(Chapter 175, part 1 of 2) The temple of Athena (Egyptian Nit, Neit or Neith, mother of the Sun, the joyous sky goddess) at Sais has, it sadly appears, not survived. Amasis provided the temple with what was probably a magnificent pylon, the massive wedge-shaped gateway at the entrance to a typical Egyptian temple (it could have been a gateway, a square arch, in front of the pylon, however). Herodotus uses the word propylaea quite properly for this, but it is far different than the structure of the same name that was on the Acropolis in Athens. He also dedicated colossal statues, and man-headed sphinxes, usually in a double row lining a processional route, and provided huge stones for repair and restoration of the temple. The quarries were at Memphis for the ordinary stone (limestone), and at Elephantine for the gigantic blocks (syenite). Herodotus saw this temple in its glory, and was most impressed by a chamber near the gate hollowed out from a single block of stone. It took three years and three thousand men to bring this block from Elephantine, which is across the river from Syene at the First Cataract, a distance of some 550 miles.
This selection can be understood readily from the Greek, but it seems extraordinarily difficult to turn it into English. Normally this can be done mainly by rearranging the words so that their order makes sense in English, and adding mood hints. This selection defies this process, however, since Herodotus uses several means available to him that do not exist in English to express his meaning. The imperfect in the last sentence is a good example. Note that this calls forth a pluperfect to keep the imperfect company. It is not a pluperfect in the Latin or English sense, it seems to me. The pluperfect is easily recognized from the augment plus reduplication.
And for one thing, he finished a wonderful pylon for Athena in Sais, far surpassing all others in height and size, and in the magnitude and kinds of stones. For another thing, he dedicated huge colossi and man-headed sphinxes, and he supplied other stones of enormous size for repairs. These were brought from the quarries existing near Memphis, and the gigantic ones from the city of Elephantine, twenty days by boat distant from Sais. I wonder at not the least of these [deeds], but the greatest, which is this: he procured a monolithic temple from Elephantine city, and this procuring took three years; three thousand guiding men had been assigned, and all were pilots.
Return to Pharaoh
Composed by J. B. Calvert
Last revised 12 July 1999