Sometime after 96 BCE, a man called Isidoros
The hymns of Isidoros, however, are very different from this common pattern. They do give the name of an author, not a speaker, and they are beautiful official carvings rather than graffiti
The one who raised him, Sesoosis, who went to the east of the sky, he gave him the beautiful name of the glistening sun. Interpreting his name, the Egyptians called him Porramanres the Great, the Immortal. As for me, I heard from others of a remarkable miracle, namely that he drove in the mountains on wheels and with a sail. Securely having been informed by men who impart their knowledge, also after myself having translated all these deeds, I explained to the Greeks the god’s and the ruler’s power, demonstrating that no other mortal held similar power. Isidoros composed these verses.
This text touches on several levels on the question of cultural interaction
Apparently, Isidoros consulted sources in Egyptian language on deified Amenemhet or Marres, as he is usually called in the Graeco-Roman period (the element Porra- is nothing but the word “Pharao”
Before returning to these questions, a broader look at the phenomenon of multilingualism in Graeco-Roman Egypt is in order.4 For most of Egyptian history, obviously, Egyptian in its successive historic-linguistic stages had been the dominant language in this country. Nevertheless, for purposes of diplomatic
It would be interesting to know whether the Libyans
In the Late Period, which was dominated by the Assyrians
Its place was taken by Greek under Alexander
While the eagerness of Egyptians to learn Greek has long been accepted by scholars, only rarely is it admitted that also Greeks might have wished to learn Egyptian in turn. Usually Cleopatra VII is cited as an exceptional example,16 at the same time implying that her desire to learn Egyptian was an exception to what was otherwise the norm. However, there is reason to be a bit doubtful about such claims. It may very well be true that Cleopatra was the only member of the Ptolemaic royal family who ever learned Egyptian, but as for her subjects a much greater number of cases is to be expected. Of course there is little explicit evidence. But that is not surprising, these people were just living their lives, not expecting scholars two millennia later to puzzle over their language abilities. Thus we have to content ourselves with chance evidence. Such evidence does indeed exist. A clear case is, for example, the Greek letter UPZ I 14817 written in the second century BCE by a woman to a man, congratulating him on learning Egyptian writing (Αἰγύπτια γράμματα), so he could teach
Other such chance evidence is the growing number of cases where Greeks seem to have held priestly titles for Egyptian cults and left statues of themselves inscribed in Hieroglyphs!18 However, such cases can only be pinpointed with relative security in the Early Ptolemaic period, because with the lapse of time, more and more Egyptians also took Greek names, probably to improve their social standing and tax status.19 Sometimes it is evident that one and the same person had two names, one used in Greek documents, the other in Egyptian documents.20 Such names can be entirely unrelated to each other, but often they are translations or at least equivalents of each other. Thus a Petese might have called himself Isidoros or a Petehor could have become an Apollodoros. But also purely Greek names without any Egyptian equivalent are attested as second name. A particularly inspired example is certainly the case of the dioiketes Harchebi, son of Pamnevis and Tasheretbastet, whose alternative name Archibios is not only a true Greek name, but almost a phonetic equivalent to his Egyptian name (which would normally have been rendered in Greek as Harchebis).21 Needless to say, this does not make the task easier to assign a culture of origin to a specific person.22
Moreover, after the second or third generation of cultural mixing and intermarriage, it becomes almost futile to grope around in the mud for any differing cultural identities. To know what language or languages a specific person would have spoken is even more difficult. It seems likely that this depended from the situation, with Greek being used for more official situations of communication and Egyptian for more personal ones, as well as for matters of traditional religion.23
A fine example is the dioiketes and archisomatophylax Dioskurides
Another interesting case is the syngenes Platon Junior, son of another Platon, who apparently also was syngenes and moreover strategos of the Thebaid in 88 BCE, and of an Egyptian mother.26 Again, the Greek documentation for father and son shows them to have exerted political, administrative, and military functions, while the statue the younger Platon had inscribed for himself in Hieroglyphs proves that he not only held a considerable number of Egyptian priestly titles, but even served as a medium for oracles spoken by the god Amun in Thebes. No wonder then that even in the field of Egyptian religion, as the case of the Isidoros hymns shows, Greek could be used on purpose to propagate certain cults more widely.
And indeed, these hymns are not the only case where a text propagating a deity claims to be a translation from the Egyptian. Similar claims can be found in pOxy 1381, a text in praise of Imuthes-Asklepios, that is, the deified Egyptian sage Imhotep.27 Again the author claims to have translated a story relating to Imhotep, unfortunately the part of the papyrus that would have contained the translated text is mostly lost. It would indeed be interesting to see whether this was really a translation of the story dubbed “The Life of Imhotep” by its prospective editor Kim Ryholt.28 The latter, also known under the nickname “Djoser and the Assyrians” is a Demotic literary text which deals with the magical
At any rate, translating Egyptian religious or literary texts can be positively proven by other examples with better documentation for versions both in Egyptian and in Greek.32 A case in point would be the so-called Myth of the Sun’s Eye,33 again a Demotic composition containing the dialogue of two deities on all sorts of esoteric matters, interspersed with fables to illustrate important moral points. Fragments of the Greek translation dating to the second half of the second century CE, but unfortunately without provenance, have been known for a long time.34 On first impression, the Greek version seems to omit the more esoteric parts of the original version, thus making the text more accessible to Greeks. Although this would fit well with the statement by the translator of pOxy 1381 in his verbose preamble that “Throughout the composition I have filled up defects and struck out superfluities, and in telling a rather long tale I have spoken briefly and narrated once for all a complicated story,” it is important to state clearly, as Luigi Prada did recently, that the preservation of the Greek text in comparison to the Egyptian version does not really allow for such far-reaching conclusions.
Another interesting case is the Book of the Temple, which was originally composed in Middle Egyptian, later translated into Demotic and finally into Greek.35 All three versions are attested from the second century CE, language preference apparently depended from the abilities of the users. While the Hieratic
While indeed the majority of papyri from Oxyrhynchus are in Greek, there were of course temples of Egyptian deities there, particularly the main temple for Thoeris, and from the library
But not only religious texts were translated. Even for a legal manual, the so-called Codex Hermopolis
The interesting question is of course whether any translations from Greek into Egyptian can be found. Currently, the present author is aware only of one text explicitly claiming to be a translation from the Greek, namely an unpublished letter in Demotic language, but Hieratic
Apart from this, for the trilingual Ptolemaic decrees it has been proposed that their texts were originally composed in Greek and then translated into Demotic and a patchwork language written in Hieroglyphs
In fact, the Greek origin of these texts can even help to explain the presence of the Hieroglyphic patchwork version, as it ties in very well with the fascination of Greeks with the different Egyptian types of writing.43 Apparently, it was then felt that also the linguistic character of the two Egyptian versions needed to be slightly different, a stance that otherwise is never attested in the Egyptian material.44 Never, with one exception, that is. The exception is the two funerary Rhind papyri
That Demotic-Greek bilingual
Probably the most striking bilingual
Although both versions basically convey the same ideas, written once in Greek and once in Demotic, it is questionable whether one can rightfully claim this as a translation proper. At any rate, this is a stela containing a sort of riddle, with crossword elements and acrostic parts, both in Demotic and in Greek,49 which was set up to glorify Osiris in fulfillment of a vow. The purpose was “proclaiming it to Greeks and natives (Ἕλλησι καὶ ἐνδαπίοισιν)” as the Greek texts puts it or, in the Demotic version “to the men of Egypt and the Greeks (r nȝ rmt.w-n-Kmy nȝ Wynn)”—note the changed order, by the way! One part in each language is written acrostically, giving the name of the dedicator. In the Greek it is stated that the number of lines corresponds to the number of the muses—and indeed Moschionos just gives nine letters to start the lines with. Unfortunately, in the Demotic, the entity to which the number of lines is equivalent, has been lost due to damage. As is it in fact seven lines, the seven Hathors seem to be a likely choice, but there would be other possibilities. At any rate, the letters Mskyȝn would only have filled six lines. Now, groups of six deities are not easily to be found in Egyptian religion, in contrast to groups of seven, which are rather frequent.50 So what to do? Of course, in Demotic one could write a name with a person determinative at the end. However, that would not have fitted well into an acrostic. Instead, the scribe who composed the text resorted to a stroke of genius. He wrote not the person determinative, but the animal determinative, which fitted the literal meaning of Moschion “calf.” In fact, somewhere else in the Demotic part,51 Moschion’s
