Kevin J. Cathcart is Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Languages, University College Dublin, and the editor of The Letters of Peter le Page Renouf (4 vols, UCD Press, 2002-4)
Edward Hincks (1792-1866), the Irish Assyriologist and decipherer of Mesopotamian cuneiform, was born in Cork and spent forty years of his life at Killyleagh, Co. Down, where he was the Church of Ireland Rector. He was educated at Midleton College, Co. Cork and Trinity College, Dublin, where he was an exceptionally gifted student. With the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs by Jean Francois Champollion in 1822, Hincks became one of that first group of scholars to contribute to the elucidation of the language, chronology and religion of ancient Egypt. But his most notable achievement was the decipherment of Akkadian, the language of Babylonia and Assyria, and its complicated cuneiform writing system. Between 1846 and 1852 Hincks published a series of highly significant papers by which he established for himself a reputation of the first order as a decipherer. Most of the letters in these volumes have not been previously published. Much of the correspondence relates to nineteenth-century archaeological and linguistic discoveries, but there are also letters concerned with ecclesiastical affairs, the Famine and the Hincks family.Volume III 1857-1866: Edward Hincks continued his scholarly activities throughout the final decade of his life. He contributed one of four translations of an inscription of Tiglath Pileser I independently made in a bid to convince sceptical scholars that the decipherment of Akkadian had been accomplished. There was a satisfactory end to the disgraceful treatment of his translations of Akkadian texts which had been prepared for the Trustees of the British Museum in 1854. In 1859 he began his friendly correspondence with the Egyptologist Peter le Page Renouf of the Catholic University in Dublin and in 1863 the Prussian King Wilhelm I conferred on him the Ordre pour merite. During the last two years of his life he wrote "Specimen Chapters of an Assyrian Grammar" which was published just after his death.
- Correspondence Concerning the Provision of Pensions for Edward Hincks's Daughters
- Edward Hincks's Will
- On the Inscriptions of Van
"Man sagt nicht zu viel, wenn man ihn [Hincks] den eigentlichen Entzifferer der dritten Keilschriftgattung nennt."
"One is not saying too much, if one calls Hincks the true decipherer of Assyrian-Babylonian cuneiform."
"Hincks was a scholar of international significance in the nineteenth century. He was an expert on ancient Assyria and deciphered the Mesopotamian cuneiform script ... an assiduous letter writer and in this volume of letters from his youth he corresponded with friends and colleagues on ancient Egypt and his other concerns ... The clean, classical typography is equalled in the overall design and quality of binding."
"That Edward Hincks was a man of true genius to whom the basic decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform script and language should now be credited, is no longer in doubt. From much of his correspondence, deposited in the Griffith Institute in Oxford by his grandson, together with other letters tracked down in various institutions in London, Dublin, Paris and Berlin, a picture emerges of extraordinary mental energy and dedication in this Irish clergyman, with no lessening of drive and application as he grew older, a man who not only engaged with Egyptian hieroglyphs, Old Persian, Urartian and Akkadian cuneiform scripts and the languages they conveyed, but also found time for his parish duties … It still astonishes Assyriologists that he was able to work out both the polyphonic and the logographic nature of Akkadian cuneiform script as well as making great strides in understanding the language.
We must hope that Cathcart’s painstaking work, worthy of its admirable subject, will be used by future scholars who look into those exciting days of discovery, the struggles of decipherment, and the race for recognition."
Stephanie Dalley, University of Oxford
Journal of Semitic Studies
54 (2) 2009
'This is the third and final volume of the correspondence of the noted Irish Assyriologist Edward Hincks which has been edited by the Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern languages in University College Dublin. … The letters in this volume cover the final decade of Hincks’s life. Although hampered at times by illness, he nevertheless persevered with his scholarly activities. He continued with his work on Akkadian texts, he pursued astronomical enquiries and he worked on an Assyrian grammar. Among his principal correspondents were the Reverend Basil Henry Cooper, an English clergyman who was interested in ancient Egypt; Edwin Norris of the Royal Asiatic Society; the German orientalist Julius Oppert; Peter le Page Renouf, an Egyptologist who was professor of ancient history in the Catholic University in Dublin and Henry Fox Talbot, a pioneer in photography. Hincks’s achievements were recognised in 1863 with the conferring by the Prussian King Wilhelm I of the Ordre Pour Merite of the Prussian Royal Academy. With appropriate modesty, Hincks responded that 'I feel under very great obligation to his Majesty for having thus recognised my humble merits as an Orientalist. It is indeed a high distinction and my children will be proud of it'.
But the letters in this volume dare not devoted solely to scholarly matters. … There is much to be gleaned about members of Hincks’s family, both from the letters and from he detailed editorial notes which accompany them. Especially useful are the two appendices which print Hincks’s will and correspondence concerning the provision of a pension for his daughters.
The letters most of which remain unpublished, are drawn from repositories in Ireland, England, France and Germany. They have been meticulously edited and the provision of editorial notes is most informative. As one would expect in a scholarly publication such as this, there is an excellent bibliography and a helpful index. The high standards of the editor have been replicated by the publisher. The text is generously laid out and set in a stylish and very readable typeface. Both I content and appearance, this is what academic publishing ought to be about – the promotion of intellectual life and the diffusion and extension of knowledge. In short, this is an exemplification of Newman’s Idea of a University.'
Journal of the Irish Society of Archives
2010 Vol 17