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THE DECIPHERMENT OF THE EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS-THE ROSETTA STONE AND THE OBELISK FROM PHILAE
THE famous "Stone" in the British Museum (Southern Egyptian Gallery, No. 24), which is now universally known as the Rosetta Stone, was accidentally discovered at a spot near the town of Rashid, or Rosetta, in the Western Delta. The fortunate finder was M. Boussard,1 or Bouchard, a French Officer of Engineers, who was engaged in strengthening Fort St. Julien in August, 1799. This fort stood on the west bank of the Rosetta arm of the Nile, exactly opposite Jazîrat al-Khaḍrah, about half-way between Burg Sa'îr and Jazîrat Warshî. The spot where the Stone was found marks the site of the temple of Bolbitine, which was probably dedicated to the god Tem in the reign of king Nekhtḥerḥeb, or Nektanebus I, who reigned about B.C. 378. The Stone was taken to the house of Gen. Menou in Alexandria, who had it carefully packed up in cotton cloth and matting, and claimed it as his personal property. After the capitulation of Alexandria all the antiquities which had been collected in Cairo by Napoleon ready for despatch to Paris were surrendered, according to Article XVI of the Treaty of Capitulation, to Gen. Hutchinson, who ordered them to be sent to London. Among the antiquities surrendered was the Rosetta Stone, which Gen. Menou refused to give up, declaring that it was his private property. When Gen. Hutchinson heard this he sent a detachment of artillerymen and a "devil cart" to Maj.-Gen. H. Turner, and ordered him to take possession of the Stone. This was done without delay, and Gen. Turner embarked with it on board the frigate Égyptienne," which the British had captured in the harbour at Alexandria, and arrived at Portsmouth in February, 1802. With the consent of the Secretary of State the Stone was taken to the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries of London, where it remained until it was removed to the British Museum. In April the Rev. S. Weston read a translation of the Greek text before the Society, and in July the Council ordered four casts of the Stone to be made, and one each to be sent to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin.
In its present state the Rosetta Stone is an irregularly shaped slab of compact black basalt which measures about 3 ft. 9 in. by 2 ft. 4 in. by 11 in., and the top corners and the righthand bottom corner are wanting. It is inscribed with 14 lines of hieroglyphic text, 32 lines of demotic and 54 lines of Greek. The inscription on the Stone is bilingual,2 and is written
1 He attained the rank of " General," and was alive in 1814.
2 The Rosetta inscription has been often called trilingual and compared to the Bihistûn Inscription; but in the former there are only two languages, though three forms of writing are employed, while in the latter there are three distinct languages.
in Egyptian and in Greek. The Egyptian portion is in hieroglyphs and also in demotic characters.
We may arrive at an idea of the original size of the Rosetta Stone by comparing the number of lines upon it with the number of those upon the Stele of Canopus, which is also inscribed in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek, and measures 7 ft. 2 in. by 2 ft. 7 in. by 1 ft. 2 in., and is inscribed with 36 lines of hieroglyphs, 73 lines of demotic writing, and 74 lines of Greek. The demotic inscription is on the edge of the stele, and seems to have been overlooked by Lepsius when he was preparing his edition of the hieroglyphic and Greek texts. This stele was set up at Canopus in the ninth year of the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (B.C. 247-222), to record the decree made at Canopus by the priesthood, assembled from all parts of Egypt, in honour of the king. It records the great benefits which he had conferred upon Egypt, and states what festivals are to be celebrated in his honour, and in that of Berenice, etc., and, like the Rosetta Stone, concludes with a resolution ordering that a copy of this inscription in hieroglyphs, Greek and demotic, shall be placed in every large temple in Egypt. Now the Rosetta Stone is inscribed with 32 lines of demotic, and the Stele of Canopus with 73; but as the lines on the Rosetta Stone are rather more than double the length of those on the Stele of Canopus, it is pretty certain that each document is of about the same length. The Stele of Canopus has 74 lines of Greek to 54 on the Rosetta Stone, but as the letters are longer and wider, it is clear from this also that the Greek versions occupied about the same space. Allowing then for the difference in the size of the hieroglyphic characters, we should expect the hieroglyphic inscription on the Rosetta Stone to occupy 14 or 15 lines. When complete the stele must have been about 12 inches longer than it is now, and the top was probably rounded and inscribed, like that of the Stele of Canopus, with a winged disk, having pendent uraei, that on the right wearing, the crown of Upper Egypt, and that on the left, the crown of Lower Egypt; by the side of each uraeus, laid horizontally, would be, and above
Afta ankh, "giver of life.”
The inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone form a version of the Decree of the whole priesthood of Egypt, assembled in solemn conclave at Memphis to do honour to Ptolemy V Epiphanes, king of Egypt (B.C. 196), written in hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek. A complete facsimile1 of them was published by the Society of
1 Other facsimiles are given in Lepsius, Auswahl, Bl. 18, and in Arundale and Bonomi, Gallery of Antiquities, pl. 49, p. 114.
Antiquaries1 in 1802, and copies were distributed among the scholars who were anxious to undertake the investigation of the texts. The hieroglyphic text has been translated by Brugsch in his Inscriptio Rosettana, Berlin, 1851; by Chabas, L'Inscription hieroglyphique de Rosette, Paris, 1867; by Sharpe, The Rosetta Stone in hieroglyphics and Greek, London, 1871; by Birch, Gallery of Antiquities, p. 114; and by Mahaffy, Empire of the Ptolemies, pp. 316-327. The demotic text has been studied by M. de Sacy, Lettre à M. Chaptal sur l'inscription égypt. de Rosette, Paris, 1802; by Åkerblad, Lettre à M. de Sacy sur l'inscription égypt. de Rosette, Paris, 1802; by Young, Hieroglyphics (collected by the Egyptian Society, arranged by Dr. T. Young, 2 vols., fol., 100 plates, 1823-1828), pl. X ff.; by Brugsch, Die Inschrift von Rosette nach ihrem ägyptisch-demotischen Texte sprachlich und sachlich erklärt, Berlin, 1850; by Salvolini, Analyse Grammaticale Raisonnée de différents textes des anciens Égyptiens, Vol. I., Texte hieroglyphique et démotique de la pierre de Rosette, Paris, 1836 [this work was never finished]; by de Saulcy, Analyse Grammaticale, Vol. I, pt. I, Paris, 1845; by de Rougé, Lettre à M. de Saulcy (Revue Arch., 1847, pp. 321-343); by Revillout, Chrestomathie Démotique, 1880; and by Hess, Der Demotische Teil der Dreisprachigen Inschrift von Rosette, 1902. The Greek text has been edited in Vetusta Monumenta, Vol. IV, pll. VIII and IX; and Description de l'Égypte, tom. V, pll. V-VII; by Lepsius, Auswahl, pll. XVIII and XIX; Heyne, Commentatio in inscriptionem graecam monumenti trinis titulis insigniti ex Aegypto Londinum apportati, in tom. XV of Comment. Soc. R. Sc. Gött., pp. 260-280; Ameilhon, Eclaircissements sur l'inscription grecque du monument trouvé à Rosette, Paris, 1803; Bailey, Hieroglyphicorum Origo et Natura, Cambridge, 1816; Drumann, Commentatio in inscriptionem prope Rosettam inventam, Regiomont, 1822; and Drumann, Historisch-antiquarische Untersuchungen über Aegypten, oder die Inschrift von Rosette aus dem Griechischen übersetzt und erläutert, Königsberg, 1823; Lenormant, Essai sur le texte grec de l'inscription de Rosette, Paris, 1842; Letronne, Recueil des inscriptions grecques et latines d'Égypte, Paris, 1842; and by Franz in Boeckh, Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, t. III, 1853, p. 334 ff., No. 4697, etc. The complete hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek texts, together with transliterations and English translations and facsimiles, will be found in Budge, The Decrees of Memphis and Canopus, Vols. I–III, London, 1904. This work is out of print. A good and cheap autotype facsimile of the Stone, with a few pages of letterpress by myself, was published by the Trustees of the British Museum in 1914, price sixpence. The glass was removed and the Stone was
1 The Greek version of the decree of the Egyptian Priests in honour of Ptolemy the Fifth, surnamed Epiphanes, from the stone inscribed in the sacred and vulgar Egyptian and the Greek characters, taken from the French at the surrender of Alexandria. London, 1802. Nichols.
levelled and grey powder was carefully dusted into the inscriptions. A day when the light was most suitable was waited for and the photograph was taken by Mr. D. Macbeth, who had mounted his camera on a scaffold immediately above the Stone. The reproduction on the Plate opposite is, for its size, one of the best ever made.
