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Jonathon KeatsRay's brief book evokes the process of rediscovery, succinctly capturing the story of the stone's recovery and decipherment…
—The Washington Post
Ray (Egyptology, Cambridge Univ.) gives us a gem of a book, a multifaceted study of the Rosetta stone, the British Museum's most visited artifact, which was discovered by the French in 1799 during Napoléon's expedition to Egypt. The stone's text, containing a decree by the pharaoh Ptolemy V in the year 196 B.C.E. written in three scripts (hieroglyphs, demotic, and Greek), provided the breakthrough in deciphering hieroglyphs, thus opening up the previously mysterious world of ancient Egypt. While the stone's story is well known, Ray's engagingly written book is exceptional in many regards, demonstrating the author's skills as a teacher. Readers will also glean insights into the personalities of Jean-François Champollion, who ultimately received credit for deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822, and the lesser-known British polymath Thomas Young, who had previously interpreted the stone's cartouches. Ray also provides guidelines on how to decipher texts. Laypersons will be caught up in the puzzle-solving elements of Egyptologists' work, not to mention the glamorous aura that the modern mind seems to attach to all things Egyptian. For public and academic libraries and special collections in history and Egyptology.
—Joan W. Gartland
The stone is an icon because it provided the key to decoding ancient Egyptian writing, allowing the pharaohs to speak to the modern world. It also stands for great intellectual achievement: the genius of Thomas Young, the English physicist and polymath who was the first to try and decipher it, and that of his rival, the French scholar Jean-François Champollion, who cracked the hieroglyphs in 1822 and founded Egyptology as a science. The stone also stands for national rivalry: between Napoleon's army, which discovered it in Egypt in 1799, and the British army, which took it to the UK. Though few people know what it actually says, the Rosetta Stone has come to symbolise the enduring power of writing. Ray writes knowledgeably about all these aspects of the stone, drawing on four decades of engagement with ancient Egypt—a career partly inspired by a schoolboy encounter with the stone in the 1950s. There are already some good books on the subject...but Ray sheds new light on topics such as the fragile political position of the stone's hero, teenage pharaoh Ptolemy V, and the issue of whether the stone should one day be returned to Egypt.
— Andrew Robinson
[Ray] successfully captures the West's fascination with Egypt. Always the master of his subject, he entertains rather than lectures, is sparing with minutiae but still finds space for telling detail.
— Anthony Sattin
Ray balances his acumen with accessibility in presenting the stele's history, which takes several forms. From a historical perspective, the text, a 196 BCE agreement between the Ptolemaic pharaoh and the Egyptian priesthood, opens a window on a culture and polity in distress. Another history is intellectual, that of the Rosetta Stone's spectacular role in the decipherment of hieroglyphics...Ruminating on whether it, or antiquities generally, should be repatriated, Ray underscores that its history continues. Concise and informative.
— Gilbert Taylor
Discovered in Egypt by Napoleon's troops, now the most visited object in the British Museum, the Rosetta stone has an interesting history as the codex for the language of ancient Egypt—and John Ray tells its story well and succinctly. Additionally, I found the design of this book—using the Rosella stone's text as its end papers—charming.
— Robert Birnbaum
Posted April 2, 2013
No text was provided for this review.