vendredi 22 juillet 2011

“Il y a peu de points [à propos des pyramides] sur lesquels les auteurs anciens soient d’accord avec les modernes, ou les modernes entre eux” (Jesse Ames Spencer - XIXe s.)

L’Américain Jesse Ames Spencer (1816-1898) était un pasteur protestant. À la suite d’importants problèmes de santé, il cessa momentanément ses fonctions pour effectuer, en 1848-1849, un long voyage qui le mena en Europe, en Égypte et en Terre Sainte.
Il relata ce périple dans The East : sketches of travel in Egypt and the Holy Land, publié en 1850.
Plus que l’analyse d’un égyptologue patenté, c’est plutôt les réflexions d’un voyageur éclairé qu’il faut chercher dans cet ouvrage. Outre ses observations personnelles, l’auteur a pris soin de consulter les références qu’il avait à sa disposition (les auteurs anciens et modernes) pour mieux comprendre et interpréter l’histoire des pyramides égyptiennes, sans pour autant parvenir à une synthèse satisfaisante. D’où un réel scepticisme sur les prétendus acquis de l’archéologie, au regard de la “vérité”. D’où également cette conclusion, au moins provisoire : “Peut-être le secret des pyramides n’a-t-il pas encore été découvert.”

“We could not restrain our astonishment, when we drew near the Great Pyramid, beheld the immense blocks of stone, and looked up from one corner at the towering mass which rose to such a height above us. It is only in this position, when you are standing close by, when you see the layers of stone, examine and measure their length, breadth and thickness, look along the sides, or upward toward the summit, notice the diminutive appearance of some smaller pyramids near the base, and see how very insignificant seem objects like oneself, that the imagination becomes satisfied that the reality is in no wise inferior to what it expected in these mighty monuments. For myself, I can but say, that though I had supposed a far different scene would meet the eye, and had pictured to myself something quite unlike the reality, I now felt all the effects which grandeur in nature or art produces upon the mind ; and it is not too much to say - though rather common place - that I was overwhelmed with the sight, and lost in wonder and surprise. What immense labor, what an amount of toil for hundreds of thousands, what astonishing skill and ingenuity must have been exerted in their erection ! How strange does it seem to look at the Pyramids and turn the thoughts back to four thousand years ago, when they were built by the proud oppressors whose names they bear ! (...) The Pyramids stand, in gloomy grandeur, frowning upon the pigmies of a day who come to gaze awhile at them and then go away to die ; here they remain, the lasting evidences of death's triumph over the race of man, and the puerile attempt of royal despots to provide for themselves mausoleums of imperishable renown. What a lesson do they teach of the vanity and worthlessness of this world's greatness and glory ! (...)

Les pyramides ont perdu non seulement leur revêtement, mais aussi de nombreux blocs de pierre que l’on a fait rouler à partir du sommet
There is something rather surprising in the fact that the top of the Great Pyramid, which, from the bottom, appears only partially broken off, presents, when you are really there, a broad surface of between thirty and forty feet. In former times, it appears that the platform was much less ; and, we are told that, in the earliest ages the Pyramid was complete and finished up to the very apex ; but, as is well known, the vast structures here situate were used by the Saracen conquerors as quarries, from which to obtain stone for the edifices of Cairo, and consequently, not only the casing-stones, which the Great Pyramid is said to have once possessed, and which are partially remaining on the second, have been carried off, but also many blocks have been rolled down from the top, breaking and crushing the sides and corners of most of the layers in their descent, as well as diminishing the vertical height of the Pyramids. (...)

Le sarcophage endommagé par la conduite coupable des visiteurs

Whatever it [the sarcophagus] may have contained in former days, it is now empty ; and here it stands, a strange monument of the instability of kingly power, since all this vast structure, as is supposed, was built to contain the perishing dust of a monarch, whose remains have long since, we know not when; been carried off, and scattered to the four winds of heaven.
The sarcophagus has been much injured by the culpable conduct of visitors, who are usually desirous to carry away some relic of the Pyramid, and who have not scrupled to break off pieces from one of the corners, to an extent which, if continued, will ere long destroy it entirely.
We hardly had time to reflect much upon the perplexing questions which present themselves in connection with the sarcophagus and the King's chamber, in general ; but we could not fail to be as much struck as every one has been with the fact, that there is an entire absence of hieroglyphics where, above all places, we should have expected to have found them. May it not be, after all, that the secret of the Pyramid has not yet been discovered ? Is it not possible, that where so much skill and care has been displayed in everything, to keep out intruders, and to conceal from all eyes some sacred spot or object, that there is yet something to be discovered, which will throw light upon points, even to the present day much debated, and far from being satisfactorily ascertained ? 

