lundi 14 décembre 2009

La "pyramide de Noël" de Karl Richard Lepsius (XIXe s.)

Photo Marc Chartier
Il fut un temps où les égyptologues concevaient l'archéologie de façon festive. Une visite du plateau de Guizeh comportait généralement une escalade au sommet de la Grande Pyramide, par l'arête nord-est, récompensée au sommet par un copieux casse-croûte sur la plate-forme, histoire de se refaire des forces avant la descente-retour.
À l'approche des fêtes de fin d'année, je ne résiste pas au plaisir de vous proposer de lire ou relire ce qu'écrivait Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1894) en pareilles circonstances début 1843. L'égyptologue allemand se trouvait alors en Égypte, plus précisément sur le site des pyramides de Guizeh. Il a imaginé d'y fêter à sa manière le passage vers la nouvelle année en allumant un feu de joie au sommet de la Grande Pyramide, puis en installant dans le sarcophage de la Chambre du Roi... un sapin de Noël avec guirlandes et cadeaux ! Il fallait quand même bien faire plaisir aux "enfants du désert" !

5th January 1843. On the evening of the first Christmas holiday, I surprised my companions by a great fire, which I had caused to be lighted on the summit of the highest Pyramid. The flame illuminated both the other Pyramids splendidly, as well as the whole field of tombs, and shone quite across the valley as far as Cairo. That was indeed a Christmas Pyramid ! I only let Abeken into the secret, who, with his constantly cheerful temper, and his intellectual and instructive conversation, had happily joined us on the 10th December. With his assistance I then prepared a special Christmas-tree for the following day, in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid. We planted a young palmtree in the sarcophagus of the ancient king, and adorned it with lights, and small presents, which I had ordered from the town for us children of the desert. St. Sylvester must have his share of honours also. At twelve o'clock on New-year's Eve immense flames rose simultaneously at midnight from the three great Pyramids, and proclaimed the changes of the Christian year, far and wide, to the Islamite provinces at their base.

Lepsius (Wikimedia commons)

En une autre occasion, l'effet de surprise ne sera pas moindre : Lepsius et ses compagnons d'exploration visitent l'intérieur de la pyramide de Khéops. Sans doute pour exprimer l'intensité de leur émotion en découvrant la Chambre du Roi, ils se mettent alors à entonner l'hymne prussien. D'où la stupéfaction de leurs accompagnateurs bédouins qui croient avoir assisté au déroulement d'une étrange cérémonie religieuse :

After I had taken an exact survey of the neighbouring tombs, with a view to select some points for future excavations, we once more descended to the entrance of the Pyramid, and, providing ourselves with lights, entered, like miners, the steeply sloping shaft with some guides, and reached the gallery, and so-called King's Chamber, by paths already familiar to me by drawings. We admired the infinitely fine seams of the enormous blocks, and examined the quality of the stones of the passages and chambers. In the spacious hall, whose floor, walls, and ceiling, are entirely built of granite, and, therefore, return a metallic-sounding echo, we sang our Prussian hymn, which sounded so powerful and so solemn that our guides afterwards told the remaining Bedouins that we had selected the innermost part of the Pyramid to perform divine service and utter a loud general prayer. We now visited also the so-called Chamber of the Queen, and then quitted the Pyramid, reserving the view of the chambers which were more difficult of access for a future and longer visit. (1)

J'ai déjà eu l'occasion par ailleurs de citer ce qu'a écrit Lepsius sur le Prince Merhet qui serait, selon lui, l'architecte de la Grande Pyramide :

Six of the enclosed leaves are drawings of a tomb which I myself discovered under the sand, and the paintings of which are almost as fresh and perfect as you may perceive them in the drawing.* It was the last resting-place of Prince Merhet, who, as he was a priest of Chufu (Cheops), named one of his sons Chufu-mer-nuteru, and possessed eight villages, the names of which were compounded with that of Chufu ; and the position of the grave on the west side of the pyramid of Chufu, as well as perfect identity of style in the sculptures, renders it more than probable that Merhet was the son of Chufu, by which the whole representations are rendered more interesting. This prince was also " Superintendent-General of the royal buildings" and thus had the rank of Ober-hof Baurath (High Court-architect), a great and important post in these times of magnificent architecture, and which we have often found under the direction of princes and members of the royal family. It is therefore to be conjectured that he also overlooked the building of the Great Pyramid.

Il est bon finalement de rappeler que durant ses trois années passées en Égypte (1842-1845), Lepsius a étudié le site de Guizeh (relevés topographiques de la nécropole) et la structure interne des pyramides, notamment celles d'Abousir, de Meïdoum et de Saqqarah. Ses observations l'ont amené à formuler une même théorie relative à la construction de l'ensemble des pyramides : construction commençant par le centre (noyau), puis extension par l'extérieur, avec ajouts successifs et progressifs de plusieurs couches :

A short time ago, I made a trip, in company with Abeken and Bonomi, to the more distant pyramids of Lisht and Meidum. The latter interested me particularly, as it has solved for me the riddle of pyramidal construction, on which I had long been employed. It lies almost in the valley of the plain, close by the Bahr Jussuf, and is only just removed from the level of inundation, but it towers so loftily and grandly from the low neighbourhood that it attracts attention from a great distance. From a casing of rubbish that surrounds almost the half of it, to the height of 120 feet, a square, sharp-edged centre rises after the manner of a tower, which lessens but little at the top, i. e. in an angle of 74°. At the elevation of another 100 feet there is a platform on which, in the same angle, stands a slenderer tower of moderate height, which again supports the remains of a third elevation in the middle of its flat upper side. The walls of the principal tower are mostly polished, flat, but are interrupted by rough bands, the reason of which seems hardly comprehensible. On a closer examination, however, I found also within the half-ruined building, round the foot, smoothened walls rising at the same angle as the tower, before which there lay other walls, following each other like shells. At last I discovered that the whole structure had proceeded from a little pyramid, which had been built in steps to about the height of 40 feet, and had then been enlarged and raised in all directions by a stone casing of 15 to 20 feet in breadth, till at last the great steps were filled out to a surface, and the whole received the usual pyramidal form.
This gradual accumulation explains the monstrous size of single pyramids among so many smaller ones. Each king commenced the construction of his pyramid at his accession ; he made it but small at first, in order to secure himself a perfect grave even if his reign should be but short. With the passing years of his government, however, he enlarged it by adding outer casings, until he thought himself near the end of his days. If he died during the erection of it, the outermost casing only was finished, and thus the size of the pyramid stood ever in proportion to the length of the king's reign. Had the other determinative relations remained the same in the lapse of ages, one might have told off the number of years of each monarch's reign by the casings of the pyramids, like the annual rings of trees.

Ces textes sont extraits des ouvrages suivants :
Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia and the Peninsula of Sinai, 1853 (traduction Leonora and Joanna B. Horner)
Discoveries from Egypt, Ethiopia and the Peninsula of Sinai, 1853 (traduction de Kenneth R.H. Mackenzie)

(1) Michel Michel me rappelle que Lepsius a en outre fait graver, sur le fronton à l'entrée de la Grande Pyramide, une inscription en hiéroglyphes en l'honneur de Friedrich Wilhelm IV, roi de Prusse, à l'occasion de l'anniversaire du souverain.

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