mardi 18 novembre 2014

“Bien que la description d’Hérodote ne soit pas pleinement intelligible, elle est d'une valeur considérable” (Annie Quibell, XXe s.)

Annie Pirie, à côté de son futur mari

Fille d'un universitaire d’Aberdeen, Annie Quibell, née Pirie (1862-1927), eut une carrière d’artiste avant de s’adonner à l'archéologie. Fascinée par l'Égypte ancienne, elle fut à Londres l'un des premiers étudiants de Flinders Petrie, qu’elle accompagna en Égypte comme copiste.
C’est lors de fouilles au Ramasseum, à El-Kab et à Hierakonpolis qu’elle fit la connaissance de James Edward Quibell, l'assistant de Petrie, avec lequel elle se maria en 1900.
Elle écrivit plusieurs ouvrages de vulgarisation sur l’Égypte, dont “The Pyramids of Giza”, publié en 1923. Ce livre a déjà fait l’objet d’une présentation et d’un résumé en français dans Pyramidales (voir ICI).

J’en propose ci-dessous de larges extraits dans leur version originale.

The pyramids (...) were made to be the graves of something more than mere men ; the king was to be worshipped by all his people on earth and to be received among the gods above, so the kings had devised for themselves a building on a much grander scheme, but not departing from the invariable principle, that a tomb consisted of two parts, one for the living and one for the dead. The pyramid itself is the funeral vault. Its dark recesses, once the king had been laid to rest within, were never to be violated by the foot of the living, but the funerary ritual in his honour was carried on in a temple outside. At the end of the temple, up against the west wall of the pyramid, there was a granite "stela" or false door, just as in a private grave, before which the offerings were placed.


The temple of the Great Pyramid has been entirely destroyed, except for a few square feet of its black basalt pavement, which we cross on the way to the Sphinx, but there are considerable remains of the temples of the Second and Third Pyramids. A causeway led up to the temple from the desert and at the lower end of it there was another temple a sort of magnificent gateway where processions arriving on foot, on donkey, or by boat across the flooded fields in the inundation time, met, went through some preliminary ritual and passed along up the causeway to the temple itself. The lines of these causeways can be traced from the desert edge both to the Second and Third Pyramids, and are very distinctly to be seen at Abusir, where the entire groups of temple, valley temple and causeway, are in much better preservation than at Giza. But at Giza there is the finest of all the "valley" or "gateway" temples.
This is the granite temple near the Sphinx, which is often called the Temple of the Sphinx, but which really is the great entrance to the Second Pyramid. No one should fail to go into this temple, which, in its massive simplicity, is one of the most remarkable things in Egypt.
When we consider that the granite blocks of which it is built must have come from Aswan, nearly 600 miles up the Nile, we are filled with amazement at the mechanical skill that had already been arrived at 5000 years ago. The weight of some of the stones in the walls is estimated at 12 or 14 tons, while that of the large columns at the intersection of the aisles cannot be less than 18 tons. This is one of the grandest and simplest of all buildings; it has no ornament whatever on the walls, but originally the unpaved spaces which we see on the floor were occupied by statues of king Chephren. Several of these statues are in Cairo Museum : the finest, which must have been placed at the end of the central aisle, is a superb piece of sculpture in black diorite, one of the toughest of stones and one of the most difficult to carve. This splendid royal portrait ought to be seen by everyone ; it stands in the first of the Old Empire Rooms, directly opposite to the door, in the Cairo Museum.

The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx itself belongs to the Second Pyramid group, but it is an accidental adjunct, so to speak, and not an essential part of the pyramid plan. We can see that it is a spur of natural rock which must originally have had some resemblance to a couching lion. The Sphinx is a mythical animal, compounded of the head of a man with the body of a lion and signifying the union of strength and wisdom. King Chephren conceived the grand idea of carving this huge rock into a representation of himself in this symbolical form, which should stand, like a guardian god, watching over the entrance to his temple. This idea of his was forgotten in after ages and the later Egyptians worshipped the Sphinx as a form of the Sun god without reference to any king or to the neighbouring buildings, and it is only in very recent years that systematic research has discovered what was its original purpose.


