Dans son ouvrage The Egypt of the Hebrews and Herodotos, édité en 1896, il donna son point de vue sur les conditions du voyage d’enquête effectué par Hérodote en Égypte.
Le Nil était alors en période de crue et les terres étaient inondées. “C’est donc en bateau”, selon A.H. Sayce, que l’historien grec se rendit au site de Guizeh et qu’il “a dû visiter les pyramides”, accompagné de son guide-interprète. De là à conclure qu’un canal amenait l’eau du Nil jusqu’au tertre sur lequel avaient été bâties les pyramides, il n’y avait qu’un pas qu’Hérodote franchit “aisément”, en ignorant le niveau exact de la chambre la plus basse de la Grande Pyramide par rapport au niveau le plus haut de l’eau.
Le même flou dans les observations faites ou les informations reçues a été la cause d’une autre bévue dans le récit d’Hérodote, lorsqu’il s’est agi, pour l’historien, de relater l’aspect que devait présenter le revêtement de la pyramide de Khéops, avec ses supposés hiéroglyphes. Le raisonnement de Sayce vaut ce qu’il vaut, mais il mérite qu’on le prenne en considération : ”En réalité, voici ce qui semble être l’explication la plus simple à ce qu’Hérodote dit à propos des hiéroglyphes : comme maints autres voyageurs, il a oublié de noter où étaient exactement les inscriptions, et quand il a entrepris d’écrire son livre, il a supposé qu’elles étaient sur la pyramide elle-même”... alors que lesdites inscriptions n’étaient ni à l’intérieur, ni à l’extérieur de la pyramide, mais dans une tombe adjacente.“Hérodote a donc commis une erreur” : à ce stade de notre inventaire, qui sera surpris d’une telle conclusion ?
“The strange error he [Herodotos] twice commits in imagining that there were vaults under the pyramid of Kheops in an island formed by a canal which the builder had introduced from the Nile is due to the same cause. Doubtless his dragoman had told him something of the kind. A subterraneous chamber in the rock actually exists under the great pyramid, as was discovered by Caviglia, and there are pyramids into whose lower chambers the Nile has long since infiltrated. Professor Maspero found his exploration of the pyramids of Lisht, south of Dahshûr, stopped by the water which had filled them, and Professor Petrie had the same experience in the brick pyramid of Howara, though here the infiltration of the water seems to have been caused by a canal dug in Arab times.”
|Photo Lehnert et Landrock (1920)|
“But the pyramids of Gizeh stand on a plateau of limestone rock secure against the approach of water, and the story reported by Herodotos is more probably the result of misapprehension on his own part than of intentional falsehood on the part of his guides. His ready credence of it, however, can be explained only by the condition of the country at the time of his visit. The whole land was covered with water, and in going to Memphis he had to sail by the pyramids themselves. It was in a boat that his visit to them must have been made ; and it was easy, therefore, to believe that a canal ran from the water on which he sailed through the tunnelled rock whereon they stood. He did not know that the lowest chamber of the pyramid was high above the utmost level of the flood.”
“Surprise has often been expressed that Herodotos should make no mention of the Sphinx, which to Arabs and modem Europeans alike has appeared one of most noteworthy monuments of Gizeh. But in sailing along the canal which led from Memphis to the pyramids he would have passed by it without notice. As his boat made its way to the rocky edge on which the huge sepulchres of Kheops and Khephren are built, it would have been concealed from his view ; and buried as it was in sand his guides did not think it an object of such surpassing importance as to lead him to it over the burning sand. In the immediate neighbourhood of the great pyramid he was surrounded by monuments more interesting and more striking, which were quite enough to occupy his day and satisfy his curiosity. (...)
Herodotos went to the pyramids of Gizeh by water, across the lake on the western side of the city, which he states had been made by Menes, and then along a canal. At Gizeh his love of the marvellous was fully satisfied. He inspected the pyramids and the causeway along which the stones had been brought from the quarries of Turah for building them, and listened reverentially to all the stories which his guides told him about them and their builders. The measurements he gives were in most cases probably made by himself. But in saying that there were hieroglyphic inscriptions “in the pyramid”, he has made a mistake. There were no inscriptions either in it or outside it, unless it were a few hieratic records left by visitors on the lower casing-stones of the monument.
At the same time it is certain that Herodotos saw the hieroglyphs, and that his guide pretended to translate them, since they contained, according to him, an account of the quantity of radishes, onions, and leeks eaten by the workmen when building the great pyramid, as well as the amount of money which it cost. But the vegetables represented Egyptian characters - the radish, for instance, being probably rod (“fruit” or “seed”), and the mention of them is a proof that it really was a hieroglyphic text which the dragoman proposed to interpret. It is even possible that the guide knew the hieroglyphic symbols for the numerals ; if so, it would explain his finding in them the number of talents spent by Kheops upon his sepulchre, and it would also show that the inscriptions were engraved, not “in the pyramid”, but in an adjoining tomb. In fact, this seems the simplest explanation of what Herodotos says about them : like many another traveller, he forgot to note where exactly the inscriptions were inscribed, and when he came to write his book assumed that they were in the pyramid itself. (...)
Whatever might have been the reason, Saqqâra and its Serapeum were unknown to the dragomen, and consequently to Herodotos as well. He must have started for the Fayyûm from Memphis and have sailed up the channel of the Nile itself. If he noticed the pyramids of Dahshûr and Mêdûm, they would have been in the far distance, and have appeared unworthy of attention after what he had seen at Gizeh. Soon after passing Mêdûm, however, it would have been necessary for him to leave the river and make his way inland by the canal which joined the Bahr Yûsuf at Illahûn. Here he would have been close to the great brick pyramid whose secret has been wrested from it by Professor Petrie, and here too he would have seen, a little to the south, the city of Herakleopolis, the Ahnas el-Medîneh of to-day, standing on the rubbish-mounds of the past on the eastern bank of the Bahr Yûsuf.”
Source : archive.org