Friday 13 December 2013

Men of Yore: Jean-Francois Champollion

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Jean-Francois Champollion

Jean-François Champollion (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832) was a French scholar, philologist and orientalist, decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Champollion published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs.

Champollion was born in Figeac, France, 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.[1]
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.[2] 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.[3]
Champollion married Rose Blanc (1794 - 1871) in 1818. They had one daughter, Zoraide Champollion (1824-1889).


Here is proof that a man can be born in the most impoverished conditions, and be the proverbial runt of the litter (he was the seventh child), and yet make a massive impact and contribution to the world; even to the academic world which is so often seen as the domain of the upper classes.

It's also important to note that he was self-educated not educated in an ivory tower. He also worked at that what brought him joy which is probably why he managed to achieve so much.  This is like many computer programmers in the modern era who are self-taught and do what they love, rather than well trained and high IQ technicians who work the 9-5 and don't achieve as much.


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