Opinions et théories divergentes
I am, by no means, skeptically inclined ; but I profess (...) that I am not wholly satisfied on the subject of the Great Pyramid : perhaps time will reveal what is now hidden from the wise and learned laborers in the field of Egyptian history and antiquities. (...)
It is a singular fact in regard to these imposing monuments, that there are few points on which ancient writers agree with the moderns, or the moderns with themselves ; or, if this be thought too strong language, there can be no doubt that it is a strange thing how many and various opinions and theories have been started, and how little satisfaction is, after all, derived from the researches of many learned and able men, in this interesting field.
The ancient writers, commencing with Herodotus, have related the traditions which were current in their days, and have furnished some facts of a rather curious nature, and made several statements which it seems impossible to reconcile with truth. (...)

Les pyramides furent érigées par les Rois bergers
I do not know how these sentiments may strike your mind, or whether you will be able to see any force in the arguments used, to support the opinion of the Jews' connection with the erection of the Pyramids ; for my own part, I cannot accede to this view, for several reasons, but principally the deficiency of everything like proof in its support. I am much disposed to prefer the more commonly adopted view, that the Pyramids were erected by the Shepherd Kings, during the time of their rule id Egypt. This would accord very well with the great antiquity of these vast monuments, and would serve, in some measure, at least, to explain the reason why "every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians”. If it be true, as is generally agreed at the present day, that Egypt was overrun by a foreign tribe, known in history as the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings; and if it be true that they established their power, maintained their supremacy for some hundreds of years, and treated their conquered subjects with severity amounting to actual tyranny, the supposition does not, certainly, seem improbable, that they might have been the founders of the Pyramids, and that they might have hit on this plan as an excellent one for breaking down the spirit of the people, and for preventing any sudden or violent outbreak. (...) Hence, on this hypothesis, we can understand the significancy of that expression, that shepherds were regarded as an abomination by the Egyptians ; not, probably, all shepherds, for the Egyptians themselves had flocks and herds, but shepherds who came from abroad, and towards whom, having no natural affinity, they entertained invincible repugnance and hatred.
I am well aware, that very much of what I have stated as most probable on this subject, is yet unsubstantiated by proof ; but as it is most likely, that for many years to come we shall be under the guidance of theories and great names, instead of clear and satisfactory evidence, I hope that you will agree with me in looking upon this hypothesis as, all things considered, quite as reasonable as any other. (...)

Érigées comme des sépulcres, les pyramides ont peut-être eu aussi d’autres fonctions
 It is a question of considerable interest as to what were the intended uses of the Pyramids ; and here too there is nearly as much disagreement as in respect to the date and founders of these massive monuments. (...) Not to dwell upon other theories, I may mention that the one most usually adopted, and which has the least difficulties connected with it, is that which is derived from the ancients, and which makes them to have been built for tombs or sepulchres. While I am not thoroughly convinced on the point, I must confess that this is, on the whole, the most probable supposition ; it is not unlikely too, that they may have subserved another, or other purposes, and thus, though primarily intended as tombs, may still have been used for scientific purposes.”

jeudi 21 juillet 2011

“La construction est certainement le côté de la civilisation que les Égyptiens ont poussé le plus loin” (Édouard Naville - XIXe-XXe s.)

L’égyptologue suisse Henri Édouard Naville (1844-1926) fut professeur d’égyptologie à l’université de Genève.
Au cours de plusieurs séjours qu’il effectua en Égypte de 1865 à 1906, il participa à diverses campagnes archéologiques, notamment pour le compte de l’Egypt Exploration Fund.
Dans son ouvrage La religion des anciens Égyptiens, publié en 1906, qui reprend des conférences données au Collège de France en 1905 (extraits ci-dessous), il souligne le savoir-faire innovant des bâtisseurs égyptiens qui ne durent leur art de bâtir, notamment en pierre de taille, qu’à eux-mêmes, et non à quelque autre civilisation.
Si vous souhaitez consulter les exposés de l’auteur sur l’évolution du mastaba à la pyramide, ou sur l’éclairage apporté par les inscriptions religieuses, puis par le Livre des Morts, pour les pyramides postérieures à celles de Guizeh, j’ai mis à votre disposition de lecteur proposé par Gallica, la source à laquelle j’ai eu recours pour ce texte.

