mardi 27 avril 2010

"Land of the Pyramids", par Warren Isham (XIXe s.)

Le texte ci-dessous est extrait du Magazine of travel : A work devoted to original travels in various countries, both of the Old World and the New, 1857.
Son auteur, Warren Isham, y propose un survol du site de Guizeh, que j'ai scindé en onze points, comme suit :
1 - Voyage vers les pyramides ; premières impressions
2 - Ascension vers le sommet de la Grande Pyramide
3 - Visite de l'intérieur de la Grande Pyramide : couloir descendant, couloir ascendant, chambre de la Reine, chambre du Roi
4 - "Beaucoup d'autres passages et appartements ont été découverts" dans la Grande Pyramide...
5 - Les sarcophages de la première et de la seconde pyramides
6 - L'exploration des pyramides
7 - Le pourquoi de la construction des pyramides; ressemblance entre Égypte et Inde
8 - La période de construction des pyramides et la durée des travaux
9 - Aucune preuve n'atteste que les Hébreux aient participé à la construction des pyramides
10 - Le revêtement des pyramides
11 - Le Sphinx
L'auteur ne précise pas où il est allé dénicher l'information - évidemment non vérifiée - selon laquelle la Grande Pyramide recèlerait "many other passages and apartments", preuve, s'il en était, que l'égyptologie a, depuis Hérodote, pâti d'un enchaînement en cascade de on-dit et autres racontars prêtant le flanc à toutes sortes d'interprétations.