For literary texts in the narrower sense there is no secure evidence whatsoever that Greek material was translated into Egyptian. Rather, it seems the Egyptian priests put their Greek to good use and read Homer
In fact, it is very likely that some priests not only translated older Egyptian texts into Greek, but that they even composed new texts in the lingua franca of the period, not unlike a modern German scholar giving a paper at a conference in Germany in English for the sake of international colleagues. A well-known example of this is of course the famous Manetho already in the earlier Ptolemaic period,54 but it is likely that there were in fact many more such cases. A documented Roman Period example would be Chaeremon, although he is a special case as he lived in Rome at least during a part of his life.55 Isidoros of Narmouthis, the author of the hymns
In the literature, it was questioned whether Isidoros
With Egyptians like Manetho, and others who composed texts in Greek or translated traditional material into Greek, the world of Egyptian thought and culture was in principle open to international dissemination. And indeed this is what happened in many fields. A good example is the recipe for Kyphi, a prized incense mixture used in the Egyptian cult for fumigations.57 Two versions of this recipe are attested in the temple texts of Edfu, one of them with a parallel in Philae. Manetho is credited with a Greek treatise on its production, which unfortunately is lost. Nevertheless, many other later Greek authors gave such recipes, which are likely ultimately to have derived from Manetho’s account, even if they tend to be embellished and expanded more and more over time, eventually up until the thirteenth century CE. The version in Galen
Thus, particularly in the field of the sciences
For the modern researcher, this means of course two things. For the Egyptologist, it means that he or she need to take Greek sources (or even sources in other languages like Latin or the like, derived from lost Greek sources) much more seriously. There is no point in ignoring any document because it is supposedly “Greek” rather than “Egyptian,” as is unfortunately still done too often. For the Classicist, on the other hand, it means that claims about supposed Egyptian concepts or even the translation of an Egyptian original also need to be taken much more seriously than is usually the case. It has long been customary to reject such claims by ancient authors as topoi without any reality. However, as more and more hard evidence for that very reality crops up, it seems high time for a change of attitude.
In the later Roman period, Greek dominated more and more in all fields of Egyptian society. In everyday communication, it is likely that even speakers of Egyptian language interspersed a great deal of their sentences with Greek vocabulary
The next logical step is of course to switch to Greek letters for writing the Egyptian words, adding a few letters for sounds not available in Greek. This is precisely what had been done already for a while in the context of magical
At any rate, in Coptic, the multilingualism of Egyptian and Greek has given rise to a single new language comprising elements of both its parent languages. While in terms of grammar it retains many structures of Egyptian, the Greek elements are by no means limited to nouns and other such clearcut lexical features. Even within Coptic, the extent of Greek influence is fluid, depending, for example, on the particular dialect
While there is still multilingualism between Coptic and Greek proper,69 in the Byzantine
This paper was prepared with the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft during a fellowship at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg of the Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen, for which I would like to thank all involved parties very much. I also would like to thank I. S. Moyer, L. Prada and J. F. Quack very much for having sent me unpublished manuscripts relating to several of the texts discussed here.
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A good indicator for this are the Egyptian-style red verse points added to two mythological texts among the cuneiform tablets found in Amarna, see Izre’el (1997, 43–61, pl. XIX–XXX).
