mardi 19 avril 2011

Selon George Sandys (XVI-XVIIe s.), les Égyptiens bâtirent leurs coûteuses pyramides non seulement par vaine ostentation, mais aussi parce qu’ils croyaient en la survie de l’âme

Le poète anglais George Sandys (1578-1644), traducteur d’Ovide et de Virgile, entreprit en 1610 un long périple à travers l’Europe et le Moyen-Orient. Il en proposa une relation détaillée dans son ouvrage A relation of a journey begun an. Dom. 1610 : four books, containing a description of the Turkish Empire, of Aegypt, of the Holy Land, of the remote parts of Italy, and islands adjoining.
Durant son séjour en Égypte, il visita le plateau de Guizeh où il concentra son attention sur la Grande Pyramide, ce monument lui inspirant des réflexions aussi bien techniques qu’historiques ou philosophiques. Il ne faisait pour lui aucun doute que ce monument, comme les autres pyramides, ait servi de tombeau royal. Par contre, un certain flou persiste lorsqu’il est question de l’endroit exact de la sépulture du roi Khéops : l’auteur semble tout d’abord adopter la relation d’Hérodote (non cité expressément ici) concernant la sépulture “au milieu d’une île”, dans les profondeurs de la pyramide (“a greater affinity with the truth”) ; puis, lorsqu’il se retrouve face au sarcophage dans la Chambre du Roi, il commente aussitôt : ”Là, sans doute, gisait le corps du constructeur”.
Dans la Chambre du Roi, George Sandys remarqua par ailleurs qu’un “puits” était creusé à côté du sarcophage, à proximité du mur, conduisant à une “chambre souterraine”. Mais aucune précision n’est apportée sur cette “under chamber”...
Ne maîtrisant pas toutes les subtilités de la langue anglaise, a fortiori pour un texte portant la marque de son époque lointaine, j’ai fait appel à Keith Payne pour la restitution de ce texte. Qu’il en soit ici une nouvelle fois amicalement remercié.

George Sandys, engraving after a portrait by Cornelius Janssen;
frontispiece to Relation of a Journey (1615)        
Courtesy of the trustees of the British Museum; photograph, J.R. Freeman & Co. Ltd.

“Full west of the city, close upon those deserts, aloft on a rocky level adjoining to the valley, stand those three pyramids (the barbarous monuments of prodigality and vain-glory) so universally celebrated. The name is derived from a flame of fire, in regard of their shape : broad below, and sharp above, like a pointed diamond. By such the ancient did express the original of things, and that formless form-taking substance. For as a pyramid beginning at a point, and the principal height, by little and little dilated into all parts : so nature proceeding from one undividable fountain (even God the sovereign essence) received diversity of forms ; effused into several kinds and multitudes of figures : uniting all in the supreme head, from whence all excellencies issue. The labours of the [mot illisible] themselves report, and is alleged by Josephus, were employed in these; which deserved little better credit (for what they built was of bricks) than that absurd opinion of Nazianzenus (*), who out of the consonancy of the names, affirmed that they were built by Joseph for granaries, against the seven years of famine : when as one was thrice seven years saving one, in erecting. But by the testimony of all that have writ, amongst whom Lucan :
When high Pyramids do grace
The Ghosts of Ptolomies lead race
and by what shall be said hereafter, most manifest it is, that these, as the rest, were the regal sepulchers of the Egyptians.

La Grande Pyramide
The greatest of the three, and chief of the world’s seven wonders, being square at the bottom, is supposed to take up eight acres of ground. Every square being 300 single paces in length, the square at the top, consisting of three stones only, yet large enough for threescore to stand upon : ascended by two hundred fifty five steps, each step above three feet high, of a breadth proportionable. No stone so little throughout the whole, as to be drawn by our carriages : yet were these hewn out of the Trojan mountains, far off in Arabia, so called of the captive Trojans, brought by Menelaus into Egypt, and there afterward planted. A wonder how conveyed hither : how so mounted, a greater. Twenty years it was in building ; by three hundred threescore and six thousand men continually wrought upon : who only in radishes, garlic, and onions are said to have consumed one thousand and eight hundred talents. By these and the like inventions exhausted they their treasure, and employed the people ; for fear left such infinite wealth should corrupt their successors, and dangerous idleness beget in the subject a desire of innovation. Besides, they considering the frailty of man, that in an instant buds, blows and withers ; did endeavour by such sumptuous and magnificent structures, in spite of death to give unto their fames eternity. (...)
Yet this has been too great a morsel for time to devour ; having stood, as may be probably conjectured, about three thousand and two hundred years ; and now rather old then ruinous : yet the North side is most worn, by reason of the humidity of the Northern wind, which here is the moistest. The top at length we ascended with many pauses and much difficulty ; from whence with delighted eyes we beheld that sovereign of streams, and most excellent of countries. Southward [and] near hand the Mummies ; afar off diverse huge pyramids, each of which were this away, might supply the repute of a wonder.

