samedi 5 février 2011

“De simples machines, associées à un recours illimité à la force humaine, peuvent avoir réalisé les plus grands ouvrages d’art égyptiens” (Marcius Willson - XIXe s.)

L’Américain Marcius Willson (1813-1905) a publié de nombreux ouvrages à teneur pédagogique, dans les domaines de l’économie, de la politique, de l’architecture, de l’Histoire, des études bibliques...
J’ai retenu de cet auteur des extraits de Outlines of history illustrated by numerous geografical and historical notes and maps, 1854. Il y est évidemment question des pyramides égyptiennes (voir note n° 1), mais également de points d’histoire qui font l’objet, encore aujourd’hui, d’opinions diverses, voire contradictoires : les sources de l’architecture égyptienne (des cavernes aux temples et aux palais) ; la place de l’astronomie (ou astrologie) dans l’édification des pyramides ; les limites des connaissances techniques des bâtisseurs de pyramides. Sur ce dernier point, Marcius Willson est d’avis que les Égyptiens ne connaissaient vraisemblablement pas la poulie. Il laisse toutefois la porte ouverte à d’autres points de vue, dans une très courte note (voir ci-dessous n° 2) où sont citées deux références que je garde sous le coude, pour un éventuel complément d’inventaire.
“From the time of Menes until about the 21st century before-Christ, the period when Abraham is supposed to have visited Egypt, little is known of Egyptian history. It appears, however, from hieroglyphic inscriptions, first interpreted in the present century, and corroborated by traditions and some vague historic records, that the greatest Egyptian pyramids (1) were erected three or four hundred years before the time of Abraham, and eight or nine hundred years before the era of Moses, showing a truly astonishing degree of power and grandeur attained by the Egyptian monarchy more than four thousand years ago. When Abraham visited Egypt he was received with the hospitality and kindness becoming a civilized nation ; and when he left Egypt, to return to his own country, the ruling monarch dismissed him and all his people, "rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold”. (...)

Suphis, Cheops et Shoopho : trois noms pour le même auteur de la Grande Pyramide
The name of the founder of the greatest Egyptian pyramid, and the supposed date of its erection, prior to the time of Abraham, are gathered from a mass of concurring testimony. Manetho attributes the founding of the great pyramid to Suphis ; Herodotus to Cheops, and Eratosthenes to Saophis, or Shoopho, three names, which, in different languages, and in different modes of spelling, are reducible to the same as the Grecian Cheops. Thus far, historically, ancient writers, corroborated by Egyptian traditions, attribute the founding of this great pyramid to the same individual. Again, in the year 1837, the name and the title of this same Cheops or Shoopho were found in hieroglyphics, in the quarrier's marks in a chamber of the great pyramid, evidently placed there while the structure was in process of erection, confirmatory evidence that Shoopho was then ruling monarch of Egypt.

Le roi Khéops (musée du Caire)

The name of Shoopho has also been found among the ruins of Thebes, and on various tablets throughout Egypt, and even in the vicinity of some ancient copper mines in the peninsula of Mount Sinai, showing that, at the era of this monarch's reign, and at the time of the erection of the largest of the pyramids, whenever that may have been, the hieroglyphic system was in common use in Egypt. The exact date of Shoopho's reign has not yet been ascertained, but he is placed by Manetho in the fourth dynasty of Egyptian kings ; and it is conclusive from other testimony that he belonged to a dynasty prior to the sixteenth, and the latter is supposed to have commenced in the twenty-third century before Christ, at least two or three hundred years before the time of Abraham. According to Manetho, some pyramids were erected during the reign of the fourth king of the first dynasty, thus carrying back the antiquity of the greatest of those works of art to a date nearly five thousand years ago. (...)

Des opinions contradictoires sur les origines de l’architecture égyptienne
Of the early inhabitants of Egypt little can be learned either from tradition or history ; and conflicting opinions have been entertained of the origin of Egyptian civilization. By most writers, the arts and sciences known in Egypt have been traced to the upper valley of the Nile, the country anciently called Ethiopia, but now embraced in Nubia and Abyssinia. Meroe (Mer-o-we), the capital of Ethiopia, was an extensive city, which  is supposed to have stood on the eastern bank of the Nile, a little north of the present Shendy, where may still be seen the ruins of a few temples and other edifices. To this city the earliest Egyptian and Ethiopian legends trace the origin of Thebes, and other cities of Upper Egypt ; the ruins of the Ethiopian temples show the Egyptian style of architecture ; the Ethiopians, according to ancient writers, claimed the invention of the arts and philosophy of Egypt ; both nations had the same system of religion ; and Ethiopian princes are known to have occupied the throne of the Pharaohs. (...)

