Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion

Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion

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by Andrew Robinson
     
 

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In 1799 Napoleon's army uncovered an ancient stele in the Nile delta. Its inscription, recorded in three distinct scripts--ancient Greek, Coptic, and hieroglyphic--would provide scholars with the first clues to unlocking the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs, a language lost for nearly two millennia. More than twenty years later a remarkably gifted Frenchman named… See more details below

Overview

In 1799 Napoleon's army uncovered an ancient stele in the Nile delta. Its inscription, recorded in three distinct scripts--ancient Greek, Coptic, and hieroglyphic--would provide scholars with the first clues to unlocking the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphs, a language lost for nearly two millennia. More than twenty years later a remarkably gifted Frenchman named Jean-Francois Champollion successfully deciphered the hieroglyphs on the stele, now commonly known as the Rosetta Stone, sparking a revolution in our knowledge of ancient Egypt.

Cracking the Egyptian Code is the first biography in English of Champollion, widely regarded as the founder of Egyptology. Andrew Robinson meticulously reconstructs how Champollion cracked the code of the hieroglyphic script, describing how Champollion started with Egyptian obelisks in Rome and papyri in European collections, sailed the Nile for a year, studied the tombs in the Valley of the Kings (a name he first coined), and carefully compared the three scripts on the Rosetta Stone to penetrate the mystery of the hieroglyphic text. Robinson also brings to life the rivalry between Champollion and the English scientist Thomas Young, who claimed credit for launching the decipherment, which Champollion hotly denied. There is much more to Champollion's life than the Rosetta Stone and Robinson gives equal weight to the many roles he played in his tragically brief life, from a teenage professor in Revolutionary France to a supporter of Napoleon (whom he met), an exile, and a curator at the Louvre.
Extensively illustrated in color and black-and-white pictures, Cracking the Egyptian Code will appeal to a wide readership interested in Egypt, decipherment and code-breaking, and Napoleon and the French Revolution.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Guided by the Rosetta Stone—discovered by Napoleon’s army in 1799 and showcasing three parallel inscriptions in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic, and ancient Greek—the penurious, arrogant, and brilliant Frenchman Jean-François Champollion revolutionized the world’s understanding of ancient Egyptian civilization by cracking the hieroglyphic code. Champollion’s polymath English rival, Thomas Young, had started deciphering hieroglyphs between 1814 and 1819 but failed to develop it. Champollion’s own work was disrupted for five years and his health adversely affected by a series of personal crises, including political oppression and exile because of his pro-Napoleonic republicanism and marital strains. Finally, in 1822, Champollion published in Paris his breakthrough decoding of the hieroglyphic spellings of the names of ancient Egyptian rulers like Ptolemy, and with crucial revisions through 1828 demonstrated that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs. As the Louvre’s first Egyptian curator, Champollion embarked on a rigorous year-and-a-half-long Egyptian expedition to buy antiquities, which accelerated the founding father of Egyptology’s premature death at 41 in 1832. Robinson (The Story of Writing) paints an engrossing portrait of a difficult genius’s punishing pursuit of knowledge, although his deft breakdown of the technicalities of deciphering hieroglyphs may only appeal to professional and highly motivated amateur Egyptologists. 20 color and 50 b&w illus. (June)
From the Publisher
"'A remarkable tale, wonderfully told.'—Wall Street Journal

"Robinson's analysis of Champollion's fanatical pursuit of his linguistic goals, and his rivalry in this with the English polymath Thomas Young, is utterly compelling."—World Archaeology

"Robinson's biography is a most welcome and long-overdue study in English of an enigmatic and still controversial genius. His splendidly produced and absorbing book should be in every Egyptologist's library." Egyptian Archaeology

"Robinson paints an engrossing portrait of a difficult genius's punishing pursuit of knowledge."—Publishers Weekly

"Andrew Robinson, the man who deciphered Michael Ventris and knows all that's worth knowing about Thomas Young, here shines his lamp of Diogenes on the Frenchman who broke the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic code, illuminating anew Jean-François Champollion's fascinating life as well as his prodigiously fertile work."— Paul Cartledge, author of Alexander the Great and Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities

"An entertaining, highly readable and authoritative biography of the greatest decipherer of all time, the man who almost single-handedly enabled us to read the hitherto mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphs."—Michael D. Coe, author of Breaking the Maya Code

"At last, a definitive biography of Champollion in English! Andrew Robinson brings his expertise at ancient languages and his research into the nature of genius to bear on one of Egyptology's most remarkable figures ... A memorable, enjoyable and beautifully written historical detective story."—Brian Fagan, author of The Rape of the Nile and Floods, Famines and Emperors

"Andrew Robinson's Champollion is a brash genius, with the power to make loyal friends but also bitter enemies, a man at odds with the Church and much of the Establishment. Above all, how much did he know about the work of his great rival, the English polymath Thomas Young? This is a spirited account of a fascinating subject: the birth of Egyptology." —John Ray, author of The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt

"Robinson has produced the definitive English-language biography of Champollion with this richly illustrated and readily accessible narrative. Highly recommended to Egyptophiles, philologists, historians, and anyone who might be wowed by the drama of a scholar falling unconscious for five days after announcing his long-sought success!"—Library Journal

"Robinson masterfully covres the life of the brilliant and controversial French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion in this well-written, knowledgeable biography."—E.H. Cline, CHOICE

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199942909
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
05/01/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
1,083,888
File size:
7 MB

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