Hieroglyphic Writing Hieroglyphic Writing Right from the beginning the deciphering of the mysterious Egyptian writing fascinated everybody. In 1799 a certain Captain Bouchard of the French Army was supervising work on the fortifications of Fort St. Julian, situated a little more than four kilometers outside the town of Rosetta when hi workmen discovered a stone which was destined to achieve great fame in archaeological history. It was in fact the “Rosetta Stone” which led to the deciphering of the hieroglyphs. As a result of the fortunes of war this precious stone fell into the hands of the British who gave it a place of honor in the British Museum. On one face of the stone, a tablet of extremely hard black basalt, there is a long trilingual inscription; the three texts begin written one above other.
The first of the inscriptions, 14 lines long, is written in hieroglyphs. The second, 32 lines long, is written in demotic, from the Greek word “demos” meaning people, which refers to a type of script used by ordinary people. The third inscription, 54 lines long, is in Greek and hence was comprehensible. This latter text, translated without difficulty, proved to be a priestly decree in honor of Ptolemy Epiphanes which finishes with a formal instruction that “this decree, engraved on a tablet of hard stone, in three scripts, hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek, shall be engraved in each of the great temples of Egypt”. The honor of deciphering the hieroglyphs fell to two scholars, the Englishman Thomas Young and the Frenchman Francois Champollion who started work on it almost the same time and who were to see their efforts crowned by success. What Young achieved by instinct Champollion achieved by scientific method and with such success that by his death in 1832 he could leave behind him a grammar and a very substantial dictionary of ancient Egyptian.
But what did this writing that the Greeks called hieroglyphic, from “hiero glyphica” that is “sacred signs” actually consist of? The ancient Egyptians themselves called their written texts “the words of the gods”. In fact according to tradition men were taught to write by the god Thot himself during the reign of Osiris. Down through the centuries the writing retained a sacred character and more or less magical powers. Anybody who now to write the approximately seven hundred signs which constituted Egyptian writing, each sign representing a sound or an object, was held in great esteem. The names of the kings and queens were surrounded by an outline which archeologists call a “cartouches”.
The ancient Egyptians either engraved the hieroglyphs in the stonework of their temples or painted them on the walls of the burial chamber or inscribed them with a reed pen on rolls of papyrus, the antecedent of our paper.