A great value of antiquity lies in the fact that its writings are the only ones that modern men still read with exactness… Friedrich Nietzsche


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The linguist and the emperor: Napoleon and Champollion’s quest to decipher the Rosetta Stone New York: Ballantine Books, 2004 Daniel Meyerson Egyptian language Writing, Hieroglyphic, Champollion, Jean-Francois, 1790-1832, Rosetta stone Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. x, 271 p.: ill., 22 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

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The deciphering of the Rosetta stone was one of the great intellectual triumphs of all time, unlocking the secrets of thousands of years of Egypt’s ancient civilization. Yet in the past two centuries, the circumstances surrounding this bravura feat of translation have become shrouded in myth and mystery. Now Daniel Meyerson recounts the story of how two lives converged in a breakthrough that revolutionized our understanding of the past. The emperor Napoleon and the linguist Jean-Francois Champollion were both blessed with the temperament of artists and damned with ferocious impatience — and both of them were obsessed with Egypt. In fact, it was Napoleon’s dazzling, disastrous Egyptian campaign that caught the attention of the young Champollion and forever changed his life. From the instant Champollion learned of Napoleon’s discovery of a stone inscribed with three sets of characters — Greek, Coptic, and hieroglyphic — he could not rest. He vowed to be the first to crack the mystery of what became known as the Rosetta stone.

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In Meyerson’s narrative, the haunting story of the Rosetta stone — its discovery in a doomed battle, the intrigue to secure it, the agonizing race to unlock its secrets, and the pain it seemed to inflict on all who touched it — reads like the most engrossing fiction.  Napoleon, despite his power and glory, suffered repeated betrayals by   Josephine, on the battlefield, and by history itself. Champollion, though he triumphed intellectually, ultimately endured his own terrible tragedy. As background and counterpoint to the stories of the linguist and the emperor, Meyerson interweaves the ancient tales of love, intrigue, death, and rebirth that were hidden for centuries on the walls of Egyptian tombs — myths that Champollion finally made accessible to the world.

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