Napoleon's Book of Fate

From Kook Science

Title illustration from W. R. Walker's edition.

Napoleon's Book of Fate (or the Emperor Napoleon's Book of Fate, Oraculum, etc.) is an English translation of a divinatory guide that has been described as being a secondary translation from German of an ancient Egyptian manuscript said to have been discovered by one M. Sonnini (Sonini) in 1801 at "one of the Royal Tombs" near "Mount Libycus, in Upper Egypt," and credited as being based on the edition formerly in the possession of Napoléon Bonaparte, who, it was claimed by the vendors of the book, used the system to some success.


Per the W. R. Walker edition:

The Book, of which the following is a translation, was obtained from Buonaparte's Cabinet of Curiosities, at Leipsic [Leipzig], during the confusion which reigned there after the defeat of the French army. It was held by him as a sacred treasure; and it is said to have been a stimulus to many of his speculations, he being used to consult it on many occasions. It is supposed to be the only copy in the world, being written in the German language, nearly five hundred years ago.

Per the James Cornish edition:

It is well known that in Napoleon's military expedition to the east in 1801 he took with him some of the most learned men of France for the purpose of exploring the Arts and Antiquities of Egypt. Among these was the celebrated M. Sonini, who having with much labour perforated a passage into one of the royal tombs near Mount Libycus, found therein an ancient roll of papyrus, richly ornamented and covered with hieroglyphics: this was conveyed by M. Sonini to the first consul; a learned Copt was sent for to interpret it, who, with the assistance of an eminent German scholar, soon found out a key to decipher and translate it into the German language. The original as well as the translation were locked up by Napoleon in his secret cabinet, consulted on every occasion, and was the means of determining many of his boldest and most successful enterprises. After the defeat and confusion of the French army at Leipsic [Leipzig], this translation, emblazoned with Napoleon's arms, fell into the hands of a Prussian officer, by whose permission the present translation was made.

Friedrich Max Kircheisen in Bibliographie du Temps de Napoléon: Comprenant l'Histoire des États-Unis (1908), p. 94-95, gives "M. Sonini" the full name of Charles Nicolas Sigisbert Sonnini de Manoncourt, the translator as Herman Kirchenhoffer, fellow of the University of Pavia, and describes the English edition as having first been published in 1822. Additionally, Kircheisen notes the existence of a Spanish edition, Oráculos de Napoleón ó sea la Rueda de la Fortuna para Adivinar la Suerte Presente y la Futura de las Personas (Sevilla, c. 1880), and a Welsh edition, Oraculum Bonaparte: Trwy yr hwn y gellir cael allan wybodaeth o ddygwyddiadau dyfodol; ysgrifenedig yn iaith Germany (Llanidlos & Rhayader, c. 1854), and his own translation of the English edition into German as Das Orakel, oder Napoleon's Schicksalsbuch in Hat Napoleon gelebt? (Stuttgart, 1910).

Copy of title page: Morrison & Watt, 1822 ed.; from the Fisher & Brother, 1899 ed.