾶς τῶν πλευρῶν μιᾶς is adopted, although not introduced into the text, by Kramer; μέσως πως is connected with ἐν ὕψει, and not with τῶν πλευρῶν, in the sense of ‘moderately,’ in which it is also used in b. xi. c. ii. § 18. ‘The kings who succeeded to the possession of the country, (μέσως ἔπραττον) were moderately successful.’ The moveable stone has been taken away, and the aperture is at most at about one-twelfth the whole height of the pyramid from its base.
4 Chembes the Memphite built the largest of the three pyramids, which are reckoned among the seven most remarkable works in the world. They are situated by the side of Libya, distant 120 stadia from Memphis, and 45 from the Nile. These works, by their size and by the artifice and labour employed in their construction, strike the beholder with astonishment and wonder. The base of the largest, the plan of which is quadrilateral, is seven plethra on each side; the height is more than six plethra; the pyramid gradually contracts towards the top, of which each side measures six cubits, and the whole is built of hard stone. Its construction must have been accompanied with great difficulty, but its permanence will be eternal; for although, it is said, not less than a thousand years have passed away to our day (some even say more than 3400 years) since they were built, yet the stones still remain, preserving their original position, and their whole arrangement uninjured by time. The stone is said to have come from a great distance in Arabia, and the process of building was carried on by raising mounds of earth; for at that period no machines had been invented. But it is most marvellous that although such an immense undertaking has been completed, and the whole country around is composed of sand, not a single trace remains of the mounds raised, nor of the fragments of stone broken off by the workmen: indeed the pyramids do not seem to have been raised by the gradual labour of man, but to have been placed by some divine hand in a mass, perfectly formed, down upon the surrounding sands. Some Egyptians undertake to narrate wondrous stories respecting them, such, for instance, that the mounds above-mentioned were composed of salt and nitre, which melted away upon the rising of the river, and completely disappeared without the intervention of human labour. But this cannot be true, for the same number of hands which constructed the mounds would be able to reduce them again to their former state ; and 360,000 men, it is said, were employed in the undertaking. The whole was completed in a little less than twenty years. On the death of this king, he was succeeded by his brother Chephren, who reigned 56 years. According to some writers, it was not a brother, but a son, named Chabryis, who was his successor. But all agree that the successor, whoever he was, desired to imitate his predecessor's conception, and built the second pyramid, which resembled the first in its artificial construction, but was inferior to it in size, the sides of the base being a stadium each in length.On the greater pyramid is an inscription which states the amount expended on herbs and radishes for the workmen, and it informs us that 1600 talents were paid for this purpose. The lesser pyramid bears no inscription, and it has an ascent formed in it through an opening in one of the sides. But although the kings built these pyramids for their own tombs, yet it has so happened that none of them have ever been buried in them. For the population, in consequence of the misery to which these works exposed them, and of the cruelty and tyranny of the kings, were incensed against them as the causes of their sufferings; and moreover threatened to tear their bodies in pieces, and to cast them out with insult from their place of burial. Every king therefore, on the approach of death, enjoined his relations to bury his body secretly in a place undistinguished by marks. These were succeeded by king Mycerinus, (whom some call Mecherinus,) son of the king who built the first pyramid. He designed to build a third, but died before he accomplished it. Each side of the base of this pyramid was three plethra in length, and fifteen tiers of the building were raised of black stone like the Thebaic stone, but the rest was filled up with a stone resembling that of the other pyramids. This work is inferior to the two former in size, but far surpasses them in artificial construction and in the expensiveness of the stone. On its northern side the name of Mycerinus is inscribed, as the person who caused it to be built. He is said to have held in abhorrence the cruelty of his predecessors, and to have been ambitious of leading a just life, and beneficial to his subjects. He performed many actions by which he called forth the affection of his people towards him; and among others he expended a great sum of money in public causes, rewarding the judges who delivered upright judgments, which was not commonly the case. There are three other pyramids, the sides of which are two plethra in length; in workmanship they entirely resemble the others, except in magnitude. These pyramids, it is said, were built by the three before-mentioned kings in honour of their own wives. These works by universal consent are the most remarkable in Egypt, not only in their ponderous construction, but also in the art displayed. We ought, we are told, to admire more the architects than the kings, who supplied the means, for the architects brought their designs to completion by force of mind and the influence of an honourable ambition, but the kings by the power of that wealth which was their portion, or by injuries inflicted on others. There is no agreement whatever, either between the natives of the country or between authors, respecting the pyramids; for some assert that the kings before mentioned built them, others that they were not the builders, but that Armæus built the first and largest; Amasis, the second; and Inaro, the third: but this last is said by some to be the burial-place of Rhodopis, a courtesan, whose lovers were certain governors of nomes, who from affection towards her undertook this great work, and completed it at their common charge. Diodorus Siculus, b. . 63, 64.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.