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339 PERSIA-LANGUAGE AND RELIGION.

The Persian alphabet contained twenty- three phonetic elements, represented by thirty-six

characters. The system of writing was the cuneiform, of which some notices have already

been given in the history of Chaldaea. Persia was--and is- the native land of the

cuneiform inscriptions. It appears that this style of writing, with characters made up of

wedges, was born out of necessity, and the necessity existed in the materials chosen in

certain countries to contain the records of their deeds and learning. The peculiarity of

the cuneiform elements is their rectilinear character. They contain no curves. In those

countries in which clay tablets and stone were the materials on which writing was

executed, curved lines would naturally be avoided, and even in the primitive stages of the

art the writer would reduce his system to right-line strokes. Those nations, on the other

hand, that chose papyrus and parchment, and that laid on the characters with a pigment,

would prefer the curve as more beautiful, and perhaps more easy of execution. Thus arose

in Assyria, Media, Babylonia, and Persia the cuneiform system, and in Greece and Rome the

oval style of letters.

All of the extant specimens of Persian writing are done in stone. The rock inscriptions of

the times of the Achaemenians are among the most famous in the world. The most noted of

these is that executed on the face of the great cliff at Behistun. Here, at the height of

three hundred feet above the ground, the surface of the precipice was smoothed over a

great space. Pieces of stone were fitted in in those parts where there were breaks and

flaws until the whole was reduced to a perfect surface. Then the inscriptions were cut in

the face of the rock. The whole was finally covered with a silicious coating to protect

the work from the action of the elements. The inscriptions are contained in five great

columns, the first four having over ninety lines each, and the fifth thirty-five. The

story recorded is the genealogy of Darius Hystaspis and the annals of his reign-what were

the provinces of the Empire; how the king put down rebellious and triumphed over

his enemies. An effigy of the monarch himself is given in relief. He is armed with a

bow, and his foot is planted on the prostrate form of an adversary. Next in importance to

the inscription here described is that on the tomb of Darius near Persepolis. The third in

extent is that containing the further history of Darius and Xerxes,, on the face of a

cliff at the foot of Mount Elwend, near Hamadan. Finally may be mentioned a second

inscription of Xerxes, found near the Persian town of Van.

The characters used in the cuneiform writing are from one-sixth of an inch to two inches

in length. They are all chiseled in the surface of stone. The Persians seem not to have

adopted the expedient of clay tablets to be first impressed with characters and afterwards

burned to hardness. The work of the inscriptions is all executed from left to right, after

the manner of all the Aryan nations.

The history of what may be called cuneiform learning is full of interest. The attention of

modern Europe was first called to the inscriptions in the year 1618, when Garcia de Sylva

Figueroa, ambassador of Philip III, of Spain, copied from the ruins of Persepolis a

section of cuneiform writing. He even ventured the expression of his belief that the work

was actual writing, perhaps in some dead language. The next traveler to call attention to

the inscriptions was Pietro della Valle, an Italian, who in 1622 sent to the antiquarian

Kircher a brick inscribed with cuneiform characters. After this it became fashionable to

bring or send into Europe specimens of this curious work of the East. More than a century

elapsed, however, before any serious attempt to translate the Persic inscriptions was

made. In 1767, the elder Niebuhr, father of the historian, transcribed from the ruins of

Persepolis and brought home to Denmark a considerable portion of an inscription. The

extract was published, and the scholars of Europe began to exercise their skill in

attempts at translation.

Many however, still denied that the inscriptions were writing at all. Thomas Hyde, an

eminent scholar, declared them