Person: Champollion, Jean-François
Jean-François Champollion founded scientific Egyptology and played a major role in the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics and the demotic script.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Jacques Joseph Champollion had been born in La-Roche-des-Engelas which today is known as Valbonnais, Rhône-Alpes, France.
- Let us say right at the beginning of this biography that Jean-François Champollion was not a mathematician, having very little mathematical training.
- When he was about five years old, she taught Jean-François to recite these from memory and he then seems to have been able to teach himself to read by comparing what he had learnt by heart with the printed text in the prayer book.
- At the age of thirteen, in 1804, Champollion wrote his first paper Remarks on the fable of the Giants as taken from Hebrew etymologies.
- Champollion sat the entrance examinations for the Grenoble Lycée and was accepted and given a bursary to cover his boarding expenses.
- This was not a great success for its extremely strict regime was hated by Champollion.
- Life became a little better for Champollion during his second year at the school.
- Fourier was interested to hear about the brilliant pupil Champollion who was not allowed time for private study by the Lycée.
- Certainly the Lycée recognised Champollion's talents and, in August 1806, he was chosen to give a speech during a school visit by Prefect Fourier.
- Champollion spoke about the Hebrew text of the Bible and answered questions about Oriental languages.
- In his report, Fourier noted that he was very impressed by Champollion's wide knowledge which included skills in biology.
- Fourier became more involved with Champollion whose deep interest in Egypt he was able to encourage.
- At this time the Napoleonic Wars were taking place and Champollion would have been drafted had it not been for Fourier arguing that his work studying Egypt was too important to be interrupted.
- Soon after delivering his lecture, Champollion went to Paris where he studied with Silvestre de Sacy, Louis-Mathieu Langlès, and Raphaël de Monachis.
- ." All this intensive study, Champollion experienced as great fun.
- Champollion left Paris and returned to Grenoble in 1810 when he was appointed as Professor of Ancient History at Grenoble University.
- Although Champollion was not an enthusiastic supporter of Napoleon, after the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the royalist in 1813, he decided that Napoleon presented the lesser of two evils.
- Champollion met Napoleon at this time and he remembered that Champollion had managed to avoid being drafted into the army on the grounds that his Egyptian work was important.
- Napoleon asked Champollion how it was progressing and requested that he send his Coptic grammar to Paris for publication.
- Champollion lost his professorship at Grenoble and was exiled to Figeac.
- Continuing in his attempt to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics, Champollion undertook research on the Rosetta stone as well as using many other examples of hieroglyphics.
- Little progress had been made in understanding hieroglyphics until the work of two men at almost the same time, namely Thomas Young and Champollion.
- These two men were very different in that Thomas Young was a mathematician, physicist and polymath who made contributions to the most amazingly wide range of topics, while Champollion was completely single minded in his research on Egypt and its languages.
- Although today there is a belief among many that Thomas Young studied hieroglyphics first, and then Champollion made a major advance building on Young's work, in fact this is a vast over simplification.
- We saw above that Champollion began studying the Rosetta stone in 1808 but, although it was displayed in London from 1802 onwards, Young did not begin his studies until 1814.
- This said, de Sacy probably knew Champollion well enough to understand the young man's personality.
- "D'Haussez and Pamphile then issued blood-curdling proclamations," writes Robert Alexander, "put Grenoble in a state of siege, and ordered arrests." Champollion was already under suspicion.
- D'Haussez attacked with renewed ferocity, attempting to have Champollion charged with treason, an offence punishable by death.
- Champollion escaped this fate thanks to the arrival in Grenoble of Claude-Victor Perrin, Duc de Bellune, who had been sent by the king to prevent destabilising repercussions.
- Tried in civil court rather than for sedition, Champollion was acquitted, but his position at the lycée was a lost cause.
- Champollion left Grenoble for Paris in July 1821 but three months earlier he had published a paper on hieroglyphics.
- Once in Paris, Champollion did read Young's paper.
- Although Champollion comes out of this incident with little credit, he then went on to go far further than Young and made remarkable breakthroughs.
- Thomas Young sat beside Champollion at the 27 September meeting at the Academy of Inscriptions and was very impressed by his advances.
- He was, however, sad not to receive the credit from Champollion that he felt he deserved.
- Champollion continued to make further major advances, announcing these in April 1823 and then publishing definitive results in Précis du système hiéroglyphique des anciens Égyptiens Ⓣ(Summary of the hieroglyphic system of the ancient Egyptians) (1824).
- In July 1828 Champollion sailed to Egypt.
- Egypt issued a 110 Egyptian millieme stamp in honour of 'Champollion, the Rosetta Stone and Hieroglyphics' on 16 October 1972.
- Also on 14 October 1972 France issued a 90-centimes stamp for 'Champollion and the Rosetta Stone'.
- A 5-franc stamp has also been issued by Monaco on 4 September 1990 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Champollion's birth.
- Egypt issued a Champollion stamp in 1999 to commemorate 200 years of discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the Central African Republic issued a stamp in 2002.
Born 23 December 1790, Figeac, Lot, France. Died 4 March 1832, Paris, France.
View full biography at MacTutor
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive