Page:Discovery and Decipherment of the Trilingual Cuneiform Inscriptions.djvu/20

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INTRODUCTION


The decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions of Western Asia is worthy of being included among the great achievements of the nineteenth century. Only a hundred years ago it was still possible to maintain that there was no such thing as cuneiform writing, and that the mysterious figures that went by that name were merely a grotesque form of ornamentation. We propose to recount the method pursued by the long succession of scholars who in the end succeeded in solving the perplexing problem that was presented to them. Few, if any, of those who, in the beginning of last century, occupied themselves with the subject, could have imagined the brilliant discoveries that would result from their tedious labours. In these pages we shall be chiefly occupied with the inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings. They were tlie first to be discovered and studied, and they possess the peculiar advantage of being, with few exceptions, trilingual. They are, in fact, generally found in three parallel columns, and it was seen that the characters and no doubt the languages also varied in each. It was observed that the writing in one of the columns was much simpler than in the others; the number of