Bien qu’ayant eu une durée de vie très courte, Theodore Alois William Buckley (1825–1856) eut le temps de traduire en anglais Homère et d’autres œuvres de la littérature classique. Deux années avant sa disparition, il laissa également à la postérité son ouvrage consacré aux sept Merveilles du Monde - The seven wonders of the world, 1854 - d’où j’ai extrait le texte qui suit.
Curieuse approche des pyramides égyptiennes que celle de ce jeune auteur ! Après une tirade toute à la gloire d’Hérodote, puis un rappel des deux interprétations possibles de la technique proposée par le “Father of History” pour hisser les blocs de pierre sur les flancs de la Grande Pyramide (les fameuses “machines” avec des morceaux de bois), il se livre à une description somme toute très sage, à la fois de la chaussée utilisée pour le transport des matériaux de construction, et de l’intérieur du monument. Puis, soudainement, son imagination s’envole : il se met à conceptualiser je ne sais quelle hypothèse, sans autre fondement que d’étranges déductions, sur la foultitude de chambres que pourraient bien contenir les trois quarts de la Grande Pyramide, non occupés par les espaces et couloirs que nous connaissons déjà.
Il est vrai que l’auteur joue à fond sur le registre de sa logique : pourquoi des pyramides aussi grandes ? Pourquoi une masse si imposante et tant de volume s’ils ne sont d’aucune utilité ?
Pour toute réponse, une dernière pirouette de l’auteur : il invite ses lecteurs à faire jouer leur propre imagination...
“The Pyramids of Jizeh are the most stupendous masses of building in stone that human labor has ever been known to accomplish, and they are still standing there to tell us that more than two thousand years before the Christian era, the Egyptians had learned to transport the heaviest blocks of granite ever moved out of the quarry from Syene to the Delta of the Nile, a land journey of six hundred, or a voyage of near seven hundred miles ; to cut and polish them with a precision and nicety we cannot even now surpass, and to use them constructively with a degree of science unequalled from that day to this ; besides this, we know from the contemporary tombs that at that age, these remarkable people had fixed institutions in civil society, which all tell of a long anterior life, which alone could have led to such maturity.
We are indebted to Herodotus, properly styled "The Father of History", for the first written account of these wondrous works of art. Herodotus in his thirty-ninth year, B.C. 445, now within three years of twenty-three centuries ago, composed his great and only work that has come down to us. This work, which is a history of the was of the Greeks and Persians from the time of Cyrus to the battle of Mycale, in the reign of Xerxes, also gives an account of the most celebrated nations of the world, as well as the results of his travels over Italy, Greece, and Egypt. His style abounds with elegance and ease, and he candidly states what he saw and what he relates on the narration of others.
He was informed by the priests of Memphis, that the Great Pyramid was built by Cheops, a King of Egypt ; that one hundred thousand men were employed twenty years in building it ; and that the body of Cheops was placed in a room beneath the bottom of the pyramid ; that the chamber was surrounded by a vault, to which the waters of the Nile were conveyed by a subterranean tunnel. The second pyramid was built by Cephren, the brother and successor of Cheops; and the third was erected by Mycerinus, the son of Cheops.
Herodotus goes on to say that each face of it measures eight plethra (eight hundred Greek feet), it being quadrangular; and the height is the same. It is made of polished stones, fitted together with the greatest nicety, none of the stones being less than thirty feet long.
Deux interprétations des “machines” d’Hérodote
The pyramid was made in the following manner, in the form of steps, which some call crossae (battlements), and others bomides (little altars). When they had built it in this fashion, they raised the remaining stones by machines or contrivances of short pieces of wood. They raised them from the ground to the first tier of steps, and when the stone had ascended to this tier, it was placed on the first machine standing on the first row, and from this row it was dragged upon the second row on another machine. As many tiers of stones as there were, so many machines also there were ; but according to another account (for I think it right to give both accounts as they were given to me) they transferred the same machine, it being easily moved, from step to step, as they raised each stone. The highest parts were accordingly finished first, then the parts next to the highest, and last of all the parts near the ground, and the very bottom. It is worked in Egyptian characters on the pyramid, how much was spent in furnishing the workmen with purges, leeks, and onions ; and as I well recollect what the interpreter said who explained the characters to me, it was one thousand six hundred talents of silver.
