Il avait la réputation d’être un homme de raffinement et de goûts littéraires développés.
De décembre 1843 à mai 1844, il effectua un voyage qui le conduisit à Athènes, en Égypte, en Terre Sainte et en Syrie, et au terme duquel il écrivit son ouvrage Lands, Classical and Sacred (1846), dont j’ai extrait le texte qui suit.
L’auteur y affirme avoir visité plusieurs fois les pyramides du plateau de Guizeh. Ce faisant, il a pris appui sur les observations des Davison, Caviglia, Vyse et Russell. Mais étrangement, sauf erreur grossière de ma part, il ne semble pas avoir pénétré à l’intérieur de tel ou tel des monuments. En tout cas, il ne fait pas allusion à leur structure interne, sauf pour mentionner brièvement les découvertes de Vyse relatives aux conduits d’aération de la Grande Pyramide.
À titre anecdotique, on notera les remarques de Lord Nugent-Grenville, en homme cultivé qu’il était, au sujet des graffiti qui, inspirés d’une autonymolithographic practice, recouvrent la plate-forme de la pyramide de Khéops (“L’on doit remplir tous les petits devoirs d'un pieux voyageur !”, déclarait Chateaubriand).
|Lord George Grenville by Hoppner|
He has read of the three great Pyramids of Cheops, of Cephren, and of Mycerinus. He has read of the largest of them as having occupied in its construction the labour of a hundred thousand workmen during twenty years, who were every three months relieved by an equal number ; and of as many having been employed for ten years before in making the causeway to the Nile for transport of materials.(1)
And when, amazed at the magnitude of the structures, he asks who were the heroes, who the benefactors of the human race, whose renown they were intended to commemorate, he finds that the two first were reared by tyrants and oppressors whom public indignation would not suffer to occupy them with their dust ; and that the third was the work of a better sovereign than his father or his uncle who had preceded him, "good above all other kings who had ever borne sway in Aegypt" ; but that he would hardly have been remembered had he not also shared in the folly and vice of misapplying the industry of his people. And therefore Mycerinus is thus known, as having left the fairest character of the three, and the smallest pyramid.
Dimensions des pyramides
The Pyramids of Gizeh are, according to the measurements in the beautiful description published by Colonel Vyse, which I believe are admitted to be the most accurate of any yet taken, of the following dimensions :
And the height and area of each have been considerably diminished by large accumulations of sand at the base.(2) (...)
|Auteur inconnu, sans date|
Most travellers profess to have been disappointed with the apparent size of the Pyramids at their first approach. I speak of my own impressions only. I will not say that they surpassed my expectations, for I do not know that I had formed any very determinate idea of the appearance of such stupendous masses of masonry at near view ; but I can truly say they quite equalled any vague notion I could have formed of them. From a great distance the effect of them may easily be imagined. Every one is well acquainted, by models and drawings, with their general form, and, while they are too far off for objects near them to be visible with which the eye can contrast their size, every one may well judge how they must appear. From the Nile, opposite the apex of the Delta, from whence you first catch sight of them at nine miles off, you acknowledge them as things you are well acquainted with, and for which for some hours of your passage up the Nile you had been on the look-out. They have much the same appearance from the heights of the Moccatam or from Old Cairo. But, as you near them on the remains of the old causeway, you are overcome with a sense of their exceeding bulk and grandeur. (...)
I have seen the Pyramids, I believe, by every light, from sunrise to moonlight ; and I have always observed that they appear, at whatever distance they may be viewed, to form a much sharper angle at the apex, to be much taller in proportion to the width of base, than in the models made to scale of measurement. I do not attempt to give the solution of this, not being aware of anything in the deceptions of perspective or atmosphere that can account for it ; indeed, I should rather have expected it to be the direct reverse. I only state it as it appeared to me, and as those persons to whom I made the observation when we were together on the spot have admitted that it appeared to them. (...)
Les conduits d’aération, tels que découverts par Vyse, et l’entrée de la Grande Pyramide
To Colonel Vyse the merit is due of detecting the real purpose of the two small apertures in the side walls of this chamber. He has established beyond doubt that these were designed for ventilators. Having discovered two holes on the outside of the pyramid, one in the north face and the other in the south, that to the north being exactly halfway up from the great entrance to the apex, and the other directly opposite ; he found, I believe by pouring coloured water down, that they communicated with these interior ones.
