Cracking Ancient Codes: Cuneiform Writing - with Irving Finkel

Cracking Ancient Codes: Cuneiform Writing - with Irving Finkel

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00:00
[MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] All right, already, already. OK. Thank you very much for that subtle and delicate introduction. It's much appreciated. All right. Well, the first thing I've got to tell you is the misnomer under which we are all labouring, because ancient writing has nothing to do with codes. Because codes are an artificial system of finding a writing technique which bamboozles everybody else and drives them into lunatic asylums. That is not the intention behind the cuneiform writing system or Egyptian hieroglyphs. Although, of course, we did end up bamboozled in lunatic asylums, but that's quite another matter. So this bizarre writing-- if you've never seen it before, you shortly will-- is nothing to do with codes. It is a proper functional writing system with the same purpose behind it as our own alphabetic system.
01:02
So it's come to my attention recently, rather miserable in its import, that there are people in this country who have never actually seen a cuneiform tablet. How this can be in this day and age, I don't know. But I brought one to show you. Now this tablet is an utter corker. It has many immediately obvious characteristics. For example, it's written in about 1780 BC as you can obviously tell. It looks like a letter, but it isn't. In fact, it's a wondrous inscription, and it's more interesting than everything else in the British Museum collection put together. It's rather embarrassing, because it doesn't belong to us, but. It is written from left to right in ruled lines. And the writing system is a bit like printing in that you have a stylus like a chopstick. And you press the end of this chopstick into the surface of the clay, gently. And each time you make a stroke, that is part of a sign. And all the signs in the world are made up of one or two or three designs.
02:05
So once you've learned that, you can write anything. So this tablet was written by a very high-quality literary scribe. You can see the front is more or less easy to read. The back looks like it's been trampled by elephants. And of course, that's the most interesting part. So, this is made of clay, and that was the first writing system used in ancient Mesopotamia. And it's a jolly good thing they did use clay, because all the tablets in the British Museum will outlast all the books and papers in the British Library for certain. And every single piece of nonsense recorded on a computer will be long gone, and we will be the winners. Now, I show you that tablet not in order to sell the book which is a tempting pile of witches in the hall outside in which our chairperson has already alluded to twice that just happens to be on this slide. But the point is that that is the replica of the Babylonian idea of what the Ark and the Flood story look like, which came out of that tablet, which is a kind of recipe to build it.
03:06
So when you saw that, you wouldn't necessarily leap to that conclusion. But it does underline the fact that it is real writing of real language with real grammar and real meaning and no ambiguity and not a code. So the part that we have to start in the educational business with a map. This is the most insulting and baby-like map I could find. And once it shows you where Egypt is, which is that brown blob down on the left, I'm going to be talking about stuff from the blue blob in the middle, which is kind of Iraq. Which when I started out as an assyriologist, nobody in this country knew where that was at all. And of course they do now for all the wrong reasons. So, writing began, as far as we know, and definitely before in Egypt, in Iraq about 3500 BC. So if any other speaker this evening floats in front of you and starts talking about Egyptian stuff, hieroglyphs, anything like, don't believe a word of it if they try to claim primacy. Now the fact is this, that they used
04:07
clay which was freely available in a God-given way, because the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which provide the Mesopotamian name invented by the Greeks. It was perfect for forming writing tablets without bits in it, which would take sharp impressions and dry perfectly in the sun. And that's what they did. They started with clay. And they stuck with it until about the second century AD, so well, well over 3,000 years of continuous use. And on the right, you see some reeds of the type which grow liberally in Iraq. So you got a six-inch bit, cut it at the right angle, stripped off the stuff, and there you had a free writing tool which would last you for ages. So it was a very simple matter and very fortunate that that's what happened. So this is not going to be an exam or a test or anything depressing like that. There are two points about this. Firstly, nobody is allowed to go to sleep or I shall get very angry. And the second thing is, there might well be a test before you're allowed to leave the building.