Photo Marc Chartier

Des cavernes, naturelles et artificielles, à l’utilisation du granit “impérissable”
It is supposed that the first inhabitants of Egypt dwelt in rocky caves, found in great numbers in the mountain ranges on both sides of the Nile : that when the natural caverns became insufficient for the growing population, artificial ones were formed in the soft limestone ; and that, as the skill of the workmen increased, harder materials were used for the public edifices, and, finally, the imperishable granite, of which the temples and palaces were constructed. It is believed also, that in this process can be traced the origin and principles of Egyptian architecture. The walls and columns of the public edifices appear to have been built of rude rocks, smoothed only on the surfaces of contact, the pillars, of enormous diameters, resembling the rude supports of the roofs of mines and quarries, or of the dwellings of the people. The walls were worked into shape by one general process, after their erection ; and the column, with all its decorations, was finished after it was set up. The entrances and openings of these buildings were few ; and their interiors were as dark and gloomy as the primitive caverns themselves. The arch, both round and pointed, an invention which, until recently, has been attributed to the Greeks, was certainly known to the Egyptians as early as the fifteenth century before the Christian era. Even the Greek orders of architecture, as they are called, more especially the Doric and Corinthian, can all be traced to Egyptian originals. Doric columns, equalling the finest to be seen in Grecian temples, have been found of a date as early as the reign of Osortasen the first, who is believed to have ruled over Egypt in the twenty-first century of the Christian era, three hundred years before Grecian history had a beginning. The very name of this Egyptian monarch was unknown to history until brought to light by the labors of Champollion and his associates. (...)

Une connaissance des corps célestes à des fins plus astrologiques qu’astronomiques
The astronomical monuments of the Egyptians show that as early as the eighteenth dynasty, perhaps 1600 B. C., they had divided the ecliptic into twelve parts of thirty days each ; and the priests appear to have known, at an early period, nearly the true length of the solar year, although they did not apply it to the popular calendar, which enumerated three hundred and sixty-five days to the year, and omitted the intercalation of one day in four years. The Egyptians recorded eclipses with less astronomical accuracy than the Chaldeans. Whether they were able to calculate their recurrence, or not, is a disputed question. It is known that they made careful observations of the aspect and position of the heavenly bodies ; but it was for astrological rather than astronomical purposes. It is supposed that they were not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes, which was a discovery of the Greek Hipparchus ; although the obliquity of the ecliptic was known to them. The position of the pyramids, exactly facing the four cardinal points, shows that they had the means of tracing an accurate meridian line, for which, however, little astronomical knowledge is necessary. In the Egyptian paintings and sculptures, no representations of astronomical instruments have been found ; and, on the whole, the Egyptians appear to have made less advance in astronomical science than has generally been attributed to them.

Limites des connaissances des Égyptiens en mécanique
Notwithstanding the erection of those vast structures, the pyramids, and temples, and obelisks, there is no evidence that the Egyptians had made any great attainments in mechanical science, or that they were even acquainted with all the mechanical powers now known. Simple machinery, combined with an unlimited command of human power, might have accomplished the greatest of the works of Egyptian art. Herodotus was informed by the Egyptian priests that the stones of the pyramids were elevated from one layer to the other "by the aid of machines constructed of short pieces of wood", which some suppose to have been the lever, and others the pulley ; but it does not appear certain that any representations of the pulley have been found among the varied pictures of early Egyptian life. Diodorus suggests the probable construction of mounds of sand, up which stones were drawn. This supposition derives some countenance from the known process, which Pliny describes, of elevating the architraves of the temple of Ephesus over bags of earth, which served as an inclined plane.”

(1) The pyramids of Egypt are vast artificial structures, most of them of stone, scattered at irregular intervals along the western valley of the Nile from Meroe (Mer-o-we) in modern Nubia, to the site of ancient Memphis near Cairo. (Ki-ro). The largest, best known, and most celebrated, are the three pyramids of Ghizeh, situated on a platform of rock about 150 feet above the level of the surrounding desert, near the ruins of Memphis, seven or eight miles south-west from Cairo. The largest of these, the famous pyramid of Cheops, is a gigantic structure, the base of which covers a surface of about eleven acres. The sides of the base correspond in direction with the four cardinal points, and each measures, at the foundation, 746 feet. The perpendicular height is about 480 feet, which is 43 feet 9 inches higher than St. Peters at Rome, the loftiest edifice of modern times. This huge fabric consists of two hundred and six layers of vast blocks of stone, rising above each other in the form of steps, the thickness of which diminishes as the height of the pyramid increases, the lower layers being nearly five feet in thickness, and the upper ones about eighteen inches. The summit of the pyramid appears to have been, originally, a level platform, sixteen or eighteen feet square. Within this pyramid several chambers have been discovered, lined with immense slabs of granite, which must have been conveyed thither from a great distance up the Nile. The second pyramid at Ghizeh is coated over with polished stone 140 feet downwards from the summit, thereby removing the inequalities occasioned by the steps, and rendering the surface smooth and uniform. Herodotus states, from information derived from the Egyptian priests, that one hundred thousand men were employed twenty years in constructing the great pyramid of Ghizeh, and that ten years had been spent, previously, in quarrying the stones and conveying them to the place. The remaining pyramids of Egypt correspond, in their general character, with the one described, with the exception that several of them are constructed of sun-burnt brick. No reasonable doubt now exists that the pyramids were designed as the burial places of kings.
(2) "A pulley from an Egyptian tomb is preserved in the Leyden museum, but its age is uncertain." (Kenrick's Egypt, I. 228). Layard's Nineveh, II, 247, Note, referring to the same circumstance, says : "The pulley was known to the Egyptians."

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