The Rosetta Stone — All Rock and No Roll.
I would bet dollars to donuts that you have heard of Rosetta Stone. Of course you have! It’s that company that sells language software for a pretty penny. The big yellow box with a blue rock on it, right? Yep, that’s the one.
But, I would be remiss if I bet any sugary substance that every reader of this post is well-versed in the history surrounding that blue rock. While I knew of its historical significance as the key to the ultimate decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, I had no idea how difficult the deciphering process actually was and who was finally credited with doing so until I dove into Cracking the Egyptian Code: the Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion by Andrew Robinson.
According to Robinson, THE Rosetta Stone was discovered in July of 1799 near the western shore of the Nile by a group of French soldiers. The Stone had writing in three different scripts: hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. Demotic script “was developed (c. 650 BC) from a cursive form of Egyptian writing known as ‘hieratic’ — a ‘running hand’ used in parallel with the hieroglyphic script from as early as 3000 B.C. The term ‘demotic’ derives from demotikos, meaning ‘in common use,’ in contrast to the sacred hieroglyphic, which was essentially a monumental script” (25). Robinson stated that the logical first step towards decipherment was to translate the Greek portion as it was already an understood language. The stone had a “legal decree issued at Memphis, the principal city of Ancient Egypt, by a general council of priests from every part of the kingdom, assembled on the first anniversary of the coronation of the young Ptolemy V Epiphanes, king of all Egypt, on 27 March 196 BC” (25). Its removal from Egypt occurred in 1801 after the defeat of Napoleon’s army when it, along with other important items, were taken to the Society of Antiquaries in London. From there, multiple attempts by scholars were made to decipher the Stone. One such scholar, Thomas Young (“a professional physician, a leading physicist, mathematician, and a gifted linguist”) nearly succeeded at that very task.
But, it was the aforementioned Frenchman, Jean-François Champollion, who finally managed to unlock the mystery of the Rosetta Stone. Cracking the Egyptian Code dives deeply into the the exact decipherment techniques he used and how the deciphering of the Stone provided knowledge of one of the earliest known alphabets.
With my love of all things Egyptian, I like to think that I know a little about a lot of things…just enough to make me dangerous. Wait…no, that was just me quoting “Supernatural.” You will have to excuse me. I do that from time to time. Alright, quite a bit of the time. I’m not dangerous. I’m just a Librarian.
Even Evelyn from “The Mummy” managed to lead quite an adventurous life. So perhaps, if I keep (or start I should say) studying Ancient languages…perhaps I too can run around the globe stirring up a bit of trouble every now and again. Who knows, maybe unearth a Stone that can alter the timelines of history. A girl can dream, right?