Charles Anthon : photo de Mathew Brady
Avocat de formation, mais n’ayant jamais exercé cette profession, l’Américain Charles Anthon (1797-1867) fut professeur d’humanités (langues latine et grecque) au Columbia College (état de New York). À l’usage des collèges et des écoles, il publia de nombreux ouvrages classiques, qui connurent un grand succès, dont A classical dictionary containing an account of the principal proper names mentioned in ancient authors, 4e édition, 1842, d’où j’ai extrait le texte ci-dessous.
Plutôt que les passages de cet ouvrage traitant spécifiquement des pyramides égyptiennes, mais où l’auteur a essentiellement repris les acquis de Vyse et Belzoni, que l’on consultera par ailleurs dans le contenu de ce blog-inventaire, j’ai préféré choisir l’argumentaire didactique par lequel Charles Anthon a développé ce qu’il jugeait être l’influence de Méroé sur la civilisation égyptienne.
Une telle lecture de l’histoire mériterait d’être confrontée à d’autres interprétations. Pyramidales s’en fera l’écho prochainement. (*)
Pyramides de Méroé : photo de Fabrizio Demartis
Wikimedia commons“Everything seems to favour the supposition that Meroë gave religion and the arts of civilized life to the valley of the Nile.The following are some of the principal arguments in support of this opinion :
1. The concurrent testimony of the ancient writers.
2. The progress of civilization in Egypt from south to north ; for the Delta, the part of Egypt contiguous to Arabia, appears to have been originally uninhabitable, except a small space about the extremities of the marsh ; and history asserts that the inhabitants of upper Egypt descended and drained the country.
3. The improbability that an Arabian colony would have crossed Syria from Babylon to Suez, and wandered so far south as Thebes to found its first settlement.
4. The radical difference between the Coptic and Arabic languages, which existed even in the days of Abraham.
5. The trade from the straits of Babelmandel by Azab, Axum, Meroë, and Upper Egypt. If this trade be as old as from the remarks previously made it would seem to be, we may consider Ethiopia as one of the first seats of international trade, or, in other words, of civilization ; for an exchange of wares would lead to an exchange of ideas, and this (reciproque ?) communication would necessarily give rise to moral and intellectual improvement.
6. The curious fact that the images of some of the Egyptian gods were at certain times conveyed up the Nile, from their temples to others in Ethiopia ; and, after the conclusion of a festival, were brought back again into Egypt.
7. The very remarkable character of some of the Egyptian paintings, in which Black (or, more correctly, dark-coloured) men are represented in the costume of priests, as conferring on certain red figures, similarly habited, the instruments and symbols of the sacerdotal office. "This singular representation, says Mr. Hamilton, which is often repeated in all the Egyptian temples, but only here at Philae and at Elephantine with this distinction of colour, may very naturally be supposed to commemorate the transmission of religious fables and the social institutions from the tawny Ethiopians to the comparatively fair Egyptians."
8. Other paintings of nearly the same purport. In the temple of Philae, the sculptures frequently depict two persons, who equally represent the characters and symbols of Osiris, and two persons equally answering to those of Isis ; but in both cases one is invariably much older than the other, and appears to be the superior divinity. Mr. Hamilton conjectures that such figures represent the communication of religious rites from Ethiopia to Egypt, and the inferiority of the Egyptian Osiris. In these delineations there is a very marked and positive distinction between the dark figures and those of fairer complexion ; the former are most frequently conferring the symbols of divinity and sovereignty on the other.
9. The very interesting fact recorded by Diodorus, namely, that the knowledge of picture-writing in Ethiopia was not a privilege confined solely to the caste of priests as in Egypt, but that every one might attain it as freely as they might in Egypt the writing in common use. A proof at once of the earlier use of picture-writing, or hieroglyphics, in Meroë than in Egypt, and also of its being applied to the purposes of trade.
10. The more ancient form of the pyramid, approaching that of the primeval mound, occurs more to the south than the rectilinear form. Thus the pyramids of Saccara are older in form than those of Djiza, another proof of architecture's having come in from the countries to the south.
From this body of evidence, then, we come to the conclusion that the same race which ruled in Ethiopia and Meroë spread themselves by colonies, in the first instance, to Upper Egypt ; that these latter colonies, in consequence of their great prosperity, became in their turn the parents of others ; and as in all this they followed the course of the river, there gradually became founded a succession of colonies in the valley of the Nile, which, according to the usual custom of the ancient world, were probably, at first, independent of each other, and therefore formed just so many little states. Though, with the promulgation of their religion, either that of Ammon himself, or of his kindred deities and temple-companions, after whom even the settlements were named, the extension of trade was the principal motive which tempted colonists from Meroë to the countries beyond the desert ; yet there were many other causes, such as the fertility of the land, and the facility of making the rude native tribes subservient to themselves, which, in a period of tranquillity, must have promoted the prosperity and accelerated the gradual progress of this colonization. The advantages which a large stream offers, by facilitating the means of communication, are so great that it is a common occurrence in the history of the world to see civilization spreading on their banks. (...)
As to the origin of the civilization of Meroë itself, all is complete uncertainty ; though it is generally supposed to have been derived from the plains of India.“
(*) Le lien entre les échanges commerciaux et la “propagation” des idées est bien sûr un fil conducteur on ne peut plus fécond dans la lecture de l’Histoire, toutes époques confondues, y compris la plus contemporaine.