Ptolemy II Philadelphus erected the great entrance into the temple, which we know as the first pylon. Other parts of the building were erected by Ptolemy IV Philopater, and Ptolemy V Epiphanes, who are depicted in most of the wall carvings, worshipping or offering to the gods. All this was history as the obelisk made its way upriver through the Cataract and past Agilika Island to the smaller of two islands. The larger was called Biga and was in Ptolemaic times the legendary burial place of Osiris, while the smaller, Philae, was the obelisk’s destination. The inscription on the obelisk was carved by the priests of Isis during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, son of Ptolemy V, who was probably one of the worst kings ever to rule Egypt. His relationships with the rest of his family were, to say the least, bloody and too complex to go into here. We do not know the exact date of the obelisk’s arrival and the inscription may have been added after its erection at the site. The inscription carved into the obelisk itself was in the ancient hieroglyphs but the base had an additional inscription Greek. This was a complaint to Ptolemy VIII that the temple should not be expected to fully maintain all the passing government officials and their staff from temple funds. There seem to have been four obelisks erected at
Philae. The remains of one, mostly rebuilt now in concrete, still stand at the water’s edge as part of the kiosk of Nectanebo I. Nearby is another base, and this is a possible site for the Kingston Lacy obelisk, as the record of its removal mentions that the fallen obelisk was only a short distance from the water’s edge. However, in front of the first pylon are another two obelisk bases. The eastern one of the pair is said by many to be the original site of the Dorset obelisk although it is further from the water. These bases are now guarded by two small granite lions, who both sit there on duty, seemingly unaware that the obelisks are long gone. These lions may have been a later addition. They do not appear in the well-known lithographs of David Roberts in 1834, although much of the temple was partly buried under later layers of habitation, which probably hid them.
Top: the small kiosk of Nectanebo I at Philae, showing the reconstructed remains of one obelisk; the kiosk was probably the site of at least one other. Above: the view of the outer court of the temple from the pylon. On a granite base, next to the granite lion, stand the remains of the the western obelisk; a matching base on the other side of the pylon entrance may be where the Kingston Lacy obelisk once stood.
ANCIENTEGYPTDecember 2007/January 2008
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