Contents of the Decree of the priests at Memphis.-The inscriptions upon the Rosetta Stone set forth that Ptolemy V Epiphanes, while king of Egypt, (1) consecrated revenues of silver and corn to the temples; (2) that he suppressed certain taxes and reduced others; (3) that he granted certain privileges to the priests and soldiers; (4) that when, in the eighth year of his reign, the Nile rose to a great height and flooded all the plains, he undertook, at great expense, the task of damming it in and directing the overflow of its waters into proper channels, to the great gain and benefit of the agricultural classes; (5) that he remitted taxes; (6) that he gave handsome gifts to the temples, and (7) that he subscribed to the various ceremonies which were carried on in them. In return for these gracious acts the priesthood assembled in the great temple of Ptaḥ at Memphis decreed that a statue of the king should be set up in a conspicuous place in every temple of Egypt, and that each should be inscribed with the name and titles of Ptolemy, the saviour of Egypt. Royal apparel was to be placed on each statue, and ceremonies were to be performed before each three times a day. It was also decreed that a gilded wooden shrine, containing a gilded wooden figure of the king, should be placed in each temple, and that these were to be carried out with the shrines of the other kings in the great panegyrics. It was also decreed that ten golden crowns of a peculiar design should be made and laid upon the royal shrine ; that the birthday and coronation day of the king should be celebrated each year with great pomp and rejoicing and feasting ; that the first five days of the month of Thoth should each year be set apart for the performance of a festival in honour of the king; and finally that a copy of this decree, engraved upon a tablet of hard stone in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek characters, should be set up in each of the temples of the first, second and third orders, near the statue of the ever-living Ptolemy. It was formerly supposed that the Greek portion of the inscriptions was the original document, and that the hieroglyphic and demotic versions were merely translations of it, but many reasons have been adduced for thinking that the original draft was in demotic, especially as neither the hieroglyphic nor the Greek version really represents the exact meaning of many of the carefully thought-out phrases of the demotic text.
Although it is nearly certain that, without the aid of the Greek inscription found on the socket of an obelisk at Philae, and the hieroglyphic inscription found on the obelisk which belonged to that socket, the hieroglyphic alphabet could never have been recovered from the Rosetta Stone, still it is around this wonderful document
that all the interest in the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs clings. For many hundreds of years the interest of the learned of all countries has been excited by the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Egypt, and the theories propounded as to their contents were legion. Speaking broadly, the references to this subject by classical authors1 are not very satisfactory; still there are some remarkable exceptions, which will be referred to presently. Inasmuch as the names of Roman emperors, as late as the time of Decius, were written in hieroglyphs, it follows that the knowledge of this subject must have been possessed by someone, either Greek or Egyptian, in Egypt. "For a hundred and fifty years after the Ptolemies began to reign, the Egyptian hieroglyphics appear to have been commonly used, and the Egyptians were not prohibited from making use, so far as it seemed requisite, according to ritual or otherwise appropriate, of the native language and of its timehallowed written signs." Little by little, however, the Greek language displaced the Egyptian among the upper classes, and the writing in common use among the people, called to-day "demotic " or "enchorial," and anciently" epistolographic," completely usurped the place of the "hieratic" or cursive form of hieroglyphic writing. Even the abbreviated texts from the Book of the Dead which became common in the Graeco-Roman Period were often written in demotic, and much of the fiction of that time was written in demotic. The Egyptians seem to have forgotten the fact that the "words of the
god,” 17, were held by their ancestors to be holy. Although
the Greeks and Romans appear not to have studied the hieroglyphs thoroughly, only repeating generally what they were told about certain signs, nevertheless writers like Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Hermapion, Chaeremon, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Horapollo, contribute information on this subject of considerable value.
To Hecataeus of Miletus,3 who visited Egypt between B.C. 513– 501, we owe, through Herodotus, much knowledge of Egypt, and he must be considered the earliest Greek writer upon Egypt. Hellanitus of Mytilene, B.C. 478-393, shows in his AlyvπTTIAKà that he has some accurate knowledge of the meaning of some hieroglyphic words. Democritus wrote upon the hieroglyphs of Meroë,5 but this work is lost. Herodotus says that the Egyptians used two quite different kinds of writing, one of which is called sacred
1 See Gutschmid, "Scriptorum rerum Aegyptiacarum Series," in Philologus, Bd. X, Göttingen, 1855, SS. 712 ff.
2 Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire, Vol. II, p. 243.
De rerum Aegyptiacarum scriptoribus Graecis ante Alexandrum Magnum," in Philologus, Bd. X, S. 525.
• See the instances quoted in Philologus, Bd. X, S. 539.
5 Περὶ τῶν ἐν Μερόῃ ἱερῶν γραμμάτων. Diogenes Laertius, Vit. Democ., ed.
Isaac Casaubon, 1593, p. 661.