The Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs by Lesley and Roy Adkins

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As some of you know I have been mesmerized by ancient Egypt since I was young.  Last week I picked up a book I’d read in 2000, when it was published (the above title) and started reading it again. It is about Jean-Francis Champollion, the young Frenchman who broke the code of the hieroglyphic texts.

It is the story of obsession, failures, trials and tribulations and early deaths, and finally success. A mesmerizing story. At the end of the book, the authors included a translation from a scribe about the importance of writers.

One of the things I thought interesting was that the Egyptians wrote on everything: papyrus, wooden boards, leather, notes scratched on pieces of broken pottery and stone. Inscriptions were painted and carved on every temple wall, every tomb and on every colossal statue-even down to the linen bandages used to wrap bodies during mummification. From grocery lists, to hallowed prayers, to ordinary people, writers telling their stories-as we continue to this day.

This was written more than 3,000 years ago, titled:

“Eulogy to Dead Authors”

But, should you do these things, you are wise in writings,

As for those scribes and sages

from the time which came after the gods

-those who would foresee what was to come, which happened –

their names endure for eternity.

although they are gone, although they completed their lifetimes and all their people are forgotten.

They did not make pyramids of bronze,

with stelae of iron.

They recognized not how heirs last as children,

with offspring pronouncing their names:

they made for themselves heirs

as writings and teachings they made.

They appointed for themselves the book as the lector-priest,

the writing board as beloved-son,

the teachings as their pyramids,

the pen as their baby,

the stone surface as wife.

From the great to the small

are given to be his children:

the scribe, he is their head.

Doors and mansions were made: they have fallen.

the funerary priests leaving

while their stelae are covered with earth

their chambers forgotten.

Yet their names are still pronounced over their papyrus rolls

which they made, from when they were.

How good is the memory of them and what they made-

for the bounds of eternity!

Be a scribe! Put it in your heart,

that your name shall exist like theirs!

The papyrus roll is more excellent than the carved stela,

than the enclosure which is established.

These act as chapels and pyramids

in the heart of him who pronounces their names.

Surely a name in mankind’s mouth

is efficacious in the necropolis!

A man has perished: his corpse is dust,

And his people have passed from the land;

it is a book which makes him remembered

in the mouth of a speaker.

More excellent is a papyrus roll than a built house,

than a chapel in the west.

It is better than an established villa,

Than a stela in a temple…