Jean-François Champollion

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Jean-François Champollion (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832) was a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist, decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Champollion published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs.

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Biography

Champollion was born in Figeac, Lot, the last of seven children (two of whom had already died before he was born). He was raised in humble circumstances; because his parents could not afford to send him to school, and he was taught to read by his brother Jacques. Jacques, although studious and largely self-educated, did not have Jean-François' genius for language; however, he was talented at earning a living, and supported Jean-François for most of his life.[1]

He lived with his brother in Grenoble for several years, and even as a child showed an extraordinary linguistic talent. By the age of 16 he had mastered a dozen languages and had read a paper before the Grenoble Academy concerning the Coptic language. By 20 he could also speak Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Amharic, Sanskrit, Avestan, Pahlavi, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Persian and Ge'ez in addition to his native French.[2] In 1809, he became assistant-professor of History at Grenoble. His interest in oriental languages, especially Coptic, led to his being entrusted with the task of deciphering the writing on the then recently-discovered Rosetta Stone, and he spent the years 1822–1824 on this task. His 1824 work Précis du système hiéroglyphique gave birth to the entire field of modern Egyptology. He also identified the importance of the Turin King List, and dated the Dendera zodiac to the Roman period. His interest in Egyptology was originally inspired by Napoleon's Egyptian Campaigns 1798–1801. Champollion was subsequently made Professor of Egyptology at the Collège de France.[3]

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