Here we go—we’re zooming ahead another bunch of centuries. I know, I know, we’ve bounced around time like a bb in a boxcar. You still want to find out how we know what ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics say, right? Of course you do.
It’s ad 1799, everybody! England had her trading empire—in Canada, the Middle East and India. Meanwhile, Napoleon Bonaparte was building the French Empire. Napoleon was another of those military geniuses who considered the day wasted that wasn’t spent conquering some country. He was utterly ruthless and would do anything for more power. Napoleon had the idea to establish a military base in Egypt from where he could launch attacks on British forces in the Middle East. One day, on the Nile delta near the town of Rashid (‘Rashid’ was too much of a mouthful so the French soldiers shortened it to ‘Rosette’) Napoleon’s engineers were expanding the foundations of his fort. As they dug, they ran into rubble from old, forgotten walls. A piece of this rubble was a ‘stela’ (STAY-lah): a stone with lettering chiseled into it.
Hang on, though—the lettering was in 3 writing systems: hieroglyphic, Demotic and Ancient Greek. The French officer in charge, Pierre-François Bouchard (pee-AIR frahn-SWAH boo-SHAR), was a smart cookie who recognized right away how important the Rosetta Stone is. He had the soldiers stop digging with their iron shovels and picks and carefully, very gently, tenderly lift the Rosetta Stone out of the sand and wipe it clean with soft cloths. After that he let them go back to shooting cannonballs at the sphinx’ nose. (Kidding! Kidding!—they didn’t really.)
Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.