05:09
Now, we have tablets from almost the whole of this history. Now, these are the salient points which I want you to remember and tattoo on your wrists when you get home. Firstly, that this is the oldest writing system we know from archaeology. Secondly, that it began with pictographs, the old-fashioned word of when you do a little picture of something to give you an idea. And the kind of pictures they did were the sort of thing that talented children of three or four or most average school children do when they're 17, which used to draw a little blob for a head with an I in it. And that's the sort of thing they did at the outset. So here, you can see, on these extracts, a drawing of a jug for beer with a pointed bottom, which would stand up in the ground. Next to it, there is a pictograph of an ear of barley. And below that, there is a pictograph which has a man's head and a bowl of food, which is the verb to eat. So this is a very simple kind of thing, such as you might expect the Martians to invent or something of the kind. And when the first signs of this kind were brought into use,
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they had, behind their format, the requirement to document Inland Revenue kind of matters. They wanted to measure wages in and out. They wanted totals that added up, so that really unpleasant people could come and test what really measly people had been keeping records for over the last month. So that plague, which hangs over our lives today, is responsible for writing in the first instance. And it was certainly not lovelorn poets who took this and turned it into a writing system so they could record their low and lewd desires for posterity. It was a long time, really, before literature trotted along and somebody realised that you don't just use it for this mundane purpose. But it had this brain-opening quality, and real writing began and so forth. So those are the first kind of signs. They're rather clear. They're rather easy to understand. Now this is the worst slide in the world, probably.
07:13
But the second point I want you to remember for your test is this, that the script evolved graphically in a way which makes perfect sense. So if you look down at the left-hand column, those are relatively simple to understand pictographs of the first kind. I'll give you a clue. The three helmet pieces are a mountain. The one below that, which is three helmet pieces and a triangle with a slit up the middle is a foreign slave girl. Get the idea? That's the sort of thing. And they had all these pictographs. And basically, two things happened. Because in the outset, the early phases, they drew with a point, much as we draw with a bionic piece of paper with a continuous line. And that fell out of use, and they used the cut reed to reduce these curvy form, natural figures as you see on the left into sharp, angular things which consist of separate strokes of the stylus. So there's the shift from realism
08:14
to a kind of abstraction. And it's when you get to the abstraction phase that we are no longer really pictographic at all. You don't depend so much on what the sign looks like, in terms of origin, in order to know what it means. And you can see, from left to right, about the 3,000-year period of development. If you see one end of the other together, you would have no idea, probably, that they were connected. But the same phenomenon applies with Egyptian, because hieroglyphic and demotic, unless you knew what came in-between, you'd never think they were connected. But they are in the same measure, derivatives, from a drawing point of view. So this script moved from a simple business of drawing pictures or ideas into a method of recording sound. And that is the essence of writing, that you have a set of marks which record the sound of the language with its words and grammar and all the components which somebody else can put on the record player-- [RECORD PLAYER IMITATION] --and retrieve the words when they read it. This is a miraculous matter.
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And the shift from pictographic use to writing sounds was the only real giant leap man has ever made, apart from the development of the electric guitar in about 1952. So the squat-complacent priest on the left with the fat belly and the smug look is a Sumerian of the Third Millennium. He spoke one of the languages, which is recorded in cuneiform writing. He's all right. His language is unconnected to any living language at all. It's quite bizarre. The guy on the right is an Assyrian who spoke the Assyrian language, of which Assyrian and Babylonian are dialects, and that is a Semitic tongue related to modern Semitic languages. So you have one writing system for two totally unconnected languages, and this is a very interesting matter. But scholars and boys and people who went to school had to learn to read the classics in Sumerian. And they could get by in both. So they had a kind of symbiotic relationship between the two
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languages. And this guy lives in the British Museum. There are many conundrums about Sumerian grammar. I have many times whispered in his ear asking for some kind of clarity, and we never get a single word out of it. So, this is what the time that the first tablet was written down in about 1800 BC, that's what the process looks like. You hold the tablet in your left hand. You write with the stylus in your right hand. And there's no way of doing it apart from that. And what is an interesting philosophical issue is that you can see a modern counterpart of this, almost exactly, on the Tube very regularly. Now, what I find fascinating is not the implication that the thing is unchanged in all the intervening millennia. What is really interesting is that the vocabulary of most people who use those pocket devices is very, very little superior to what the Sumerians were doing in 3400 BC. That's to say you need a small number of signs. And in the modern world, say you have 12 signs. Do your stupid bluh-bluh-bluh-bluh-bluh-bluh.
