Colossi of Memnon
I really love when mythologies cross cultures and play a role in two cultures. This is pretty common between the Greeks and Romans, with most of their gods being virtually the same, with their names being the real differences; Zeus was Jupiter, Hera was Juno, Aphrodite was Venus, and sometimes the names even stayed the same as in Apollo’s case.
This also usually means that stories were often shared between the Greeks and the Romans. Their common gods performed common actions, and many of their heroes were the same.
I’ve always been fascinated when this happens because it’s almost like these cultures are competing and sharing at the same time.
Last year, I discovered a great example of this, right here in Egypt: the Colossi of Memnon in Luxor. While visiting Luxor last September, I saw these huge statues and was really amazed by them. These 2 huge statues stand like guardians to the West Bank.
The statues are actually of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and they’ve been around for about 3,400 years! While the statues were originally meant as protectors of Amenhotep’s temple, with time they took on a different sort of significance.
Following an earthquake in 27 B.C., part of the northern colossus collapsed causing a deep crack in the upper part of the body. Because the statue was carved from a very porous rock, under the right conditions, the dew inside the crack would evaporate, causing a humming, almost singing sound. As a result, the Greeks believed it was Memnon, a king who had fought and died in the Trojan War. The legend is that Memnon would “sing” to his mother, Eos (or Aurora) the goddess of dawn, who was mourning his death, at dawn. This became so famous, though it didn’t happen with consistency, that people actually flocked to the site with hopes of hearing the “singing”, and soon enough it was even said to give great luck.
Historians such as Strabo have claimed to have heard the sounds themselves, while others such as Pliny, Pausanias, and Juvenal had written about it without actually hearing it. Many Roman emperors even visited the statue believing it had oracular powers. Basically, if you want to liken this to something more modern, it would be like when someone sees the face of a religious figure in a natural occurrence, so people/believers worldwide flock to it. It was a HUGE deal for people and was known throughout the civilized world.
Years later, at around 199 A.D., the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus thought he would please the oracle by fixing the statue, so that he would hear the singing (he visited a lot but never heard the singing himself), so he commissioned the addition of the upper layers of sandstone. He didn’t realize that by adding this extra weight, he’d end up silencing the statue forever.
The colossus is a great example of cross-culture mythology. Egyptians built something and Romans and Greeks adapted its story to fit their version of history. It’s really incredible how a monument to a pharaoh was taken and turned into the story of a war hero interacting with his grieving mother. Visiting the monuments and seeing just how incredible they are now makes it easy to imagine why they were such wonders during their time!