The British Museum is one of my favourite museums in the world. Yet, like many museums in the western world, the British Museum should probably return some of the artefacts to their country of origin.
One of these is the Rosetta Stone, a stele from 196 BC. It belongs, if not in Rosetta, at least in Egypt. I think it would be marvellous in Alexandria, in the new Biblioteca Alexandrina.
Discovered 212 years ago in the present-day town of el-Rashid (near Alexandria) by Napoleon’s soldiers, the black granite stone was surrendered to Britain after his defeat. The British Museum has been its home since 1802.
The Rosetta Stone transgresses the boundaries of time and promotes human understanding.
When French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion translated the text, he solved one of the world’s great mysteries: how to read the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians.
The Rosetta Stone, you see, is written in three scripts: hieroglyphic, demotic and classical Greek. Why? Well, hieroglyphic was the script of kings, demotic the everyday script and Greek the administrative language of the time.
The stele relates a decree issued during the reign of 13-year-old king Ptolemy V. The full translation of the demotic text of the Rosetta Stone is here (be warned, it’s a bit long).
I always end up spending forever in front of this stone, wondering who might have carved it. Would he have known the significance of his work?
Just think how much less we would have known today, had it not been for this single rock.
What is your favourite museum piece?