vendredi 4 mars 2011

Une heure et quarante minutes consacrées par Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (XIXe s.) à la Grande Pyramide

La romancière et journaliste britannique Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892) a créé, en 1882, l’Egypt Exploration Fund, devenu ensuite l’Egypt Exploration Society.
Inspirée par sa passion pour l’Égypte, elle a durant l’hiver 1873-1874, à bord d’une dahabieh, descendu le Nil du Caire à Abou Simbel, relatant ses visites et observations dans A Thousand Miles up the Nile, paru pour la première fois en 1876.
On peut lui savoir gré d’avoir mis ses talents au service de l’égyptologie. On peut s’étonner par contre du peu de temps qu’elle a consacré au site de Guizeh durant son périple dans la vallée du Nil. Sans doute n’était-elle pas totalement libre de ses mouvements ; mais d’un point de vue autant égyptologique que journalistique, comment ne pas être surpris qu’elle ait dû se contenter de bien banales observations et impressions sur la plus célèbre des pyramides égyptiennes ?

Illustration M. Vedder

“One of our first excursions was, of course, to the Pyramids, which lie within an hour and a half's easy drive from the hotel door. We started immediately after an early luncheon, followed an excellent road all the way, and were back in time for dinner at half-past six. But it must be understood that we did not go to see the Pyramids. We went only to look at them. Later on (having meanwhile been up the Nile and back, and gone through months of training), we came again, not only with due leisure, but also with some practical understanding of the manifold phases through which the arts and architecture of Egypt had passed since those far-off days of Cheops and Chephren. Then, only, we can be said to have seen the Pyramids ; and till we arrive at that stage of our pilgrimage, it will be well to defer everything like a detailed account of them or their surroundings. Of this first brief visit, enough therefore a brief record.
The first glimpse that most travelers now get of the Pyramids is from the window of the railway carriage as they come from Alexandria ; and it is not impressive. It does not take one's breath away, for instance, like a first sight of the Alps from the high level of the Neufchâtel line, or the outline of the Acropolis at Athens as one first recognizes it from the sea. The well-known triangular forms look small and shadowy, and are too familiar to be in any way startling. And the same, I think, is true of every distant view of them, that is, of every view which is too distant to afford the means of scaling them against other objects. It is only in approaching them, and observing how they grow with every foot of the road, that one begins to feel they are not so familiar after all.
But when at last the edge of the desert is reached, and the long sand-slope climbed, and the rocky platform gained, and the Great Pyramid in all its unexpected bulk and majesty towers close above one's head, the effect is as sudden as it is overwhelming. It shuts out the sky and the horizon. It shuts out all the other Pyramids. It shuts out everything but the sense of awe and wonder.
Now, too, one discovers that it was with the forms of the Pyramids, and only their forms, that one had been acquainted all these years past. Of their surface, their colour, their relative position, their number (to say nothing of their size), one had hitherto entertained no kind of definite idea. The most careful study of plans and measurements, the clearest photographs, the most elaborate descriptions, had done little or nothing, after all, to make one know the place beforehand.
This undulating table-land of sand and rock, pitted with open graves and cumbered with mounds of shapeless masonry, is wholly unlike the desert of our dreams. The Pyramids of Cheops and Chephren are bigger than we had expected ; the Pyramid of Mycerinus is smaller. Here, too, are nine Pyramids, instead of three. They are all entered in the plans and mentioned in the guide-books ; but, somehow, one is unprepared to find them there, and cannot help looking upon them as intruders. These six extra Pyramids are small and greatly dilapidated. One, indeed, is little more than a big cairn.
Even the Great Pyramid puzzles us with an unexpected sense of unlikeness. We all know, and have known from childhood, that it was stripped of its outer blocks some five hundred years ago to build Arab mosques and palaces ; but the rugged, rock-like aspect of that giant staircase takes us by surprise, nevertheless. Nor does it look like a partial ruin, either. It looks as if it had been left unfinished, and as if the workmen might be coming back to-morrow morning.
The colour again is a surprise. Few persons can be aware beforehand of the rich tawny hue that Egyptian lime-stone assumes after ages of exposure to the blaze of an Egyptian sky. Seen in certain lights, the Pyramids look like piles of massy gold.

Having but one hour and forty minutes to spend on the spot, we resolutely refused on this first occasion to be shown anything, or told anything, or to be taken anywhere, except, indeed, for a few minutes to the brink of the sand-hollow in which the Sphinx lies couchant. We wished to give our whole attention, and all the short time at our disposal, to the Great Pyramid only. To gain some impression of the outer aspect and size of this enormous structure, to steady our minds to something like an understanding of its age, was enough, and more than enough, for so brief a visit.
For it is no easy task to realize, however imperfectly, the duration of six or seven thousand years ; and the Great Pyramid, which is supposed to have been some four thousand two hundred and odd years old at the time of the birth of Christ, is now in its seventh millennary. Standing there close against the base of it ; touching it, measuring her own height against one of its lowest blocks ; looking up all the stages of that vast, receding, rugged wall, which leads upward like an Alpine buttress and seems almost to touch the sky, the Writer suddenly became aware that these remote dates had never presented themselves to her mind until this moment as anything but abstract numerals. Now, for the first time, they resolved themselves into something concrete, definite, real.
They were no longer figures, but years with their changes of season, their high and low Niles, their seed-times and harvests.
The consciousness of that moment will never, perhaps, quite wear away. It was as if one had been snatched up for an instant to some vast height overlooking the plains of Time, and had seen the centuries mapped out beneath one's feet.
To appreciate the size of the Great Pyramid is less difficult than to apprehend its age. No one who has walked the length of one side, climbed to the top, and learned the dimensions from Murray, can fail to form a tolerably clear idea of its mere bulk. The measurements given by Sir Gardner Wilkinson are as follows : length of each side, 732 feet ; perpendicular height, 480 feet 9 inches ; area 535,824 square feet. That is to say, it stands 115 feet 9 inches higher than the cross on the top of St. Paul's, and about 20 feet lower than Box Hill in Surrey; and if transported bodily to London, it would a little more than cover the whole area of Lincoln's Inn Fields.
These are sufficiently matter-of-fact statements, and sufficiently intelligible ; but, like most calculations of the kind, they diminish rather than do justice to the dignity of the subject.
More impressive by far than the weightiest array of figures or the most striking comparisons, was the shadow cast by the Great Pyramid as the sun went down. That mighty Shadow, sharp and distinct, stretched across the stony platform of the desert and over full three-quarters of a mile of the green plain below. It divided the sunlight where it fell, just as its great original divided the sunlight in the upper air ; and it darkened the space it covered, like an eclipse. It was not without a thrill of something approaching to awe that one remembered how this self-same Shadow had gone on registering, not only the height of the most stupendous gnomon ever set up by human hands, but the slow passage, day by day, of more than sixty centuries of the world's history.”
Source : TIMEA 

En mars 2011, une exposition sera consacrée à Amelia Edwards par le Petrie Museum (Londres).
"The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is named after Professsor Flinders Petrie, but it was in fact Amelia Edwards who enabled the museum to exist. Amelia Edwards left funds, books and antiquities to UCL as in 1892 it was the only university to award degrees to women. This created the nucleus of the Petrie Museum collection." (Petrie Museum)

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