User:Vuara/The Rosetta stone

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Call number 493.1 SOL Author Solé, Robert. Title The Rosetta stone : [the story of the decoding of hieroglyphics] / Robert Solé and Dominique Valbelle ; translated by Steven Rendall. Publication info New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002, c2001. Physical descrip 184 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 22 cm. General Note Translation of: Pierre de Rosette. Bibliography note Includes bibliographical references and index. Title subject Rosetta stone. Subject term Egyptian language--Writing, Hieroglyphic. Subject term Hieroglyphics. Added author Valbelle, Dominique. DBCN (Sirsi) AEG-1737 ISBN 1568582269 (alk. paper)

Read a chapter or excerpt Read publisher's blurb Author Biography Robert Sole is a novelist, writer and journalist of Egyptian origin Dominique Valbelle is Director of the Institut de papyrologie et d'egyptologie at the University of Lille III and President of the French Egyptological Society. She is the author of many works in her field Steven Rendall, the translator, is Professor Emeritus of Romance Languages at the University of Oregon. He now lives in France, where he translates from French and German Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.

Summary In July 1799, a French officer serving in Napoleons Egyptian expedition unearthed a granite block bearing text in three different scripts Greek, demotic Egyptian, and hieroglyphics. Following the discovery, a remarkable competition ensued for possession of the stone as well as for decoding its inscription. Using all the elements of a detective thriller, the authors, a well-known novelist and a leading Egyptologist, tell the story of international intrigue surrounding the intellectual quest to crack the stones code the key to reading ancient Egyptian texts for the first time in 14 centuries. Also included are reproductions of the stone and its inscriptions as well as portraits of the key figures involved in its translation. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.

Table of Contents

  List of Illustrations vi 
  Acknowledgements vii 
  1 Fort Julien 1 
  2 The thirty-first session 6 
  3 Sacred signs and symbols 14 
  4 With the point of a compass 24 
  5 The spoils of war 29 
  6 King George's gift 37 
  7 Description, for want of something better 42 
  8 Akerblad's 'alphabet' 46 
  9 Champollion goes to work 53 
  10 Signed 'ABCD' 63 
  11 Three related scripts 72 
  12 The letter to M. Dacier 78 
  13 Ideas and sounds 87 
  14 A science is born 96 
  15 Deciphers by the hundreds 101 
  16 The magic of a script 108 
  17 The fate of a stone 118 
    i The Memphis Decree 127 
    ii Other bilingual stelae 135 
    iii Thomas Young's intuitions 139 
    iv Champollion's lecture 147 
  Chronology 156 
  Notes 160 
  Bibliography 172 
  Index of names 180 
Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.  

Holdings Woodcroft Branch Copies Material Location 493.1 SOL 1 Book General collection

Excerpt Copyright © 1999 Editions du Seuil.

Chapter One

Fort Julien

Archaeology? That was last thing on the minds of the French soldiers occupying northern Egypt in July 1799! Thousands of Ottoman invaders had just landed at Abukir — that accursed place where the preceding year Napoleon's fleet had been cut to pieces by the English. They had no difficulty in taking the fort over which the French tricolour flew. The burning question was what their next target would be: Alexandria or Rosetta?

   In contrast to Alexandria, which looked like a large, dusty village, Rosetta was an attractive and prosperous city. Situated on the west branch of the Nile, a few kilometres from the Mediterranean, it was green throughout the year. It was full of banana, orange, fig and date trees, and had an abundant supply of pigeons and milk. Europeans thought it the most pleasant city in Egypt. 
   North of Rosetta, fortifications were being hurriedly built to resist a possible Ottoman assault. ‘I expect to be attacked at any time,’ the local commander wrote to Napoleon on 18 July. ‘I am vigilant and I hope the enemy will not take Fort Julien as easily as he took the fort at Abukir.’ 
   ‘Fort Julien’ was the Borg Rashid (the tower of Rosetta), a dilapidated fortress built in the fifteenth century by the sultan Qait Bey. The French renamed it in memory of one of Napoleon's aides-de-camp, Adjutant-General Julien (spelled ‘Jullien’ in some military documents), who had been killed nearby, along with his escort, the previous July. 
   Located in a palm grove on the east bank of the Nile, Borg Rashid was too far inland to control the entrance from the sea. However, from the fort an observer with the appropriate equipment could survey the whole breadth of the river's mouth, as well as the opposite bank. On taking it, the French found ruined walls eighty metres on a side, with four movable turrets in which not even an ‘eight-pound cannon could be mounted’. On the ramparts connecting the turrets, the crenellations were uncovered. The tower keep at the centre of the fortress contained a small mosque and two cisterns. Until more significant modifications could be made, they had hastily to adapt the turreted bastions and construct a terreplein bordering the ramparts. Living quarters, a hospital, ovens, guard units and ammunition dumps were set up, ‘sheltered from bombs’. The establishment of this line of defence was entrusted to d'Hautpol, the leader of a battalion of engineers, assisted by Lieutenant Bouchard. History was to forget the former and immortalize the latter, by associating him with one of the most exciting scientific adventures of all time. 

