Dead Languages, Undying Sovereign Worship


Worst book review: The Writing of the Gods

It’s been a long time (twenty years), dear worst-reader, since I last visited the British Museum. Among its various treasures are two things that have always stood out for worst-moi from all-things stolen in the name of colonialism and monarchial bull$hit galore. The first was having a look at a copy of Beowulf. Not sure why but this ancient poem, which may or may not be one of the first novels ever written, has always fascinated me. I mean. Isn’t it a book about how to get people to worship you? With that in worst-mind, I’m not sure if I dig Grendel more than Beowulf–but that’s neither here nor there.

The second thing that fascinated me in the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone. After giving it a good glance or three I recall asking a tour guide how ancient Egyptian was spoken. The tour guide proceeded to point to the stone and the three text/languages that are inscribed on it. Yeah, can see that, I thought to my worst-self. But what did their language sound like, I asked. I don’t recall the tour guide’s answer but I’m sure that’s because she didn’t have one. Even though I haven’t done much reading about the Rosetta Stone since then, I do recall a conversation here there, perhaps at a silly dinner party or an after theatre cocktail gathering, where I tried to question again and again: how did ancient Egyptians actually talk? What did their language sound like? How were all those slaves controlled by means other than coercion, violence, advertising, drugs, food, etc., to build those damn pyramids? How did the builders of those damn pyramids talk to each other about things like logistics, organisation, measurements, and their better-than-thou food and drugs, etc.?

While on $hits&giggles regarding all-worst-things better-than-thou, allow this little worst-aside regarding a modern version of the uselessness of pharaohs aka kings and queens: why must humanity still live with the uselessness of hereditary monarchs? In that worst-vein, go ahead and ask worst-moi what I think of the queen of engaland’s latest jubilee. What a crock of…

When I first heard about The Writing of the Gods by Edward Dolnick I didn’t give it much thought. Who needs to read (or write) another book about the Rosetta Stone? But then I heard an interview where Dolnick started blathering about Napoleon and how the Stone was found. Ok, I thought. Maybe I could brush up a bit on the subject. I kinda dig all-things Napoleon, don’t you know. After giving the example text a read, I immediately bought the book and two days later I finished it. Yeah, it’s an easy read. Unfortunately–and thanks to the author–I’m no closer to knowing how ancient Egyptians spoke to one another. The thing is, dear worst-reader, hieroglyphs don’t provide any hint of phonetics. This form of picture writing doesn’t have any vowels and consonants–at least not as we know them. Of course, there are various resources out there in/on the #Interwebnets that give examples of how some dead languages are spoken. Heck, I got a thrill and chill during the movie The Mummy as I recall a few ancient Egyptian languages were spoken in it. But there’s something missing in all the research, academia and Hollywood regarding ancient Egypt. For isn’t there more than just transcribing of human thought that makes up how humans converse? Considering where we (humanity) come from and where we currently are, wouldn’t it be fascinating but/and not surprising to find out that not much has changed? Wouldn’t it be a hoot to finally figure out that fighting the man, beheading the man, ridding life of arbitrary monarchs, despots and THE FREEDOM TO BE STUPID is no different today than it was when you or me could worst-$hit in a cave or work for some dickwad rich guy cause he gets a hard-on by controlling everything and everyone while building a worthless tomb for his fat-arse to lay in after he’s dead? Yeah. Or maybe not. Nomatter.

The Writing Of The Gods is a great read and I’m glad I invested the time in it. Dolnick provides a concise and precise history of the Rosetta Stone that includes its (colonial) discovery via Napoleon (during his downfall) and the subsequent competition to translate it, which, it seems, the French won–even though the thing still gleefully rests in the wrong country and, of course, wrong museum. But. Again. That’s neither here nor there. If you’ve read something about the Rosetta Stone already, I’m not sure this book is gonna do much for ya. But it is a fun read.

Rant on.