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ANCIENT LANGUAGE]

EGYPT

57

science: when the ailment could be located and its nature roughly determined, a more materialistic view was taken of it; and many herbs and drugs that were originally used for some superstitious reason, when once they had been found to be actually effective, easily lost their magical significance and were looked upon as natural specifics. It is extremely hard to draw any fixed line in Egypt between magic and medicine; but it is curious to note that simple diagnoses and prescriptions were employed for the more curable diseases, while magical formulae and amulets are reserved for those that are harder to cope with, such as the bites of snakes and the stings of scorpions.

The formulae recited for such purposes are not purely cabalistic, though inasmuch as mystery is of the very essence of magic, foreign words and outlandish names occur in them by preference. Often the magician relates some mythical case where a god had been afflicted with a disease similar to that of the patient, but had finally recovered: a number of such tales were told of Horus, who was usually healed by some device of his mother Isis, she being accounted as a great enchantress. The mere recitation of such similar cases with their happy issue was supposed to be magically effective; for almost unlimited power was supposed to be inherent in mere words. Often the demon is directly invoked, and commanded to come forth. At other times the gods are threatened with privations or even destruction if they refuse to aid the magician: the Egyptians seem to have found little impiety in such a use of the divine name, though to us it would seem the utmost degree of profanity when, for instance, a magician declares that if his spell prove ineffective, he “will cast fire into Mendes and burn up Osiris.”

The verbal spells were always accompanied by some manual performance, the tying of magical knots or the preparation of an amulet. In these acts particular significance was attached to certain numbers: a sevenfold knot, for example, was more efficacious than others. Often the formula was written on a strip of rag or a scrap of papyrus and tied round the neck of the person for whom it was intended. Beads and all kinds of amulets could be infused with magical power so as to be potent phylacteries to those who wore them.

In conclusion, it must be emphasized that in Egypt magic stands in no contrast or opposition to religion, at least as long as it was legitimately used. The religious rites and ceremonies are full of it. When a pretence was made of opening, with an iron instrument, the mouth of the divine statue, to the accompaniment of recited formulae, this can hardly be termed anything but magic. Similarly, the potency attributed to ushebti-figures and the copies of the Book of the Dead deposited in the tombs is magical in quality. What has been considered under this heading, however, is the use that the same principles of magic were put to by men in their own practical life and for their own advantage.

Authorities.—An excellent list of books and articles on the various topics connected with Egyptian Religion will be found in H. O. Lange’s article on the subject in P. D. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte (Tübingen, 1905), vol. i. pp. 172-245. Among general works may be especially recommended A. Erman, Die ägyptische Religion (Berlin, 1905); and chapters 2 and 3 in G. Maspero, Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient, les origines, vol. i. (Paris, 1895).  (A. H. G.) 

D. Egyptian Language and Writing.—Decipherment.—Although attempts were made to read Egyptian hieroglyphs so far back as the 17th century, no promise of success appeared until the discovery of the Rosetta stone in 1799 by the French engineers attached to Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. This tablet was inscribed with three versions, in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek, of a long decree of the Egyptian priests in honour of Ptolemy V., Epiphanes and his wife Cleopatra. The Greek and demotic versions were still almost perfect, but most of the hieroglyphic text had been broken away with the top of the tablet; portions of about half of the lines remained, but no single line was complete. In 1802 J. D. Akerblad, a Swedish orientalist attached to the embassy in Paris, identified the proper names of persons which occurred in the demotic text, being guided to them by the position of their equivalents in the Greek. These names, all of them foreign, were written in an alphabet of a limited number of characters, and were therefore analysed with comparative ease.

The hieroglyphic text upon the Rosetta stone was too fragmentary to furnish of itself the key to the decipherment. But the study of this with the other scanty monuments and imperfect copies of inscriptions that were available enabled the celebrated physicist Thomas Young (1773–1829) to make a beginning. In an article completed in 1819 and printed (over the initials I. J.) in the supplement to the 4th, 5th and 6th editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (vol. iv., 1824), he published a brief account of Egyptian research, with five plates containing the “rudiments of an Egyptian vocabulary.” It appears that Young could place the hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek texts of the Rosetta stone very correctly parallel; but he could not accurately break up the Egyptian sentences into words, much less could he attribute to the words their proper sounds. Yet he recognized correctly the names of Apis and Re, with many groups for words such as “assembly,” “good,” “name,” and important signs such as those which distinguish feminine words. In a bad copy of another monument he rightly guessed the royal name of Berenice in its cartouche by the side of that of Ptolemy, which was already known from its occurrence on the Rosetta stone. He considered that these names must be written in phonetic characters in the hieroglyphic as in demotic, but he failed to analyse them correctly. It was clear, however, that with more materials and perseverance such efforts after decipherment must eventually succeed.

Meanwhile J. F. Champollion “le Jeune” (see Champollion; and Hartleben, Champollion, sein Leben und sein Werk, Berlin, 1906) had devoted his energies whole-heartedly since 1802, when he was only eleven years old, to preparing himself for the solution of the Egyptian problem, by wide linguistic and historical studies, and above all by familiarizing himself with every scrap of Egyptian writing which he could find. By 1818 he made many equations between the demotic and the hieroglyphic characters, and was able to transcribe the demotic names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra into hieroglyphics. At length, in January 1822, a copy of the hieroglyphic inscription on the Bankes obelisk, which had long been fruitlessly in the hands of Young, reached the French savant. On the base of this obelisk was engraved a Greek inscription in honour of Ptolemy Euergetes II. and Cleopatra; of the two cartouches on the obelisk one was of Ptolemy, the other was easily recognized as that of Cleopatra, spelt nearly as in Champollion’s experimental transcript of the demotic name, only more fully. This discovery, and the recognition of the name Alexander, gave fourteen alphabetic signs, including homophones, with ascertained values. Starting from these, by the beginning of September Champollion had analysed a long series of Ptolemaic and Roman cartouches. His next triumph was on the 14th of September, when he read the names of the ancient Pharaohs Rameses and Tethmosis in some drawings just arrived from Egypt, proving that his alphabetic characters were employed, in conjunction with syllabic signs, for spelling native names; this gave him the assurance that his discovery touched the essential nature of the Egyptian writing and not merely, as had been contended, a special cipher for the foreign words which might be quite inapplicable to the rest of the inscriptions. His progress continued unchecked, and before the end of the year the connexion of ancient Egyptian and Coptic was clearly established. Subsequently visits to the museums of Italy and an expedition to Egypt in 1828–1829 furnished Champollion with ample materials. The Précis du système hiéroglyphique (1st ed. 1823, 2nd ed. 1828) contained the philological results of his decipherments down to a certain point. But his MS. collections were vast, and his illness after the strenuous labours of the expedition and his early death in 1832 left all in confusion. The Grammaire égyptienne and Dictionnaire égyptien, edited from these MSS. by his brother, precious as they were, must be a very imperfect register of the height of his attainments. In his last years he was able to translate long texts in hieroglyphic and in hieratic of the New Kingdom and