A fine example is given in Vittmann (2003, 106–110, figure 47). Apart from the inscriptions, the stela in question shows other interesting details, particularly the strange tail at the lower end of the winged sun-disk, which makes it look very similar to the winged lower part of the typical representation of the Persian deity Ahuramazda.
On the coexistence of the two juridical systems, see now in extenso Lippert (2008, 85–189). Despite its modest title, this publication contains the most up-to-date evaluation of the sources.
It was recently explained by Huß (1990) with a possible Egyptian mother, whose existence, however, cannot be proven.
See Wilcken (1927, 635–636 (no. 148)), somewhat differing interpretation by Remondon (1964). While Remondon’s comments on the strictly philological details have some merit, his musings about the cultural background betray more his own prejudices than adding anything to the understanding of the text. For example, his view that the text would testify to the Greeks wanting to maintain an unchanged Egypt, thereby depriving both the Egyptian medicine of the chance to progress via Hellenization as well as restraining the expansion of Greek science in Egypt (p. 144) seems to the present writer a rather desperate craving for negativity not justified by any evidence in the actual document. Apparently, it never occured to Remondon that native Egyptian medicine could indeed have had any real value in itself. Contrast the study by Stephan (2005). The latter, however, sadly only relies on the medical papyri of the older periods (New Kingdom and earlier). For a true review of the question, of course, a comparison with medical treatises composed or at least copied in the Late and Greco-Roman periods would be in order.
For a long time, it had been assumed that no foreigners were allowed to serve as Egyptian priests. By now, it is clear that this is not true. For a general discussion, see e.g. Vittmann (1998), to which can now be added several more examples, see the following notes and references.
And certainly not classical Middle Egyptian at that!
Ryholt (2009). Quack (2009) to the contrary thinks that the Greek text might have been a translation of the great dialogue between Pharao and Imhotep on the theological interpretation of the temple decoration (unpublished fragments in Florence). The latter he thinks moreover to be possibly related to the text published by Erichsen and Schott (1954). Currently, though, none of these hypotheses can be proven.
There is no need that “sacred scriptures” need to be in Hieratic, let alone Hieroglyphs, as some Egyptologists might object.
While for the texts presented below both Greek and Egyptian versions are preserved, for others a similar situation cannot be proven positively, but may still be inferred from philological details of the Greek versions. For two likely cases see Jasnow (1997) and Quack (2003). On the whole question see Quack (2009, 4–6, 32–34).
Unpublished, personal observation. A joint publication of this material by J. F. Quack and myself is planned in the series Texts from Excavations. Preliminary presentation in Quack (2016a).
To be published by J. F. Quack.
Born in 68 BCE, he might very well have been involved in such an enterprise even if up to now there is no trilingual decree attested that late in the Ptolemaic period.
Stela Turin 1764, see Hutmacher (1965), Bernand (1992b, 106–109; 1992a, 109–115), Farid (1995, 289; 1993, 49, pl. 17) and Vleeming (2001, 130, no. 156). Contrary to the claims copied throughout the literature, the stela that was reused for the decree certainly did not date to the New Kingdom originally. For stylistic reasons in relation to the deities remaining from the original design, it must have dated to the Late Period, possibly the twenty-fifth dynasty (as the published photos are rather bad, a better dating is difficult).
For the development, see Feder (2004). The problem with such assessments is that for most of the time, one has to rely on either literary texts, which were likely originally to have been composed long before their actual attestation, see e.g. Quack (2002), or with documentary texts, which tend to be very formulaic. Thus, Greek loanwords have little possibility of creeping into the documentation, even with no conscious effort to avoid them, as has been supposed, for example, by Clarysse (1987) and Vandorpe and Clarysse (1998).
In fact, the texts on some of the later Narmouthis ostraca could linguistically already be called Coptic, just that they retain the Demotic script for the Egyptian words.