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Resolution Idea #1: Listen more
First on the list is to listen more! Ancient Egyptian wisdom literature and autobiographies are full of advice on keeping quiet and listening to others at appropriate times. For example, in the Maxims of Ptahhotep, Ptahhotep advises his son:
“If you are a man who leads,
Listen calmly to the speech of one who pleads;
Don’t stop him from purging his body
Of that which he planned to tell.
A man in distress wants to pour out his heart
More than that his case be won...
Not all one pleads for can be granted,
But a good hearing soothes the heart.”
In other words, Ptahhotep is saying that you should hear out a person who is upset. Whether you disagree with the person, can or can’t help them, you should hear what the person has to say because it will make him feel better. Interrupting him will benefit no one.
This is not just good advice for ancient Egyptians, but for everyone who wants to make a greater connection with the people in their lives or who want to start new relationships. Whether a person is upset or she has good news, nothing will make her feel better than you giving her your full attention and truly listening to what she has to say.
Resolution Idea #2: Be More Grateful (Not Greedy)
The second resolution is to be more grateful for what you have and to not be greedy. This is another one that shows up in wisdom literature, particularly in the Maxims of Ptahhotep. At the beginning of his instructions, Ptahhotep advises:
In other words, greed is not only something to be avoided for moral reasons, but also because it tears apart families and makes people hateful. Instead, we should appreciate what we have and, as Ptahhotep says, follow our hearts.
Resolution Idea #3: Do More to Help Others
The third resolution is to do more to help others. Many ancient Egyptian texts, including biographies and wisdom texts emphasize helping those less fortunate, whether through giving or through protecting them from harm.
For example, the biography of a Third Intermediate Period priest and official named Nebneteru advises readers to enjoy life and warns them to not be greedy and stingy:
“Do not be tightfisted with what you own,
Do not act empty-handed with your wealth!”
The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq puts it more poetically:
“Sweeter the water of him who has given it than the wine of him who has received it.”
Being more giving and charitable is among the most common ancient Egyptian advice and also the most common behavior that ancient officials claimed to have done. The benefits of giving are many, but as Ankhsheshonq points out, it’s even sweeter for the giver than the receiver.
Resolution Idea #4: Learn Something New This Year
Fourth is to learn something new or otherwise educate yourself. Egyptian wisdom texts often advise the reader to read more and study harder. The Middle Kingdom wisdom text called the Instruction for King Merikare counsels:
Here at The Dead Speak Online, we would tend to agree - we do love books (and videos!) - and we include a list of recommended books with every blog post and video. We would also encourage you to read our blog and watch our videos as part of learning something new this year, but we're biased!
Resolution Idea #5: Practice Moderation in Eating and Drinking
The fifth ancient Egyptian resolution is one of the most common resolutions among modern Americans: practice moderation in eating and drinking - otherwise known as going on a diet!
In other words, not only should you restrain yourself because its good social behavior and good for your character (in the ancient Egyptian viewpoint), but you should also take care of your body while you are still well because you never know what’s coming down the line for your health or how long you will live. Better to face whatever might happen from a healthier starting point.
Resolution Idea #6: Stress Less; Enjoy Life
The sixth resolution is one that is perhaps not in the top ten of modern resolutions, but is one that is definitely needed in our modern, western society: stress less about money and enjoy life more.
Ptahhotep already alluded to this pursuit when he advised not to accumulate more wealth than you need because it won’t help you if you’re not happy. On the other end of ancient Egyptian history, the High Priest of the god Thoth at the very end of the Late Period named Sishu recommends enjoying life because wealth cannot prevent death from coming at any time:
You probably noticed that this is somewhat contradictory to resolution #5 and its associated quotes! The ancient Egyptians were not always consistent, just like modern people of the same culture do not always have the same values. However, one can potentially adhere to both by taking care of the body on a regular basis, but also “letting your hair down,” so to speak, for special occasions, like festivals. After all, spending time with friends and family and having a good time are also important for your health.
Resolution Idea #7: Spend Time Wisely and with the Right People
Our final resolution is to be more selective about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Surround yourself with people who are the way you strive to be. Ankhsheshonq makes this clear:
This is actually pretty common advice in modern self-improvement circles because science has shown that we tend to take on the actions and emotions of those around us. So, for example, if you hang around negative people, you will be more negative yourself. This is a phenomenon called social contagion. Whether you want to get ahead in your career or simply live a happier life, you should take a look at the people around you and perhaps re-prioritize how you spend your time and with whom.