Intérieur de la Grande Pyramide
During a great part of the day it casts no shadow on the earth, but is at once illuminated on all sides. Descending again, on the East side, below, from each corner equally distant, we approached the entrance, seeming heretofore to have been closed up, or so intended, both by the place itself, as appears by the following picture, and conveyances within. Into this our Janissaries discharged their harquebuses, lest some should have skulked within to have done us a mischief : and guarded the mouth whilst we entered, for fear of the wild Arabs.
To take the better footing we put off our shoes, and most of our apparel : foretold of the heat within, not inferior to a stove. Our guide (a Moor) went foremost ; every one of us with our lights in our hands. A most dreadful passage, and no less cumbersome ; not above a yard in breadth, and four feet in height: each stone containing that measure. So that always stooping, and sometimes creeping, by reason of the rubbish, we descended (not by stairs, but as down the steep of a hill) a hundred feet : where the place for a little circuits enlarged ; and the fearful descent continued, which they say none ever durst attempt any farther. Save that a Bassa of Cairo, curious to search into the secrets thereof, caused diverse condemned persons to undertake the performance ; well stored with lights and other provision : and that some of them ascended again well nigh thirty miles off in the deserts.
A fable devised only to beget wonder. But others have written that at the bottom, there is a spacious pit, eighty and six cubits deep, filled at the overflow by concealed conduits : in the middle a little island, and on that a tomb containing the body of Cheops, a king of Egypt, and the builder of this pyramid : which with the truth has a greater affinity. For since I have been told by one out of his own experience, that in the uttermost depth there is a large square place (though without water) into which he was led by another entry opening to the South, known but unto few (that now open being shut by some order) and entered at this place where we feared to descend.
A turning on the right hand leads into a little room : which by reason of the noisome savour, and uneasy passage, we refused to enter. Clambering over the mouth of the aforesaid dungeon, we ascended as upon the bow of an arch, the way no larger than the former, about an hundred and twenty feet. Here we passed through a long entry which led directly forward : so low that it took even from us that uneasy benefit of stooping. Which brought us into a little room with a compast roof, more long than broad, of polished marble, whose grave-like smell, half full of rubbish, forced our quick return.
Climbing also over this entrance, we ascended as before, about an hundred and twenty feet higher. This entry was of an exceeding height, yet no broader from side to side then a man may fathom ; benched on each side, and closed above with admirable architecture, the marble so great, and so cunningly joined, as had it been hewn through the living rock.

Chambre du Roi
At the top we entered into a goodly chamber, twenty foot wide, and forty in length : the roof of a marvelous height, and the stones so great, that eight floors it, eight roofs it, eight stage the ends, and sixteen the sides, all of well wrought Theban marble. Atwhart the room at the upper end, there stands a tomb ; uncovered, empty, and all of one stone, breast high, seven feet in length, not four in breadth, and sounding like a bell. In this no doubt lay the body of the builder. They erecting such costly monuments, not only out of a vain ostentation, but being of opinion that after the dissolution of the flesh, the soul should survive ; and when thirty six thousand years were expired, again we be joined unto the selfsame body, restored unto his former condition, gathered in their concepts from astronomical demonstrations.
Against one end of the tomb, and close to the wall, there opens a pit with a long and narrow mouth, which leads into an under chamber. ln the walls on each side of the upper room, there are two holes, one opposite to another; their ends not discernable, nor big enough to be crept into : footie [sooty ?] within ; and made, as they say, by a flame of fire which darted through it. This is all that this huge mass contains within his dark-some entrails, at least to be discovered. Herodotus reports that King Cheops became so poor by the building thereof, that he was compelled to prostitute his daughter, charging her to take whatsoever she could get : who affecting her particular glory, of her several customers demanded several stones with which she erected the second pyramid, far less than the former, smooth without, and not to be entered. The third which stands on the higher ground, is very small if compared with the other ; yet says both Herodotus and Strabo, greater in beauty, and of no Iess cost : being all built of touchstone, difficult to be wrought, and brought from the farthest Ethiopian mountains. But surely not so ; yet intended they to have covered it with Theban marble, whereof a great quantity lies by it. (...)”

Source :

Illustrations extraites de l'ouvrage de George Sandys

(*) patriarche de Constantinople (IVe s.)

Consultation du texte dans son intégralité, avec ce lecteur proposé par :