11:18
If you have 12 characters, nine of them mean "like," because you have to say, like, like, like, like, like. And it has nothing to do with the word "like." So this is a philosophically interesting matter, because politicians and other clowns argue that we are making progress. And really, the study of history and the study of assyriology does not support that in any measure whatsoever. Now, this is what became of that script when it was a fully developed and flexible, beautiful thing. Firstly, it was written by calligraphers that the pictograph [INAUDIBLE] developed into the most sophisticated fluent cuneiform. This is written by, probably, one of the best scribes in the country who worked for Ashurbanipal. He worked in his library. This is part of the Gilgamesh tablet. And the writing is absolutely a joy to read. And you can see that the man who wrote that tablet was a calligrapher. And when he finished it, he must have put it down
12:18
with more than a sigh of self-satisfaction. So within the space of a few centuries, simple pictographs-- when you say a bottle of milk, no, to the milkman in order to write proper literature in this kind of thing-- it made a huge leap. And then we had literacy. So, now we get the hard bit, how cuneiform works. I'm going to show you about three things, and then you will get a lollipop. So one principle is that you have one Sumerian sign for one word. OK? That's perfectly straightforward. And it's intelligible because, since they began as pictographs, that's how they began. A drawing of an apple meant apple, and so forth. So the deepest, oldest level is one sign for one word which is Sumerian, because that's the first language. Now when you're a learned scribe writing
13:20
this tablet for Ashurbanipal, you had an interesting technique at your disposal, rather snooty, rather smart. But when you're writing Babylonian, if you wish to, you can write a given word in Sumerian with one sign, like in the very old-fashioned way, which the learned reader would then put into his own tongue. So in Sumerian, the word for king is lugal. So if we are an old scribe reading Sumerian and we see that sign there, oh, we say, lugal. We know what that means, the boss. But an Akkadian scribe 500 years later, who wants to refer to the King himself, can draw that old sign for king but not read it lugal in the Sumerian language, but supply the equivalent in his own language. This is an intrinsic part of the delight and joy that comes to your life when you start studying cuneiform.
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And you see, at the bottom, the helpful clue in white. You do this all the time because you write S with obliques through the middle. And when you read it, you don't say two Ses with the obliques through the middle. You say $2. And since it's to do with money, you do it instantly. Well, that principle is a very common thing in Sumerian and Akkadian writing, that you can use the one for the other. Is that clear to everybody? Splendid. Two, then there is simple syllabic writing. Because when you have all those signs, which are pictures, most of the words in the pictures are short words. That stands to reason. And so, you can draw a sign, which has a short value just for the sound, to spell something else. For example, you see there the words naruum which means river, kaalbuum which means dog, and Haammurabi who is the King.
