Posts Tagged With: The British Museum

For Argument’s Sake: The Rosetta Stone


The Rosetta Stone (credit: Wikipedia)

1. In the reign of the young one who has succeeded his father in the kingship, lord of diadems, most glorious, who has established Egypt and is pious

2. Towards the gods, triumphant over his enemies, who has restored the civilised life of men, lord of the Thirty Years Festivals, even as Hephaistos the Great, a king like the Sun,

3. Great king of the Upper and Lower countries, offspring of the Gods Philopatores, one of whom Hephaistos has approved, to whom the Sun has given victory, the living image of Zeus, son of the Sun, Ptolemy

4. Living for ever, beloved of Ptah, in the ninth year, when Aetos son of Aetos was priest of Alexander, and the Gods Soteres, and the Gods Adelphoi, and the Gods Euergetai, and the Gods Philopatores and

5. The God Epiphanes Eucharistos; Pyrrha daughter of Philinos being Athlophoros of Berenike Euergetis; Areia daughter of Diogenes being Kanephoros of Arsinoe Philadelphos; Irene

6. Daughter of Ptolemy being Priestess of Arsinoe Philopator; the fourth of the month of Xandikos, according to the Egyptians the 18th Mekhir.

The Rosetta Stone is a very overrated object. This might seem an odd thing to say given that we owe its multilingual translation of an inscription from the mid Ptolemaic era for our knowledge of hieroglyphs, but that is chiefly of interest to Egyptologists and linguists. For the average tourist, the inscription is simply a verbose piece of sycophancy on behalf of Ptolemy V Epiphanes by the Egyptian priests who wrote it.

I took the above translation of the Stone from Fordham University’s web page here. I dare you to read it to the end without sighing with relief afterwards! Give me Arrian’s no-frills text, anytime. In fact, give me Herodotus or even a myth. There may be proportionately less that is true or correct in each but at least they are both readable.

Of course, I am being deliberately contrary here and – I admit – jealous. Why are these people not in the Alexander Room round the corner admiring the famous bust of the king?!

There’s a good reason for that: the room is often closed. On my last visit to the Museum I asked the BM man why this was. They didn’t have the staff. Unacceptable. This is the Alexander Room! Granted I am thoroughly biased, but I could name any number of other less interesting rooms that could be closed first.

Failing that, why not swap the Rosetta Stone and the bust? Which is more important, anyway – the chance to see a stele praising Ptolemy V or the opportunity to contemplate a vision of the greatest king who ever lived. Bah.

Read more Sunday Art and Poetry posts here

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