The oldest of the pyramids is the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, then Medum, which is too far off to be seen, then the Dahshur Pyramids, the farthest we can see to the south, then the Giza Pyramids, far the finest of all, and later than these, numbers of smaller pyramids, most of which were built of rubble and, once their limestone casing was stripped off, soon wore down to look only like little mounds on the desert. The pyramids were built so long ago, and are so much older than any description of them, that it is very difficult to answer the questions which are constantly being put as to the manner of their erection.
The best account is given by Herodotus, the Greek traveller and historian, who visited Egypt in the 5th century before Christ. The pyramids were then well over two thousand years old, but he managed to gather some legends which were still current among the people, and, although his description is not fully intelligible, it is of very considerable value, and some of the statements he makes as to the time required, the numbers of workmen employed, and the oppression of the people, are probably very near the truth. He tells us that Cheops and Chephren were great oppressors of their people and afflicted the country sorely on purpose to obtain the money and labour needed to build their pyramids, and this may well be a reliable tradition handed down from antiquity, for the rest of his account, which relates to the construction and the time required for it, is extremely probable. Herodotus says that for the Pyramid of Cheops there were 100,000 workmen employed for three months at a time on quarrying the stones on the eastern or Arabian desert and in ferrying them over to the western side. Ten years were spent on building the causeway, in preparing the rock, and in making the subterranean chambers, and twenty years in building the pyramid itself. Herodotus' statement that the workmen were employed for three months at a time doubtless refers to the three months of high Nile, during which there was no work to be done in the fields. If supposing, then, that this army of 100,000 workmen worked three months every year for twenty years or more, and were divided up into gangs of eight or ten, which is as many as could conveniently work on one block of stone, each company would be able to quarry and convey to the site an average of ten blocks in the season, so the total of 2,300,000 could very well be arrived at. The average size of the blocks is estimated at about forty cubic feet, and their weight at two and a half tons.

Stones and workmen

The stone for the core of the pyramid was probably quarried not very far away, in a hollow to the south of the plateau, known as the Batnel Baqara ; but the whole of the limestone for the outside casing and the passages and galleries of the interior came from the quarries of the Moqattam Hills on the opposite bank, while the granite used in the doorway and in the king's chamber came from Aswan.
There were large workmen's barracks, traces of which are still remaining near the Second Pyramid, which would have accommodated 4,000 or 5,000 men. These were no doubt skilled workmen, who were permanently employed in raising the stones to their places, in dressing the fine stones, and, lastly, in the building and decoration of the temple.

Herodotus' "machines"

No representations of the building of the pyramids has come down to us, but certainly the ground was first levelled and prepared, the underground chambers were excavated and the causeway built. The stones were then drawn up the causeway by ropes and rollers and they were lastly raised into place by what Herodotus calls "machines made of short pieces of wood." There are in the Museum several specimens of a kind of cradle, made of rough wood, which are only models, for they are quite little things a few inches long, but were found with other model tools in the foundation deposits of large buildings and evidently were representations of the instruments used in building.
It is suggested that Herodotus' "machines" were something of this kind, that the stone was rolled on to this wooden cradle, then rocked up by levers to its place. Some traces have been found that a wooden 12 scaffolding was used for raising very large and heavy blocks such as those in the Granite Temple.
When the floor of the burial chamber was prepared, the sarcophagus was put in its place, the chamber completed, and roofed, and the building of the pyramid gone on with, the casing all finished, with only a small opening left by which, when the king came to die, his remains could be taken to the place so carefully made ready. The temple, too, was finished, for it was equally essential to his continued existence ; the causeway leading up to it was roofed over, and the gateway temple was decorated as a stately portal where processions of priests and lay worshippers would assemble and perhaps perform some initial part of the funerary rites. So when the king died and came to occupy his vast dwelling, his mummified body, enclosed in a wooden coffin, was drawn up to the little door on the north side, and along the dark galleries inside, till it was finally laid in the great granite sarcophagus. Those in charge of these last ceremonies then withdrew, and as they went they let down behind them the heavy portcullises of granite, which had been suspended in the passages when the pyramid was being built. The outer opening needed only to have two or three of the casing stones added to close it completely and make it indistinguishable from the wall. And so the mighty king was left, all having been done that the wit of man could devise that he might be undisturbed for ever.