Now I have a question for you: what is your New Year’s resolution? If you don’t have one yet, what resolutions are you considering? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to check out other people’s comments for some extra inspiration!
Thanks for reading and see you next time!
The following two books/series are classics used by students of Egyptology and Egyptologists. They both offer a variety of texts from ancient Egypt – everything from autobiographies and wisdom literature to love poetry and hymns - translated into English.
Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings (in 3 volumes):
Vol. I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms
Vol. II: The New Kingdom
Vol. III:The Late Period
Simpson, Ritner, Tobin, and Wente, The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry; Third Edition.
References for quoted texts:
 Maxims of Ptahhotep, Maxim 17: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature I, p. 68.
 Maxims of Ptahhotep, Maxim 11: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature I, p. 66.
 Maxims of Ptahhotep, Maxim 19: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature I, p. 68-9.
 Statue inscription of Nebnteru: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, p. 22.
 Instruction of Ankhsheshonq, Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, p. 174.
 The Instruction Addressed to King Merikare: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature I, p. 99
 The Satire of the Trades: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature I, p. 185.
 The Satire of the Trades: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature I, p. 191.
 Instruction of Ankhsheshonq, Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, p. 166.
 Speech of Sishu, father of Petosiris: Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, p. 51.
 Instruction of Ankhsheshonq, Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, p. 164.
 Instruction of Ankhsheshonq, Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature III, p. 169.
Man yelling, heart book pages, jug/cup, bread loaf, and fool images are licensed under CC0 Creative Commons.
All other images were created by theDeadSpeak.Online using VideoScribe.
The year is 1822, and scholars have been making some headway into understanding two types of scripts that the ancient Egyptians used, the more famous hieroglyphic script and the demotic script, which was used from the Late Period to the end of Pharonic history as a kind of cursive script. The recent breakthroughs have been largely due to the French army’s 1799 discovery of a peculiar stone in a military fort wall at the town of Rashid (often called by its Greek name, Rosetta). This curious stone, which would come to be called the Rosetta Stone, had been reused to build that wall, as it was clearly ancient and had three inscriptions on it, one in Greek, one in demotic Egyptian, and one in hieroglyphic Egyptian.
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Using the texts on the Rosetta Stone, which are identical in content, though written in two different languages and three different scripts, scholars such as J. H. Åkerblad and A.I. Sylvestre de Sacy made significant contributions to understanding Egyptian writing, especially the demotic script. For this script, they had figured out things like the names of kings and queens, some pronouns, and a few other words in the demotic portion of the stone.
With this groundwork lain, the English polymath Thomas Young was able to compare the hieroglyphic signs within ovals – or cartouches – to the royal names, such as Ptolemy and Berenike, that appeared in the Greek text. By doing this, Young was able to figure out the phonetic sounds of the Egyptian signs, such as a box for the sound of the letter “p”, a loaf of bread for the sound of the letter “t”, and a folded cloth for the sound of the sound “os” (now understood as just “s”).
Young determined that, in fact, demotic was composed of both symbolic or conceptual signs and alphabetic signs. However, Young was unable to take the next step and apply this same idea to the hieroglyphs. Although he could not figure out how the hieroglyphic signs he saw on the Rosetta Stone could work conceptually to convey the same things that the Greek version of the inscription said, he still believed, as did everyone else at the time, that the Egyptian hieroglyphs had purely conceptual or symbolic meaning, rather than representing sounds.
Luckily, by 1822 he now had access to copies of many more inscriptions than were previously available to researchers. In these inscriptions – most notably on the so-called Bankes Obelisk – he had access to a variety of new Greek and Roman names. The Bankes Obelisk had a text in Greek on its base that he could use to compare to the names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra in the hieroglyphs. He also had gained access to a papyrus with texts in Greek and demotic, which allowed him to figure out the demotic spelling of the name Cleopatra. This breakthrough in demotic allowed Champollion to hypothesize how Cleopatra would be spelled in hieroglyphs because he had already recognized the equivalencies between many demotic and hieroglyphic signs. Between this and the hieroglyphs that he already knew from the name of Ptolemy on the Rosetta Stone – those for “L,” “E,” “O,” and “P” – he was able to identify the name of Cleopatra on the Bankes Obelisk.
