Excerpt from the Rosetta Stone

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“In 1799, the Rosetta Stone was found and gave the first key to the reading of hieroglyphics. On this stone the same inscription was given in three different sets of characters, -the hieroglyphics, the demotic text (a briefer and more running form of hieroglyphics, commonly used in the papyri or manuscripts), and the Greek. By comparing the letters in certain Greek proper names with the letters of the same words in the Egyptian texts, the sounds for which the Egyptian characters stood were discovered. The Greek text, when translated, showed that the inscription was an ordinance of the priests decreeing certain honors to Ptolemy Epiphanes on the occasion of his coronation, 196 B.C. (Ptolemy Epiphanes was one of a line of Greek sovereigns who ruled over Egypt from the time of its conquest by Alexander in the fourth century, to the first century B.C.) It contains a command that the decree should be inscribed in the sacred letters (hieroglyphics), the letters of the country (demotic), and Greek letters, -and this for the convenience of the mixed population of Egypt under its Greek rulers. It was natural to conclude that the three texts were the same in substance, and accordingly earnest efforts were made to decipher the hieroglyphics by aid of the Greek. The first clew was obtained by noticing that certain groups of the hieroglyphic characters were inclosed in oval rings, and that these groups corresponded in relative position with certain proper names, such as Ptolemy, etc., in the Greek text. The following line presents a few of the characters with a group in the oval ring. (Each word is read from right to left).” —Colby, 1899


Frank Moore Colby, Outlines of General History, (New York: American Book Company, 1899) 25


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