An officer-scientist

During the second week of July, while clearing away debris in part of Borg Rashid, Bouchard and his men found a block of dark-coloured stone about one metre in height. One of its sides, highly polished, bore thousands of small marks inscribed in three different scripts: the text on top was in hieroglyphs, the one on the bottom in Greek, and between the two were characters that could not be identified.

   There was no reason for hieroglyphs to be found in an Arab fortress. Could the fortress have been built on the side of an ancient monument? Geographers were to declare this impossible, for in antiquity this region was covered by the waters of the Nile, which encroached much further on the dry land. All indications were that the stone had been erected elsewhere and brought to the site centuries later to be reused for other purposes. Later on, it would be proven that, like many of the decorated blocks used in the city's residences, it came from one of the temples in Sais, on the same branch of the river. 
   Who was the first to see the Stone in the July heat? A soldier? An engineer? An Egyptian manual labourer? Who first cried out in surprise and realized that this might be a treasure? The official report attributes the discovery to Pierre François Xavier Bouchard, and there is no reason to doubt that this loyal and conscientious officer, who was then twenty-eight years of age and had always served the Republic much better than it ever served him, was the first European to set eyes on the Rosetta Stone. After all, Bouchard was a ‘scientist’: when the French first landed in Egypt a year earlier, he had belonged not to the army but to the Commission of Arts and Sciences, that is, to the group of some 160 civilians Napoleon had recruited to accompany his expedition. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone — by chance, in an improbable place and at an inappropriate moment — was at least made by a ‘scientist’ ... 
   The son of a carpenter, Bouchard was born on 29 April 1771 in Orgelet, a small village in the Jura mountains. After completing his studies in Besançon, he was conscripted into the army, assigned to a company of grenadiers, and sent to the front in Champagne and Belgium. At twenty-three, this tall, dark man from the Jura, found himself in a new branch of the army: the aérostiers, an observational balloon corps that had performed with distinction in the battle of Fleurus. He soon became the assistant head of the aerostatic school established in Meudon under the direction of a brilliant inventor, Nicolas Jacques Conté, to whom we owe the artificial pencil lead. The two men were both wounded in a laboratory accident that left Bouchard with severely impaired vision in one eye. 
   In 1796, even though he had passed the age limit, the son of the Orgelet carpenter was admitted to the recently established École polytechnique. Less than two years later, he decided, along with other students and several professors, to follow General Bonaparte on a lengthy expedition whose goal was kept secret. It was to be Egypt ... Bouchard took his final examination in Cairo and joined the engineering corps. He was not assigned to Rosetta until June 1799, a few weeks before the discovery of the famous Stone. 

Three versions of the same text

The Stone was dusted off and sheltered, so that it could be closely examined. It weighed 720 kilos, and was 114 centimetres high, 72 centimetres wide and 27 centimetres thick on average. Its upper part was missing, as well as the lower right corner.

   Although the Frenchmen then in Rosetta were unable to make anything of the first two inscriptions, they could read the Greek. They determined that it was a rather obscure expression of homage to a certain Ptolemy, written on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his coronation. So far, nothing earth-shattering. It would interest only a historian of ancient Egypt ... But the last sentence excited them: ‘This decree shall be inscribed on stelae of hard rock, in sacred characters, both native and Greek, and they shall be erected in each of the temples of the first, second and third category, next to the image of the king living eternally.’ The stela contained the same text written in three different scripts! This opened a stunning perspective — starting from the Greek, wouldn't it be possible to decipher the hieroglyphics, which no one had been able to read for fourteen centuries? The importance of the ‘stone with three inscriptions’ seems to have been immediately perceived. A fine example of scientific intuition, even as the roar of battle could be heard close by. 
   What role should we attribute to Michel-Ange Lancret, who was assigned to the region around Rosetta? This twenty-five year old engineer, who had studied architecture before turning to mathematics, was in the first class to graduate from the École polytechnique. He had just been elected to the Institut d'Égypte created by Napoleon on the model of the Institut national. Lancret was a brilliant young man, but he lacked Bouchard's training in archaeology: he was simply one of the young ‘scientists’ who were open-minded and able to move beyond their own disciplines to take a passionate interest in something new. A year earlier, at the first session of the Institut d'Égypte, the mathematician Gaspard Monge, who presided over this scientific academy, had encouraged his colleagues to open their eyes and devote themselves ‘to the study of ancient monuments, to explaining these mysterious signs, these granite pages on which an enigmatic history is inscribed.’ 
   It was Lancret who wrote a letter informing members of the Institute of the discovery of the stela, while Bouchard was entrusted with transporting it up the Nile by boat and bringing it to the capital. The Frenchmen in Cairo thus learned at the same time of the existence of the Rosetta Stone and of Napoleon's crushing defeat of the Ottomans at Abukir on 25 July. Both were good news — and news of great importance.