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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Introduction                           six
supported with female sphinxes and model bronze pylons fol-
lowed Napoleon's expedition; and European political rivalry
in the next decades produced the export of eighteenth- and
nineteenth-dynasty obelisks to London and Paris—and also to
New York. In our own time the discovery of Tutankhamen's
tomb flooded the shops with bastard imitations of Egyptian
jewellery which equally displayed the admiration of the curious
and the ignorance of the admirers. But there are now signs
that the rapid strides in our knowledge and in its dissemination
are producing a more instructed taste, just as the Edwardian
novelists' romantic presentation of life in Ancient Egypt can
never again satisfy any but the simplest.
These adventitious impetuses to popular interest in Egyptian
forms might well have been followed by real understanding, but
for the failure of the legitimate line of descent to bear fruit.
When in the eighteenth century the Dilettanti gave the inspira-
tion which led to the glories of classical archaeology they had
behind them the whole array of Greek and Latin authors,
recovered at the Renaissance and already reaching mature inter-
pretation. But the knowledge of hieroglyphic writing had passed
even from the Egyptians by the sixth century A.D. The phonetic
nature of the script had been entirely obscured by the crude
symbolism attributed to it by late Greek and Roman writers,
and even as late as the seventeenth century, at the time when
Pope Sixtus V was excavating and re-erecting many of the obelisks
set up in Rome by the early emperors, the Jesuit Kircher's
serious attempt, based on a considerable knowledge of Coptic,
to decipher the hieroglyphs, was completely wide of the mark.
It was not till the chance find by one of Napoleon's soldiers of
a stone engraved with a Ptolemaic decree in Greek, Hiero-
glyphic, and Demotic presented modern students with the
first bilingual text that decipherment came within sight. At
that moment Egyptology may be said to have been born. And
though it took some years before sufficient information was