jeudi 14 avril 2011

Pyramides égyptiennes : la narration d’Hérodote reprise et complétée par l’historien J. Talboys Wheeler (XIXe s.)

L’historien anglais James Talboys Wheeler (1824–1897) s’était spécialisé dans la publication de manuels pour étudiants. Expert en histoire de l’Inde, il fut mandaté dans ce pays pour y exercer des fonctions administratives.
Il publia en 1856 un ouvrage consacré à la géographie selon Hérodote, sous le titre The life and travels of Herodotus in the fifth century before Christ : an imaginary biography founded on fact, illustrative of the history, manners, religion, literature, arts and social condition of the Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Hebrews, Scythians and other ancient nations, in the days of Pericles and Nehemiah (extraits ci-dessous).
Le texte de Wheeler suit fidèlement la narration d’Hérodote, relative aux pyramides égyptiennes : pas le moindre soupçon de critique interprétative ! Quelques ajouts viennent toutefois compléter le récit du Maître : la technique de l’accrétion (ce terme n’est pas utilisé par l’auteur), le pourquoi des couloirs inclinés (pour le transport des sarcophages), les découvertes du Vyse...

Cliché de Francis Frith (1856)
“Herodotus could learn but very little about the Shepherds, and we can not tell the reader much more. It seems, however, that about the time of the patriarchs Abraham and Joseph, B.c. 1900-1700, the Delta was overrun by a nomad Arab horde, who soon established a supremacy under the name of Hyksos, or Shepherdkings.(1) They were included in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth dynasties of Manetho. The people are represented on the monuments as having red hair and blue eyes, and as being loosely clothed in undressed hides. After their expulsion they appear to have retired to Palestine, where they may have become the ancestors of the Philistines, and perhaps of other Canaanite races. The intense hatred which the Egyptians ever afterward exhibited against the Hyksos is plainly visible from many representations on the monuments. A number of painted papyrus sandals have also been preserved, in which one of the hated race has been represented on the interior sole, so that the Egyptian wearer might stamp upon his enemies every time he put on his sandals.

Sous le règne de Khéops
But to return to the pyramid kings. The pyramids were built upon a rocky platform, commencing about ten or twelve miles to the north-west of Memphis, but stretching to a considerable distance toward the north-west. Of these the first and largest was called the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The second was the next in size, and was known as the Pyramid of Chephren. The third was still smaller, and was called the Pyramid of Mycerinus. A little to the south-east of the Great Pyramid were three very small pyramids, of which the central one was said to have been built by the daughter of Cheops. Very much further to the south was a brick pyramid, said to have been built by Asychis, who succeeded Mycerinus on the throne. Numerous other pyramids were also seen by Herodotus, and may still be seen by the modern pilgrim ; but, to tell the truth, they possessed but few points of interest to our traveler, as he could not learn any historical legends connected with their building.
The story told by the priests ran somewhat as follows : "In ancient times justice was properly administered throughout the country, and all Egypt was in a state of high prosperity. Cheops, however, who came to the throne after the death of Rhampsinitus, plunged into every kind of wickedness. He shut up all the temples, forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifice, and at last ordered all the people to work for himself like so many slaves. Some he appointed to hew stones out of the Arabian mountains, and drag them to the banks of the Nile ; others were stationed to receive the same in boats, and transport them along a paved causeway to the rocky platform on which the pyramid was to be built. In this service a hundred thousand men were employed at a time, a fresh party relieving the other every three months. Thirty years were occupied upon the undertaking, of which ten years were wholly taken up in laying down the causeway between the bank of the Nile and the site of the pyramid, and in forming some subterranean chambers in the rocky platform. The remaining twenty years were spent in the erection of the pyramid."

Cliché de 1885 (auteur inconnu)
La pyramide de Khéops
The causeway here mentioned, and of which some remains are still to be seen, appears to have been an inclined plane, rising from the level below to that of the rock on which the pyramid was to stand. It was nearly three-quarters of a mile long, and sixty feet wide, and was constructed of polished stone, beautifully carved all over with figures of animals. The pyramid of Cheops, on which twenty years' labor was expended, is about a hundred feet higher than St Paul's and occupies a square of more than thirteen English statute acres. The internal masses consisted of huge blocks hewn out of the Libyan range, upon which the pyramids are built ; but the outside, in the time of Herodotus, was coated over with a beautiful polished compact limestone, brought from the Arabian quarries. The internal chambers and passages were likewise lined with the same highly polished casing-stones. The blocks were raised from one stage to the other by means of machines made of short pieces of wood. The priests told Herodotus that Cheops was buried in a subterranean vault underneath the pyramid ; and that the vault itself was constructed in a kind of island, being surrounded by an artificial channel of water conducted thither from the River Nile. Of the three little pyramids near, the middle one was said to have been built by the daughter of Cheops.

