The Great Monolith

(Chapter 175, part 2 of 2) The block of stone from Elephantine was 21 by 14 by 8 cubits, 2352 cubic cubits in volume. If the stone was syenite, a hard igneous rock, it weighed about 557 lb per cubic cubit. I am using the cubit of 18 modern inches, close to the usual Greek cubit. There is no telling exactly which cubit Herodotus was using, because the Egyptian cubit is said to be about two inches longer than the Greek one. Herodotus is aware of the difference. The rock quarried at Elephantine was syenite (from Syene, across the river), which seems to be called, with less exactness, granite, by some authors. Whatever the cubit and whatever the rock, the solid block weighed around 655 tons. Hollowing it out must have been a desperately hard job, but a room about 19 by 12 by 5 cubits was hollowed out somehow. This is larger than my living room! Even with this material gone, the object weighed some 340 tons. Moving this for 550 miles would be a good job today. The easy part would be on the Nile, the hard part getting it from the river to the temple, since the Egyptians are said not to have used rollers. The last bit was so difficult that the chamber was left outside the door of the temple, and not dragged inside. Such monolithic chambers were generally placed deep in the temple, holding the image of the god. This was simply an extraordinarily large one. It is hard to believe that such a massive object would not survive. It would have survived the weather, but not people cutting it up for building material, which is probably what happened to it.



There is a gap in the text at the point where one expects the internal width measurement. Apparently, the measurement of 12 cubits has been interpolated in some texts, and this is probably about right. Translators, and Liddell and Scott, have said one word means 'groaned aloud.' I wonder how one groans silently. I think it just means groaned. A pygon, or elbow, is a length of about 15 inches, a little shorter than a cubit.

The outside length of the chamber is 21 cubits, width 14, height 8. These are the outside measurements of the monolithic chamber, but inside the length is 18 cubits and a pygon, [gap] the height 5 cubits. It lies beside the entrance to the temple. They say it was not dragged within the temple because of this: while dragging this temple the engineer groaned, how much time was taken, and how difficult the labor was. Amasis was made sympathetic that it should be dragged no farther. Some now say that a certain man of those heaving it was killed under it, and after this it was not moved.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Last revised 12 July 1999