The Other Philosopher’s Stone

image046 e1399320770467Visiting the original Rosetta Stone at the British Museum here in London last weekend gave me a chance to think about how we all communicate across, despite, and sometimes because of our differences. The inscription, carved in the stone 2,206 years ago, is part of a decree regarding the crowning of a new king, how he would govern Egypt, and how priests of the time would respond to him. For a document thousands of years old, the line of official praise extolling the ruler’s virtues seems surprisingly familiar. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, I suppose, borrowing from my rusty knowledge of French. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A symbol in itself, the Rosetta Stone stands as a reminder of people from vastly different backgrounds living and working together. (The ancient Egyptians and Greeks were living side by side at that time and place.) Perhaps that’s a key truth to take away from the stone, should you ever get the opportunity to see it in person. You won’t have much chance to see it with so many other museum-goers swarming around, but I think it’s worth remembering that the stone stands as a monument, older than many religions, attesting to the fact that people can get along with each other, that we can live side by side, and that we can communicate across vast cultural and linguistic gaps.

If all that seems a bit far-fetched, that things were different then than they are now, well, maybe. But the PR side of the decree itself serves as a reminder that even in the Egypt of 196 BC, people were people, just like today. And if now, as then, communication across those gaps requires a bit of give-and-take, a little effort to understand one another, that’s not too bad a price to pay.

Learn more about Mike Hayes’s adventures in language learning.

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