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A poem on papyrus


Height: 21.200 cm

Acquired by the British Museum in 1839

EA 10182/2

Enlightenment: Ancient scripts

    A poem on papyrus

    Probably from Memphis, Egypt
    19th Dynasty, 1204 BC

    One of the first pieces of Egyptian literature read by Champollion

    Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), the French scholar who first deciphered ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the nineteenth century, based his work on the study of surviving written documents and inscriptions in stone.

    On his way to visit Egypt for the first time, Champollion visited the collections of François Sallier (1764-1831), a Revenue official in Aix-en-Provence, France. He studied several rolls of papyri there, including this one, which he identified (partly correctly) as 'types of odes or litanies in praise of a Pharaoh'. A note on one sheet states that it was 'stuck onto fourteen squared sheets by Champollion at M. Sallier's in the month of Febuary 1830' on his return from Egypt, two years after he had first viewed the papyrus. The papyrus is one of several purchased by the British Museum in 1839 after Sallier's death.

    The manuscript is written in hieratic, a cursive form the hieroglyphic script. It contains a junior scribe's copy of a classic poem, The Teaching of King Amenemhat I, written seven centuries earlier. The red dots mark the ends of lines of verse, while the signs in the top margin are the scribe's own corrections. It was written by a treasury scribe called Inena, who copied the papyrus in 'Year 1, month 1 of Winter, day 20' under Sety II (1204 BC).

    R.B. Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe and other a (Oxford University Press, 1997)


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    On display: Enlightenment: Ancient scripts

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