The Colossi of Memnon
The Legendary Singing Statues of Memnon were our last stop on the West side of the Nile.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
The Colossi or Colossus of Memnon originally sat at the entrance to Amenhotep’s temple. Modern archaeologists believe that temple was possibly the largest and grandest temple of it’s time. However, it was built too close to the Nile River, therefore the annual flooding of the Nile caused the foundation to erode away. Consequently the remainder of the temple began to crumble. Over the years other pharaohs began to use the material for their own building projects. Now all that is left of that once grand temple are these two gigantic statues sitting in a field quite close to the main road. Little attention is paid to them nowadays and unfortunately their story also has been forgotten by many.
We were on our way back to the Nile. There had been no respite from the sun, as it rose to it’s zenith, out here on the desert that day. I could feel the perspiration running through my hair, under my very necessary hat. Driving back towards the Nile, we came to the Colossi of Memnon. These gigantic statues, sitting beside the road in a grassy field, are about eighteen to twenty metres tall, with feet that are two metres long and one metre thick. Each one was cut out of a single block of sandstone. These two statues represent the Pharaoh Amenhotep, seated on his throne, with his hands on his knees. Both are in poor condition. One of these statues was badly cracked in the year 27 BC. Some historians claimed the damage occurred in an earthquake, others stated that the damage occurred due to vandalism. For centuries after the damage occurred, one statue made a peculiar whistling or singing sound as the sun came up. The earliest record of the strange sound was made by a Greek historian, Strabo, who claimed to have heard it in 20 BC. People came from all over to hear the phenomenon. Travellers repeatedly told their tale of hearing the statue singing a sad song. Some of those visitors left their testament to hearing the story inscribed at the base of the statues. I understand many of those notations are still legible so many years later.
The name of the statues changed because of the phenomenon. It was thought that they were named after a King of Ethiopia, Memnon, who was a hero, but who tragically lost his life defending Troy. Memnon was thought to be the son of Eos, the goddess of dawn, After her son’s death it was said that his mother shed tears or dew drops in the morning. The singing was thought to have been Memnon’s mother mourning the death of her son. The origin of the statues had long been forgotten, so people thought the statues were of Memnon, thus they became known as the Colossi of Memnon. Greek poets and ancient historians passed on the strange story of the singing stone. Many years later, around 199 CE, the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus decided that the statue should be repaired and unwittingly caused the statue to become mute again.
This concluded our tour of the west side of the Nile. Returning to the boat, I was hot and tired. I was dehydrated and eager to satiate my thirst with bottled water. Back on board the ship, I decided that a quick swim would be more appealing than a shower, so nipped up on deck for a refreshing dip before lunch. Now I can say that I’ve swum on the Nile, although not in it!
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
Last Updated January 20, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster