Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rosetta Stone and the "Temple of Isis"

Sailor Sam is not the only person who has been involved in adventures over the mysteries of Egypt. None other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself wanted to capture Egypt and uncover all of its mysteries.

Napoleon assembled a huge fleet and army in 1798 to take everything Egypt contained for himself. Napoleon attacked Egypt and brought a huge group of scientists and engineers from France, the Savants. The Savants mapped Egypt and collected as many of its treasures as they could find, including its ancient wealth. It the process the Rosetta Stone was discovered in the wall of a fort just west of the Nile delta in the town of Rosetta. Napoleon may have accomplished his goal of taking Egypt's wealth if England hadn't interfered. England defeated Napoleon and took the Savants' finds, which included the Rosetta Stone.

The Rosetta Stone was the key to decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics. The stone was basically a sign announcing that, for certain favors that King Ptolemy V gave the Egyptian priests, the Egyptian priesthood made Ptolemy V a god and allowed him his own cult. The announcement was printed in Greek, Coptic, and hieroglyphics. The stone ended up in the British Museum in about 1800. Linguists were able to translate the Greek in about a year and the Coptic, which is much like a shorthand of hieroglyphics, a couple years later. But it took more than 25 years to decode the glyphs.

There were two reasons it took so long. First, hieroglyphics were a lost language. The glyphs had not been used since about 100 BC or so when Coptic took over. Then in those first centuries after Christ, Christianity grew throughout the Mediterranean. Christians saw hieroglyphics as part of the Egyptian cults and got rid of most of the books and scrolls using hieroglyphics. The language was totally lost before long.

Then about 500 A.D. a man studying the glyphs decided that they were much like Chinese and were all symbols of words and ideas. But hieroglyphics are much more complex than that. They contain some signs for letters and syllables as well as for words and ideas. It took a young Frenchman by the name of Champollion to decode the hieroglyphics. His work was aided by other stones and scrolls written in hieroglyphics found after the Rosetta Stone as well as research done by several other men from other countries.