All history is recent. It is not astonishing that we have no ancient profane history beyond about four thousand years. The revolutions of this globe, the long and universal ignorance of that art which transmits facts by writing are the cause of it. This art was common only among a very small number of civilized nations; and was in very few hands even. Nothing rarer among the French and the Germans than to know how to write; up to the fourteenth century of our era nearly all deeds were only attested by witnesses. It was, in France, only under Charles VII., in 1454, that one started to draft in writing some of the customs of France. The art of writing was still rarer among the Spanish, and from that it results that their history is so dry and so uncertain, up to the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. One sees by that to what extent the very small number of men who knew how to write could deceive, and how easy it was to make us believe the most enormous absurdities.

There are nations which have subjugated a part of the world without having the usage of characters. We know that Gengis-khan conquered a part of Asia at the beginning of the thirteenth century, but it is not through either him or the Tartars that we know it. Their history, written by the Chinese and translated by Father Gaubil, states that these Tartars had not at that time the art of writing.

This art cannot have been less unknown to the Scythian Oguskan, named Madies by the Persians and the Greeks, who conquered a part of Europe and Asia so long before the reign of Cyrus. It is almost certain that at that time of a hundred nations there were hardly two or three who used characters. It is possible that in an ancient world destroyed, men knew writing and the other arts; but in ours they are all very recent.

There remain records of another kind, which serve to establish merely the remote antiquity of certain peoples, and which precede all the known epochs, and all the books; these are the prodigies of architecture, like the pyramids and the palaces of Egypt, which have resisted time. Herodotus, who lived two thousand two hundred years ago, and who had seen them, was not able to learn from the Egyptian priests at what time they had been erected.

It is difficult to give to the most ancient of the pyramids less than four thousand years of antiquity; but one must consider that these efforts of the ostentation of the kings could only have been commenced long after the establishment of the towns. But to build towns in a land inundated every year, let us always remark that it was first necessary to raise the land of the towns on piles in this land of mud, and to render them inaccessible to the flood; it was essential, before taking this necessary course, and before being in a state to attempt these great works, for the people to have practised retreating during the rising of the Nile, amid the rocks which form two chains right and left of this river. It was necessary for these mustered peoples to have the instruments for tilling, those of architecture, a knowledge of surveying, with laws and a police. All this necessarily requires a prodigious space of time. We see by the long details which face every day the most necessary and the smallest of our undertakings, how difficult it is to do great things, and it needs not only indefatigable stubbornness, but several generations animated with this stubbornness.

However, whether it be Menes, Thaut or Cheops, or Rameses who erected one or two of these prodigious masses, we shall not be the more instructed of the history of ancient Egypt: the language of this people is lost. We therefore know nothing but that before the most ancient historians there was matter for making an ancient history.

~ Voltair

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