Jean François Champollion: Deciphering Ancient Egypt with the Rosetta Stone

analytical Essay
1411 words
1411 words

Arguably one of the most important discoveries made regarding the historical and cultural study of ancient Egypt is the translation of the writing form known as hieroglyphics. This language, lost for thousands of years, formed a tantalizing challenge to a young Jean François who committed his life to its translation. Scholars such as Sylvestre de Sacy had attempted to translate the Rosetta Stone before Champollion, but after painstaking and unfruitful work, they abandoned it (Giblin 32). Champollion’s breakthrough with hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone opened up new possibilities to study and understand ancient Egypt like never before, and modern Egyptology was born.

The Rosetta Stone was found in the town of Rosetta and sent to French scholars in Alexandria during the summer of 1799 (Giblin 23). This black, measuring 112 by 76 stone found while the soldiers in the town were destroying a citadel was unprecedented because it had three different languages on it, the only understood one being Greek (Silet 1). The three languages on the stone were, as stated, Greek, the common Egyptian demotic, and 14 lines of hieroglyphics (Giblin 27). Scholars familiar with the Greek language and writing system were able to translate that section, and the final sentence revealed a fact that set the groundwork for future translations of the other parts. The final line reads: “This decree shall be inscribed on a stela of hard stone in sacred and native and Greek characters” (Giblin 27). It came to be understood that the three sections all contained the same message, and scholars promptly set to work on the translations.

One of the first to work with the copies made from the stone (the British had taken the stone during their war with the French) w...

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...and historical scholars. Although the Rosetta Stone remains in London, France triumphantly stands out as the country responsible for the man who made its translation and the rejuvenation of Egyptology possible.

Works Cited

1. Giblin, James. The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone. New York: Harper Trophy, 1990. Print

2. Meyerson, Daniel. The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion’s Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone Westminster, MD: Ballantine Books, 2004. Web.

3. Robinson, Andrew. “The Code Breaker’s Secret Diaries: Rediscovering Ancient Egypt.” History Today 60.1 (2010): 57-58. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.

4. Silet, Charles L.P. “The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt.” Magill Book Review (2007). Web 15 Feb. 2012.

5. Champollion: Egyptian Hieroglyphics Deciphered: A Film. Dir. Jean Vidal. Magic Films and International Film Bureau, 1979. VHS.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that one of the most important discoveries made regarding the historical and cultural study of ancient egypt is the translation of hieroglyphics.
  • Explains that the rosetta stone was sent to french scholars in alexandria during the summer of 1799. the three languages on the stone were greek, egyptian demotic, and 14 lines of hieroglyphics.
  • Narrates how sylvestre de sacy, one of the first to work with the copies made from the stone, was unable to decipher an alphabetical system.
  • Explains that thomas young, a british polymath, was one of the first scholars to make any headway on translating the hieroglyphics.
  • Explains that jean françois champollion was born in 1790 to a sick mother and failed book-seller father. his older brother jacques-joseph in grenoble, france, takes in and commits to teaching him.
  • Describes how champollion mastered nine languages, and was well on his way to the rosetta stone. he studied under se sacy and returned to grenoble to teach.
  • Analyzes how champollion's translation of fourteen lines of hieroglyphics didn't guarantee him immediate success. a skeptical and probably bitter thomas young declared, "champollion is wrong."
  • Explains that champollion continued on the rosetta stone to the "demotic," or "of the people" writing, which was a combination, just like hieroglyphics.
  • Describes how the louvre's "keeper of the egyptian collections" made his discoveries accessible to the public. the french government supported a trip to egypt where he deciphered the symbols on the ubiquitous tombs, statues and various artifacts.
  • Analyzes how champollion's death brushed closely with his life’s goal of studying in egypt. he collapsed, suffered numerous strokes, and died on march 4, 1832.
  • Analyzes how champollion overcame his impoverished background and his incredible capacity for knowledge led him to make unprecedented achievements. the rosetta stone became the foundation for his success in life and an entire era of history and culture
  • Cites giblin, james, meyerson, daniel, and robertson, andrew. the code breaker’s secret diaries: rediscovering ancient egypt.
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