To test whether he was correct in interpreting the second name on the Bankes Obelisk as that of a queen named Cleopatra, Champollion started applying his interpretation of these hieroglyphs to other names that he found in cartouches from other monuments. For example, this one A L ? S E ? T R ? – Champollion guessed that this entire name included the sounds A L K S E N T R S, which would equate to the Greek name Alexandros (Alexander). Champollion continued on in this manner for all of the foreign names that he could find.
He then moved on to another name in a cartouche: the first sign, a picture of an Ibis, was known to be a symbol of the god Thoth. Champollion put this together with the other signs that he now knew and figured out that this name must be Thutmosis (Thothmes), a Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty who was named in Manetho’s history. Champollion then realized that the sign he believed to be “M” was used on the Rosetta Stone in the places where the Greek text talked about birthdays, suggesting that this sign also spelled out the word for “birth,” which in Coptic was “mise” (since the hieroglyphs represent only consonants and not vowels, the sign actually stands for the two consonants “M” and “S”). Now Champollion had finally found the key! He was able to keep going to the next name and the next name.
When he made this breakthrough, Champollion reportedly ran to his older brother’s office, burst in and said, “I’ve done it!” He then passed out before he could explain to his brother what he had figured out. He was unconscious for five days, after which he returned to work and, only about a week later, he gave a lecture on the topic at the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres announcing his breakthrough. He would publish this lecture the following month as the now famous Lettre à M. Dacier.
However, up to this point, Champollion still believed that – other than when used for names – hieroglyphs typically represented ideas or things, not sounds. It was not long after this, though, when, in the following year, Champollion was finally able to take the next step and create his system, or “key,” to move on from names to other words in Egyptian.
Perhaps also influenced by a recently published grammar of Chinese, which showed that many of the signs in Chinese were phonetic – that is, they represented sounds – rather than representing things or ideas, Champollion finally realized that many Egyptian hieroglyphs were also purely phonetic. Once he had this piece of the puzzle, he was able to use his intimate knowledge of Coptic and its vocabulary with his new found ability to recognize the sounds of many hieroglyphic signs in order to start deciphering hieroglyph after hieroglyph and word after word. He would subsequently publish a more comprehensive study of the hieroglyphic system of writing in 1824.
Ever since Champollion published his findings, which he did largely without acknowledging Young’s important work, there has been a fierce debate about whether he used Young’s ideas without crediting him or whether Young’s discoveries had no influence on Champollion, who instead had reached the same conclusions on his own. Opinions often fall along nationalistic lines, with those from England tending to see Champollion’s work as based on that of Young without due acknowledgement and those from France tending to see Young as unimportant in the path to decipherment and Champollion has having been the only serious innovator.
While the debate about who should receive how much credit will likely continue, the British Egyptologist Richard Parkinson perhaps sums it up best by writing:
“Even if one allows that Champollion was more familiar with Young’s initial work than he subsequently claimed, he is the sole decipherer of the hieroglyphic script: as Peter Daniels sates, any ‘decipherment stands or falls as a whole.’ Young discovered parts of an alphabet – a key – but Champollion unlocked an entire language.”
To learn more about the decipherment of ancient Egyptian writing, check out the recommended books below.
If you’re interested seeing more on this site about ancient Egyptian writing and its decipherment in the future, let me know in the comments what topics or questions you would like me to address in future posts.
☥☥ HELPFUL BOOKS☥☥
(Note: the following links are affiliate links, which means that I receive a small commission when you make a purchase. I only recommend books that I personally have read and know are of a high quality. This helps support the channel and allows me to continue to make videos like this one. Thank you for your support!)
☥ Andrew Robinson, Cracking the Egyptian Code
An engaging read about Champollion, his brother, and other scholars who were trying to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the nineteenth century (and before).
Robinson provides both a biography of Champollion and a detailed play-by-play of the decipherment itself, including who all the players were in the decipherment game.
☥ Richard Parkinson, Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment
A wonderful overview of the Rosetta Stone, decipherment of hieroglyphs, and an introduction to how hieroglyphs (and other ancient Egyptian scripts) actually work.
This is a catalog that accompanied a museum exhibit, so it also includes many black and white and some color photographs of ancient Egyptian objects and the people involved in decipherment.
☥ Richard Parkinson quote:
Richard Parkinson, Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Deciperment. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999, pp. 40. http://amzn.to/2gGKS9S