“Si nous l'étudions de près, nous ne tarderons pas à reconnaître que la culture égyptienne est déterminée dans tous ses traits par la nature du pays où elle s'est développée, et par conséquent qu'elle ne peut guère être née en dehors de la vallée du Nil. Cette civilisation est essentiellement agricole par ses origines, elle procède comme du reste la plupart des civilisations, de la culture du sol. (...)
L'Égyptien n'a pas dû tarder à s'apercevoir que la boue du Nil séchée au soleil était une matière facile à travailler, et très durable, surtout dans un climat aussi sec. Il ne semble pas qu'il ait fallu un grand effort d'imagination pour arriver à faire une brique, dès l'instant qu'il ne s'agissait que de la découper, car il n'y avait pas à la cuire. Les briques égyptiennes ont toujours été des briques crues, elles le sont même encore aujourd'hui. La brique cuite a été importée en Égypte par les Romains. L'action du feu est nécessaire clans les pays où l'on n'a pas un limon compact.
La construction égyptienne a d'abord été une construction en briques et en bois; ce n'est que plus tard que la pierre a été employée, et encore pour des édifices de luxe, et surtout pour les temples. Il ne paraît pas qu'à aucune époque on ait fait grand usage de la pierre pour les habitations, même pour les palais. Les souverains de l'Orient aiment à se construire leurs propres demeures ; ils ne tiennent ni à habiter celles de leurs pères, ni à transmettre à leurs descendants celles qu'ils ont élevées, aussi faut-il que ces constructions soient faites rapidement.
Dans les tombes de l'époque thinite, on peut constater le passage de la brique à la pierre. À cet égard, l'Égypte était particulièrement favorisée, les matériaux de construction abondaient et ils étaient de qualité supérieure. C'était d'abord le grès facile à travailler, qui se trouve dans la Haute-Égypte, à Silsilis et dans les environs, et avec lequel ont été construits tous les grands édifices de Thèbes. Puis c'était un beau calcaire blanc, assez tendre et qui prenait fort bien la couleur, tout à fait approprié à la sculpture des hiéroglyphes. On a employé diverses espèces de granit, le noir, qui vient de carrières entre le Nil et la mer Rouge, et le fameux granit rose d'Assouan, cette pierre superbe dont on a fait grand usage à toutes les époques, qui est susceptible d'acquérir un très beau poli, et même d'être travaillée avec une grande finesse.
Rien de plus facile que de passer de la brique à ces matériaux excellents, que les habitants du pays avaient sous la main. On comprendra que des Égyptiens aient été des constructeurs, qu'ils n'aient pas tardé à le devenir, dès qu'ils se sont établis dans cette vallée placée entre deux haies de montagnes qui leur fournissaient toutes les pierres dont ils avaient besoin. La construction est certainement le côté de la civilisation que les Égyptiens ont poussé le plus loin. C'est là qu'à certains égards ils ont dépassé les autres nations de l'antiquité. C'est aussi ce à quoi ils donnaient eux-mêmes le plus de prix.
Un roi lorsqu'il veut se faire valoir, pourra parler en termes vagues de ses conquêtes, de sa puissance, et de ce qu'il a reculé les limites de son empire jusqu'au commencement du monde au sud, ou jusqu'aux marais du nord ; mais tout cela ce sont des expressions conventionnelles qui se répètent d'un souverain à l'autre. Il sera beaucoup plus précis lorsqu'il parlera de ses constructions, qui doivent durer autant que le ciel.
Dans tout ce qui tient à l'architecture égyptienne, il est impossible de discerner aucune trace d'influence étrangère. C'est bien un art qui est né dans le pays, et qui est déterminé par les conditions spéciales dans lesquelles il a pris naissance. (...)

Coin nord-ouest du mastaba Faraoun à Saqqarah
Cliché de Jon Bodsworth

Ressemblance entre la pyramide et le mastaba
Il est peu de sujets sur lesquels on ait autant écrit, et sur lesquels on ait émis autant d'opinions les plus étranges que les pyramides. Cela vient en partie de ce que la plupart des auteurs de ces livres croyaient qu'il n'y avait qu'une pyramide, tout au plus deux, les grandes pyramides de Ghizeh, et qu'ils ignoraient que ce mode de sépulture avait été fort répandu parmi les rois de l'Ancien Empire. Nous connaissons maintenant plus de soixante-dix pyramides, de hauteurs, il est vrai, fort différentes, mais dont la destination est la même. Une pyramide n'est qu'un tombeau, ce n'est qu'un tertre artificiel destiné à cacher une chambre sépulcrale. Ce qui l'a fait élever, c'est toujours cette même idée, le désir de préserver le corps des violations possibles, de le conserver absolument intact, afin que le double puisse survivre dans l'autre monde, et ne pas être anéanti.
Une pyramide renferme du reste les mêmes éléments que ceux que nous avons décrits à propos de mastaba. À l'extérieur le temple, c'est-à-dire les salles où l'on vient rendre un culte au défunt, lui apporter les offrandes ; puis le long escalier conduisant à la chambre funéraire et qui correspond au puits ; enfin la chambre placée au-dessous de la masse de la pyramide, et dans laquelle reposait le sarcophage en pierre qui, en plusieurs cas, est arrivé jusqu'à nous. La ressemblance est même poussée encore plus loin : sur la chambre funéraire ouvre une chambre plus petite reliée à l'autre par un étroit couloir et qui doit être le serdab, le réduit où l'on déposait les statues du roi défunt, qui étaient les supports de son double.