The Great Pyramid

The Pyramid of Cheops, Egyptian Khufu, has withstood the vicissitudes of 5000 years so well that, in spite of its interior having been ransacked for treasure and its exterior hacked away as a quarry, it remains one of the greatest monuments of ancient times. But all the buildings that belonged to it have disappeared. Nothing is to be seen of the gateway that once gave access to its precincts, and only a few fragments of rock, which stand up in the middle of the village, mark some foundations of the great causeway which Herodotus esteemed to be a work not much less than the Pyramid itself.
When we reach the plateau on which the Pyramid stands, we do indeed find many portions of the limestone pavement of its enclosure, and on the east side blocks of black basalt remind us that this was the site of the temple, though only these fragments of its flooring have escaped destruction.
The three small pyramids to the south are said to have belonged to the daughters of Cheops and at a much later date a little temple for the worship of Isis was built near the southernmost of these.
The area covered by the Great Pyramid is very nearly thirteen acres ; the length of each side is now about 746 feet but was some ten feet more when the outer casing was complete : its perpendicular height is now 450 feet but originally is thought to have been 480 feet. Some of the casing blocks remain beneath the debris on the north side and their fineness and exactness of fitting is very remarkable.
The entrance is on the north side as in all pyramids and is easily approached over the mass of rubbish which lies against its walls. The door was formerly invisible; whether it was closed by a moveable stone or simply built over is not quite certain, but it was supposed to be indistinguishable from the surface of the Pyramid.
The internal plan of all the pyramids shews evidence of an alteration of the scheme after the work was in progress. A glance at the plan of the Great Pyramid will make this clear. In the second and third pyramids the burial chamber is hollowed out of the rock, but in the Great Pyramid, a subterranean chamber which was begun was never finished ; it was decided to build the burial chamber in the central masonry. On entering, the passage slopes down steeply, and (...) would lead on eventually to the subterranean chamber hewn in the rock, which was apparently intended to be the burial chamber when the Pyramid was first designed. The passage is now, however, blocked by a grating, and the chamber, which was never finished, is not accessible. About twenty yards from the entrance, at the angle where the later passage begins to ascend, we find one of the huge granite portcullises blocking it, which so effectually barred further progress that the ancient treasure seekers had to force a way round it rather than attempt to break it up ; and here we follow them, in a somewhat awkward scramble, to the upper level. This is the only part which presents any difficulty, but there are good holds for the hands and feet, which the guides will show.
Above this we clamber up a passage, slippery, but narrow enough for us to hold on to the sides till we come to the extension of the corridor know as Great Hall, which is 155 feet long and twenty-eight feet high. The walls are built up of seven courses of fine Moqattam lime-stone, each projecting slightly beyond the one below and thus narrowing to the roof, which is made of slabs laid horizontally.
On either side of the passage is a ramp, up which the sarcophagus must have been dragged ; we see at regular intervals deep cuttings in the stone where wooden pegs were inserted to prevent it slipping back. A horizontal passage juns from the lower end of the Great Hall to the so-called Queen's Chamber, which was probably intended for the burial vault under the second scheme of the builders. It is a room eighteen feet ten inches long by seventeen feet wide, with a pointed roof, and is particularly well built. But first the subterranean chamber was abandoned, and afterwards the Queen's Chamber, in favour of the much more magnificent Great Hall leading to the King's Chamber.
Continuing the ascent we reach a short passage on the level, which expands into a small antechamber, once closed by four granite falling doors or portcullises, of a grooved pattern familiar in archaic tombs and coffins.
From this we enter the King's Chamber, the walls and roof of which are of massive blocks of granite. Its length is thirty-four and a half feet, its height nineteen, and its width seventeen feet. Its floor is 139 feet above the plateau on which the Pyramid stands. The sarcophagus is also of granite ; empty, broken, and bereft of its lid. It, like all the rest of the chamber, is perfectly plain with no line of inscription anywhere. In this room are two small air-shafts, which are actually apertures running through the whole bulk of the pyramid and admitting a current of air from the outside. The atmosphere is certainly very fresh, which must have been a great benefit to the workmen employed on this room, yet it is very doubtful whether the air shafts were contrived on their account. It seems more likely that Cheops desired ventilation for himself !
Above the King's Chamber are five constructional vaults, made lest the great weight of stone should break through the roof of the King's Chamber. Modern calculations seem to show that this caution was unnecessary. The name of Khufu has repeatedly been noted on mason's marks in these upper chambers.

On returning to the light of day

On returning to the light of day after having penetrated these dark mansions of the dead, we cannot but feel that we realize much more clearly than we did the stupendous nature of the Pyramid building. The ascent will still further impress it on us, but it also is fatiguing and much time and a good deal of assistance is needed for it.
The view from the top is very fine and very different from what any other country can show, with the long stretch of rich, green land on the one side, the limitless desert on the other, and the great cemetery below. Herodotus says that the outside of this Pyramid was covered with writing, and this has sometimes been taken to mean hieroglyphic inscriptions contemporary with it ; but this is most unlikely, none such having ever been seen on the casing blocks which remain, nor on any other pyramid. What is very probable is that there were large numbers of graffiti, that is to say, that a great many travellers wrote their names on it. The old Egyptians had the habit of doing this on show places to a great extent, and it would seem to be a taste deeply engrained in most of mankind, for the top of the Pyramid now records that it is visited every year by numbers of tourists from every part of the world.