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So to write those three words, you have to have a "na" and a "ru" and an "um." And the syllabic spelling system was like cutting a sausage with a bread knife. You have-- [CUTTING SOUNDS] a one-syllable sign for each component, and you squash the sausage back into a single word. So the bulk of texts written in the Babylonian or Syrian tongue, not the Sumerian ones, are written syllabically in that fashion. You just have to learn about 1,000 signs to be comfortable about it. That made up to you straightforward. And I see, at the bottom, there's another clue for the modern reader, how to spell the word museum with "mu," "zi," and "um." Then, we have this question of rebus writing, also part of the idea. You are familiar with the principle, for example, the lower two little pictures,
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can be read rebus writing. And what is it again? Wasp? No, um-- Belief. Belief. Yes, exactly. Go to the top of the class. So the people who use those imbecilic phones do this kind of thing all the time in their imbecilic way. So we have, "B4. That goes 4 U 2. My name is K8," is for them normal writing. So they were transported back into ancient Sumer in about 3200 BC which, in my opinion, is a rather wholesome idea. They would feel perfectly at home at the other end of the chronology. So the rebus writing system is a very important component too, because you can see, in the first line, that the word sheh, the syllable sheh, is actually the Sumerian word for barley. So if you're a Sumerian person, you can draw the little sprig of barley and pronounce it "sheh"
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to mean barley. Of course, that stands to reason. But you can also use the same sign when it doesn't mean anything to do with barley as a component syllable in a longer word. So for example, if you have sheh with ga afterwards, which means good or benevolent, you can write the sheh with the barley sign which has nothing to do with what you're saying. And then we have these other things, which will also apply in the next class with the next teacher on the syllabus who will probably be referring to these amendable matters like determinatives and complements and things like that. They're very handy. They are one of the few things in cuneiform writing which are there to make life easier. When you start the process, which will take you between 6 and 10 years before you get anywhere, you are very grateful for any help you can get. And the determinatives are one of them. So for example, they have little signs for wood and stone and plant and God and river and leather and things like that. We have about 15. The Egyptians have about 12,000 of them.
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And the determinatives work in such a way that if you're going to write the word tree, you can write before it the word wood, which gives the eye of the reader a kind of clue because, sometimes, you can't be quite certain of the reading until you have such a help. So if you plonk the determinative in front of a certain kind of noun, it's often very handy. And to go with that, we have what we call phonetic complements. So let's say we're reading this Akkadian text together, and we have the sign lugal, which is the Sumerian word for king. Sometimes, they put "rum" after it to show that you take the lugal sign and you read an equivalent of the ending "rum." In this case, sharrum, as we had before, as a kind of clue. And this is very handy indeed. And it's a very disconcerting and interesting experience when you're reading a cuneiform inscription when, once in a while, you're confused and worried. And there is something on the tablet which
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shows that the guy who wrote it left a little bit of a helpful thing. It's rather heartwarming. Miserable bastards, they were. Now we get to what we call, professionally, the snags. Snag one. All right. Remember, we started off with the idea that you can write one word with one sign. Right? That's perfectly straightforward. One sign can have several different sounds. OK, I'll let you just think about that nightmarish situation. So for example, the white sign there is the sign ka, which has the primary meaning mouth. But when you write ka in a Sumerian sentence, it can mean mouth. Gosh, I can't read this in here. Oh, you can read it, can't you? Yeah. Good. It can mean mouth, word, speech, nose, or tooth. That sign can stand for those words. But in Sumerian, ka is mouth, inim is word, gu is speech,
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kir is nose, and zu is tooth. So this means that when you have that sign in a sentence, it has the capacity to mean any one of those words unless you have some kind of clue to help you. And that is why it is so important to have these phonetic complements and other things which establishes. So for example, if you write ka with ir afterwards, then you know that you don't read it "ka." You have to read it the "kir" meaning, which is nose, so you don't confuse your nose with your teeth, which is never to be recommended. So the interesting thing is-- I won't dwell on this melodramatic matter in case sensitive people feel faint. But when you start learning Sumerian, the businesses of leaping off a high building headfirst onto the concrete is massively appealing on a daily basis. And this snag business is one of the factors. This is snag two. Are you still with me? One sound can be written with several different signs.
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Ha-ha-ha, what a joke. It's true. For more than 3,000 years, it didn't trouble anybody. Some historians have hazarded that might be why they died out. So if we take as a specimen the syllable GU, which in this day and age really only applies to sticky yoghurt things in the supermarket, there are about 17 different signs, all of which can be pronounced GU. And we label them in a systematic way, GU1, GU2, GU3, GU4, and so forth and so forth. So the reasons why that is truly far too complicated a matter to pursue now. You'll just have to believe me, because you just have to believe everything I say because that's why I'm here and this is the Royal Institution, so that's perfectly reasonable. But it is quite astonishing when you first discover this, especially in view of snag three. So this is that same thing where there's no gaps between the words. So that really is a devilish matter.
