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The fascinating record of Champollion’s only visit to Egypt
Howard Carter spent many years in Egypt before making his name forever with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb (and the wonderful things he found are currently on display at the marvellous exhibition Tutankhamun in London: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh).
But he (or any other Egyptologist for that matter) couldn’t have succeeded without the work of Jean-Francois Champollion, the first man to decipher Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics. It’s therefore perhaps surprising to learn that he only visited Egypt once and that was after his big breakthrough discovery in 1822.
On his travels up and down the Nile in the was able to read and understand many of the hieroglyphic texts which had never been studied before. Back in France, although his work brought him fame and a professorship, he was only able to teach for a short while before the hardships endured on his journey to Egypt caused his early death in 1832at the early age of 41.
Only translated into English this century, My Journey to Egypt is the fascinating record of Champollion’s visit as set out in his diary and letters, and through his writing, his passion and enthusiasm for Egyptology shine brightly:
‘’At last the temples of Dendera hove into view. … We stayed there in ecstasy for two hours, running down the great halls with our poor torches, trying to read the external inscriptions in the moonlight. We didn’t return to our [Nile boat] until three in the morning…’’
But it’s not all ancient temples and statues – My Journey to Egypt is also a vivid travel memoir and Champollion was keen to include scenes of contemporary Egyptian life:
‘’I … have already collected details that will not fail to interest Mme Férussac; they are about the women of Egypt. I would love to write to her about the party I threw for my young people the day after we arrived in Cairo. I ordered six Almeh or girl savants (very knowledgeable indeed), who danced and sang from six at night until two in the morning, everything in good taste and appropriateness.’’
My Journey to Egypt is a fascinating snapshot of a time and a land which, although still largely unknown to a European audience in the late 1820s, was starting to grip our collective imagination as much as it does today and as such it makes for a charming read for anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt.
My Journey to Egypt by Jean-Francois Champollion
288 pages 69 black/white illustrations
Foreword Dr Joyce Tyldesley, annotated by Peter A. Clayton. Translated by Martin Rynja
Gibson Square Books Ltd