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Jean-François Champollion, by Léon Cogniet
|Born||23 December 1790
|Died||4 March 1832
|Known for||Rosetta Stone|
Champollion was the last of seven children (two of whom died before he was born). He was raised in humble circumstances; because his parents could not afford to send him to school, 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.
Jean-François 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. In 1809, he became assistant-professor of History at Grenoble University. 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.
Champollion married Rose Blanc (1794 - 1871) in 1818. They had one daughter, Zoraide Champollion (1824-1889).
Thomas Young was one of the first to attempt decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, basing his own work on the investigations of Swedish diplomat Johan David Åkerblad. Although he failed to fully decipher the script, Young was able to translate some of the text on the stone, leading the way for Champollion to begin his own investigations.
In 1822, Champollion finally published the first correct translation of the hieroglyphs and the key to the Egyptian grammatical system. Young and all others praised this work.
In 1827 Ippolito Rosellini, considered the founder of Egyptology in Italy, went to Paris for a year in order to improve his knowledge of the method of decipherment proposed by Champollion. The two philologists decided to organize an expedition to Egypt to confirm the validity of the discovery. Headed by Champollion and assisted by Rosellini, his first disciple and great friend, the mission was known as the Franco-Tuscan Expedition, and was made possible by the support of the grand-duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, and the King of France, Charles X.
On 21 July 1828, with four members, they boarded the ship Eglé at Toulon and set sail for Egypt. They travelled upstream along the Nile and studied an exhaustive number of monuments and inscriptions. The expedition led to a posthumously published extensive Monuments de l'Égypte et de la Nubie (1845). Champollion's expedition was blemished by unchecked looting. Most notably, while studying the Valley of the Kings, he damaged KV17, the tomb of Seti I, by removing a wall panel of 2.26 x 1.05 m in a corridor while other elements were removed by his companion Rosellini or the German expedition of 1845. The scenes are now in the collections of the Louvre, the museums of Florence and Berlin. During his stay, the Khedive of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, offered the two obelisks standing at the entrance of Luxor Temple to France in 1829, but only one was transported to Paris, where it now stands on the Place de la Concorde.
Exhausted by his labours during and after his scientific expedition to Egypt, Champollion died of an apoplectic attack (stroke) in Paris in 1832 at the age of 41. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Certain portions of Champollion's works were edited by Jacques. Jacques's son, Aimé-Louis (1812–1894), wrote a biography of the two brothers.
Figeac honors him with La place des Écritures, a monumental reproduction of the Rosetta Stone.
In popular culture
Champollion was portrayed by Elliot Cowan in the 2005 BBC docudrama Egypt. In David Baldacci's thriller involving the CIA, Simple Genius, the character named "Champ Pollion" was derived from Champollion. In Cairo, the capital of Egypt, a street carries his name, leading to the now famous Tahrir square, where the Egyptian museum lies.
- Le Normant, ed. (1819). Annales des Lagides, ou chronologie des rois grecs d'Égypte successeurs d'Alexandre le Grand. Paris.
- Lettre à M. Dacier relative à l'alphabet des hiéroglyphes phonétiques. 1822.
- Panthéon égyptien, collection des personnages mythologiques de l'ancienne Égypte, d'après les monuments (explanatory text to illustrations by Léon-Jean-Joseph Dubois). 1823.
- Précis du système hiéroglyphique des anciens Égyptiens. 1824. ;
- Lettres à M. le Duc de Blacas d'Aulps. 1826. ;
- Notice descriptive des monuments égyptiens du musée Charles X. 1827. ;
- Précis du système hiéroglyphique des anciens Égyptiens ou Recherches sur les éléments premiers de cette écriture sacrée, sur leurs diverses combinaisons, et sur les rapports de ce système avec les autres méthodes graphiques égyptiennes. 1828.
- Lettres écrites d'Égypte et de Nubie. 1828–1829. ;
- Grammaire égyptienne. 1836, posthumously. ;
- Dictionnaire égyptien en écriture hiéroglyphique. 1841, posthumously.
- Others – Principes généraux de l'écriture sacrée, new edition with a preface by Christiane Ziegler, Institut d'Orient, 1984.
- A museum devoted to Jean-François Champollion was created in his birthplace at Figeac in Lot. It was inaugurated on 19 December 1986 in the presence of President François Mitterrand and Jean Leclant, secrétaire perpétuel of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. After two years of building work and extension, the museum re-opened in 2007. Besides Champollion's life and discoveries, the museum also recounts the history of writing. The whole façade is covered in pictograms, from the original ideograms of the whole world.
- The "*Maison Champollion" at Vif in Isère, formerly the property of Jean-François's brother.
- Allen, Don Cameron (1960). "The Predecessors of Champollion". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 104 (5): 527–547.
- Adkins, Lesley; Adkins, Roy (2000). The Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-019439-1.
- Meyerson, Daniel (2005). The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone. Random House Trade. ISBN 0-345-44872-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jean-François Champollion.|
- Giants of Egyptology: Jean-François Champollion, 1790–1832
- Key words: unlocking lost languages
- BBC: Jean-François Champollion
- "Champollion, Jean François". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.