What are some unheard of uses of papyrus

Hieroglyphics: Keys to the Library of Antiquity

The day when the land of the pharaohs reopened after 2000 years of oblivion is well known. On July 15, 1799, the French engineer officer Pierre François Xavier Bouchard found a stone made of black basalt while working on entrenchments near Rosette in the Nile Delta. It had an inscription - in three languages. Neither the hieroglyphs nor the Demotic script derived from them could be read by the scientists of Napoleon's Egyptian expedition. But probably the third part. It was written in Greek.

Initially, the stone did not bring its discoverers much luck. In 1801, after the failure of the company, it fell into the booty that brought the British to London. The piece was immediately exhibited in the British Museum. But the scientific triumph would ultimately fall to a Frenchman. François Champollion (1790– 1832) was the first to read the copies correctly, thus laying the foundations for deciphering the hieroglyphs.

The Greek text made it clear that it was an address of thanks from a college of priests to King Ptolemy V, who came from the Macedonian dynasty that had existed since Alexander the Elder. Size Ruled Egypt. Champollion, who had already learned Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac and Aramaic as a pupil in addition to Latin and Greek, counted 486 Greek words compared to 1419 hieroglyphs. From this he concluded that it could not be a mere picture script. He found the key to their decipherment in the eleven hieroglyphs in the king's cartouches, which contain the king's names. Champollion recognized that some signs have an ideographic meaning while others have a phonetic meaning, that is, they depict things but only mean the sound value. There are also Deutzeichen, which indicate whether a word / thing comes from the area of ​​the house, animals or people. As in the cuneiform script of Mesopotamia, there are only consonants. The characters could be written from right to left, left to right, and top to bottom. Soon Champollion could read the names of Ptolemy and his sister Cleopatra.

In a letter to the "Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres" on September 27, 1822, he described his method. Only 1000 characters at a time were in use. Only in the late period did their number increase to 9,000, which were used as secret writing. The development of the ancient Egyptian script can be traced over more than 3600 years, from the pre-dynastic period (before 3200 BC) to the development of Coptic (400 AD). This makes it the longest-used writing system in the world.

Today we know that the term “holy burials”, as the Greeks called the hieroglyphs, is justified not only because of its ubiquitous use in cult and shrines, but also apparently because of its origin. Unlike in Mesopotamia, where writing was from the beginning a means of administration and rule, the hieroglyphs of Egypt initially served religion. But already in the Old Kingdom (2640-2130 BC) numerous genera can be identified. And at the latest the Middle Kingdom (from 2040-1650 BC) can be considered the “classic‘ heyday of ancient Egyptian literature ”, according to the Egyptologist Erik Hornung. Fairy tales and political literature, biography and poetry, drama and novels, letters and so-called books of wisdom and the dead - the civilization of ancient Egypt already developed the forms in which our literary life is also expressed.

If the research on this huge legacy is far from over, then this also applies - and even more so - to the second “library” that has been preserved in the soil of Egypt: the Greek papyri. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC The Greek-Macedonian rulers also ruled their country with the traditional means of central administration. Like the pharaohs before them, they used a kind of paper for writing on, which was made from a local variety of grass. Basically not very resistant, papyri proved to be amazingly durable in the dry climate of Egypt.