jeudi 14 octobre 2010

Les bâtisseurs de pyramides et la quadrature du cercle, selon Christopher Cooke (XIXe s.)

Appel à l’aide !
Je ne réussis pas à identifier l’auteur de l’ouvrage A journey due east, being the journal of five months’ trip to lower Egypt, Palestine and Turkey, in the winter of 1862-3, returning by Athens and Rome to London (1864), dont j’ai extrait le texte ci-dessous, évidemment relatif aux pyramides de Guizeh et au Sphinx.
Qui est donc Christopher Cooke ?
Il est au moins certain que ce Britannique ne manquait pas d’humour. Of course !
Quant à ses commentaires sur les pyramides, on remarquera qu’ils restent dans le flou, dans l’”obscurité”. Avec toutefois une option sur le mode de construction : “On pense généralement que les pyramides ont été construites en zigzag, et que les espaces triangulaires ont été remplis du sommet vers le bas.”
On pourra apprécier tout particulièrement la description que notre auteur donne du Sphinx : si au premier regard, il fait penser à un boxeur célèbre, pas particulièrement gracieux, il s’en dégage néanmoins une expression “douce et plaintive”. C’est bien la première fois que le plus célèbre “personnage” égyptien nous apparaît sous ces traits !

“The rock upon which the chief pyramid is built is about fifty yards above the plain of sand, composed of limestone. Herodotus describes it as the work of Cheops ; but, in the hieroglyphics, its founder is Shofo, Suphis, or Khofo Cheops, who lived about 2,400 B.C. Its perpendicular height is about 152 yards (33 yards higher than the top of St. Paul's Cathedral), consisting of 203 courses of stone, varying in height from four feet to one foot, which substance would occupy six times as much as Plymouth breakwater ! Each side of the base is 740 feet square, the Pyramid itself containing sufficient stone to build a respectable city !
The top of the Great Pyramid originally terminated in a point, but the platform is now about thirty-three feet square, quite flat, and the stones are well cemented. (...)
Descending from the steps of the great pyramid, I entered it due north by clambering up some stones, and passing through a square orifice, by a passage four feet high and rather less in breadth, lined with limestone blocks, and having two large stone blocks above, forming a pediment. This descending passage of the great pyramid is at an angle of 27 degrees nearly, and it slants down for about 116 yards in a straight line, when a horizontal passage for a few yards leads into a small chamber.
At 26 yards from the entrance, there is an impediment in the shape of a large block of granite, which is avoided by an ascent of some steps to the right, by means of which, passing up another passage, the large gallery is entered. Here is the upper entrance of "the well," communicating with the lower passage by a curve, or shaft, near the small chamber.
The angle and direction of the upper passage are identical with the lower passage - the latter slanting down to the subterranean room ; the former slanting up into the gallery, where a horizontal passage of 36 yards leads to the Queen's Chamber, which stands in the centre of the pyramid, 19 feet long, 17 feet broad, and 13 to 20 feet in height ; and being 136 yards below the original summit, 24 yards above the level, and 24 yards, less one foot, below the King's Chamber, which is reached by returning to the upper entrance of " the well," and by continuing to ascend through the large gallery for about fifty yards, which leads into a short horizontal passage, where is this King's Chamber, about 11 yards long, by 6 yards broad, and 6 ½ yards high. Here is the large sarcophagus of red granite which, if struck, sounds like a bell. In the sides of this room are small, square holes used as ventilators, and several chambers, one over the other, the use of which is not clearly known, and which cannot be ascended without the aid of ladders. (...)
The dimensions of this pyramid vary in the opinion of different authorities, but, according to a rough estimate, it occupies nearly the same space as Lincoln's Inn Fields. The real date of the pyramids, their particular purpose, and their actual builders, as well as the details of their construction, are alike involved in obscurity ; but that the builders must have possessed architectural, if not mechanical talent, is clear, and an ingenious attempt has been made to show that they nearly succeeded in solving the problem of squaring the circle.
The passages in the second pyramid are similar to those in the first, but there is no gallery, and only one chamber, with a sunk sarcophagus in it ; and this pyramid has two entrances, one above the other. (...)
The second pyramid is in the immediate vicinity of the first, and measures rather less than 150 yards in height, and 233 yards at its base. It is difficult to ascend, on account of the slippery masonry at the top ; nor, perhaps, except for the professed antiquarian, is it worthy of the risk. Its interior can now be explored, containing, at the end of a passage, and of several ascents and descents, the large chamber, with a sarcophagus, where some bones have been discovered, proved to have been those of a bull.
Near it is the third pyramid, opened a.d. 1.240, when human remains were found in the chamber, where was a sarcophagus, containing the coffin of King Mycerinus, the supposed builder, which was lost on its voyage to England. This pyramid is 203 feet high, measuring 333 feet at its base. Its architecture is much admired.

The Sphynx, "the enigma of ages," is about a quarter of a mile from the large pyramid, painfully mutilated, and having a kind of "Tom Sayers" aspect ; yet this sad and singular countenance retains its original determined expression, appearing even ugly until the eye of the spectator has become accustomed to its appearance, when it seems to have a mild, plaintive look, not visible at first sight. As the author of Eothen has well remarked, "it cannot be mocked." There it stands, "stability in the midst of change" ; and upon it, probably, Moses, Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Alexander, as well as Napoleon, have looked. The face, which retains a portion of its original red paint, is believed to have been a portrait of King Thothmes, supposed to have been contemporary with the Israelites, and that possibly it contained a royal mummy, and was commenced by Thothmes, who built at Heliopolis. (...)
The measurements, with respect to the pyramids, differ ; and as to the sarcophagi, that in the King's Chamber, according to one authority, is three feet broad ; but, according to other accounts, broader. In the former case, it may have been brought along the passages by machinery ; but, in the latter case, the pyramid must have been built over it.
The general idea is that the pyramids were constructed in a zig-zag form, and then that the triangular spaces were filled in from the top downwards. The entrances to these three pyramids, and to those at Abousir, are due north, the passages descending at an angle which has been stated to give a line of direction near the point where the Polar Star crossed the meridian at the supposed time of their erection. Their shape tends to confirm the idea that they were used for astronomical purposes ; and the fact that they face the four cardinal points of the compass denotes astronomical knowledge in the builders. Nor should the fact of their proportions, in connection with the triangle, be forgotten - a favourite symbol with the Egyptians, as shown by their monuments.”

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