mercredi 24 novembre 2010

Pyramides de Guizeh : “Les plus beaux monuments de cette classe en Égypte”, selon Aaron Ward (XIXe s.)

Voici un texte extrait de Around the pyramids : being a tour in the Holy Land and, incidentally, through several European countries, and portions of Africa, during the years 1859-60 (1864). Son auteur - Aaron Ward - se contente de juxtaposer quelques-unes des opinions émises sur la fonction et la destination des pyramides, sans prendre personnellement position.
Quant à savoir qui est précisément cet auteur, les quelques éléments d’information que j’ai pu consulter ne me permettent pas de l’identifier. S’agit-il du Général Aaron Ward (1790-1867), qui mena une carrière militaire avant d’être élu à plusieurs reprises au Congrès américain ? Si c’est le cas, on comprend aisément qu’il ait dédicacé son ouvrage à son “old and valued friend” le Général George P. Morris. Mais, bien entendu, je soumets cette “conjecture” à des avis plus autorisés que le mien.

Source de l’illustration : Gallica
“The number of pyramids scattered over Egypt is very great; but the most remarkable are those described by Herodotus, situated opposite Cairo, at Djizett. They are still regarded as the finest monuments of this class in Egypt.
We visited the Pyramid of Cheops, the largest of the three. A number of Bedouins, whom we had hired, led the way. The entrance to it, as well as to each of them, is on its northern side. We descended for a considerable distance at an angle of about twenty-six degrees, and from thence we ascended, with much trouble, to the first apartment.
The rooms we examined were of the following dimensions : The one called the Queen's Chamber, which is the first in order, is thirty-seven feet two inches long, by seventeen feet two inches wide. Then comes a chamber, attainable by a similar passage, thirty feet by seventeen, and twenty feet high. This is known as the King's Chamber, and is lined all around with highly polished granite slabs. At the western extremity of the room stands the sarcophagus, without a lid, which once contained the remains of Cheops, but which now is entirely empty. It is seven feet six inches long, three feet, three inches wide, and three feet deep.
There is a third room, still higher in the body of the pyramids, which was discovered by Mr. Davidson, the British Consul. This apartment is four feet longer than the one below it, the width being, however, the same. Davidson also discovered the well which is cut through the solid rock to the level of the Nile.
The only way one can fully realize the gigantic size of this great pyramid is to recollect that it covers an area of eleven acres of ground - it being seven hundred and fifty feet long on each of its sides at the base, and rising to a height of four hundred and eighty feet.
The learned who have given their attention to these stupendous monuments, maintain that the priests, in their construction of them, availed themselves of the means thus afforded to connect their sacred duties with their favorite studies, and combined the sentiment of piety with the sublime conceptions of astronomy. Among the benefits, they allege, which this union has conferred upon posterity, is that of having fixed with precision the faces of the pyramids, which enables us to know that the poles of the earth have not been changed. For the pyramids still present their four sides correctly to the four points of the compass, as they did when first erected.
The scholars also maintain that these structures were formerly used to correct the measurement of time, from the circumstance that the main approaches to them are invariably from the north, and incline downward at an angle of twenty-seven degrees, with the plane of the horizon, which gives a line of direction not far removed from that point in the heavens where the polar star crosses the meridian below the pole. The observation of this, or some other star across the meridian, would give them an accurate measure of siderial time - a matter of the first importance in any age when it is probable no other instruments than rude solar gnomons, or expedients still more imperfect, were in use. The observations were probably made by a person standing at the bottom of the first platform, by ranging the eye along the then smooth surface of this entrance.
It has, however, been denied by able writers that these ancient structures were erected for astronomical observations ; for, if such were their object, they would not have been crowded together in such numbers near Memphis, but would have been placed in other parts of the kingdom, and especially in Heliopolis, where the priests were, from the most ancient times, famed for their astronomical knowledge.
But others again maintain that they were simply intended as tombs for their kings, and two reasons are given therefor. First, the religious faith of the old Egyptians is well known, viz: that the soul leaves the body after death and wanders through those of various animals for purification, and not until after a succession of thousands of years returns back to the same human body, to live again in it. This was reason enough for mighty kings, to erect the pyramids, either to hold back the soul in the body and wholly to escape the dread wanderings, or at least to preserve the body from any corruption until the requickening. On this account the bodies of all Egyptians were embalmed and placed in air-tight catacombs. Second - Policy, viz: The Israelites were forced to perform the hardest of labor, because their rulers hoped thus to prevent their increase ; but if this was the sole object they had, it seems to me, they might have been employed on some worthier and more useful work, in the building of canals, and other national improvements.
The Sphinx, which stands at a short distance from the largest pyramid, is regarded by most travellers as a rival to the pyramids themselves. The engravings of the pyramids and this Sphinx, which are to be met with in every print-shop, give a very perfect idea of their appearance ; but the magnitude of the Sphinx surprised me. It is, indeed, a gigantic and wonderful work of art. Its features resemble, in some respects, the Copts of the present day, thus going far towards proving, if any evidence of that fact were required, that they belong to the ancient Egyptian race, which is quite different from the negrofeatured race.
What the Egyptians signified by this symbolical figure seems not to be exactly known. Some writers think it is the type of womanhood, in which power is engrafted on gentleness and beauty. This is represented by a woman's face, neck and bosom, connected with the body of a lioness, not in fierce and violent action, but in eternal repose. Dr. Pococke says there is an entrance both in the back and the top of the head. The latter, he thinks, might have served the priests in the utterance of oracles. Its dimensions, according to the same writer, are twenty-seven feet above the ground, thirty-three feet wide across the breast, and the entire length one hundred and thirty feet. Pliny estimated its height, in his day, to be sixty feet. It is, therefore, more than probable that the sands of the desert have, since that period, raised the ground at its base many feet, thus reducing it to its present height.”
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