lundi 9 mai 2011

“La première période de l’histoire égyptienne est aussi remarquable pour les vestiges de ses édifices qu’elle est déficiente en certitude historique” (Elizabeth Missing Sewell - XIXe s.)

L’ouvrage de la Britannique Elizabeth Missing Sewell (1815-1906) Ancient history of Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia, 1862, est explicitement inspiré, pour la partie égyptienne, par les récits de Diodore de Sicile, et surtout d’Hérodote.
Quelques remarques révèlent toutefois d’autres sources d’information, sans que celles-ci ne soient explicitement mentionnées. Elles concernent notamment la présence d’un sarcophage ou d’une “pierre tombale” dans chacune des pyramides, le revêtement de la Grande Pyramide avec “des pierres polies de différentes couleurs”, la technique de construction par degrés, la destination de la seconde chambre de la pyramide de Khéops (prévue pour recevoir la dépouille de Sen-Suphis, autrement dit de Khéphren). Des compléments à de telles affirmations eussent été fort appréciés...
“After the death of Menes, who is said to have been killed by a hippopotamus, the Egyptian history becomes for some centuries a mass of names and fables. The little which is known of it is chiefly gathered from two Greek writers, Herodotus and Diodorus, and from the slight remains of the work of Manetho, an Egyptian priest, who, about 250 years before the birth of Christ, undertook to write the history of his own country in Greek. Manetho was able to obtain access to the records kept by the priests and could understand and explain them, and his work, if it had come down to us, would have been very valuable ; but unfortunately the whole has been lost, with the exception of a few extracts, evidently copied very carelessly, and containing lists of an immense number of kings, many of whom were contemporaneous monarchs, reigning at the same time in different parts of the country. (...)
This early period of Egyptian history is, however, as remarkable for the remains of its buildings as it is deficient in historical certainty. The Pyramids, which are still reckoned amongst the wonders of the world, were undoubtedly built when Kings and Queens, whose names are now mere matters of curious inquiry, reigned in This and Memphis, and sought by erecting funeral monuments to perpetuate after their death the glory which attended them through life. For the Pyramids are tombs. Immense as their size is, their interior is almost a solid mass, containing only a few narrow passages and chambers. But a sarcophagus, or stone-tomb, has been found in every one of them, clearly shewing the purpose for which they were built.
Cheops, or Suphis, was the king who is supposed to have built the first or Great Pyramid, and the old legends state that he was a monarch remarkable for his wickedness as well as his power. Rejecting the worship of the gods, he shut up all the temples, and ordered the Egyptians to labour only for himself. Some were sent to procure stones from the quarries in the distant mountains ; others were appointed to transport them in vessels across the Nile, and to drag them still further to their place of destination on the elevated plains of Libya. The people worked, it is said, in parties of a hundred thousand men at a time, each set labouring for three months. Ten years were spent in forming the road along which the stones were dragged, and in making preparations for the building, and twenty years more were employed in the erection of the monument itself.
The height of the Great Pyramid is now 460 feet, when perfect it must have been about 480, nearly the same as that of the highest steeples in Europe. Originally it covered an area of 571,536 square feet, or somewhat more than the area of Lincoln's Inn Fields. The outer sides were covered with polished stones of different colours ; but these coatings have been taken away by the Arabs, and at present not a vestige of ornament is left.
The position of the Pyramids is very remarkable. They are placed so exactly facing the four cardinal points that the variation of the compass may be ascertained from them. This accuracy would imply that the Egyptians of that age possessed some astronomical knowledge, and were accustomed to careful observations.
It has been thought that the size of a Pyramid shews the duration of a monarch's reign, but this circumstance is doubtful. It is certain, however, that additions to the original building could easily be made from time to time, for the Pyramids were built in steps, the faces of which were nearly perpendicular, the triangular space, formed by the projection of the lower step being afterwards filled in. In this manner, as the steps were widened, the size of the building could be increased.
The Great Pyramid contains within it a hall, two chambers, a hole supposed to have been a well, and two air passages to give ventilation ; but these when taken together do not form one sixteen-hundredth part of the entire area, the remainder of which is perfectly solid.
The quantity of stone which has been employed in the erection is almost beyond imagination, yet the sepulchre within, three feet deep and broad and a little more than six feet in length, is all that was required to hold the mortal remains of the monarch who was buried there. In the time of Herodotus there was an inscription on the Pyramid in Egyptian characters which said that 1,600 talents of silver, or about £200,000, were expended in garlic, leeks, onions, and other vegetables for the workmen. How much more must have been required for tools, bread and clothes ! It can be no matter of surprise that the reign of Suphis is described as having been a time of great hardship for his people, since such immense and unproductive labours were required of them. But his death seems to have brought them no relief. Sen-Suphis, his brother, who is supposed to have previously shared the government, succeeded him.
The second chamber in the Great Pyramid appears to have been intended for the bones of Sen-Suphis. Herodotus calls this king, Chephren, and says that he was the son, not the brother, of Cheops, or Suphis. He states also, that during his reign the temples were still shut, and the Egyptians employed upon another Pyramid, whilst the country generally was visited by great calamities, and he adds that when at length Chephren died, his memory with that of Cheops was so detested, that many centuries afterwards the Egyptians were unwilling even to mention their names. According to the preceding tradition, the body of one of these kings was not permitted to enter the Pyramid constructed for it, but was torn in pieces by the people.
Mycerinus, or Mencheres, another son of Cheops, is said to have succeeded Chephren.”