Champollion, the Faroes and Uppland

Dim light at Carolina Rediviva, friendly for the ancient hieroglyphs, not so for my  less ancient eyes. But I’ve purchased and read the exhibition catalogue “Champollion and Hieroglyphics – 200 years of Egyptology” and know what’s there. Champollion’s (among others perhaps) key discovery was that hieroglyphics could be both a pictorial writing system and phonetic symbols and that most “words” were a combination. As long as researchers thought that they were solely pictorial, they wallowed in the weird and not so wonderful and were  distracted from the meaning by speculative interpretation.  This lonely genius makes good story triggers alarm  bells that history is being prettified (According to the catalogue “The legend says that Champollion, after struggling with different copies of inscriptions, rushed into his brother’s study in Paris – supposedly on 14 September 1822 – and blurted out “I’ve got it”, upon which he fell into a coma”). However, even if the denouement was less dramatic, it’s a good example of how what you know or think you know can block new learning.

Resuming exploration of my new home county after the dead  hand of Covid. It’s taken time to get started again, partly because of my orbiting around Sweden rather than actually living here and then it was too cold and dark and now it’s too hot. But at least I’ve been down to where the river (Fyris) meets Lake Mälaren and to see Champollion and am planning to take the boat in the same direction and further to historic Skokloster.

I’m continuing my exploration of Faroese literature and am now reading another of William Heinesen’s novels “De förlorade musikanterna” (The lost musicians). Not  a great fan of historical novels but I couldn’t resist it after reading Leif Zern’s intro describing Heinesen’s universe as a struggle between affirmation of life and the destructive force represented by the manager of the savings bank Andersen and the temperance association, who does what he can to dampen the friends’ exuberance at liquid gatherings.

I have Heinesen’s unread “Det goda hoppet” (The good hope, inadequate translation) from 1964.

Printed in my first year at university in the UK and pages uncut since then. No library stamp or ex libris, I wonder what the book has been doing since then (all books should have a libro-bio page, recording their fate). It seems somehow disrespectful to cut the pages just like that. There has to be some kind of ceremony; I want to take it to the Faroes with me and make it readable in some spiritual and sombre place in the early morning (the Faroes police are trying to intrude into my fantasy by carting me off to explain why I’m running around Torshavn with a knife in the wee hours. Should I depart from my life principle of never explaining my actions or is that, unusually, the road to perdition?)  And also another author Hedin Bru’s ”Berättelsen om Högni” (A tale about Högni). Finely bound and published by Gleerups in Lund in 1939, borrowed on 28 March 1957 as Mr Green explained the mysteries of multiplying decimals to me quivering on the brink of leaving junior school. But I can read this book, delicately with well washed hands, it doesn’t make me tamper with history with a paper cutter.

At any rate, good as far as pushing back the frontier of unknowing. I now know what  a “skälmroman” is in Swedish (like picaresque). And Herr Andersen’s temperance association is oddly called after Idun. Idun seems a friendly goddess, providing apples to keep the other gods and goddess immortal (they start to go grey when Idun is kidnapped). Between my home and Old Uppsala, all the roads are named after Gods and Goddesses. Idunvägen is just around the corner and amusingly many houses have apple trees in their gardens. I walk past them sometimes to get home when I’ve been reading on the bus and get swept past my stop. I’ve yet to clamber over the fence to taste one of the apples and see whether my bald patch (or rather bald sahara) shrinks. I’m not sure about immortality – it’s a heavy responsibility to steer David Kendall around the world and he might begin to pall on me after a century or so. Immorality is probably more fun…

More words, sarsen and polissoir, Ishmael and Fyfield Down, but I’ll save them for another time…..

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