Riddle of the Rosetta

Riddle of the Rosetta

July 13, 2022
8:00 PM

Riddle of the Rosetta
Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at 8 pm via Zoom

Diane Josefowicz

In 1799, a French Army officer was rebuilding the defenses of a fort on the banks of the Nile when he discovered an ancient stele fragment bearing a decree inscribed in three different scripts: ancient Greek, Egyptian Demotic, and Egyptian hieroglyphs whose meanings had been forgotten for centuries. So begins one of the most familiar tales in Egyptology―that of the Rosetta Stone and the quest to decipher hieroglyphs.

At the center of the story were two very different protagonists: the polyglot French scholar Jean-François Champollion, who sought clues in ancient Egyptian history, geography, and culture, and; the English doctor and physicist Thomas Young, who took more of a puzzle-solving approach to the mysterious script. Much more than a decoding exercise centered on a single artifact, the race to decipher the Rosetta Stone brought humanists and scientists together in a wild and unpredictable intellectual adventure.

This presentation will feature new and neglected archival evidence at the heart of this quest and situate the decipherment within broader nineteenth-century disputes about language, historical evidence, biblical truth, and the value of classical learning.

Diane Josefowicz, Boston University Professor


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