Briefly, the way in which Champollion recovered the greater part of the Egyptian alphabet is as follows.
It will be remembered that, on account of breakages, the only name found on the Rosetta Stone is that of Ptolemy. Shortly before Champollion published his letter to M. Dacier, he had published an account of an obelisk, recently brought to London, which was inscribed with the name of a Ptolemy, written with the same characters as that on the Rosetta Stone, and also contained within a cartouche. It was followed by a second cartouche, which should contain the name of a queen. The obelisk was said to have been fixed in a socket, bearing a Greek inscription containing a petition of the priests of Isis at Philae, addressed to Ptolemy, to Cleopatra his sister, and to Cleopatra his wife. Now, he argued, if this obelisk and the hieroglyphic inscription which it bears are really the result of the petition of the priests, who in the Greek speak of the dedication of a similar monument, it follows of necessity that the cartouche must contain the name of a Cleopatra.
The names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra having, in the Greek, some letters which are similar, may be used for comparing the hieroglyphics which are used in each; and if the characters which are similar in these two names express the same sound in each cartouche, their purely phonetic character is at once made clear. A previous comparison of these two names written in the demotic character shows that when they are written phonetically several characters, exactly alike, are used in each. The analogy of the demotic, hieratic, and hieroglyphic methods of writing in a general way, leads us to expect the same coincidence and the same conformity in these same names, written hieroglyphically. The names Ptolemaios and Cleopatra written in hieroglyphics are as follows:—
No. 1, PTOLEMY.
No. 2, CLEOPATRA.
Now in No. 2 cartouche, sign No. 1, which must represent K, is not found in cartouche No. 1. Sign No. 2, a lion lying down, is identical with sign No. 4 in cartouche No. 1. This clearly is L. Sign No. 3, a pen, represents the short vowel E; two of them are to be seen in character No. 6 in No. 1 cartouche, and considering their position their value must be ΑΙ of αιος. Sign No. 4 is identical with No. 3 in No. 1 cartouche, and must have the value O in each name. Sign No. 5 is identical with sign No. 1 of No. 1 cartouche, which being the first letter of the name of Ptolemy must be P. Sign No. 6 is not found in No. I cartouche, but it must be A, because it is the same sign as sign No. 9, which ends the name ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑ; we know that signs 10 and 11 always accompany feminine proper names, because we see them following the names of goddesses like Isis, and Nephthys. Sign No. 7, an open stretched out hand, must be T. It does not occur in No. 1 cartouche, but we find from other cartouches that takes the place of , and the reverse.
The name Berenice.
Sign No. 8 must be R; it is not in No. 1 cartouche, and ought not to be there. In No. 1 cartouche sign No. 7 must be S, because it ends the name which in Greek ends with S. Thus from these two cartouches we may collect twelve characters of the Egyptian alphabet, viz., A, AI, E, K, K, L, M, O, P, R, S, T. Now let us take another cartouche from the Description de l’Egypte, t. III. pl. 38, No. 13, and try to make it out; it reads:—
The name Alexander.
Now signs Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8, we know from cartouches Nos. 1 and 2, and we may write down their values thus:
The only Greek name which contains these letters in this order is Alexander, therefore let us assign to the signs , , and the value of K, N and S respectively. We find on examination that the whole group corresponds, letter for letter, with the group which stands in the demotic text of a papyrus in the place of the Greek name ΑΛΕΧΑΝΔΡΟΣ. We have, then, gained three new phonetic signs K, N, and S, and have determined the value of fifteen in all.
Again, let us take the cartouche of another lady:—
Now signs Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 we know, and we may write them down thus:—
. ΡΝΑΙ . .
The only female name which contains these letters in this order is that of Berenice, and to and we may therefore assign the values B and K respectively. Thus we have gained two more signs.
If we take two other cartouches, viz.:—
we find that we are able to read the first at once KAISRS, which is clearly Καισαρος or Caesar; in the second the only sign we do not know is . Writing down the values we know we have AṬAKRTR, which is clearly Αυτοκρατορ; thus the value of the second character must be U. In this manner Champollion worked through the names of all the Ptolemies and the Roman Emperors, and eventually succeeded in making out the value of one hundred and eleven signs. At the foot of Plate I., in his Lettre à Monsieur Dacier, he writes his own name in hieroglyphics thus:—
The following are the letters of the Egyptian alphabet with their values as now accepted by Egyptologists:—