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ANCIENT EGYPT AND ITS HIEROGLYPHICS.
(Continued from page 356.)
OUR acquaintance with the principles of interpretation applicable to the phonetic characters of Egypt is of recent date, and we are indebted for it mainly to the researches of Dr. Young and Mr. Champollion.
The Rosetta stone, now in the British Museum, furnished the key to this discovery. It bears three inscriptions; the first of which is in Greek, the second in the demotic or common writing of Egypt, and the third in phonetic hieroglyphics. The idea that these three inscriptions were all to one and the same purport was first struck out by Dr. Young, who had observed, that wherever the name of Ptolemy occurred in the Greek, the same group of figures was repeated in the hieroglyphical inscription. On counting these figures, he found that they answered to the letters in that name, and he then concluded that the first was a P, the next a T, the third an O, and so on with regard to the rest. A sound principle of interpretation having been thus obtained, it has been since carried out very extensively, and, as regards the more recent inscriptions, with considerable certainty and success: but its application to the oldest monuments has not been followed with the results anticipated.
This phonetic principle is, in fact, much less extensively applied than the advocates of hieroglyphic lore are willing to allow. Perhaps a name or a word here and there in a long inscription can be deciphered, but in most cases the rest of the interpretation is little better than guesswork. Let me illustrate these remarks by reference to an inscription in the British Museum, premising that a clue to the easy reading of such inscriptions is generally furnished, either by a picture of the action represented, or by the circumstances or situation in which it occurs. The one in question is inscribed on the lid of a mummy chest, and may therefore be presumed, a priori, to refer to the deceased person-to be in fact equivalent to that on a coffin-plate amongst ourselves, making, of course, due allowance for the peculiar notions, tenets, and customs of ancient Egypt.
The first group of figures we cannot exactly make out, but immediately below them (the inscription is read perpendicularly) occur the well-known signs, conventionally understood to mean Osirian, or deceased; and then, after another unintelligible group, the equally wellknown name of Amon, A M. N. in phonetic characters, preceded by a zig-zag, or dancette-line, which we have been told means "of." After this title, "the Osirian (something) of Amon," we should very naturally look for the proper name of the individual so described; and we conse
quently understand the four next characters, K. T. B. T., to express that name; but as Kitty Batt is not quite so classical as Kotbti, we allow our antiquaries so to read it, though the other interpretation is in equally good keeping with the principles of interpretation, by which we profess to be guided. But Kotbti might be either the name of a man or woman, had not the Egyptian scribe kindly settled the point for us by placing underneath the name, the figure of a woman, and the conventional sign denoting the feminine gender. Now a woman could not possibly be a priest, though she might be a priestess, and this is perhaps the meaning of one group of characters which has been passed over as illegible. Suppose we read the whole—“ the Osirian priestess ? of Amon, Kotbti, woman." But now another unintelligible group occurs; we must therefore pass it for the present, and go to the next, which represents in a symbolic manner the goddess Netpe, a bird and vase being her usual attributes. Then follows the well-known Egyptian vulture, the emblem of maternity; and again we are lost for a little while amongst the strange signs which immediately follow. Now, however, we come to the indubitable picture of a pair of arms, and by this means obtain an indistinct idea of the general drift of the sentence; for surely it must be something about mother Netpe, and her protecting arms. But Netpe has wings as well as arms, and here are three characters of which we can make nothing else; we will therefore so interpret them. kneeling human figure, conclude the inscription. to any of my hearers who are conversant with the elliptic method of teaching adopted in our infant schools, the whole will be easily legible. (The prayer of the) Osirian (priestess) of Amon, Kotbti, woman, (who says Approach!) Netpe (my) mother, (extend thine) arms (and thy) wings (over) me."
Another group, and a
It is in this way, then, and not by any continuous application of the phonetic principle of interpretation, that we arrive at the meaning of the hieroglyphical inscriptions of Egypt.
We are now prepared to go more at length into an examination of the famous tablet of Abydos. This genealogical document, now in the British Museum, contains the titles of sixty-four kings and queens, the latest of whom is supposed to have reigned about 100 years B.C. It is only in the last of the three lines composing this tablet, with one exception, that the proper names of these sovereigns are given; and then they are all alike, the letters being-R. M. S. S.-Remesses, or Ramses!
