Page:The Religion of Ancient Egypt.djvu/26

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mysteries favourable to Christianity; Pegnorius read in it precepts of moral and political wisdom. Another critic (Jablonski) considered it as a calendar of festivals; whilst a fourth attempted to persuade the learned world that "these characters described the properties and use of the magnet, and of the mariner's compass."

Decipherment of Hieroglyphic Writing.

The discovery of the Rosetta stone put an end to all this guess-work. Most of you have probably seen this stone in the British Museum. It is a tablet of black basalt, about three feet long by about two and a half wide, and was erected in honour of Ptolemy Epiphanes, 193 years before Christ. The inscriptions upon it are in three distinct characters, the third of which is Greek. The Greek text consists of a decree in honour of the king, and it is expressly stated in the last line that this decree is to be engraved on the tablet, τοῖς τε ἱεροῖς καὶ ἐγχωρίοις καὶ ἐλληνικοῖς γράμμασιν, "in the sacred characters, in the vernacular and in Greek." The tablet is unfortunately mutilated, great part of the hieroglyphic portion is lost, and so is the end of the Greek. Fifteen lines of the enchorial or (as it is now generally called) demotic part have lost their first letters or words.

The conditions of the problem to be solved were now of a very definite kind. The inquirer, instead of guessing at the sense of the hieroglyphic text, had the sense