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Luxour - Colossi of Memnon

 


T
he two lonely statues out on the plains of Luxor's west bank are not of Memnon, but of Amenophis 3 of the 15th century BCE. And they used to belong to his huge mortuary temple, standing in front of its pylons. But only 150 years ordered pharaoh Merneptah that stones should be taken from Amenophis' temple, and used for his own mortuary temple just a few hundred metres north. The reason why he could do this, is possibly because large parts of it was built from mud-brick, which by then had been largely destroyed by the flooding of the Nile.

But the statues rise to fame came with their partial destruction of an earthquake in 27 BCE. The northern statue was cleaved to the waist, resulting in holes that in early mornings would emit a hooting sound. Soon there was a legend to explain this, telling that the statues were of Memnon, an Ethiopian king and son of the goddess Eos, who had been slain by Achilles during the Trojan War. The sound was Memnon greeting his mother Eos, who responded by weeping over the tragic death of her son.

 

 


T
he colossi became an enormous attraction in antiquity, attracting tourists from all around the Mediterranean Sea. The crowds would spend the night sleeping in front of the statues in order to be woken up by Memnon's musical whispering.
Exactly what created the sound is not clear. The most common explanation is that dew was suddenly heated up by the rising sun, creating damp that would escape through the narrow holes.
Fascinated by Memnon, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus wanted in 199 CE to fix the statues from their old injuries. Not aware of a natural explanation to the phenomenon, he had cracks fixed and holes filled. The morning after the reopening of the attraction, no sound was heard. And nobody was ever since heard Memnon greet his mother.
 

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