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When the Persians develop cuneiform, they put a little tick between the words so that you never have this agony. But here, you have a whole sea of them. There is a gap in the middle and at the bottom. I'll explain in a minute. But generally speaking, it's a sea of continuous things like that. And this is what happens when you read cuneiform. This is your first cuneiform sign. So you look at it. And being exceptionally intellectually gifted, you go-- [MOTOR SOUND] --through all its possible uses. Then you look at the next one and go-- [MOTOR SOUND] --with all its possible uses, and then you find a match. So it's very unusual to get the wrong match. It's possible, but it's very unlikely. So you have, out of a whole line, two things that go together which helps when you look at the third one because you can see, should it go on the end of this? Or should it be at the beginning? And I tell you, this is a gloomy matter even for a natural optimist like myself. But I can do it now on one leg, one eye.
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And I feel very complacent about it. Now, if you look here, though, there are gaps in the middle of this beautiful tablet. Now the reason is this, cuneiform writing was right justified, invariably, especially in literature. And once in a while, you have a line where there aren't enough equal spaced signs to fill a line from beginning to end. So if that horrible situation occurs, they leave the gap in the middle. And that's very unusual. What else have we got? Decipherment. Oh, yeah, that's what we're here for. I'm terribly sorry. I forgot all about that. Yes, well, the thing is we've demolished the idea. I hope, satisfactorily, that we're not talking about codes. You'll be talking about writing systems. That's the first thing. So what we are dealing with is real decipherment. In other words, you have an unknown writing system and you have to make sense of it one way or another. Now sometimes, it's not so complicated. For example, with Linear B, which was always likely to be Greek and turned out to be Greek and nobody
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fainted except the people who did it, that is not so complicated. What is really desperately complicated is when you have cuneiform or hieroglyphic material where you don't really know what the language behind it is. You haven't got any clues at all. And I maintain well to my dying day, which is probably going to be next week, that cuneiform would never, ever have been deciphered if we didn't have this trilingual. And hieroglyphs without a bilingual that they do have is probably the same thing, although not quite so desperate. But when you imagine that you have a thing like that with no gaps between the words and no clue what the language might be, no relevance to go on, you could run it through all the computers in the world. And all you would get is gobbledygook or possibly gigglygob, but you'd never get meaning. So this trilingual was a crucial, crucial thing. And King Darius, the Persian at this mountainous rock
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at the place called Behistun in eastern Persia, wrote a proud description about how he squashed the rebellion-- there's a picture of all the people being squashed up there under Ahura Mazda-- and a long narrative which was written in the Babylonian language, our cuneiform from Iraq, in Old Persian cuneiform-- which was Old Persian cuneiform from the Old Persian meaning Old Persian-- and, of course, the Elamite language which is even more barbaric than Sumerian. And it became evident that these lengthy inscriptions far above the plain were equivalents of one another. So this is where the Indiana Rawlinson came into his own. Hold on. Let me just show you Indiana Rawlinson. There's Indiana Rawlinson. Now, you know better than me, especially in this august institution, how often it is in the world that the discovery
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of things and the invention of things is usually accredited to the wrong person. This is a fixed law of the universe. It is certainly applicable here! Rawlinson was really good at mountain climbing, so he got this wild Kurdish boy. And they climbed up the side, and they had ladders. And they made paper squeezes of the three columns of writing and brought them back to England and laid the foundation for our understanding today. Now Rawlinson worked-- I got a bit out of speed here. Before I go really rude about Rawlinson, let's go back here. This is the rock in question of Behistun. So this is a scheme. You see that, on the left, you've got the text in Babylonian, on the lower right, Old Persian, and the Elamite on those two places. So Babylonian is Semitic. Old Persian was, of course, known because Persian was a living language. And Elamite, nobody really cared about. So this is the first line of the inscription in those three languages.
