mardi 26 avril 2011

Une visiteuse peu ordinaire sur le site de Guizeh : Emmeline Lott (XIXe s.)

L’histoire de la Britannique Emmeline Lott fut peu banale. En 1863, elle fut engagée, pour une durée de deux ans, comme préceptrice du jeune fils d'Ismail Pacha, vice-roi d’Égypte. À ce titre, elle résida dans un palais du Caire, où elle put observer par elle-même les attraits et les “dessous”, voire les laideurs de la splendeur orientale. Elle relata son témoignage dans son ouvrage The English Governess in Egypt : Harem Life in Egypt and Constantinople (1865).
Celle qui se considérait comme une “humble personne” fut ainsi amenée à participer à une croisière sur le Nil, dans le yacht personnel du vice-roi. Elle raconta les péripéties de ce périple dans un autre ouvrage, The Grand Pacha’s cruise on the Nil, in the Viceroy of Egypt’s yacht, 1869, dont j’ai extrait le texte qui suit.
La découverte que fit Emmeline Lott du site de Guizeh prit des allures sportives. La jeune Britannique fit rien moins que l’escalade des trois pyramides majeures (c’est du moins ce qu’elle écrivit) et ne trouva pas la performance si compliquée que cela.
Quant à l’interprétation du comment et du pourquoi des monuments, elle s’en tint au récit de celui qu’elle se plaisait à appeler le “Père de l’Histoire”. Elle y ajouta toutefois cette remarque, qu’elle emprunta aux “savants”, sur l’emplacement du sarcophage de la Chambre du Roi, dans la Grande Pyramide : il “est posé sur un énorme bloc de granit dont beaucoup de savants pensent qu’il a été placé là pour marquer l’entrée d’un très profond caveau dessous”.
Sauf erreur grossière de ma part, une telle observation ne fut pas si courante que cela. Si elle émanait effectivement de nombreux “savants”, il eût été intéressant de savoir de qui il s’agissait en réalité. Un “mystère” de plus !
Emmeline Lott
“The most probable origin of these colossal monuments [les pyramides], (...)  is that they were a succession of Royal Mausoleums - like [the] illustrious Great Grandsire, Mahomet Ali erected that superb one in which repose his remains - and consequently must be considered as the most stupendous Necropolis extant.
The length of each monarch's reign is indicated by the size of the structure, as, in all probability, upon his accession  - as Viceroys of Egypt and Sultans of Turkey do nowadays - the foundation was laid, and an addition made thereto yearly until his demise.
Supposing this view of their construction to be correct, a period of sixteen to seventeen hundred years must have been occupied in building them. From all that I have read about them (...) I learn that "Cheops" (Shofo, Suphis), " the founder of the 4th Dynasty of Egyptian Monarchs ascended the throne in 2450 B.C., and Herodotus, the “Father of History”, informs us that owing to the tyrannical manner in which he ruled, and the horrid crimes he committed, he was universally hated and detested. He was an enemy to religion, ordered all the Temples to be closed, forbade the Egyptians to offer up sacrifices, and introduced that tyrannical system the corveé (forced levies), which most unfortunately for Egypt has been continued up to the present century, and compelled a hundred thousand of the most able-bodied of the population to work in gangs, superintended by the most despotic and cruel of task-masters, those overseers whom he knew to possess “hearts of stone”.
Hundreds of them were sent into the hills of Arabia, where they worked night and day at the quarries, while others cut the stones they had dug out into pieces, which were then dragged by them down to the Nile, shipped on board boats, conveyed to the opposite bank, when files of those poor wretches hauled them to the Libyan Hills. There a fresh relay of another hundred thousand of the Egyptians, composed of men, women, and boys, constructed a causeway for the transport of those huge blocks - a most stupendous undertaking. For ten long years did those two hundred thousand mortals toil night and day to execute the orders of that cruel tyrant. Another legion kept working all that period in levelling the site on which the mighty Pyramids now stand, and gangs were employed in excavating the subterranean catacomb, in which that prince purposed having his remains placed on an Island formed by the waters of the Nile.