La chaussée, en “plan incliné”
We are told by Herodotus, that when the Great Pyramid was designed, they began by making a causeway, along which to convey the stone. This causeway, he states, was three thousand Greek feet in length, sixty in breadth, and forty-eight high, at its greatest elevation ; it was made of highly-polished stone, covered with sculptures, and in his opinion was as wonderful a work as the pyramid itself. When we consider the length and height of this causeway, it is evident it was an inclined plane, rising from the level below toward that on which the pyramids stood, and forming the most magnificent approach that ever was made to the most wonderful work of human labor. It seems also probable, as the causeway commenced on the west side of the canal, already alluded to, that the heavy blocks (if we adopt the supposition of their being brought from the east side of the Nile) were brought by water to the bottom of this inclined plane, and carried up it to the level above. There are still existing remains of these causeways in several places, particularly one leading to the third pyramid, eight hundred yards in length. (...)
The quantity of stone used in this pyramid is estimated at six millions of tons, which is just three times that of the vast breakwater thrown across Plymouth Sound ; and, as we are told, one hundred thousand men were for twenty years employed in building this empty sepulcher, and the whole of the material of the structure was brought from above Thebes, in Upper Egypt.
In the hazy light of early morning, the first view of the pyramids appears like a mountain of singular shape, inclining on one side, as if its foundation had partially given way. Approaching nearer, and the objects become distinct, the three great pyramids, and one smaller one, are in view, towering higher and higher above the plain, and when the traveler is above a mile distant, he is impressed with the feeling that he can touch them ; on nearer approach, the gigantic dimensions grow upon him, and, looking up their sloping sides to the lofty summits, he becomes sensible of the enormous magnitude of the mass above him.
The severe simplicity of form, and the sublime purity of design, combined with solidity of construction, create a sensation of awe when the traveler gazes on the mass, each side of the base of which, measured round the stones let into the rock, is seven hundred and sixty-five feet ; covering a surface of about eleven acres. (...)
“Une série de plateformes”
The pyramid consists of a series of platforms, each of which is smaller than the one on which it rests, and consequently presents the appearance of steps, which diminish in length from the bottom to the top. Of these steps there are two hundred and three, and the height of them decreases, but not regularly, from the bottom to the top, the greatest height being nearly four feet eight inches, and the least rather more than one foot eight inches. The horizontal lines of the platforms are perfectly straight, and the stones are cut and fitted to each other with the greatest nicety, and joined by a cement of lime with but little sand in it.
It has been ascertained that a bed, eight inches deep, has been cut in the rock to receive the lowest external course of stones. The vertical height, measured from this base in the rock to the top of the highest platform now remaining, is four hundred and fifty-six feet. This platform has an area of about one thousand and sixty-seven square feet, each side being thirty-two feet eight inches ; it consists of six square blocks of stone, irregularly disposed, on which the knives of visitors have been ambitiously employed in sculpturing their names ; among which there are some in Greek, a few in Arabic, many in French, and two or three in English.
It is supposed that eight or nine of the layers of stone have been thrown down, although there is now no trace of cement on the surface of the highest tier ; but Gemelli, about one hundred and fifty years since, gave the number of steps two hundred and eight, the height five hundred and twenty-eight feet, and the area of the summit sixteen feet eight inches square.
L’intérieur de la Grande Pyramide
The entrance of the great pyramid is on the north face, forty-seven feet above the base ; it is nearly in the center. The sands of the desert have encroached upon it, and, with the fallen stones and rubbish, have buried it to the sixteenth step. Climbing over this rubbish, the entrance is reached, a narrow passage of three and a half feet square, lined with broad blocks of polished granite, descending, in the interior, at an angle of twenty-seven degrees, for about one hundred feet ; then the passage turns to the right, and winds up a steep ascent of eight or nine feet, falling into a natural passage, five feet high and one hundred feet long, forming a continued ascent to a sort of landing-place ; in a small recess of this is the orifice, or shaft, called the well ; it was by this shaft that the workmen descended, after they had closed the lower end of the upper passage, which was done with blocks of granite ; and having gone down by the well, and reached the lower passage, they followed it upward to the mouth, which they also closed in the same manner.
