The Keys Of Egypt: The Race To Crack The Hieroglyph Code, by Lesley And Roy Adkins
This particular book tells a somewhat familiar story (at least, it is familiar to me), but it does so in an enjoyable way that gives the reader a strong sense of the sort of drama that can be involved in research work like this. As someone who has read quite a bit about this (and other) linguistic mysteries solved and unsolved, I have mixed feelings for this book. Like many other authors who deal with this subject, the authors appear to consider an interest in Egyptology as seeking an alternative view of ancient history to that of the Bible, which is why you get bogus chronologies that attempt to make Egypt’s civilization more ancient than it really is. And as someone who views the Bible in high regard, I find the way that people try to build up the achievements of Champollion and others like Thomas Young to be unnecessary and unnecessarily provocative, in a way that makes me think less of the works than I would otherwise if they just focused on the achievement of deciphering a long-dead language through creativity and insight. There are cases where less is more and more is less, and that is definitely the case here.
This particular book is just over 300 pages and is divided into ten chapters which are given titles in Egyptian hieroglyphics that are then defined and explained, which is a nice touch. The introduction of the book begins with a look at the supposed beginnings of time which gives an introduction to Champollion’s childhood as well as his rivalry with Thomas Young. The book then turns to the land of Egypt and the French invasion of that country that brought the Rosetta Stone to light, where it became involved in the war plunder of the victorious English fleet (1). After that the authors turn their attention to Champollion’s youthful studies of Coptic and other ancient languages (2) as well as his time in Paris where he initially encountered ancient Egyptian and sought to make sense of it (3) before becoming a somewhat youthful student back in Grenoble (4). At this point the authors begin to talk about Thomas Young and his efforts to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics (5). The authors turn their attention to Cleopatra and the way that her name and its deciphering gave Champollion the clues he needed (6) to understand ancient Egyptian, after which it looks at Champollion’s achievement as being the only person who could read ancient Egyptian (7) and his efforts to translate and disseminate his knowledge as quickly as possible (8) so that it was not lost with him, before the author looks at his translation of texts during his trip to England and a praise of his achievements (10), along with some suggestions for further reading.
I have never understood why it is necessary to tear someone down to build someone else up. And this book contains several different layers of that. The authors note how Thomas Young sought to tear down Champollion (and vice versa) and denigrate their achievements as a way of self-promotion, even though it was the competition of the two men that brought out the best in the other and that allowed for a successful deciphering of ancient Egyptian. Likewise, as I have already noted, these authors (and others who wish to celebrate the achievements of Champollion and others) seek to tear down the Bible and its authority as a way of building up the worth of archaeologists and students of ancient history. If your focus is on truth and gaining understanding, there is no need to be chary about where the credit goes, no need to be competitive about others. Truth is truth, and it is true whether no one believes it or whether it is so commonly understood as to be cliche. The way that people tear each other down in this book suggests that there are motives in the study of Egyptian language and culture and history that go beyond truth and understanding that have darker undertones.