What are Hieroglyphics?
For thousands of years people have traveled to the land of Egypt to find the columns and temples ornately adorned with thousands of pictures and symbols. Although, up until recently, no one knew for sure just what these cryptic messages from the past truly said.
That is until 1799 A.C. when French leader Napoleon Bonaparte led his troops into Egypt and were working to repair parts of a fort in the region that the army uncovered a massive stone slab.
This was no ordinary slab, however. Engraved in this stone were three different languages: Greek, Demotic, and Hieroglyphics. The stone held the key to cracking the 4,000 year old mystery of the Pharaoh's writing.
Credit for cracking the code can be given primarily to two researchers back in the early 1800's: the British Scientist Thomas Young and French linguist Jean-Francois Champollion.
What was Discovered?
The Rosetta Stone was the key reason researchers discovered that different images could be read several ways. The meaning behind each and how they were meant to be read depended upon the lay out of the text.
The images can be read as either a vowel sound, a syllable, or as the "determinative". You are probably familiar with the concept of a vowel and syllable, but many are unsure what a determinative means.
In Egyptian Hieroglyphics the deteminative is the symbol which indicates what the whole "sentence" is about (I use sentence loosely, this isn't exactly how writing was structured back then, but it's a close approximation.).
Therefore, imagine you see a set of symbols and you notice one has a small stick etched beside it. What does this little stick mean? It is the sign for the determinative. It says "This is the thing which we are discussing in the following lines" and shows which direction it is meant to be read.
What did this Language mean to the Egyptians?
Hieroglyphics were more than simply a means of conversing or recording events and trades. Hieroglyphics were sacred, magical, and very much the language of the gods.
The a fore mentioned "demotic" script was the common script of ancient Egypt. In other word, this simplified version of the hieroglyphics was used by commoners for everyday trade, transactions, and communication.
Hieroglyphics were reserved for inscriptions on the temples, official business, spells and religious texts. They were held to be magical in nature, and to possess great power.
To inscribe anything with these letters was to perform a sort of creation, a willing of something to exist. One example of this was the way in which names were written in a protective oval known as a "cartouche".
The cartouche served as a protective barrier over the names of an individual. If you left the name unprotected it would be susceptible to curses and spells and potential danger may impact the person named.
What does the Rosetta Stone say?
The Rosetta Stone, despite its immense utility for modern historians and etymologists, was not written to serve as a translation tool. If that is so, why was it written in 3 scripts?
The reason lies in the time frame in which this text was composed. In the later ceturines B.C.E. Egypt was occupied and ruled by a family of Greek military kings. This line of kings were known as the Ptolemies, and took charge of the region upon the death of Alexander the Great.
For the entirety of their reign (which spanned some 10 generations) the Ptolemies struggled to assert their legitimacy as leaders of Egypt. The Rosetta Stone was commissioned by Ptolemy V in an attempt to show he was Greek but also Egyptian.
In the 10th stanza of the text we read:
“Inasmuch as the King who is beloved by the gods, the King of the South and North Neterui-merui-ȧtui-ȧua-en-Ptaḥ-setep-en-usr-ka Rā ānkh-sekhem-Ȧmen, the Son of the Sun Ptolemy, the ever-living, beloved of Ptaḥ, the Gods who have made themselves manifest, the lord of beauties, hath given things of all kinds in very large quantities unto the lands of Horus and unto all." Rosetta Stone, line 10.
What we see here is Ptolemy V stating he is the beloved of the gods, blessed, and this can be seen in how the gods have been bestowing their blessings on the land.
He is accepted by the greatest of the deity, he must be accepted by their people. It speaks in eloquent details of how the land has been blessed by his presence.
Another important aspect of this text is it shows that he is Egyptian and Greek. This was the purpose of the three scripts. It had long been a hindrance to their legitimacy that they could not read or write the sacred texts. By having the priests make this declaration in all three scripts people could no longer see him as a stranger or foreigner.
About the Creator
I am a world nomad with a passion for vegan food, history, coffee, and equality.
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