But those who opened the pyramid, in order to avoid the granite blocks at the junctions of the two passages, forced a way through the side ; and it is by this you now ascend in going to the great gallery. The quality of the granite was carefully concealed by a triangular piece of limestone fitted into the ceiling of the passage ; its falling betrayed the secret, by exposing the granite. Moving onward through a long passage, the explorer comes to what is called the Queen's Chamber, seventeen feet long, seventeen feet wide, and twelve feet high. From this chamber, or crypt, there is, by another way, an entrance to another opening, now cumbered with fallen stones.
Ascending above this, by a gallery or an inclined plane, lined with highly-polished granite, and about one hundred and twenty feet in length, you enter the King's Chamber, thirty-seven feet long, seventeen feet wide, and twenty feet in height. The walls of this chamber are of red granite, highly polished, each stone reaching from the floor to the ceiling ; and the ceiling is formed of nine large slabs of polished granite, extending from wall to wall.
At one end of the chamber stands a sarcophagus, also of red granite; its length is seven feet four inches by three feet, being only three inches less than the doorway. Here is supposed to have slept one of the great rulers of the earth, the king of the then greatest kingdom of the world, the proud mortal for whom this mighty structure was raised. Where is he now ? even his dry bones are gone, torn away by rude hands, and scattered by the winds of heaven. There is something curious about this sarcophagus ; it being so near the size of the orifice which forms the entrance of the pyramid, it could hardly have been conveyed to its place by any of the now known passages ; we must, consequently, conclude it was deposited during the building, or before the passage was finished in its present state.
“Il pourrait y avoir 3.700 chambres, de dimensions égales à celles de la chambre du sarcophage, dans la pyramide de Khéops”
It is not the least interesting part of a visit to the interior of the pyramids, as you are groping your way after the Arab guide, to feel your hand running along the sides of an enormous shaft, smooth and polished to the highest state of art, and to see by the light of a flowing torch chambers of red granite from the cataracts of the Nile, the enormous blocks of which, prepared with so much care, were then carefully sealed up, so as not to be visited by mortal eyes. (...)
Much more, however, there can be no doubt, remains to be discovered within these "gloomy mansions of mystery and wonder". We have now, it is remarked, the knowledge of three distinct chambers in the great pyramid, all of which had evidently been opened by the Saracens, and, perhaps, long before by the Romans ; but, for anything that is known to the contrary, there may be three hundred, and might be ten times three hundred such chambers yet undiscovered.
To assist the mind to form a just idea of the immensity of the mass, let us take the great chamber of the sarcophagus, whose dimensions (it being about thirty-five and a half feet long, seventeen and one-quarter broad, and eighteen and three-quarters high) are those of a tolerably large-sized drawing-room ; which, as the solid contents of the pyramid are found to exceed eighty-five million cubic feet, forms nearly 1/7402 part of the whole : so that, after leaving the contents of every second chamber solid, by way of separation, there might be three thousand seven hundred chambers, each equal in size to the sarcophagus chamber within the pyramid of Cheops.
All the rooms at present discovered are on the west of the general passage, that is, in the north-west quarter of the pyramid, with the exception of the one discovered by Mr. Caviglia in the center of its base ; and till examination shall have ascertained the contrary, it may be presumed that the other three-quarters have also their chambers. The insulated tomb of Cheops, the founder, if the statement furnished by Mr. Salt be correct, must be an excavation far deeper than has yet been discovered ; and the channel by which the waters of the Nile could be brought into any part of the pyramid, remains altogether concealed. Yet, we can hardly bring ourselves to believe that no such communication ever existed. The excavated passage, which leads off from the great chamber, and abruptly terminates at the end of fifty-five feet, can never have ended, originally, in a cul-de-sac, but must have had some design, and some outlet. (...)
Au lecteur d’exercer son imagination !
The sacred use of the pyramids is, perhaps, best indicated by the sarcophagi found in them, and their position amid the extensive fields of mummy pits and tombs. But this explanation, so well in accordance with the construction of the pyramids, and all ancient historical tradition, has not generally been considered sufficient. We, thinking that there is no better, leave our readers to exercise their own imaginations. Why the Egyptians built some pyramids so large, others being very small, is the same kind of question as if one were to ask why St. Paul's was made so large : those who can answer the latter question can answer the other. The fact of the four sides being turned to the four cardinal points may be similarly explained. One certain conclusion seems to follow, from the form of the pyramids, that the people who built them must have already had practical knowledge of geometrical figures, both plane and solid.”