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Program Description

Champollion: Decipherer of Egyptian Hieroglyphs When Jean-Francois Champollion was born in a small town in southeast France in 1790, no one had been able to read the writing of ancient Egypt for a thousand years. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone by the French army in 1799 raised hopes that this might now be possible, but there was no immediate breakthrough. That would not happen until September 1822 when Champollion rushed to his brother's office and shouted, "I've done it!" before fainting and not waking up for five days. In this talk we’ll learn that when growing up, Jean-Francois was a child prodigy, teaching himself to read at age five, then studying Latin and ancient Greek and publishing a scholarly paper at age thirteen before becoming a university professor while still a teenager. After seeing a copy of the Rosetta Stone, the young man moved to Paris to study oriental languages and dive into the ancient Egyptian language in particular. In 1815, because he was a radical republican, his life was turned upside down by the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. He lost his job at the university and was exiled from Grenoble. It was only six years later, after he had moved in with his brother in Paris, that Champollion was able to resume his work on deciphering the hieroglyphs, which had become a race with an English scholar, Thomas Young. The breakthrough came in September 1822, when Champollion rushed to his brother's office and fainted after shouting, "I've done it!" The lecture will include a ten-minute video taking us step-by-step through the process whereby decipherment was achieved. We’ll wind up with the rest of Champollion’s career – studying additional hieroglyphs in Italy, launching the Louvre’s Egyptian gallery and touring Egypt for eighteen months – all with royal support. Jean-Francois died of a stroke at age thirty-one shortly after being appointed the world’s first Professor of Egyptology. SCHEDULE: Thursday, May 2, 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM This presentation will take place online. You will receive a link to the class by email 24 hours before the presentation begins. ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Frank Nicholson has a PhD in history from the University of Toronto and has been active in later life learning since retiring ten years ago. He’s delivered two dozen history courses, the most recent one being Leading Lights of 19th-Century France, for the University of the Third Age in Cambridge, England, for which this lecture was prepared.



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