mardi 12 janvier 2010

Détérioration du sarcophage de la Chambre du Roi : quand un officier britannique fait jouer l'esprit de corps

Dans son Journal of a route across India, through Egypt, to England, in the latter end of the year 1817 and the beginning of 1818, publié en 1819, le lieutenant-colonel George Augustus Frederick Fitzclarence (1794-1842) relatait le voyage au plateau de Guizeh qu'il effectua en compagnie du consul général britannique en Égypte Henry Salt et de l'archéologue italien Giovanni Belzoni.
J'ai choisi de ce récit les quelques extraits ci-dessous, où l'on remarquera notamment que l'auteur, après avoir visité l'intérieur de la pyramide de Khéphren (il ne pouvait avoir meilleur guide que Belzoni !), affirmait :"Je ne peux m'empêcher de penser que cette pyramide contient plus de chambres" (que les seules chambres souterraine et sépulcrale).
En bon officier britannique, Fitzclarence se devait, par ailleurs, de prendre la défense d'un concitoyen, lui aussi officier de surcroît, accusé à tort d'avoir été le premier à endommager le sarcophage de la Chambre du Roi, dans la Grande Pyramide. Il profita de l'occasion pour faire remarquer qu'emporter, en guise de souvenir, un petit morceau du sarcophage faisait partie des habitudes des voyageurs de l'époque !
On notera aussi ce que l'auteur écrivit de la déconvenue de Belzoni, les ossements que l'explorateur découvrit dans la chambre sépulcrale de la pyramide de Khéphren étant en réalité, ceux non pas du pharaon, mais d'un bœuf.

The pyramids stand upon a calcareous rock, about 40 or 50 feet above the level of the cultivation, and the three greatest are placed with respect to each other, to use a military term, in echelon, the largest being most to the northward and eastward. It has often been remarked that the four faces exactly correspond with the cardinal points. The immediate vicinity of the pyramids appears to have been a favourite spot for interment, there being several minor pyramids of 40 or 50 feet in height at the foot of the eastern side of the great pyramid, and to the west some large piles of masonry, each containing several small rooms.
The whole ground in the neighbourhood of the pyramids is strewed with small pieces of granite, which are supposed to have been placed at the angles to prevent the effects of time ; for the soft calcareous stone of which the main bodies of these stupendous buildings are constructed, or the plaster with which they were covered, would have early crumbled into dust at their most exposed parts.
(...) To the north of the [second] pyramid, in the area, are several grave-like looking holes of a regular figure. These may have been the matrices of great stones used in the buildings. This pyramid has evidently been faced with a slate-coloured plaster, of which about 100 feet from the top remains, and round its base are heaps of rubbish and dust, which have in time fallen down its face.
(...) I cannot help thinking that this pyramid must contain more chambers, which it is possible may yet be discovered. I should conceive that at whatever period it may have been opened, it was immediately closed again, as the state of the granite passage, the whiteness of the calcareous walls throughout, and the very small number of inscriptions, prove that only few persons had entered it.
(...) I now determined to ascend the great pyramid, and we walked together to the entrance, which is on the north side, where, leaving Mr. Salt and Belzoni, I started with a few Arabs, to undertake the difficult task. It was by the north-east angle that I climbed up, for the stones which form the steps are from three to four feet high (...). About two thirds up the northeast angle of the pyramid, there is a small cave or hole about twelve feet deep and high, which appears to have been formed by removing several large stones.
(...) I am happy to have it in my power to vindicate the character of a British officer in the campaign of 1801, who has been accused of being the first defacer of the sarcophagus in this pyramid ; for it is stated by Tavernier, who visited Egypt 100 years before any English soldier set his foot here, that it was customary for travellers to break off pieces and carry them away. He adds, "the stone, &c. of which it is formed is very hard, and very neat when polished, which induces many to break off pieces to make seals of ; but it requires a strong arm and good hammer to knock off a bit." The individual above alluded to was a gallant officer of Highlanders, who has been loaded with the epithets Goth, Vandal, sacrilegious destroyer, for having broke off a piece of this monument, and when I viewed the injury I felt equally ready to disapprove of his violation ; but having met this passage in Tavernier, I think it right to do away a false impression.
(...) The vastness of these works, including the large stones in the portico eastward of the second pyramid, added to the immensity of the Egyptian obelisks, and the great size of Druidical stones, makes it probable that in an early and barbarous age, when the tasteful beauties of architecture and sculpture, and the symmetry of building afterwards exemplified in Greece, were imperfectly known, magnitude was the object aimed at, as the most imposing and noble species of record. Denon states that he has convinced himself, that the mode of building by the Egyptians was first to erect masses, on which they afterwards bestowed the labour of ages in the particulars of the decoration, beginning their work with shaping the architectural lines, proceeding next to the sculpture of the hieroglyphics, and concluding with the stucco and painting. The portico to the east of the second pyramid, in the size of its stones, will not yield to any other remains in Egypt ; and from its great antiquity, and its being destitute of sculpture, (supposing this theory of Denon to be correct) it is possible that the ornamenting anew these immense masses, long after their first construction, may have been not only the addition of a subsequent age, but even a subsequent improvement growing out of the invention of the sciences.
I was informed that there were no hieroglyphics in any part of the pyramids, but there are a few on the north face of the scarped rock round the area of the second, though I did not see them.

Remarks on the bones found in the Second Pyramid
Since my arrival in England, the bones supposed to have been those of King Cephrenes, who is, upon the authority of Herodotus, stated to have been the founder of the second pyramid and buried in it, have given rise to much remark.
Belzoni, on opening the pyramid, found them in the sarcophagus and added the remainder to several he had previously given me, on my mentioning that it was my intention to place them in the British Museum. I shewed them to Sir Everard Home, who carried them to Mr. Clift, who has charge of the Hunterian Museum, in order to ascertain, through that gentleman's extensive knowledge of comparative anatomy, and means of inquiry offered by the great collection of bones of all animals in the museum, what they really were. After having them in his possession for a few days, he informed me on returning them, that they were those of an animal of the bos genus (...). This decision, from such good authority as that of Mr. Clift, naturally suggests the idea that the pyramids may not have been, as generally supposed, the burial places of the kings ; but more probably those of the god Apis, venerated in their immediate vicinity, Memphis being the city of his residence.
Pour consulter la totalité de l'ouvrage : cliquer ICI
Les illustrations sont extraites de l'ouvrage de Fitzclarence.

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