1 - On a fine January morning, I mounted a donkey, and started for the pyramids of Ghiza, the largest in Egypt, located some ten miles from Cairo, on the opposite side of the valley, upon the borders of the great Lybian desert. (...)
I had taken a sort of circular sweep partly around these gigantic structures, and the appearance they presented was imposing indeed, shelved as they are upon an elevation a hundred and fifty feet above the level of the valley I was traversing. But grand and imposing as they appeared, I was not impressed with any thing like a full sense of their magnitude, until I drew near, and felt the humbling power of their awful presence. Their very large size upon the ground, however, neutralizes, to some extent, the effect of their extraordinary height. A tower, not more than fifty feet through at the base, and rising to the same height, (near five hundred feet, or about thirty rods) would be more readily appreciated for its altitude, than if its base, like that of the great pyramid, were spread out over an area of eleven acres of ground.
There was one effect I noticed in nearing them, which struck me with peculiar force. When less than half a mile distant, the blocks of stone of which they are composed, some of them four feet thick, and thirty feet long, appeared no larger than common brick, through one of the purest atmospheres in the world, at the same time that objects seen isolated and alone, at the same distance, and through the same atmosphere, did not contract upon my vision to less than half their real magnitude. I ascribed the effect to the extraordinary size of the structures, the stones of which they are composed bearing about the same proportion to them in magnitude, that common bricks do to an ordinary sized edifice.
2 - The next thing was to prepare for an ascent, and for this every facility was at hand. An Arab Sheik, with a tribe of dependants, is constantly upon the ground, through the traveling season, to aid all who desire it for a price. No one, I believe, attempts to ascend without aid, but some require more, and some less, the fat and lazy requiring three persons each, one to each arm, and one to boost.
The layers retire as they ascend, each one forming a step, varying in both width and height, from a few inches to three or four feet, presenting a very irregular and jagged staircase, reaching from bottom to top, upon all the four sides. (...)
The top is about thirty feet square, covered with massive stone, and looks as though it might originally have risen to an apex. With reluctant step I commenced my descent downwards to the earth ; but the laws of gravitation had now turned in my favor, and with the new stock of energy I had acquired, my task was easy. (...)
3 - Arriving within thirty or forty feet of the bottom, on the North side, we paused at the opening which led to the interior, and entered with lighted candles, descending a passage-way about three or three and a half feet square, lined with polished granite, at an angle of twenty-seven degrees, half sliding and half creeping, until we had reached a distance of near one hundred feet, in a direct line, when, turning a little, we entered another similar, though ascending passage-way, crawling up, up, up, nearly double the distance we had descended, and, at the end of it, found ourselves in the queen's chamber, so called, an apartment seventeen feet by fourteen, and twelve in height. By another similar passage-way, we were conducted to what is called the king's chamber, which is thirty-seven feet by seventeen, and twenty in height. Both apartments are formed of highly polished slabs of rose-colored granite.
4 - Many other passages and apartments have been discovered, but not of equal note. There is a passage downward some two hundred feet, called the well, and another of equal depth communicating with it at the bottom, and also with an apartment sixty-six feet long, cut out of the solid rock which forms the foundation of the pyramid.
5 - Nothing, I believe, has been found in this pyramid (the largest) by the moderns, except a sarcophagus of rose-colored granite, eight feet long, three feet wide, and three deep. In the one near it, a little smaller, were found a sarcophagus and the bones of a bull, the latter being one of the degrading objects of worship to which the ancient Egyptians bowed themselves down.
6 - There are traces, however, of both these pyramids having been entered long before they were explored by modern adventurers, and particularly by the early Saracen conquerors, some of whose names are inscribed upon one or two of the apartments. An Arabian author states that the great pyramid was entered by Almamoun, caliph of Babylon, about ten centuries ago, and that he found, in a chamber near the top, a hollow stone containing a statue, which encased the body of a man, having on a breast plate of gold, set with jewels, to which was attached a sword of inestimable value, with a carbuncle the size of an egg at his head, shining like the light of day, and upon the figure were characters written which no man understood. (...)
7 - The kings of Egypt seem to have regarded their own glorification as the chief end for which a considerable portion of the human race were created, each one doing his utmost to leave behind him some imperishable monument to his memory, at whatever cost. Upon a tomb in Upper Egypt, was to be seen, in the days of Herodotus. this egotistic inscription :" I am Osymandyas, king of kings, if you would know how great I am, surpass my works."
Doubtless these enduring piles were designed for the three-fold purpose of self-glorification, of tumbs for their builders, and of temples of worship. Their enduring character was not only adapted to perpetuate the fame of the builders, but also, in connection with the practice of embalming, to preserve the body inviolate, to be reanimated, after the long series of transmigrations to which the soul was supposed to be doomed, had been passed through, while the remains of objects of worship found in them indicate their use as temples. An Indian Brahmin, after hearing a description of them, pronounced them to be temples at once, and there is said to be considerable resemblance between structures of this kind in Egypt and India.
8 - According to the best authorities, the oldest and largest of the pyramids (the one I ascended and explored) was erected twenty-one hundred years before the christian era. It is stated by Herodotus, that, as a preparatory work, ten years were consumed in building the causeway across the valley from the west bank of the Nile, on which to transport stone - which road, in some places, was forty-eight feet high, being built of polished marble, and adorned with the figures of animals ; a work, he adds, scarcely inferior to that of building the great pyramid itself.
The same author says of the monarch who built it, that he "barred the avenues to every temple, and forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifices to the gods, after which he compelled them to do the work of slaves. Some he condemned to hew stones out of the Arabian mountains, and drag them to the banks of the Nile ; others were stationed to receive the same, and transport them to the edge of the Lybian desert. In this service a hundred thousand men were employed, who were relieved every three months".
He adds that the pyramid itself was the work of twenty years - all which seems to show that the government, at the time, was in possession of a foreign race of kings, who were hostile to the religion of the country. And it was at this very time that the Shepherd Kings are allowed to have had possession of Egypt. It is supposed, with good reason, to have been from the hatred thus generated in the minds of the Egyptians, that shepherds are said to have been an abomination to the Egyptians, when the family of Jacob arrived in the land of Goshen.
9 - These pyramids appear to have been erected a short time previous to the captivity of Joseph, according to the calculations of our best chronologists. The numerous other pyramids of Egypt, some of which are but little smaller, were built during the thousand years which followed, the earlier part of which term of time embraced the period of Israelitish bondage in Egypt ; but we have no evidence that the Israelites were employed upon any of them. So far as appears, they were tasked only in making brick, doubtless for some kingly structure. In proof that they were employed upon the pyramids, however, we are told, that the workmen upon those structures were fed upon leaks and onions, and that the Israelites in the desert sighed for the leaks and onions and the garlic which were given them in Egypt ; but this only proves that both they and the workmen on the pyramids had the same fare.
10 - According to ancient historians, the pyramids were overlaid with polished stone. The top of the smaller of the two large structures is still thus encased. It is supposed that rude hands have been laid upon them, stripping them of their beautiful exterior to be appropriated to other uses. This casing is said by one author to have been covered with hieroglyphics sufficient to fill ten thousand volumes. (...)
11 - A little way from the great pyramids, and on a scale of magnificence to correspond with them, is to be seen rising out of the sand, the head and shoulders of that nondescript monster, so much in favor with the ancient Egyptians, the Sphynx. All that now appears, the head, neck and shoulders, thirty-five feet in height, represent the human form, while its body, that of the lion, in a recumbent posture, with its paws projecting fifty feet forward, sleeps in undisturbed repose beneath the sands of the desert. It was uncovered by the French, near the beginning of the present century, and the stretch of its back was found to be a hundred and twenty feet. It contains interior apartments, and there are entrances both upon the back, and at the top of the head, the latter, it is suggested, having subserved the arts of the priests in uttering oracles. The countenance is placid and benign, and is supposed to represent the ancient Egyptians, the features not being very unlike those of the present race of Nubians, but more nearly resembling the European than the negro.
This monster is said to be cut out of a spur of the mountain rock, of which it still constitutes a part. It was doubtless an object of worship, the remains of small temples and altars having been discovered in front of it, between the fore legs, with the effects of fire upon the latter, as though burnt sacrifices had .been offered.
This wonderful statue is represented by those who have seen it in an uncovered state, to have exhibited a most marvellous beauty and symmetry of parts, and to have excited the astonishment of travelers beyond anything to be seen in Egypt.
But it was a mere pigmy to the image which one of the creatures of Alexander proposed to construct to his memory, by converting Mount Atlas into a statue, one foot of which should contain a city of ten thousand inhabitants, while from the other a river poured into the sea. There could scarcely have been, however, a serious thought of executing it.

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