Les textes des pyramides postérieures à celles de Guizeh
Les grandes pyramides de Ghizeh étant complètement dépourvues de toute inscription et de tout ornement dans les chambres qu'elles renferment, on a longtemps cru que toutes étaient muettes et qu'elles ne nous apprendraient rien sur le sort de ceux qui y étaient déposés. Mariette lui-même soutint longtemps cette opinion, mais quelques fragments trouvés à Sakkarah ayant éveillé sa curiosité, à peine arrivé en Égypte en 1880, il fit immédiatement commencer des travaux dans deux pyramides à moitié ruinées qu'on avait négligées jusque-là.
L'ouverture de ces deux pyramides fut son dernier triomphe. Cloué sur un lit de maladie dont il ne devait pas se relever, il envoya son ami, l'égyptologue allemand Brugsch (*) voir quel était le résultat des travaux ; au retour Brugsch apportait la nouvelle que les pyramides étaient ouvertes, qu'on avait trouvé les murs des chambres couverts d'inscriptions religieuses dont il avait copié quelques fragments ; ce fut la dernière nouvelle scientifique qui arriva aux oreilles du mourant. Cette nouvelle fit grande sensation parmi les égyptologues ; c'était une révélation, cela nous apprenait qu'à une époque aussi reculée que la cinquième dynastie, la religion, j'entends les croyances de l'Égypte étaient déjà fort semblables à ce qu'elles furent dans la suite.
Les principaux dieux du panthéon étaient déjà l'objet de la vénération des Égyptiens, les formules magiques existaient, et avaient la même efficacité qu'on leur attribuait plus tard ; les cérémonies, les offrandes s'y voyaient aussi. Tout cela nous est décrit dans une langue dont les caractères généraux sont tout semblables à ceux de l'époque classique. Les textes des pyramides sont un morceau de la littérature sacrée qui a dû exister déjà depuis longtemps. Et cela nous ramène à la question que nous posions il y a un instant : Que s'est-il passé entre l'époque thinite et l'époque memphite qui ait pu produire non pas un bouleversement, mais un développement si rapide et si prodigieux ?
Il y a maintenant cinq pyramides qui ont été ouvertes, et qui nous ont fourni des textes religieux ; ces textes se répètent de l'une à l'autre, mais ils ne sont pas tous exactement les mêmes. Il est évident que ce qui a été copié sur ces murs, ce sont des extraits d'un livre ou d'un recueil tout analogue au Livre des Morts, et qui décrivait la destinée du roi défunt après sa mort.”

(*) sur cet auteur, lire la note de Pyramidales : ICI

Lecteur proposé par Gallica

mercredi 20 juillet 2011

“La Grande Pyramide, pas plus que les autres, ne semble avoir été terminée selon le projet d’origine” (William Wittman - XIXe s.)

Le texte qui suit est extrait de Travels in Turkey, Asia-Minor, Syria and across the desert into Egypt during the years 1799, 1800 and 1801, in company with the Turkish army, and  the British military mission, 1803, de William Wittman, qui était membre du Collège Royal des chirurgiens de Londres, chirurgien de l’armée britannique.
J’y relève deux remarques particulières de l’auteur :
- la première, que j’ai choisie pour le titre de cette note, et qui aurait nécessité ne serait-ce qu’un minimum d’argumentation ;
- la seconde, qui a trait aux furrows (entailles, sillons) observés sur plusieurs blocs de pierre. William Wittman y voit la trace d’emplacements pour des arceaux ou des liens métalliques assemblant plusieurs blocs. Avec le temps, pour cause de corrosion et d’humidité, ces liens auraient été cassés, rendant aux blocs leur “liberté” et provoquant ainsi leur chute. S’agit-il d’une interprétation purement intuitive ? Ou bien de la reprise d’une interprétation antérieure ? Mais, dans ce second cas, à quelle source est-il fait référence ? L’auteur ne le précise pas.