To understand rightly the use and importance of this document it is necessary to observe that the names of the sovereigns of Egypt are usually written in two, sometimes in three, ovals or cartouches. One of these ovals (which seems intended to represent a ring with its signet, in
perspective) contains the proper name of the monarch, and the other, his titles or designations of honor. These ovals, which are always preceded by different characters, are usually coupled on the monuments of Egypt, though this is not the case in the tablet of Abydos, the greater part of which, as I have just remarked, consists of ovals containing the titles only. On other relics of antiquity, however, still extant, these titles are paired with the proper names to which they respectively belong, and these names so ascertained, being registered according to their proper places in the tablet, their true order of succession is established. A monument in the British Museum ascribed to Nectanebo, the last of the Pharaohs, will serve to illustrate these remarks. It is engraved with two ovals of the kind referred to the first is surmounted by phonetic and symbolic characters understood to signify King of the obedient people, Lord of the universe," and the oval itself contains three others interpreted-" Sun offered to the world." The second oval, which is placed close beside it, is preceded by symbols expressing "Sun of the Sun, Lord of the diadems of Egypt ;" and contains seven phonetic characters, supposed to indicate the proper name of the king, Nectanebo.
It were to be wished that many of these titles were more specific, as in some cases they so nearly resemble each other as to be scarcely a sufficient identification of the names to which they belong. But this is by no means the most serious objection that exists to the historical value of the tablet of Abydos. The various ovals bear no evidence of having been executed at or about the times to which they severally refer; they seem to have been all engraved at one and the same period, and have consequently nothing of that documentary character, which alone could avouch their integrity. In original pedigrees, such as those of many of our old English families, which extend over a comparatively short space of time, a vast difference is observable in the style of blazoning the arms, and in the character of the different autographs; and these variations stamp a value and authenticity on the document, by proving the additions to have been made at various and widely-removed periods, answering to those of the facts themselves, which they record. But nothing of this sort is observable in the tablet of Abydos: it bears every appearance of having been turned out of the workman's hands in all its completeness, and this supposition once proved, is fatal to its historical value. It extends, as I have remarked, over a period of sixty-four reigns, which, at the proved average of twenty-two and a half years to each, would comprise no less than 1,440 years, so that if the last part of the tablet must be allowed to be authentic, it is very questionable whether the first has any claim to such an honor.
I have thus endeavored to clear the way by shewing that we have
little information respecting Egypt, prior to about six or eight hundred years B. C., excepting that which we find in the sacred Scriptures; so that in this investigation, as in almost every other, we are thrown back upon the word of truth, if really desirous of ascertaining the facts of the case and nothing more.
It is agreed on all hands that Misraim was the founder of this ancient and interesting kingdom; and there seems good reason for identifying him with the Men or Menes of the Greeks.
As early as the days of Abraham, a king of Egypt, called Pharaoh in the sacred Scriptures, is mentioned. The word "Pharaoh" seems to have been rather a general title, than a proper name-pa-ouro, signifying "the king," in the old language of Egypt. Others derive this term from Phre, the sun, an etymology which seems to be sanctioned by the frequent use of this symbol to express the title of the early kings of that country.
Another Pharaoh is mentioned as the patron of Joseph; and the cruel monarch who persecuted the Israelites afterwards, is also designated by the same title. His name is not mentioned, though the name of one of the treasure cities, built under his directions, leads us to infer that it might have been Ramses; especially as that name occurs more frequently than any other on the monuments of Egypt, and is written with precisely the same letters as in the original Hebrew text of the Bible R. A. M. S. S. On the tablet of Abydos alone, it occurs no fewer than fourteen times, and is every where more clearly and unequivocally expressed than any other in the whole range of Egyptian sovereigns. On the walls of a splendid temple at Medina-taboo, it occurs in connection with a very interesting sculpture, representing the monarch sitting in his war-chariot, and receiving an account of the success of his army in a recent encounter. A pile of human hands is heaped up before him, an incident quite in keeping with the cruel and despotic character assigned to him in the Bible, and officers are engaged in counting, writing, and proclaiming the numbers slain and taken prisoners.
A painting has been discovered in Egypt, which it is presumed refers to the arrival of Joseph's brethren in that country; and the picture of the Jews "labouring in brick and mortar," exactly as they are described in the sacred narrative, which was brought to light by Rossellini, is too well known to call for any lengthened remark at this time. It may suffice to say, that it offers the most singular and interesting illustration of Scripture, with respect even to the critical meaning of the terms employed, and is altogether one of the most striking commentaries ever met with.
(To be continued next month.)