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Writing the SphinxLiterature, Culture and Egyptology$
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Eleanor Dobson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474476249

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474476249.001.0001

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‘The master-key that opens every door’: Hieroglyphs, Translations and Palimpsests

‘The master-key that opens every door’: Hieroglyphs, Translations and Palimpsests

(p.97) Chapter 3 ‘The master-key that opens every door’: Hieroglyphs, Translations and Palimpsests
Writing the Sphinx

Eleanor Dobson

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter considers the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs along with advancements in printing technologies across the nineteenth century, which led to an increased hieroglyphic presence in modern media. It focuses, in particular, in the use of hieroglyphs by authors of fiction, including H. Rider Haggard and E. Nesbit. In some cases, Egyptologists lent their expertise; alternatively, authors and designers consulted these experts’ grammars and dictionaries to construct their own (sometimes erroneous) meanings. Analysing the use of hieroglyphs in a variety of fiction and other cultural forms not only reveals networks of consultation between those with a professional and an amateur interest in ancient Egypt, but the wealth of connotations that the hieroglyphs suggested: from a magical language (often in children’s or supernatural fiction) to a romantic script suitable for love letters and secret correspondence (suited to romance, mystery, and detective genres). Meanwhile, increased tourism in Egypt resulted in the proliferation of palimpsestic chiselling of names onto temples and pyramids, while ankhs obelisks were incorporated into European and American grave designs. Ultimately, these uses of hieroglyphs reveal a bid for immortality, whether that of the individual or even the literary works that contemporary authors were inscribing with ancient Egyptian script.

Keywords:   Hieroglyphs, H. Rider Haggard, E. Nesbit, Romance, Mystery, Detective, Supernatural, Immortality

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