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So it was some considerable and miraculous thing to decipher the Old Persian anyway, because it's written in a kind of simplified cuneiform. And it wasn't Rawlinson who did that, really. This man, Grotefend, was the first scholar in about 1820 to look at these bits of cuneiform in Old Persian and crack them. He did it on a kind of rational basis about the names. So he started everything off. Sorry, I shouldn't be doing this. With this marvellous text brought back by Rawlinson, they had the whole thing in the three different languages. And on the basis of what had already been deciphered, Rawlinson really cracked the Old Persian and published a translation. So that was a very impressive feat. So you can imagine, once they realised that this one text
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involved, if you look here, this is the Old Persian inscription. And they knew that this was to do what King Darius. And his name in Old Persian is something that Dariush. And when they deciphered this simple script, they realised this was Da-ree-uh-mush spelling out the name of the Persian King. And it says, as you can see, "I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, the King of Persia, the King of countries, the son of Hystapses, the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenid." So there's quite a lot of information in that first sentence and quite a lot of names and some repetition. And once they knew this was Darius, then it was very, very likely that this line and this line were going to be spelling Dariush. as well. So once they opened up the whole of the Old Persian-- it was a very clever thing to do the Persian-- but once they had done that, there was the really big job of using that to pry open
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the text of the Akkadian. And they did it with the starting point of spelling the names. And after that, they suddenly found in the yellow text, so to speak, some words that were submitted, like the word naruum for river. And everybody jumped 30 feet in the air because, once they knew that this language when they got a bit of a glimpse of how it was being spelled while Semitic, then they were well away. Because if Arabic grammars and vocabularies and Hebrew and Syriac and Aramaic, all the vocabulary of all the Semitic languages was piled in on it to try and sort out words that made sense. And eventually, they did it. It was a major, wonderful achievement. So as I said, Grotefend did a great job on the first of Old Persian. And then we have this Rawlinson. Now when he had done the Persian thing, he then published a very learned article about the occasion. And it was almost entirely wrong. And I'm going to jump backwards and forwards a bit,
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because the person who really deciphered the Babylonian on the back of the Old Persian was this crusty and unappetizing looking individual called Reverend Edward Hincks, who should have been memorialised in this building as much as any other human being because he was one of these amazing persons. He was a clergyman in Killyleagh in Northern Ireland. He had a parish. He had five daughters. So he was quite busy, and he wanted to decipher hieroglyphs before anybody else. Whenever he would get hold of the publications, he immersed himself in his study when all the girls had gone to bed, seeing whether he could beat Champillion or the great Thomas Young, who's outside in the hall, to the post. Now this is the beauty of this matter because Hincks, puzzling over the hieroglyphs and scribbling on his notepad, had an idea that maybe this cuneiform stuff might give him a clue about hieroglyphs.
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It might be interesting and possibly instructive to have a look at it. So he had a look at it, and he deciphered it. He was the person who realised that the signs were polyvalent. He was the first person who twigged it, and he did it with a great deal of intellectual brilliance. And Rawlinson hated his guts. So Hincks was employed by the Trustees of the British Museum for a year in London to work on the new inscriptions that were being brought back by Layard. And he could read a lot of stuff very quickly. And when he went home, the Trustees kept his papers. This should be a moment of appalled silence. So when he was safely out of the way in Killyleagh, Rawlinson got to work. And he published a revised understanding of the Behistun Inscription, which was entirely due to Hincks's understanding.
