Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse of Alexandria.
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
Cleopatra (VII) and her son, ptolemy xv (caesarion) were the last rulers of the ptolemaic dynasty of egypt. They were not Egyptian, however, but were of greek and macedonian descent. Cleopatra was supposedly the only member of the dynasty who could speak egyptian.
The lateran obelisk, the largest obelisk of the ancient world. Quarried by thutmose iii and carved and erected in thebes by his grandson, thutmose iv, it was taken to rome by emperor constantius ii and erected in the circus maximus in 357.
Rome’s circus maximus, the stadium for racing chariots, the nascar track of its day.
Down the spine of the circus maximus the greatest works of art of the ancient world were arrayed, trophies of rome’s conquests.
During the renaissance rome was renovated and numerous obelisks were reset as the pope’s set about beautifying the expanding city.
Title page of Athanasius Kircher's Obeliscus Pamphilius (Rome, 1650) Athanius Kircher (1601-1680) was a polymath and humanist who published the first European treatise on the Coptic language. Unfortunately, Kircher never wavered from his view that Egyptian hieroglyphs were esoteric symbols and ideographs; a belief which influenced more than a century of subsequent scholarship.
Herodotus of Halicarnassus Regarded as the ‘Father of History,’ Herodotus lived in the 5th century BC (c. 484-425). He is perhaps best known for The Histories , which details the conflict between Greece and Persia, and for his list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’. (Bust from the Museum of Naples.)
“ When they write or calculate, instead of going, like the Greeks, from left to right, they move their hand from right to left; and they insist, notwithstanding, that it is they who go to the right, and the Greeks who go to the left. They have two quite different kinds of writing, one of which is called sacred, the other common.” Clement of alexandria (late 2 nd century a.d.) says that there are three scripts in egypt: hieroglyphic, hieratic, and “epistolographic”.
Diodorus siculus (first century b.c.) traveled in egypt and wrote: “ the signs are like various animals, or the extremities of the human body, or tools – particularly carpenters’ tools. For their script does not work by putting syllables together to render an underlying sense, but by drawing objects whose metaphorical meaning is impressed on the memory …” Eg// Falcon = ‘anything that happens suddenly’ crocodile = ‘evil’ eye = ‘the body’s watchman, guardian of justice’
South of ptolemaic and roman egypt was the kingdom of meroe, anciently known as ethiopia. This african kingdom had inherited ancient egyptian writing and religion, and had never been conquered by the greeks or romans.
Chairemon, a priest from alexandria who supposedly lived in the first century A.d., wrote: “ the ethiopians do not use letters, only various animals, their limbs, and organs. Earlier priests, in their desire to keep secret their knowledge of natural theology, taught these signs to their own children as an allegorical or symbolic way of writing – a woman beating a drum for ‘joy’, a man holding his chin and looking down at the ground for ‘grief’, a tear-filled eye for ‘misfortune’ … “
Plutarch (A.D. 46-120) refers a few times to egyptian hieroglyphs. He says that the glyph for osiris is written with an eye and a scepter, while a rush signified ‘king’ or ‘southern lands’. These are correct. However, other of his ideas were not, and he was clearly not very familiar with how egyptian writing worked.
Horapollo was supposedly an egyptian priest living in the late 5 th century. His treatise, hieroglyphica, was translated into greek. A copy of this manuscript was found on the greek island of andros in 1419. much of the text provides nonsensical explanations of the significance of certain egyptian hieroglyphs. Some ring true, though.
‘ to denote hieroglyphs, or a scribe, they draw a reed, ink, and a sieve … because the first instrument used in making bread is a sieve … and the egyptian for education is sbo, which means adequate nourishment.” the ancient egyptian words for scribe and food were indeed very similar.
Plotinus, 3 rd century philosopher, writes: “ this is what the wise men of egypt realized, either by science or by instinct. When they wanted to express their meaning philosophically they did not go through the whole business of letters, words, and sentences. They did not employ devices to copy the sounds of a proposition and how it is pronounced, instead, in their sacred writings they drew signs, a separate sign for each idea, so as to express its whole meaning at once. Each separate sign is in itself a piece of knowledge, a piece of wisdom, a piece of reality, immediately present. There is no process of reasoning involved, no laborious elucidation.”
“sacrifice with your labor ungrudgingly to the god of nature. Gradually you will bring your mind back to be subject to him. In his merciful guidance he will keep firm watch over your life and will preserve you in safety.”
Pierius valerianus wrote “the hieroglyphs, or a commentary on the sacred letters of the egyptians and other peoples”, in 1556, the first book in a thousand years devoted to egyptian hieroglyphs. This illustration is of an obelisk seen by plutarch in front of the temple at sais, in egypt.
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.’
Pope alexander vii had this obelisk reset in the piazza minerva in 1667. the elephant base was carved by bernini.
Kircher’s drawing of the minervan obelisk inscription. Some signs are recognizable, but decent drawings were still a while in coming.
Kircher’s drawing of part of the bembine tablet.
Three different drawings of the same text from a late egyptian funeral stela.
Carsten niebuhr’s drawing of a text on a sarcophagus he saw in the streets of cairo. These glyphs are recognizable and legible.