“About this period I made an excursion, with a party, to the pyramids of Giza, of which the three principal are in a tolerable state of preservation. Several of a smaller size are situated very near to each other, in a direction from east to west, behind the former. One of the latter, however, built of a soft calcareous stone, was, when I saw  them, rapidly falling to decay.
Of the three great pyramids one is of an extraordinary bulk ; the second is but little inferior to it in size ; and the third comparatively small, but the proportions of it would be considered as very great, if it was placed in an isolated state from the others. This smaller of the three principal pyramids appears to have been finished with infinite pains and labour, the earth which surrounds it being covered on all sides with immense blocks of beautiful red granite and porphyry, with which it is highly probable it was originally coated. On several of the blocks there are deep furrows, from which it would seem that they had been anciently connected together by metallic hoops or fastenings, which having been corroded by time, by the occasional moisture of the atmosphere, and by other causes, the blocks had been set at liberty, and had successively fallen to the ground.
The whole of these stupendous monuments of antiquity, which, if they cannot boast of any particular elegance of structure, are notwithstanding very extraordinary efforts of human enterprise and labour, are built of a calcareous substance, some parts of which are hard, and others of a softer texture. On the larger of the pyramids I engraved my name near to the entrance without any difficulty ; and in so doing followed the example of thousands of persons who had thus commemorated their visit to this celebrated spot. In entering within I ascended but a small distance, contenting myself with barely penetrating into the narrow passage. My companions were, however, in general, more adventurous, and supplied me with a variety of interesting facts and observations.
The pyramids of Giza are situated about ten miles to the southwest of Cairo, on an elevated and rocky ground, the surface of which is covered with white sands, forming the ridge of the Lybian mountains by which the inundation of the Nile is bounded to the westward. Their planes are directed towards the four quarters of the globe.
The external dimensions of the great pyramid have been the subject of much dispute : neither of its sides being level with the others, it was difficult to find the true horizontal base ; but the length of the supposed base has been variously estimated at from six to eight hundred English feet. According to the measurement lately taken by the French, however, the height of the great pyramid is six hundred feet, and its base seven hundred. Above the great chamber withinside, in which the sarcophagus or coffer is deposited, there is a smaller chamber about eighteen feet in length and in width. The first passage by which the visitor descends into the pyramid is more than an hundred feet in length. That which leads to the great chamber is nearly of the same extent ; and the main gallery is in length an hundred and fifty feet. I have been favoured by a British officer of engineers with the following measurement, taken with the utmost precision, both of the great chamber and of the sarcophagus. It is as follows :
The great pyramid does not appear, any more than the others, to have been finished according to the original design. The lower parts or foundations, interiorly, seem to have been formed of the incrustations of the rocky surface, which, in passing through the narrow passages, is perceptible in several places.
At the time of our visit the heat was extremely oppressive. I collected several fragments of the calcareous stone employed in the construction of the pyramids, together with several detached pieces of granite.
At the distance of about two hundred yards to the east of the great pyramid is the Sphynx, a sculptured head of an enormous size hewn out of the solid rock, though it seems by the veins in the stones to be composed of several stones laid upon another, and supported by several large blocks of stone which form the lower part of the bust, and which have been somewhat decayed by time.
The features of this stupendous figure (about twenty-five feet in height, and fifteen from the ear to the chin) are tolerably preserved, with the exception of the nose, which has been wantonly mutilated. It was formerly conjectured that the head of the Sphynx was connected with a body of proportionate dimensions ; but the French, by digging away the sand round its foundations, have demonstrated the erroneousness of this opinion. The features of this, enormous bust are feminine, and in some degree resemble the Ethiopian or Nubian race.”

lundi 18 juillet 2011

Pyramide de Khéops : la courte relation de Pierre de S. Romuald (XVIIe s.)

Le texte très succinct que je reprends ici a pour auteur Pierre de S. Romuald, prêtre et religieux de la congrégation de Notre-Dame des Feuillants. Il est extrait de l’ouvrage Trésor chronologique et historique contenant ce qui s’est passé de plus remarquable et curieux dans l’État tant sacré que profane, depuis le commencement du monde jusques à la naissance de Jésus-Christ, 1642.
À propos des pyramides, on pourrait le qualifier de “service minimum”. Et même strict minimum.
Je le cite toutefois pour sa dernière phrase, qui fait état d’un étrange comportement du pharaon Khéops, celui-ci ayant en quelque sorte pris son fils (lequel ?) en otage, pour s’assurer du bon déroulement du chantier de construction de sa pyramide.
C’est, au cours de mon inventaire et sauf erreur de ma part, la première - donc la seule -  fois que je prends connaissance d’un tel “fait”, qui ne repose ici, il est bon de le souligner, sur aucune preuve, ni aucune source. Mais c’est écrit !

“La cinquième Dynastie des Égyptiens commença (...) sous Cheope. C'est celuy qui fit bastir sa sépulture en forme de pyramide, si prodigieusement haute et large, qu'elle a esté mise au nombre des sept merveilles du monde. II employa pour la mettre en sa perfection durant vingt ans, cent mille ouvriers, qui luy despensèrent en oignons, persil & refforts, dix-huict cens mille talens, et voyant qu'il n’avait plus d’argent pour fournir à la nourriture de tant d'hommes, il prostitua sa fille Rhodope pour en avoir, et mesme désira si dérèglement de voir cet ouvrage achevé qu'il fit cesser les sacrifices qu'on offrait journellement à Serapis, afin qu'on y peust travailler continuellement ; à quoy on adjouste que, voulant la faire dresser, il attacha son fils unique sur la poincte, afin que les Architectes craignant de faire mourir ce petit Prince, n'obmissent rien de ce qu'ils jugeraient pouvoir servir pour la sauver.”

vendredi 15 juillet 2011

Égyptologie : un nouveau blog encyclopédique

Je viens de découvrir un nouveau blog (en espagnol), lié au site internet Ushebtis Egipcios, créé par l’archéologue  Moisés González et quelques-uns de ses collègues, dont le sommaire est le suivant : Antiguo Egipto, Vida cotidiana, Dinastías, Faraones, Mitología, Momificación, Momias, Escritura jeroglífica, Textos sagrados, Geografia, Ushebtis, Ushebtis - tipos, Capataces, Cajas, Utensilios, Fórmulas, Materiales, Ajuares funerarios, Ushebtis Amarnicos, Ushebtis Kushitas, Ushebtis al detalle, Capataces al detalle, Cajas al detalle, Transcripciones, Ushebtis particulares, Galería fotográfica, Museos, Egiptólogos, Artículos especializados, Libros especializados, Publicaciones on - line.