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Now, the two small points about this whole deciphering business and what it brings out in low human beings. When Rawlinson-- there, there he is-- was asked, as an old man, how he deciphered cuneiform writing in the Babylonian thing, he said he couldn't remember. In the meanwhile he dined out very extensively on this heroic thing, dwelling on the ladder and the press and all the rest of it, but aggrandizing to himself the progress made by brains, by Reverend Hincks. So, he has gone down in history as the Father of Assyriology. Well, it's really annoying to all of us. I'd just like to say that in these two photographs, they show Rawlinson as a fresh-faced young man with the transcriptions of the Behistun Inscription on the table in front of him, looking eagerly into the semi-future knowing greatness is awaiting him.
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The photograph on the right is three weeks later when-- [LAUGHTER] So there you are. That's what happened now. Hello? Now there's something else I have to tell you about this deciphering business. You see, the people who knew, they knew jolly well that they deciphered it. And they were beginning to publish translations of stuff, Assyrian accounts and Babylonian things. And there were one or two of the provincial universities in Britain, like Oxford and Cambridge, where the dons, who had reigned supreme about classical knowledge for generation upon generation, were forced to take on board the barbaric findings of these mountebanks. They objected very strongly indeed to having to give any credit whatsoever to this idea of the decipherment or change the things they had been teaching unchanging for the last 400 years. So you can understand, perhaps, why their professions felt threatened.
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And in the end, the Royal Asiatic Society decided to bring an end to this brouhaha. So they got that [INAUDIBLE],, the third cylinder in the middle, to be copied by a lithographer. And what they did was they-- under sealed wrapping, I am sure-- distributed the cuneiform text to Edward Hincks at the top in the first track. Below him, a rather interesting person who has to be on stage here. Who invented photography? Henry Fox Talbot. Thank you very much. I'll definitely give you a lollipop. That is Fox Talbot. That guy he looks like he's betting on horse races. He looks ever so dangerous. But that was the genius Fox Talbot who worked with light. He worked with physics. He worked with the sphere of objects. And he was a major contributor at this time. Hincks also was interested in physics and the study of light
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and, also, our home genius as well. It's a rather interesting parallel. Anyway, so there was Hincks and Jules Oppert, who was a French-- or Belgian-- scholar in France who was in the forefront of the decipherment, and a picture of Rawlinson trying to look like somebody else. And what they did was they had three months to come up with their best reading of this thing without any interference from anybody else. And then the Archbishop of Canterbury and other worthies sat around a table to appraise their translations. And they decided that the decipherment was a fait accompli and that, from now on, those who were entrenched in their old ways had to rethink their futures. So this is a very important cylinder. I feel I owe it my job, for one thing. And of course, a philosophical mathematician might say, they all four made the same mistake. But that's really neither here nor there. So I will conclude by imprinting this name, Edward Hincks,
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on your mind. That's where he was born, in Cork. And he died in Killyleagh. And he's got two of those round discs. So in my opinion, the world is littered with unacknowledged geniuses. But Hincks is really, definitely one of them. And I took all my family once when we were on the other side of Northern Ireland to look for this rectory where we found it. And I thought, gosh, there ought to be a blue plaque. This is disgraceful. And in fact, there was a blue plaque. It was outside on the wall, at ankle level, heavily overgrown, and, I think, utilised by local dogs. So the only people in Northern Ireland, the only living things in Northern Ireland, who regularly offer obeisance at the shrine of Hincks are these hounds. And presumably, they're she-hounds. So when I wrote this book-- I don't want to mention it again. It's a bit embarrassing to keep labouring. I mean, it's, as I said, quite coincidental that there are some outside. And if anybody wanted one signed, it's the same price, so.
37:55
I'll just mention that. But the thing is-- in that book, I wrote something about the poor Reverend Edward and said that this is the name. I couldn't think of a more intense way of explaining how important these decipherers are that there should be on a magnet, a fridge magnet, with Hincks on every fridge in Europe. And I toss this idea into the world as, of course, we do in our profession. And after the book had been out for a year, I had a letter from somebody in the administration of the post office in Northern Ireland saying, we've decided we're going to bring out a step with Edward Hincks on it, having read what you wrote about him. So a small injustice has been addressed, so there you are. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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