Monday, September 20, 2010

The nurse and the sphinx

Did you know that English nurse Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) sailed up the Nile and saw the sites of ancient Egypt? It was after her return that she famously treated the wounded soldiers from the Crimean War. Florence (2nd and 3rd images) was one of the earliest women to make such a journey when she accompanied friends Charles and Selina Bracebridge in the winter of 1849/1850. She described the sights revealed to her gaze, "And how she opened before us! The wind deadened to a perfect calm, the river spread out to a perfect lake; not, as before, with a current, but a glassy breathless lake; the Arabian hills retreated and hid themselves, as if in terror to approach the bed of death. Karnak and Luxor came in sight on the eastern bank; the head of the Colossi and the Ramesseum appeared out of the Libyan suburbs; there lay the imperial corpse of the spirit, which had gone out and animated the world. Hail to thee, poor glorious Egypt! Let our tears and our silence, and our reverence, be thine: for are no words to celebrate such a death as this. There she lay, in the stillness of death....Nothing can equal the first impression of seeing Thebes."

"I don't think I ever saw anything which affected me much more than this," is how she characterized the country in the letters she wrote and diary she kept. Like other visitors (1st image, Americans in 1913), she saw Sakkara, Karnak, Luxor, the Gizeh plateau, and Abu Simbel, about which she wrote, "Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty....the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined."

She contrasts the landscapes of Egypt with those of her home country: "While the earth in our country is rich and variegated with light, and crowded with animation, the sky above contrasts with its deadness. Here, on the other hand, the sky is radiant, the light is living, the golden light which seems to pour not only from the sun, but from all the points of the transparent blue heavens. One looks down, and the ungrateful earth lies there, hopeless and helpless, a dying, withered desert. This is what gives one a supernatural, mysterious feeling in Egypt....the heavens have all beauty."

Remarkably, not only are Florence Nightingale's impressions of Egypt recorded, so is her voice.


  1. Florence sounds as if she has been at the sherry.

  2. Florence Nightingale maybe not alive anymore but there are still ways to know more about what to do especially when it comes to questions about your health.


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