It is stated that no less than twenty years were occupied in erecting the Great Pyramid, which having ascended, I must tell you is about 746 feet each way ; it contains eighty-five millions of cubic feet, covers eleven feddans (acres), has a perpendicular height of 461 feet, and is at this time (1869) most probably nearly four thousand years old. It has 206 tiers of steps, each from one to four feet high.
The “Father of History” informs us that that mighty structure was built on steps, and that the workmen, for want of better mechanical appliances, raised the stones from the ground by means of machines composed of short pieces of wood. It is conjectured that when a block had been raised to the first tier, that it was placed upon a similar machine, and thus all the blocks were raised from tier to tier. The apex of the pyramid was formed first, and the artisans worked their way downwards until the whole edifice was constructed.
It is said that the Egyptian characters, engraved on the exterior, marked the sum of sixteen hundred talents, equal to about two millions of piastres (£200,000 sterling), which was expended in victualling the workmen with crude vegetables ; and it may fairly be conjectured that a similar, if not a much greater amount was spent in supplying them with tools, bread, and the scanty clothing they required. (...)
I explored the entrance of that great pyramid, which to my surprise I found was not solid. (...) I descended cautiously by the worn foot holes, passed through the entrance, which is from four to five feet high, and began the descent. I walked along a passage about 107 to 108 feet long, which led me into a subterranean apartment, from which had been removed the large piece of granite which is generally placed against it.
Not being able to pass along the upper passage, which still remains closed with a solid mass of granite, I ascended a few steps and entered the “Great Gallery”,  from whence, proceeding along a horizontal passage, I entered the “Queen's Gallery”, the roof of which is composed of blocks resting against each other in an angular form ; the height of the front is nearly twenty feet. At the eastern extremity is a niche, the stones about which are supposed to have been taken by the Arabs when they were treasure seeking.
Returning to the “Great Gallery”, I explored a narrow funnel-shaped passage, which has been termed the “Well”, but which has since been closed. That led me down to the chamber at the base, and which, it is thought, originally contained the remains of Cheops. The slope of the gallery is rather more than six feet wide. Proceeding about one hundred and sixty feet up the avenue, I came to a horizontal passage, where formerly stood four granite portcullises, which descending through groves prevented persons from entering ; now, however, free ingress and egress is obtained to the' King's Chamber, which is constructed of red granite.
The sarcophagus is also of the same material, but the lid and the contents have long since vanished. It is very plain, devoid of hieroglyphics, and is poised upon an enormous block of granite, which many savants think was placed there to mark the entrance to a very deep vault beneath. The small holes in the walls of the chamber appear to have been constructed for the purpose of ventilation.
Ascending a narrow passage at the S.E. corner of the “Great Gallery”, I entered a small room, only three and a-half feet in height, in which was discovered the Cartouche, with the name of the founder inscribed upon it -viz., Suphis (Shofo), whose gold ring as I have described in Nights in the Harem, was found in 1843 by the late Dr. Abbott, and which now ornaments a museum in the United States of America, similar to that discovered on the tablets in the desert of Mount Sinai.
Auteur inconnu
Quitting the Great Pyramid, I threw off my shawl, and commenced the really difficult ascent of the second pyramid, which is supposed to have been built by Shafre, the Monarch of the 5th Dynasty, and is constructed of much ruder materials. It stands on a very elevated site, and appears much higher than the Great Pyramid, although in its dimensions it approximates closely to it. There remains intact about thirty feet of its smooth, slippery casing, and it is rather a feat to accomplish its ascent; nevertheless, I was surprised at the agility with which the Arabs both ascended up and descended from it. The sarcophagus of its founder is sunk in the floor. On the east side of this pyramid stands a structure, which is supposed to have been a temple.
Then I ascended the third pyramid, which, although much less in size than the others, is most beautifully constructed. It is supposed to have been erected by Mycerinus, the son of Cheops, whose plain, unadorned wooden coffin is to be seen in the British Museum in London.
On the south side stand three smaller pyramids, all of which are supposed to have been erected by that Prince, whose name is painted on a stone in the roof of the chamber in the centre one.”