Titus Flavius Domitianus (24 October 51 – 18 September 96), known as Domitian , was a Roman Emperor who reigned from 14 September 81 until his death in 96 A.D. We'll return to Kircher's ‘translation’ in a little while
In the first two centuries of the present era, these four writing systems (and four different languages) were used simultaneously in Egypt, each in a different context: hieroglyphic on monuments and tombs (recording Middle Egyptian), hieratic in traditionall religious texts (recording Late Egyptian), demotic for personal letters ad documents (recording Demotic) and Coptic in the new liturgical Christian tradition.
The Bankes Obelisk, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. (Set as instructed by the Duke of Wellington.)
So let us now return to Kircher's translation.
Kircher's ‘Translation’ of the Piazza Navona Cartouche: ‘ The beneficent generative force commanding through supernal and infernal dominion, augments the flow of sacred humour emanating from above. Saturn, the disposer of fleeing time, promotes the fecundity of the soil, commanding humid nature. For by his influence all things have life and force.’
Athanasius Kircher (1601/1602 – 1680) was the first European scholar to study Coptic and to note that it was the last form of the language of ancient Egypt. Kircher published a grammar of Coptic in 1636.
Bernard de Montfaucon (1655 – 1741) published all of the non-hieroglyphic texts from ancient Egypt then known, not more than 2 pages worth, and considered these to be the “public” script described by Herodotus. He also noted that Coptic is the language of ancient Egypt and that the six extra letters of the Coptic alphabet (those not borrowed from the Greek) were likely derived from the cursive ancient Egyptian script.
The Coptic alphabet has six extra letters not found in the Greek alphabet from which it is derived.
William Warburton (1698 – 1779), Bishop of Gloucester, wrote a massive book in which he argued that the ancient Egyptian texts recorded “openly and plainly laws, policies, morals, and history, and, in a word, all kinds of civil matters”. Only in its late phase was the hieroglyphic system turned into a secretive code, where signs were used to symbolize the properties and not the phonetic value, or the actual object, being portrayed. The confusion of these two stages of hieroglyphic use ‘involved the whole history of hieroglyphic writing in infinite confusion’. At the same time, the alphabet was invented by the Egyptians (a secretary of the pharaoh to be precise) to combat the increasingly esoteric nature of hieroglyphs.
Jean-Jacques Barthélemy (1716 – 1795) read Warburton’s work and agreed with him and most others of the day that Egypt was the most ancient civilization. He looked into hieratic writing for the origin of the six extra signs in Coptic, as he assumed that the hieratic was alphabetic. This was despite the fact that there are far too many signs to be a normal alphabet. He is also famous for being the first to suggest that the hieroglyphs inside a cartouche spell out the names of kings or gods.
Barthélemy worked in the service of Anne-Claude Philippe de Tubieres de Grimoard de Pestels de Levis, the Comte de Caylus (1692 – 1765). Caylus was a French nobleman and in his retirement became an antiquarian and proto-archaeologist. His large collection of works from the Near East, gathered on his travels in the Ottoman Empire, were invaluable for scholars studying ancient writing systems, especially those investigating Egyptian hieroglyphs. Even more important than his collection was his demand for accurate illustrations of texts.
Carsten Niebuhr (1733 – 1815) was a German in the service of the Danish king. He traveled in the Near East, including Egypt, and produced some of the first decent drawings of Egyptian texts, with which he was well familiar through his travels. He also was the first to note that hieroglyphs should be distinguished from the rest of Egyptian art. Niebuhr is more famous for his contributions to the decipherment of the cuneiform writing systems.
Georg Zoëga (1755 – 1809) was a Danish scholar and wrote the book De origine et usu obeliscorum (1797), in which he outlines his views on Egyptian writing. Among his observations were that the hieroglyphs could be read either left to right or right to left, and that reading order could be determined by reading into the faces of the people or animals portrayed. He was the first to suggest that “phonetic signs” (he coined the term) might be included in the hieroglyphs.
In 1798 Napoléon Bonaparte sailed from France to Egypt, hoping to set up a French protectorate that could be used to indirectly combat the British Empire. A man of the Enlightenment, Napoléon took with him numerous savants , the scholars of his day, in order to study the country. While they were greatly disappointed by Alexandria, as his forces moved south they encountered the incredible antiquities, which up to that point were scarcely known in Europe.
Napoléon was defeated in 1802 and had to return to France, where he quickly seized sole power as emperor and embarked on his famous wars in Europe. His savants returned with artifacts and, far more important, their drawings and descriptions of the country, published in the massive 19-volume series Description de l’Égypte , published between 1809 and 1822.
The Rosetta Stone was discovered in July, 1799 in one of the walls of Fort Julien in Rosetta. Its importance as a bilingual text (in three scripts) was immediately recognized. The British took possession after defeating the French in Egypt in 1801 and the next year it was sent to the new British Museum in London, where it remains today. The French had already made copies of the piece, which they took back to France.
The International Congress of Orientalists viewing the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery in the British Museum ( Illustrated London News, Sept. 26, 1874)
The Greek text could be easily read, and recorded a decree promulgated in the name of the 12-year old king Ptolemy V Epiphanes on March 27, 196 B.C. The decree remitted the taxes of the temples as reward for their allegiance to Ptolemy and his murdered parents in the recent native rebellion that was, in fact, still ongoing.
This image of how the Rosetta Stone originally looked illustrates how much of the text, nearly a third, is missing. The hieroglyphic portion is the most affected, and only 14 lines remain, all of which are missing at least a portion on the right. The demotic and Greek sections are almost complete.
Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy (1758 – 1838) was an accomplished linguist and orientalist, having already deciphered the Sassanid Persian inscriptions before tackling Egyptian hieroglyphs. Using copies of the Rosetta Stone, he tried his hand at deciphering the middle ‘Egyptian’ text (today called demotic), as the upper hieroglyphic one was damaged and the ‘hieroglyphic character , being representative of ideas, not sounds, does not belong to the domain of any particular language’. Sacy thought that the demotic system was entirely alphabetic.
Sacy thought the demotic text to be entirely alphabetic, and proceeded to translate it, but immediately ran into problems. The name of Ptolemy he read as ‘Aftuulma’, for example. Sacy’s problem was in assuming the demotic was all alphabetic, and deciphering the ‘letters’ by comparing them to Hebrew, Coptic and Samaritan letters. Sacy thought that demotic had so many ‘letter’ forms because like Hebrew and Arabic, it changed the shape of the letters depending on where they appeared in a word.
Johan David Åkerblad (1763 – 1819) was more successful with the demotic and managed to figure out many more letters and actually read the names of Ptolemy and Arsinoe and other names in the text. However, the rest of the text remained inscrutable even to him, since he too still thought it was all alphabetic.
Sacy did note: “ We know that the Chinese experience this difficulty [namely, in writing foreign names] and that they are sometimes obliged to employ a special sign to show that the characters used in expressing a proper name are reduced to simple [phonetic] value. I conjecture that in the hieroglyphic text of the Rosetta inscription the line that encircles a series of hieroglyphs is employed for the same function.”
Thomas Young (1773 – 1829) was an Englishman who made contributions to many arenas of science, including history, medicine, physics etc. He was the chief competitor with Champollion for deciphering hieroglyphs. He tried his hand at deciphering demotic by assuming the language it recorded was Coptic, but got no further than Åkerblad. Young assumed the Greeks were wrong about the demotic being an alphabetic system. Since he could see similarities in the demotic signs to hieroglyphs, he assumed (correctly) that they were related scripts.
Jean-François Champollion (1790 - 1832) - Learned Greek, Latin, and Coptic at a young age. - Mastered the Greek historical texts on Egyptian history, culture and politics by his late teens. - Deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic scripts in 1822.
In 1814 Champollion published a book on his research into the native names for the ancient cities and nomes (districts or provinces) of ancient Egypt, which he determined through examining Greek, Coptic and Arabic manuscripts.
Champollion scoured the drawings in the newly published Description de l’Égypte for hieroglyphs, and especially bilingual texts (in Greek and Egyptian, or in the different Egyptian scripts). Champollion was the first to realize there were 4 scripts: hieroglyphs, cursive hieroglyphs, hieratic, and demotic.
Obelisk), Champollion noticed three signs in common: l , p , and ’ (though
he thought this was the vowel o ).
- At first uncertain over the reason for
two different t signs, he later came
to accept these as allographs ( i.e. ,
two formally different signs with
p t ’ l m y s klỉ’p ʒ tr ʒ
- fragment of a 4th-century BC water-clock now in the Louvre, Paris.
ʒ l k s s r t n ỉ - fragment of a 4th-century BC water-clock now in the Louvre, Paris. ʒl e ks a ỉntr o s Alexandros
Kircher's ‘Translation’ of the Piazza Navona Cartouche: ‘ The beneficent generative force commanding through supernal and infernal dominion, augments the flow of sacred humour emanating from above. Saturn, the disposer of fleeing time, promotes the fecundity of the soil, commanding humid nature. For by his influence all things have life and force.’ Today, this can be read as follows: K ʒ s r s T my t y ʒ n s (Caesar Domitianus), who lives forever’
• Note that the names of Tuthmosis and Ramesses both involve the ms - s sequence, but each has a different initial element that is at least partly pictorial—a great boon to the decipherer of partially logographic scripts.
Cartouches of Ramesses II • These variant spellings of the name of Ramesses the Great were drawn by Champollion for his famous Lettre à M. Dacier (1822). • They read: 1. r’-ms-s 1 -s 1 2. ’-mn-n-mry r’- DET -ms-s 1 -s 1 3. ’ -mn-n-mry r’-ms-s 1 -s 1 4. ’-mn-n r’-ms-s 2 -s 2 mry 5. ’mn -r’ -mry ms-s 2 -s 2 6. ’-mn-n r’ -DET -ms-s 2 -s 2 mry ‘ Ramesses, beloved of Amen’ 1 2 3 4 5 6