1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cheops

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CHEOPS, in Herodotus, the name of the king who built the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Following on a period of good rule and prosperity under Rhampsinitus, Cheops closed the temples, abolished the sacrifices and made all the Egyptians labour for his monument, working in relays of 100,000 men every three months (see Pyramid). Proceeding from bad to worse, he sacrificed the honour of his daughter in order to obtain the money to complete his pyramid; and the princess built herself besides a small pyramid of the stones given to her by her lovers. Cheops reigned 50 years and was succeeded by his brother, Chephren, who reigned 56 years and built the second pyramid. During these two reigns the Egyptians suffered every kind of misery and the temples remained closed. Herodotus continues that in his own day the Egyptians were unwilling to name these oppressors and preferred to call the pyramids after a shepherd named Philition, who pastured his flocks in their neighbourhood. At length Mycerinus, son of Cheops and successor of Chephren, reopened the temples and, although he built the Third Pyramid, allowed the oppressed people to return to their proper occupations.

Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus are historical personages of the fourth Egyptian dynasty, in correct order, and they built the three pyramids attributed to them here. But they are wholly misplaced by Herodotus. Rhampsinitus, the predecessor of Cheops, appears to represent Rameses III. of the twentieth dynasty, and Mycerinus in Herodotus is but a few generations before Psammetichus, the founder of the twenty-sixth dynasty. Manetho correctly places the great Pyramid kings in Dynasty IV. In Egyptian the name of Cheops (Chemmis or Chembis in Diodorus Siculus, Suphis in Manetho) is spelt Hwfw (Khufu), but the pronunciation, in late times perhaps Khöouf, is uncertain. The Greeks and Romans generally accepted the view that Herodotus supplies of his character, and moralized on the uselessness of his stupendous work; but there is nothing else to prove that the Egyptians themselves execrated his memory. Modern writers rather dwell on the perfect organization demanded by his scheme, the training of a nation to combined labour, the level attained here by art and in the fitting of masonry, and finally the fact that the Great Pyramid was the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world and now alone of them survives. It seems that representations of deities, and indeed any representations at all, were rare upon the polished walls of the great monuments of the fourth dynasty, and Petrie thinks that he can trace a violent religious revolution with confiscation of endowments at this time in the temple remains at Abydos; but none the less the wants of the deities were then attended to by priests selected from the royal family and the highest in the land. Khufu’s work in the temple of Bubastis is proved by a surviving fragment, and he is figured slaying his enemy at Sinai before the god Thoth. In late times the priests of Denderah claimed Khufu as a benefactor; he was reputed to have built temples to the gods near the Great Pyramids and Sphinx (where also a pyramid of his daughter Hentsen is spoken of), and there are incidental notices of him in the medical and religious literature. The funerary cult of Khufu and Khafrē was practised under the twenty-sixth dynasty, when so much that had fallen into disuse and been forgotten was revived. Khufu is a leading figure in an ancient Egyptian story (Papyrus Westcar), but it is unfortunately incomplete. He was the founder of the fourth dynasty, and was probably born in Middle Egypt near Beni Hasan, in a town afterwards known as “Khufu’s Nurse,” but was connected with the Memphite third dynasty. Two tablets at the mines of Wadi Maghara in the peninsula of Sinai, a granite block from Bubastis, and a beautiful ivory statuette found by Petrie in the temple at Abydos, are almost all that can be definitely assigned to Khufu outside the pyramid at Giza and its ruined accompaniments. His date, according to Petrie, is 3969–3908 B.C., but in the shorter chronology of Meyer, Breasted and others he reigned (23 years) about a thousand years later, c. 2900 B.C.

See Herodotus ii. 124; Diodorus Siculus i. 64; Sethe in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie, s.v.; W. M. F. Petrie, History of Egypt, vol. i., and Abydos, part ii. p. 48; J. H. Breasted, History.  (F. Ll. G.)