Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reading the Sacred Carvings

A few years ago, I noticed that The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago annually offered a distance education course on Egyptian hieroglyphics. Why not? I thought rather naively. I'd just finished reading an old edition of Budge's The Rosetta Stone and reasoned that, if nineteenth century scholars could crack the code, then I certainly could learn how to read it.

Needless to say, after about a month of working with Hoch’s Middle Egyptian Grammar, I wasn’t making any progress. The primary problem was writing the hieroglyphs. I actually had more trouble with them than I currently am having with the Hebrew alphabet. Despite some lessons as a child, I’d never been much an artist. But I’ve always been a perfectionist. The first assignment took a long week to complete. Although the professor was very encouraging, I gave up on the second assignment before it was even started.

Since then my interest has been revived a number of times, significantly correlated with the arrival of travelling Egyptological exhibits. It’s not that ancient Egypt particularly fascinates me. When I see artifacts baring hieroglyphs, I feel a strange sense of regret that I can’t understand them. Perhaps in the years to come I’ll muster the courage for a second attempt. In the meantime, I’m content to allow to do the difficult work for me.