Khéphren et Mykérinos
Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, reigned for a period of fifty years, and was then succeeded by his brother Chephren. The new king reigned fifty-six years, during which he followed the same policy and practices as Cheops, namely, shutting up the temples, ruling his subjects unjustly, and building a pyramid. The pyramid of Chephren, however, was forty feet lower than the pyramid of Cheops, and contained no subterranean chambers; but it presented a more brilliant appearance, for the upper courses were cased with polished limestone from the Arabian mountains ; while the lowest course was coated with beautifully polished red granite from the first cataract.
Mycerinus, the son of Cheops, succeeded to the throne after his uncle Chephren. He opened the temples, and permitted the people to sacrifice to the gods, and return to their several employments. He was also famous for the justness of his judgments, and if any man complained of his decision, he would make him a present out of his own treasury in order to pacify him. (...)

Structure des pyramides en fonction de leur finalité funéraire
Such were the three great pyramids and the stories told of their builders. In the eyes of Herodotus the pyramids appeared to be solid quadrangular masses covering an immense area, and presenting on each of their four sides a beautifully polished and perfectly even surface, gradually narrowing until it terminated on the summit. During the twenty-three centuries which have passed away since he visited Egypt, the exterior polished casing-stones have been torn away, leaving the internal masses all exposed; and the sepulchral chambers have been entered and plundered by the califs. On the other hand, enterprising travelers have penetrated the long passages leading into interior chambers ; and recent discoveries have enabled us almost to solve the great problem connected with their structure. They were especially erected as sepulchers for kings.
The inclined passages leading into the interior were for the conveyance of the sarcophagi ; the blocks which filled up the entrance were intended to prevent disinterment and violation.
At the commencement of each reign the rock chamber destined for the monarch's grave was excavated, and one course of masonry erected above it. If the king died in the first year of his reign, a casing was put upon it and a pyramid formed ; but if the king did not die, another course of stone was added above, and two of the same height and thickness on each side. Thus, in process of time, the building assumed the form of a series of regular steps, which, on the death of a monarch, were cased over with polished limestone or granite. The different sizes of the pyramids is therefore to be accounted for by the difference in the duration of the several reigns ; and the length of a reign might be ascertained, if it were possible to learn the number of courses over the internal rock-chamber in which the monarch himself was deposited.


Le message des hiéroglyphes

Upon the pyramid of Cheops was an inscription in Egyptian characters, which was duly interpreted to Herodotus, but which, of course, has now disappeared with the casing-stones. It showed how much had been expended in radishes, garlic, and onions for the workmen ; and the interpreter who read it to Herodotus told him that the whole amounted to 1600 talents of silver. "If this be really true", thought our traveler, as he summed it up in his own mind, "how much more must have been expended in iron tools, bread, and clothes for the laborers ?"
We have already said that the pyramid kings have been identified with some of those belonging to the old fourth dynasty of Manetho ; and a recent discovery has confirmed this opinion. In a chamber underneath the Pyramid of Mycerinus, Colonel Vyse found the fragments of the top of a mummy-case inscribed with hieroglyphics ; and close by it was a skeleton enveloped in a mummy-cloth, just in the state in which it had been evidently left by some visitors who had removed it from the sarcophagus, which also was still lying in a lower chamber. The hieroglyphics upon the lid of the mummy-case have since been translated by Mr. Birch as follows : "Osirian, King Menkahre of eternal life, engendered of the Heaven child of Netpe... who extends thy mother. Netpe over thee, may she watch thy abode in Heaven, revealing thee to the God (chastiser) of thy impure enemies, King Menkahre living forever."
Menkahre was thus the builder of the third pyramid, and therefore the Mycerinus named to Herodotus ; and we can no longer doubt but that he is identical with the Mencheres of the fourth dynasty of Manetho, who reigned in primeval and patriarchal times. Herodotus, who visited Egypt some ten years before the administration of Nehemiah at Jerusalem, heard the story of his reign and gazed upon his pyramidal tomb. The modern reader may now enter the mummy-room of the British Museum, and there, amid embalmed cats and painted coffins, and other relics of a bygone world, he will see on a plain shelf on his right hand all that remains of the bones and coffin of Menkahre ; a monarch who reigned long ere the siege of Troy, and probably long before the little ark of Moses was set adrift upon the ancient Nile.

La pyramide d’Asychis
The story of another pyramid-builder was likewise told to Herodotus ; but his pyramid was made of brick, and lay far away to the south, among those which are now called the Pyramids of Dashoor. The name of the king was Asychis, and he was said to have succeeded Mycerinus or Menkahre. In his reign there was said to be a great want of money, and it was established by law that any man might pledge the embalmed body of his father and obtain money on it. Under these circumstances, the man who lent the money was to have full power over the sepulcher of the man who borrowed it ; and neither the borrower nor any of his family could be buried in any sepulcher until the money was repaid. Asychis, as we said before, built a pyramid of bricks ; and he was so proud of it that he had the following inscription carved on it : "Despise me not because of the pyramids of stone ; for I excel them as much as Zeus excels the other gods. For by plunging a pole into a lake, and collecting the mud which hung to the pole, men made bricks and erected me."

(1) The Shepherd-kings were probably in possession of the country in the time of Abraham's visit, but were driven out some time before the administration of Joseph ; for we find that Abraham, a possessor of flocks and herds, was treated with the utmost consideration by the reigning Pharaoh, while in the time of Joseph shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians. Thus the pyramids must have been built prior to the year 1900 B. a, and the temple of Pthah after that date.