The mouth of the first and outer passage of the Great Pyramid is in its northern face, at a little less, than a ninth part of the way up the outer ascent. Above the square entrance are two huge blocks of stone, resting against each other in an angle of some sixty degrees, and forming a kind of pediment ; for the purpose, as is supposed, of a support to the weight of masonry above. In one corner of this pediment, Professor Lepsius has, if it may be allowed to say so of so learned and able a man, with a somewhat questionable taste, carved out a tablet, and adorned it with a long and doubtless very correct hieroglyphic inscription, in honour of his sovereign King William of Prussia, and of Victoria, Queen of England ; strikingly inappropriate in that place : an anachronism both in character and composition, illegible to the great mass of mankind, and, to the few learned who can read it, a counterfeit, proclaiming itself to be such ; a line added to the Iliad in commemoration of Waterloo.
Différentes fonctions des pyramides
The entrance of each of the three great pyramids, and of such of the others as have been opened at Abousir, Sakhara, and Dashour, is due north (polar, not magnetic) ; and the passage, leading straight from the mouth, descends in each at the same angle of about twenty-seven degrees from the plane of the horizon, which gives a line of direction not far removed from that point of the heavens where the Polar Star now crosses the meridian. Hence Dr. Russell, with great probability, attributes to the pyramids, besides the other purposes for which they were designed, that of fixing the measurement of sidereal time by the observation of this or some other star passing the meridian across the mouth of a long tube thus adjusted to the proper point.
Nor is this suggestion rendered at all less probable by showing that, probably at a very early time after the construction of the Pyramids, the mouths of these passages were carefully sealed with massive masonry. If the objects of these astronomical observations were in any way connected, as is by no means unlikely, with the religious rites of the Shepherd-kings of Aegypt, who closed the temples and discouraged the observances of the old Aegyptian mythology, it is indeed in the highest degree probable that, on the restoration of the old worship under the Pharaohs, all access to places built with such an object should have been carefully prevented.
It seems very clear that the pyramids were designed for several other purposes besides that of royal sepulture. That of the gnomon, for determining the solstices, and for giving a scale of general measurement, on which so much has been written, and with so much learning, cannot be dismissed from consideration ; nor can one fail to be struck with the reasoning in that very ingenious little tract of Mr. Agnew's (*), published in 1840, in which he shows by diagram and calculation how bold and near an approach was made, in the construction of these buildings, towards the quadrature of the circle. (...)
Dégradation du revêtement des pyramides de Guizeh
The whole of the outside of this pyramid [la pyramide de Mykérinos], as also of the first, and probably also of the lower part of the second, was faced with a thick layer of the Syenean red granite from Upper Aegypt, fragments of which lie scattered over a large space around ; records of the attempts made in different ages by barbarous princes, some from a superstitious, others from an utilitarian, motive to destroy these mighty monuments. But their vastness, and the compact mode of their construction, enabled them to withstand the ravages of force, as they had withstood those of time, apparently without much reduction of their original dimensions ; certainly without any visible damage to the symmetry of their proportions.(3)
(1) Herodot. iii. 16. He, moreover, tells us that such was the execration in which the memory of Cheops, and of his brother and successor Cephren, was held, that the people of Aegypt gave to the Pyramids raised by these two sovereigns the name of Philitis, a shepherd who fed his flocks in that country. Dr. Russell (*) supposes the Pyramids to be contemporaneous with the race of the shepherd-kings, who prohibited the worship of brute animals, and occupied the throne of the Pharaohs during part of the interval between the birth of Abraham and the captivity of his great-grandson Joseph.
(2) In giving Colonel Vyse's measurements of the height and length of the three Pyramids, it is fit to observe upon the remarkable discrepancy in the statements made by historians and travellers on this subject. Dr. Russell,in his View of Ancient and Modern Aegypt, enumerates them thus :
(3) Many attempts have been made by the Kaliphs and Sultans to destroy the Pyramids. Towards the end of the twelfth century, and shortly before the fall of the Fatimite Dynasty, the Kaliph Melek Alaziz Othman Ben Yousouf employed a host of labourers at an enormous expense for several months on the work of destroying the Pyramid of Mycerinus. But it was abandoned, leaving no trace on the appearance of this, the smallest of the three pyramids. Several other Kaliphs are stated by Abdulatif to have made the attempt from religious motives ; and the Sultan Saleh Eddin Yousouf (Saladin the Great) instructed his Emir Karrakous Assadi to use the pyramids as a quarry for building the citadel and walls of Cairo. It is said that the external coating of the two largest was applied to this purpose ; but, as appears by the measurements compared with those given by Herodotus, with no very observable reduction in the dimensions.
(*) Une prochaine note de Pyramidales sera prochainement consacrée à cet auteur.