The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt

The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt

3.69 (107 ratings by Goodreads)
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Read the Bldg Blog interview with Mary Beard about the Wonders of the World series(Part I and Part II)

The Rosetta Stone is one of the world's great wonders, attracting awed pilgrims by the tens of thousands each year. This book tells the Stone's story, from its discovery by Napoleon's expedition to Egypt to its current--and controversial-- status as the single most visited object on display in the British Museum.

A pharaoh's forgotten decree, cut in granite in three scripts--Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic, and ancient Greek--the Rosetta Stone promised to unlock the door to the language of ancient Egypt and its 3,000 years of civilization, if only it could be deciphered. Capturing the drama of the race to decode this key to the ancient past, John Ray traces the paths pursued by the British polymath Thomas Young and Jean-Francois Champollion, the "father of Egyptology" ultimately credited with deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. He shows how Champollion "broke the code" and explains more generally how such deciphering is done, as well as its critical role in the history of Egyptology. Concluding with a chapter on the political and cultural controversy surrounding the Stone, the book also includes an appendix with a full translation of the Stone's text.

Rich in anecdote and curious lore, The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt is a brilliant and frequently amusing guide to one of history's great mysteries and marvels.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 208 pages
  • 114 x 184 x 14.48mm | 195.04g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0674063945
  • 9780674063945
  • 503,056

Review quote

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-Francois 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 New Scientist 20070203 [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 Sunday Times 20070211 A wonderful introduction not only to the Rosetta Stone and its story, but also to the growth and development of modern Egyptology...Ray also offers an illuminating overview of dead language studies and the colorful figures who devote their lives to it...This informative text has an appealing, conversational tone that non-specialists should find especially welcoming. Publishers Weekly 20070618 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 Booklist 20070601 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 Morning News
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About J. D. Ray

John Ray is Herbert Thompson Professor of Egyptology at Cambridge University, and is also a Fellow of Selwyn College.
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Rating details

107 ratings
3.69 out of 5 stars
5 16% (17)
4 47% (50)
3 30% (32)
2 6% (6)
1 2% (2)
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