Addis Gonzalez in front of the Jean-François Champollion’s tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. (Photo by Rachel Young CC by 4.0)
Scientia est Potentia
by Addis Gonzalez, FIU Honors College Alumna
Plot: Division 18, #2
Death: Mar. 4, 1832
In the British Museum of London you will find the Rosetta Stone. If you look closely, you can see that it is composed of three different languages. At the top and middle are hieroglyphic and demotic writing, both of which were incomprehensible until the early 19th century. At the bottom you will see Ancient Greek inscription which scholars used to decipher the other two languages. This is partly attributed to Jean-François Champollion, who transliterated Egyptian scripts in Paris in 1822.
Champollion was born December 23, 1790 as the last of seven children to Jeanne-Françoise Gualieu and to Jacques Champollion. His mother was not too present in his life and his father was a notorious drunk. He was raised mostly by his older brother Jacques-Joseph, a successful archaeologist who wanted to join Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition. This is said to have influenced Champollion’s early-on passion for Egypt. Having a great talent for philology since a young age, Champollion learned a dozen languages by the time he was 16. This caught the attention of Joseph Fourier, who was the first to expose him to the mysterious hieroglyphs.
From that moment on, he declared that he would be the one to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The Champollion brothers continued to express their passion for knowledge while under the new Royalist regime when they established Lancaster schools to provide the general population with an education. Since ultra-royalists did not believe in education for all classes, these schools were considered revolutionary endeavors. Taking it one step further, Champollion led an uprising in 1821 where he and a band of Grenobleans stormed the citadel and removed the bourbon royalist flag and replaced it with the tricolor flag. Although he was charged with treason and went into hiding, he was eventually pardoned and able to continue his work.
There is a constant stream of passion seen in this man’s life that is invigorating and truly inspiring. He comes at all aspects of life with full force. In his eyes, the mysterious and unattainable is captivating and close in sight. He ties himself to a foreign culture that was more than three millennia and 2,000 miles apart from his own. He did this while making his political presence known in a time of turmoil in his own country. The only aspect of Champollion that I do not agree with was his failure to mention the contribution Young made to decrypting the hieroglyphs. I believe that one should always give credit where credit is due.
Just like Champollion, I am in a constant pursuit for knowledge. From a young age, I too shared a love for language and the individuality it brought to different cultures. Those individualities also cultivate commonalities between shared interest groups, regardless of time or space. My dreams in life have always been to learn about as many cultures as possible and travel every inch of this planet. Essentially, it is an endless search for a sense of familiarity with the unknown in order to feel the unspoken bond between us all. To me, this is exactly what Champollion embodies.
Gaining a deeper sense of familiarity and understanding changes our perception of the unknown. There is no fear, no need for any possible future presidents to feed on phobias of the masses or offerings of regressive structures such as proposed massive walls that induce segregation. There is, on the other hand, opportunity for growth, acceptance, and unity.
I genuinely am a very curious person and live my life in an endless period of “Egyptomania” that expands beyond interest in the study of Ancient Egypt remains and culture to absolutely everything. More appropriately, I live my life in a period of “Enlightomania”. I’m sure there are others like me whose thirst for knowledge is never quenched. Luckily, I was born in a country who fought for the ability for me, a young Latina woman, to receive an education. Countries, such as those in the Middle East, aren’t as lucky. Women receive an education that is different from men, in segregated classrooms taught only by other women. Education is a growing experience and the thought of people receiving it in a limiting environment is like imagining a person walking through a free city with 50 lbs of chains strapped to them.
Champollion and those who sought to understand the world’s past, present, and future truly make humanity a magnificent thing to be apart of. Even so, I believe that we still have a ways to go in order to expand our horizon of understanding so that all are able contribute equally.