Le blog, créé et animé par Moisés González, reprend des données générales, telles que celles énoncées ci-dessus, sur l’Égypte ancienne (Amuletos, Artículos generales, Dioses, Disciplinas artísticas, Faraones, Grandes Egiptólogos, Indumentaria, Literatura religiosa, Materiales, Momificación, Proyectos arqueológicos, Sociedad, Tumbas Valle de los Reyes).
Il propose également des informations d’ordre institutionnel (musées comportant un secteur égyptologie, associations, organismes officiels...) ainsi que des données bibliographiques ou des liens vers des sources multimédia.
Y sont publiées enfin des informations liées à l’actualité de l’égyptologie : échos de la presse, expositions, conférences, colloques, stages de formation...
Les blogs créés par des archéologues, et plus particulièrement par des égyptologues patentés, ne sont pas légion. Pour cette raison, il m’a semblé intéressant de mettre en avant celui-ci, qui nous sort des banalités et de la logorrhée pseudo-scientifique trop souvent de mise dans l’indispensable fourre-tout qu’est devenu internet.
L’actualité du blog Ushebtis Egipcios fait désormais partie du fil d’infos proposé par la barre d’outils spéciale Pyramidales.

“La date des pyramides doit être synchrone avec l’époque des Rois Bergers” (Michael Russell - XVIIIe-XIXe s.)

Rien n’indique que Michael Russell (1781-1848), évêque anglican de Glasgow et Galloway, ait personnellement visité les pyramides égyptiennes avant de rédiger son ouvrage Egypt, ancient and modern, 1832. Il semble plutôt en proposer une description par divers auteurs interposés.
Certes, il ne se contente pas de citer, parfois abondamment, tel ou tel de ces auteurs ; il manifeste ses préférences dans l’interprétation des sources auxquelles il puise ses informations, notamment sur l’âge et la destination des pyramides.
Par deux fois au cours de ce texte, l’auteur relativise l’importance de certaines prétendues découvertes archéologiques modernes. Depuis Hérodote, Ératosthène, Diodore de Sicile et Strabon, quels progrès ont été accomplis par l’égyptologie ? Ce sont, remarque Michael Russell, toujours les mêmes sujets qui sont étudiés. A-t-on réalisé de réels progrès, dans l’examen de la structure de la Grande Pyramide, depuis les Grecs et les Romains ? “It is extremely doubtful”, s’empresse-t-il de répondre aussitôt. Aurait-il donc été influencé par cet autre auteur - Jean de La Bruyère - qui affirmait : “Tout est dit, et l'on vient trop tard” ?

“The Pyramids, during several thousand years, have attracted the curiosity of the traveller, and given rise to much learned disquisition ; while so great is their magnitude, and so durable the material of which they are constructed, that they present to the moderns the same subject of study which was contemplated by Herodotus, Eratosthenes, Diodorus, and Strabo. Pursuing the plan we have hitherto followed, we shall first extract from the oldest Greek historian the tradition which prevailed in his days, and then draw from other sources the most probable account of the origin, the date, the intention, and the actual appearance of those famous buildings.
Herodotus, it is well known, ascribes the largest of the Pyramids to Cheops, a tyrannical and profligate sovereign. (...)
It is from the last circumstance mentioned by Herodotus that the very reasonable conclusion has been formed by Bryant (1), Dr Hales, and others, in regard to the people by whom the Pyramids are supposed to have been erected. We have already explained the connexion which subsists between the term Pales, Phalis, or Philitis, and the Shepherd Kings who, having invaded Egypt from the east, possessed that country as masters during more than a hundred years, and who, upon being expelled by the indignant natives, settled on the adjoining coast of Syria under the denomination of Philistines. It is manifest, at first sight, that the dynasty of princes to whom these stupendous works are ascribed were foreigners, and also, that they professed a religion hostile to the animal worship of the Egyptians ; for it is recorded by the historian, with an emphatic distinctness, that, during the whole period of their domination, the temples were shut, sacrifices were prohibited, and the people subjected to every species of oppression and calamity. Hence it follows that the date of the Pyramids must synchronise with the epoch of the Shepherd Kings, those monarchs who were held as an abomination by the Egyptians, and who, we may confidently assert, occupied the throne of the Pharaohs during some part of the interval which elapsed between the birth of Abraham and the captivity of Joseph. (...)

