For two thousand years ancient Egypt was “dead but unburied.” It existed only as stone, as a lifeless monument to its living past. The pyramids have stood silent and blind for millennia, and to Toynbee they seemed to speak: “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Egyptian painting, flat and fragmented, gives a sterile impression of ancient Egyptian life. The people depicted seem themselves made of stone, unmoving, communicating with each other in stylised poses, fixed forever in their intention. Kings of stone eternally petition their unmoving gods, while stiff labourers, ungrumbling, toil ceaselessly together in workshops and fields.
It’s the silence of ancient Egypt – the silence of stone – that creates the impression of a vast mystery. Where there is silence, there is often a secret. But the mystery is so vast, that the thought of Egypt stretches out into a thin nothingness: a cosmos of motionless stone and eternally shifting sand, stretched over a void.
(Quotations are from A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee.)