Archives & Special Collections Gallery Exhibit




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Creation Date

Fall 2014


Artifact Label:

“These are hieroglyphical; that is, if you call those mysterious cyphers on the walls of pyramids hieroglyphics, then that is the proper word to use in the present connexion. By my retentive memory of the hieroglyphics upon one Sperm Whale in particular, I was much struck with a plate representing the old Indian characters chiselled on the famous hieroglyphic palisades on the banks of the Upper Mississippi. Like those mystic rocks, too, the mystic-marked whale remains undecipherable.”

Moby-Dick, Chapter 68, “The Blanket”

From 4 C.E., when hieroglyphics fell out of use, until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were indecipherable. Though hieroglyphics began to be translated before Melville’s birth, the lore of their mystery and the excitement of the discovery.