Les pyramides : sépultures et temples
The most probable opinion respecting the object of these vast edifices is that which combines the double use of the sepulchre and the temple, nothing being more common in all nations than to bury distinguished men in places consecrated by the rites of divine worship. If Cheops, Suphis, or whoever else was the founder of the great Pyramid, intended it only for his tomb, what occasion was there, says Dr Shaw (2), for such a narrow sloping entrance into it, or for the well, as it is called, at the bottom, or for the lower chamber with a large niche or hole in the eastern wall of it, or for the long narrow cavities in the sides of the large upper room, which likewise is incrusted all over with the finest granite marble, or for the two antechambers and the lofty gallery, with benches on each side, that introduce us into it ? As the whole of the Egyptian theology was clothed in mysterious emblems and figures, it seems reasonable to suppose that all these turnings, apartments, and secrets in architecture, were intended for some nobler purpose, for the catacombs or burying-places are plain vaulted chambers hewn out of the natural rock, and that the deity rather, which was typified in the outward form of this pile, was to be worshipped within.

Nature et origine des matériaux de construction
The present aspect of the Pyramids renders it doubtful whether they were ever fully completed, or whether the apparent dilapidation of the external parts ought not to be altogether ascribed to the injuries of the atmosphere and the hands of barbarian conquerors. It is presumed that a pile of this description was not regarded as entirely finished until it was coated over with polished stone, so as to fill up the vacancies occasioned by the diminution of the successive layers of the building, and to render the surface quite smooth and uniform from the foundation to the summit. Herodotus states, in the clearest terms, that, after the structure was raised to its full height, the artisans began to finish it from the top downwards.
In the second Pyramid, accordingly, which bears the name of Cephrenes, a considerable portion of the original casing still remains ; confirming the accuracy of the ancient historian as to the general plan of all such edifices, and affording, at the same time, the means of understanding that part of his narrative in which he asserts that a great quantity of the stone was brought from the Arabian side of the Nile, and even from the neighbourhood of the Cataracts.
It has been ascertained by several modern travellers that the main body of the huge masses now under consideration is composed of rocks still found in the immediate vicinity ; we must therefore infer that the granite and porphyry used for casing the exterior, as well as for the decorations of the chambers within, are to be identified with the materials described by the Halicarnassian, and which Strabo and Pliny more usually designate as precious stones and marble.

"D'Alexandrie à la Seconde Cataracte" (Himley - 1841)
Pyramides de Guizeh
The number of pyramids scattered over Egypt is very great ; but by far the most remarkable are those at Djizeh, Sakhara, and Dashour. The first of these places, which is situated on the west side of the Nile, about ten miles from its bank, and nearly in the latitude of Grand Cairo, is distinguished by possessing the three principal edifices described by Herodotus, and which are still regarded as the finest monuments of this class that are to be seen in any part of the world. It is noticed by every author who, from personal observation, has described these wonderful works of art, that the sense of sight is much deceived in the first attempt to appreciate their distance and their magnitude. Though removed several leagues from the spectator, they appear to be quite at hand ; and it is not until he has travelled some miles in a direct line with their bearing that he becomes sensible both of their vast bulk and also of the pure atmosphere through which he had viewed them. They are situated on a platform of rock about a hundred and fifty feet above the level of the surrounding desert, a circumstance which at once contributes to their being well seen, and also to the discrepancy that still prevails among the most intelligent travellers as to their actual height. (...)

La Grande Pyramide
The largest Pyramid stands on an elevation free all round, on which account the accumulation of sand in contact with it is less than might have been apprehended. It has, however, suffered much from human violence, immense heaps of broken stones having fallen down on each side, which form a high mound towards the middle of the base. The corners are pretty clear, where the foundation is readily discovered, particularly at the north-west angle ; but it is impossible to see straight along the line of the base on account of these heaps of rubbish. Hence, as has been already suggested, the difficulty of making an exact measurement, and the frequent disagreement of the results ; it being impracticable, without removing the sand and fallen stones, to run a straight line all the way in contact with the building. Dr Richardson (3) paced one side, at a little distance from the wall, and found it two hundred and forty-two steps ; whence he conjectures that the extent of seven hundred feet, usually assigned to it, is not far from the truth.
The entrance into the Pyramid is on the north side, and is nearly in the centre, about an equal distance from each angle ; being, at the same time, elevated about thirty feet above the base, probably that it might be more difficult for a conqueror to discover it, and less liable to be blocked up with sand. The ascent to it is over a heap of stones and rubbish that have either fallen from the Pyramid, or been forced out and thrown down in the various efforts made at successive periods to find a passage into the interior. This heap at present rises considerably above the entrance, which is a small orifice not more than three feet and a half square : it is lined above and below, and on either side, with broad flat blocks of red granite, smooth and highly polished. The flags in the bottom of the passage are formed with alternate depressions and elevations, in order to afford a firm footing to the person descending ; but this, it is presumed, is a modern operation, because the depressions are not smooth and polished like the rest of the stones.
After advancing nearly a hundred feet into the entrance, which slopes downward at an angle of about twenty-six degrees, the explorer finds an opening on the right hand, which conducts him up an inclined plane to the queen's chamber, as travellers have agreed to call it, an apartment seventeen feet long, fourteen feet wide, and twelve feet high to the point on which the roof is suspended.
Ascending a similar passage, but somewhat steeper than the first, he perceives another chamber of larger dimensions, being thirty-seven feet two inches long, seventeen feet two inches wide, and about twenty feet in height. This is denominated the king's chamber, but upon no better authority that we can discover than the caprice of tourists already converted into a local tradition. Its magnificence, however, entitles it in some degree to the distinction which it has obtained. It is lined all round with large slabs of highly-polished granite, reaching from the floor to the ceiling ; this last being formed of nine immense flags which stretch from wall to wall. Towards the west end of the room stands the sarcophagus, which likewise consists of red granite highly polished, but without either sculpture or hieroglyphics. Its length is seven feet six inches, while the depth and width are each three feet three inches. There is no lid, nor was there any thing found in it except a few fragments of the stone with which the chamber is decorated.
As this room does not reach beyond the centre of the Pyramid, Dr Richardson suggests the very probable opinion that there are other passages leading to other chambers in communication with it ; the entrance to which would, it is very likely, be found by removing some of the granite slabs which serve as wainscoting to the walls. To present to the eye a uniform surface in the interior of an apartment was one of the devices usually employed by an architect in old times when he wished to conceal from an ordinary observer the approach to a secret retreat, reserving to himself and his employer the knowledge of the particular stone which covered the important orifice, as well as the means of obtaining a ready access.
A third chamber, still higher in the body of the Pyramid than either of the two just mentioned, was discovered by Mr Davison (4), who, about sixty years ago, was British consul at Cairo. (...) The room is four feet longer than the one below ; in the latter you see only seven stones, and a half of one on each side of them ; but in that above, the nine are entire, the two halves resting on the wall at each end. The breadth is equal with that of the room below. The covering of this, as of the other, is of beautiful granite, but it is composed of eight stones instead of nine, the number in the room below. (...)

Que connaît-on de plus, sur la structure de la Grande Pyramide, que les Grecs et les Romains ?
It is extremely doubtful, even after these laborious endeavours, whether we have yet made farther progress in dissecting the structure of the Pyramid than was attained by the Greeks and Romans two thousand years ago ; for it is worthy of notice that every recess which has been explored in modern times bears marks of having been examined by former adventurers. We find, besides, that the narrow entrance into the great Pyramid was known to Strabo, which he tells us had a stone placed at the mouth of it to be removed at pleasure. The same author likewise, as well as Herodotus, was acquainted with the subterraneous chambers, and Pliny has left a description of the well. It is true that they declined to enter into many particulars which could hardly fail to have met their observation, an omission which we are justified, at least in the case of Herodotus, in attributing to certain superstitious notions of their sanctity and mysterious uses. (...)

Qui a ouvert le premier la Grande Pyramide ?
The opening of the Great Pyramid has, by many oriental writers, been ascribed to the Caliph Abdalla Mamour, the son of Haroun Al Raschid ; and they state that he employed for the accomplishment of his object, fire, vinegar, and other chemical solvents. Others attribute this achievement to the Caliph Mohdi, whose name was Mohammed. The latter is not improbably the sovereign whose reputation is embalmed in the inscription, copied by the direction of Belzoni, under the title of King Ali Mohammed ; and as it is recorded that he attended the opening of them - in the plural number -, it is certainly not unreasonable to conclude that it was he who first penetrated into the interior of both, and who is, consequently, chargeable with much of the unnecessary dilapidation which accompanied his fruitless labours. (...)

Construction des pyramides et mesure du temps sidéral
It is indeed quite consistent to suppose that the priests, in the construction of these stupendous monuments, would avail themselves of the means thus offered of connecting their sacred duties with their favourite study, and of combining the sentiments of piety with the sublime conceptions of astronomy. Among other benefits which this union has conferred upon posterity, is that of having fixed with precision the faces of the Pyramids, from which, as Pauw has observed, "we know that the poles of the earth have not changed". But there is reason to think that the Pyramids were made subservient to a more immediate and important use in the science of astronomy, namely, to correct the measurement of time. This object, it may be conceived, was in contemplation when the main passages leading from the northern sides were formed. These approaches, as we have repeatedly remarked, are invariably inclined downwards, in an angle of about 27°, 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 now crosses the meridian below the pole. The observation of this, or some other star, across the meridian, would give them an accurate measure of sideral time, a point of the first importance in an age when it is probable no other instruments than rude solar gnomons, or expedients still more imperfect, were in use. Indeed it would not be easy to devise a method more effectual for observing the transit of a star with the naked eye, than that of watching its passage across the mouth of such a lengthened tube; and it is manifest that some one of these luminaries, when in the meridian below the pole, must have been seen in the line of a passage inclined at an angle of twenty-six or twenty-seven degrees.”
Source :

(1) Sans doute Jacob Bryant (1715-1804). Une note de Pyramidales sera consacrée prochainement à cet auteur.
(2) Sur cet auteur, voir Pyramidales ICI
(3) Sur cet auteur, voir Pyramidales ICI
(4) Sur cet auteur, voir Pyramidales ICI