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The Pharaoh himself might reasonably expect that his imposing tomb would long survive the destruction of the less enduring structures in which his nobles were laid, and that his endowments, too, might be made to outlast those of his less powerful contemporaries. The pyramid as a stable form in architecture has impressed itself upon all time. Beneath this vast mountain of stone, as a result of its mere mass and indestructibility alone, the Pharaoh looked forward to the permanent survival of his body, and of the personality with which it was so indissolubly involved. Moreover, the origin of the monument, hitherto overlooked, made it a symbol of the highest sacredness, rising above the mortal remains of the king, to greet the Sun, whose offspring the Pharaoh was.

The pyramid form may be explained by an examination of the familiar obelisk form. The obelisk, as is commonly known, is a symbol sacred to the Sun-god. So far as I am aware, however, little significance has heretofore been attached to the fact that the especially sacred portion of the obelisk is the pyramidal apex with which it is surmounted. An obelisk is simply a pyramid upon a lofty base which has indeed become the shaft. In the Old Kingdom Sun-temples at Abusir, this is quite clear, the diameter of the shaft being at the bottom quite one-third of its height. Thus the shaft appears as a high base, upon which the surmounting pyramid is supported. This pyramidal top is the essential part of the monument and the significant symbol which it bore. The Egyptians caned it a benben (or benbenet), which we translate "pyramidion," and the shaft or high base would be without significance without it. Thus, when Sesostris 1 proclaims to posterity the survival of his name in his Heliopolis monuments, he says:

"My beauty shall be remembered in his house, My name is the pyramidion and my name is the lake."

His meaning is that his name shall survive on his great obelisks, and in the sacred lake which he excavated. The king significantly designates the obelisk, however, by the name of its pyramidal summit. Now the long recognized fact that the obelisk is sacred to the sun, carries with it the demonstration that it is the pyramid surmounting the obelisk which is sacred to the Sun-god. Furthermore, the Sanctuary at Heliopolis was early designated the "Benbenhouse," that is the "pyramidion house." The symbol, then, by which the sanctuary of the Suntemple at Heliopolis was designated was a pyramid. Moreover, there was in this same Sun-temple a pyramidal object called a "ben," presumably of stone standing in the "Phoenix-louse '; and upon this pyramidal object the Sun-god in the form of a Phoenix had in the beginning first appeared. This object was already sacred as far back as the middle of the third millennium B. C., and will doubtless have been vastly older. We may conjecture that it was one of those sacred stones, which gained their sanctity in times far back of all recollection or tradition, like the Ka'aba at Mecca. In hieroglyphic the Phoenix is represented as sitting upon this object, the form of which was a universally sacred symbol of the Sun-god. Hence it is that in the Pyramid Texts the king's pyramid tomb is placed under the protection of the Sun-god in two very clear chapters, the second of which opens with a reference to the fact that the Sun-god when he created the other gods was sitting aloft on the ben as a Phoenix, and hence it is that the king's pyramid is placed under his protection.

From Breasted's "Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt."

- Source: The Builder October - 1919

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