Thursday, July 15, 2010


Two hundred and eleven years ago today, on July 15th 1799, an expedition of Napoleon’s French soldiers under the command of Captain Pierre-François Bouchard discovered an interesting stone in the town of Rashid. The French did not like the Arabic name of Rashid, so they had renamed the town Rossette. The British, who arrived shortly after the rock was found, decided the name Rossette had to go, and they renamed the town Rosetta. The stone, which the British transported to the British Museum in 1802, has been known as “The Rosetta Stone” ever since.

The Rosetta Stone is the most visited object in the British Museum today. It owes its popularity, in part, to the adoption of the name “Rosetta Stone” as a generic name for a (sometimes metaphorical) translation device.

The original stone was one of several stones carved in 196 BC to announce the Decree of Memphis. Ptolemy V had just undergone coronation and the decree instructed everyone to begin worshiping him as a god. This is an early example of the concept of transubstantiation that was carved in stone.

Several more god-making decrees were found making for an entire Rosetta stone series. The earliest were the Decree of Canopus stones carved in 238 BC for Ptolemy III. The next were the Decree of Raphia stones for Ptolemy IV. The last were the Decree of Memphis stones for Ptolemy V in 196 BC. In 42 years they had created at least three new gods; how industrious of them.

Ptolemy V (P5) was given the god name of Epiphanes Eucharistos. Epiphanes souns kinda like epiphany, so I think it is fairly good god name. What do you think your god name would be?

Interestingly, P5 was made a god just about year after the emperor Antiochus IV (A4) kicked some serious Egyptian butt in a preemptive strike meant to prevent P5 from taking Syria and Gaza away from the already too large Seleucid Empire that A4 had inherited control of in 175 BC. So P5 was a puppet king for A4; even though he was a god.  Maybe P5 was compensating for something by becoming a god?

A4 made a name for himself by pissing off all sorts of gods in addition to P5. He remains most famous for forcing the Jewish god to make a lamp burn for eight days on only one-day’s worth of oil. I bet that showed A4 who was boss. Apparently the Hellenistic emperors were never good at bronze-age flashlight tag and Jehovah was exploiting this little-known weakness. The amazing miracle of this not-perpetual-but-a-really-long-lasting-little-lamp-that-someone-later-lost-light is celebrated the world over as Chanukah. The Seleucid Empire soon collapsed, and I’m sure this had something to do with it.

Hellenistic Emperors must apparently die before becoming gods (there are rules you know). A4 apparently thought P5’s choice of a god name was cool and took the best part. At the age of 51 he became Antiochus IV Epiphanes the god.

Epiphanes is a cool name; perhaps I should rename this blog “Adult Onset Epiphanes?”


meyerprints said...

adult onset atheist said...

The work of Claude Ptolemy is impressive in a much more modern sense than the Egyptian Hellenistic Pharaohs having packed it almost 500 years after P1 was given control of Egypt for being such a great guy to Alexander the Great. The maps are cool, thanks for the link.