Robert Stuart était architecte et ingénieur civil. Dans son ouvrage Cyclopedia of architecture, historical, descriptive, topographical, decorative, theoretical and mechanical, édité en 1854, il s’est inspiré à l’évidence, pour le chapitre consacré aux pyramides, du Dictionnaire des beaux-arts d’Aubin Louis Millin, publié un demi-siècle plus tôt, au point de reprendre textuellement certains paragraphes.
Comme nous l’avons constaté maintes fois au cours de notre inventaire, cette pratique était courante à une certaine époque. Nous pouvons ainsi suivre à la trace telle ou telle théorie, ou bien tel ou tel détail d‘une théorie, et constater sa transmission au cours des années, voire des siècles. Conclusion : pour sortir du train-train des idées reçues, il fallait faire preuve ou bien d’originalité, ou bien d’une réelle compétence, en matière d’archéologie, nourrie par de nouvelles observations sur le terrain.
Originalité ? Tel ne fut certainement pas le cas de Robert Stuart pour le sujet qui nous intéresse ici. Jugez plutôt : lorsqu’il s’agit de la technique mise en oeuvre par les bâtisseurs égyptiens, notre auteur se contente d’affirmer qu’ils ont eu recours à des leviers ou à “quelques autres moyens”. Nous voilà bien renseignés ! Certes, on lit aussitôt après : “With an incredible degree of industry and labour.” C’est mieux que rien...
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“Pyramid, a building of a pyramidal form.
The most ancient people raised pyramidal structures to serve for monuments. The most famous pyramids of antiquity are those of Egypt. There are at present more than forty pyramids found in that country. It is very singular that this kind of building is only found in one district of that country, which is now called Fayoume, and which lies between Cairo and Meidun, on the west side of the Nile ; hence it would appear that we ought to regard them as more modern than the temples of the Thebaid. The portion of the country, in which the pyramids are situated, is not more than twenty leagues in extent, and is situated between the twentyninth and thirtieth degrees of north latitude, and under the forty-ninth degree of east longitude.
The pyramids mentioned by the ancients are not all now in existence ; neither those which, according to Herodotus, were in the lake Mœris, nor those which, according to Herodotus, Diodorus, Pliny, and others, belonged to the labyrinth, can now be found. On the other hand, all the pyramids which now exist are not mentioned by ancient writers. It is thought that it was only one period of the Egyptian history, that was distinguished by their erection. The history of their origin, however, as given by the ancients, is very uncertain. According to Herodotus, the stones, which were used in building them, were extracted from the quarries of the eastern mountains, on the frontiers of Arabia. Yet modern travellers have observed, that the pyramids appear to be constructed of the same calcarious stone which is procured from the neighbourhood of the place where they stand.
Many opinions have been formed, as to the original destination of the Egyptian pyramids. Some, amongst whom we may include nearly all the ancients, take them for tombs. Others suppose them to have been erected for astronomical purposes, and this opinion is found in the commentary of Proclus on the Timæus of Plato. Others again have taken them for religious edifices, and suppose that in them were celebrated the most sacred mysteries.
The mode of erection of these buildings was, without doubt, very simple. The first process would be to level the ground ; after this, they would proceed in laying different layers of stone, from the foundation to the summit, carrying up the immense stones from step to step, either by levers or some other means, with an incredible degree of industry and labour. Their design was, without doubt, to serve as sepulchres for the kings or great people, and this is the opinion of almost all the ancient writers ; but they probably also partook of a religious character.
M. Gatterer (*) divides the pyramids into five groups, those near Ghizé, those near Manjelmusa, those near Sacarra, those of Dagshar, and those near Fejum. The first of these collections are the most remarkable, and are situated on a vast elevated plain, which was appropriated to the sepulchres of the inhabitants of the city of Memphis. Two pyramids, of an immense magnitude, rise far above the others, which are smaller, and in great part destroyed.
Further towards the east is the great sphinx, which is cut out of solid rock, that was found standing on the spot, but which is now in a great measure buried in sand and earth.”
(*) Johannes Christoph Gatterer (1717-1799) : historien allemand, pionnier de l’ “histoire universelle”.