A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Archaeologists Outraged" Over Statue That's Been There 138 Years

Egypt Independent has a piece about how some Egyptian Archaeologists are "outraged" by a statue of Jean-Francois Champollion, the decipherer of hieroglyphics, with his foot on the head of a ruined statue of a pharaoh. In fact:
“The Foreign Ministry did nothing about it,” said Omar al-Hadary, chairman of the Tourism and Antiquities Committee of the Revolutionary Youth Federation on Thursday. “The West will repeat such things if there is no firm reply.”
“This will make us hate the West more,” he continued. “The French learned a hard lesson during their campaign that Egypt gained independence with the blood and lives of its sons.”
“The French government must remove this shameful statue or we will make thousands of insulting statues to put in all squares of Egypt and outside the French Embassy,” Hadary added.
The chairman asked the Ministry of Antiquities to stop all French archaeological missions working in Egypt until a formal apology is issued and the statue is removed. He also requested that all streets named after the Frenchman be renamed. [A main street in Central Cairo is named for Champollion.—MCD]
Now, there's just one thing left out of this story: the statue in the courtyard of the College de France is by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (Americans know him for the Statue of Liberty), and it's been there since 1875.

What, no Egyptians ever noticed it before? Or is this a case of manufactured outrage? An online petition only has a few hundred signatures. France conducted military operations against Egypt at Suez in 1956, but they want to retaliate for an 1875 statue?

Oh, and Egyptian archaeologists: every time you read hieroglyphics, you owe one to Champollion.

1 comment:

JPBirdman said...

Whether it is a form of constructed outrage or not, the dispute starts off on the wrong basis. Bartholdi was always very respectful towards other cultures, loved old Egypt particularly.
When he created his Champollion, this French egyptologist was considered the man who had solved the enigma of the sphynx. The Boetian sphynx from the Oedipus myth was often considered and treated as similar to the Egyptian sphynx. The riddle of the hieroglyphs had in the 19th century for long been labeled as 'the enigma of the sphynx'. Hence Champollion was seen as a modern Oedipus, and allegorically placed as the man who by his genius had defeated the sphynx. Therefore, the sphynx head was placed under his foot, while at the same time his expression is one of deep thought. No humiliated pharaoh or inferiorised Egyptian culture ever had anytrhing to do with Bartholdi's idea on this statue, much to the contrary. In fact, it is a monument for human genius or intelligence personalized by multi-linguistic Champollion who gave us the possibility to understand and pay respect to the old Egyptians.
It would be a disgrace if the statue would be removed from its spot of honour, where students are allowed to see what one of their own achieved with hard study and much intelligence.