Second Pyramid and Sphinx

The Pyramid of Chephren is almost equal in proportions and execution to that of Cheops, and has suffered much less from the ravages of time and spoilers. Not only is part of the original casing still in place on the upper part of the pyramid, but the position and plan of the temple on its eastern face are still traceable ; almost the whole line of the causeway can be clearly seen, and the Valley Temple remains in comparatively good condition.
Besides all this, the Great Sphinx as has been noted, belongs properly to this Pyramid and, though much damaged above and sanded up in its lower part, is so notable an addition to the funerary monuments that it has excited the wonder of all beholders. The entire height, from the pavement to the crown of the head is said to be 66 feet and its length is 187, but unfortunately the ever encroaching sand has hidden the paws completely and with them a pavement and a kind of little temple between where stands a memorial stone purporting to give an account of a clearance of the sand in ancient times. Some remains of brick walls near by shew another attempt, made in Roman times, to clear away the sand, and though the last clearance was made as lately as 1886, the paws are already entirely covered.
The granite temple has been noticed in the introduction along with the Sphinx, but it may be well to mention that the door by which we enter it is the door of exit to the causeway and it is very interesting to follow up the causeway, noting the shafts of later tombs on either side, to "the temple of the pyramid which is still imposing in its ruin. Round the pyramid was a great enclosure wall much of which is still traceable and within the precinct on the south side are the remains of a small pyramid, probably that of the queen.
The site of the Second Pyramid is not quite so advantageous as the level plateau which Cheops utilized. Chephren chose higher, but somewhat sloping ground, and had to cut away some of the rock on the west side, and to build up foundations on the east, in order to level it up. The Pyramid is now 447*4 feet in height and was originally 471. Each side of the base measures now 690 feet, originally 707 M. The two lower courses of the casing were of granite, some blocks of which are still to be seen on the west side. All the upper part was of Tura limestone, much of which still remains. The interior is much less worth visiting than the Great Pyramid. It shows another case of alteration of design while the building was in progress. There were two entrances. It is supposed that a much smaller pyramid was intended and that the sarcophagus was already in place in the chamber first designed. The entrance was to have been in the flooring of the pavement outside the Pyramid. When the plan was changed and a second chamber was excavated in the rock, here, not built as in The Pyramid of Cheops a problem presented itself as to how the coffin 20 was to be moved. The architects decided that, instead of dragging it up again to the outside and in by the new passages to the new chamber, they would tunnel another passage for it through the rock, by which it could be drawn up to the horizontal corridor leading to the new room. The burial chamber is roofed with painted slabs of limestone, placed at the same angle as the sides of the Pyramid. In the face of the cliff on the west, which has been cut away in order to level the plateau on which the Pyramid stands, are several tombs, some of which are of a much later period, and none have any connection with the Pyramid. West of this, above, are the remains of the barracks where the workmen were lodged.

Third Pyramid

The Pyramid of Mycerinus is much smaller than the other two, but must have looked very splendid when its lower half was cased with red Aswan granite. Many of the casing blocks are still in place; others strew the ground round about. It is to be noted that they are still rough on the face, an excess of thickness having been left when they were quarried ; also that they all were intended to be dressed down, for a slanting line has been marked on the side, showing how much had to be cut away. There is some presumption from this that Mycerinus did not live long enough to finish his Pyramid completely, and this is confirmed by the state of the two temples. The upper part of the casing was of Moqartam limestone. The present height of the Pyramid is 204 feet, its former height was 218. The length of the sides is 356 [ / feet. It, like the two larger Pyramids, shows evidence of a change of plan and an enlargement of the first design, but in this case there are some features which differ from any others. The original entrance is seen, far inside the masonry, and a short sloping passage leads down from it to the burial chamber. The present entrance is on the side of the Pyramid, but not so high as in that of Cheops or of Chephren ; the pas- 21 sage is granite-lined till the point when it penetrates the rock. After sloping downwards for 104 feet, it runs for a few feet horizontally, passes through an antechamber, under three portcullisses, continuing for forty-one and a half feet almost on the level, then enters the chamber. This had been further excavated in the rock, and the lower passage enters below the opening to the earlier passage. This was probably the burial chamber of the king, but in this pyramid there is a curious feature different from any of the others, for here we have yet another chamber excavated on a lower level. This, however, was almost certainly made much later. About 600 B. C. There was a sort of Renaissance in Egypt, and not only did the artists of that comparatively late period greatly admire the art of very early times and imitate it to the best of their ability, but they even revived the worship of the old kings, and it is likely, that they found that the pyramid had been plundered but that the king's body was still inside and that they hollowed out a new burial chamber for him and placed the body in a fine new coffin. A large stone sarcophagus was, as a matter of fact, found in this chamber by Col. Vyse, one of the earlier explorers in the nineteenth century, and was removed by him and sent off to the British Museum, but unfortunatetly it was lost at sea, and no drawing of it remains from which its period could be recognised.