mercredi 9 mars 2011

La construction des pyramides égyptiennes, vue par un manuel d’architecture américain du XIXe siècle

Le livre Architecture d’Hezekiah Howe (1775-1838) est le premier ouvrage américain consacré à l’art de bâtir, destiné à de jeunes lecteurs. Seule la première partie en a été publiée, en 1831.
Le chapitre consacré à l’architecture ancienne comporte une brève présentation des pyramides égyptiennes (texte ci-dessous). Répondant à une démarche pédagogique, cet exposé est complété, en fin de livre, par des questions auxquelles on était censé pouvoir répondre au terme de la lecture. Celles relatives à l’Égypte sont formulées ainsi : “What three forms of ancient buildings are mentioned ? Which of these is most famous ? Where are the Pyramids ? How many are still standing ? Where are they ? Describe the Great Pyramid. Describe the second in size. For what purpose were the Pyramids erected ? What was the belief of the ancient Egyptians respecting the soul ? By whom has it been supposed that some of the Pyramids were erected ?”
Les réponses d’Hezekiah Howe ne brillent ni par leur précision, ni même par leur exactitude (cf. les pyramides de Saqqarah plus récentes que celles de Guizeh). Lorsqu’il aborde l’inévitable question de la méthode à laquelle les bâtisseurs égyptiens ont eu recours pour hisser les immenses blocs de pierre utilisés pour la construction de leurs pyramides, le “professeur” botte en touche en ces termes :”Pouvez-vous le raconter ? Inventez une méthode si vous le pouvez !”
Mais on attend toujours sa réponse personnelle...

Cette illustration, extraite de l’ouvrage de Howe, est censée représenter la Grande Pyramide.
On remarquera l’approximation, et même les erreurs du relevé.
“On a plain which extends from Cairo along the Nile about fifty miles, are the famous Pyramids. There are about forty still standing ; the three largest are in the neighborhood of Djiza, called the Pyramids of Cheops, Cephrenes or Cephron, and Mycerines. The great Pyramid of Cheops, which is the largest in the world, has stood through the storms and convulsions of more than thirty centuries, and will undoubtedly stand, till
"The cloud-capt towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Leave not a wreck behind."
This Pyramid is five hundred feet in height, and seven hundred and twenty-eight feet (one-seventh of a mile) on each side of the base. It is therefore a walk of more than half a mile around it. It is ascended by steps. Upon the top is a platform, thirty-two feet square ; here, travellers of all nations and ages of the world, have inscribed their names in their respective languages. This platform consists of nine large stones, each of which would weigh a ton, twenty hundred weight ! Some of the stones in other parts are still larger ! They are of hewn granite and limestone, on the outside cemented together with fine mortar, in the interior so nicely made and fitted together, as not to need cement.
Do you ask how they drew up these immense stones to such a height ? Who can tell ? Contrive a way if you can !
The second Pyramid, that of Cephrenes, is three hundred and ninety-eight feet high and six hundred and sixty-five feet on each side of the base. Belzoni, an enterprizing traveller, discovered its entrance in the north front in 1818. Advancing through a passage one hundred feet long, he came to a spacious chamber, twenty-three feet high, cut out of the solid rock. In this chamber was a granite sarcophagus (stone coffin), half sunk into the floor, with many bones in it, some of which proved to be those of the cow !
All the pyramids are finished in the interior with immense labor. They contain many large apartments, long and intricate passages, &c. The walls are covered with hieroglyphics, some of which are sculptured, others painted, the colors still fresh as if recently executed. It is doubtful for what purpose these stupendous edifices were erected : whether for tombs or for temples, or for both together. The ancient Egyptians believed that the soul could exist no longer than the perishable body, but as long as that could be kept from dissolution, the spirit would continue ; they therefore took great pains to preserve the dead by embalming, and then placing them in situations where they would remain undisturbed.
It has been supposed by many, that the pyramids were the sepulchres of kings :
“And round a tyrant's tomb, who none deserved,
For one vile carcass, perished countless lives."
The pyramids of Saccara, stand at some distance from the great pyramids, and are in a more ruinous state. Some of them are rounded at the top ; others are ascended by steps, like the pyramid of Cheops. One of them, which is in a very ruinous condition, was built entirely of unburnt bricks, composed of gravel, shells, and chopped straw.
These are supposed to be of more recent date, although more ruinous, than the other pyramids. They were not originally as well built, nor of as durable materials. Some authors assert that these were the works upon which the Israelites toiled, under their hard task-masters. But this, it is impossible to ascertain.”

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