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Dr. Gideon Bohak (Tel-Aviv), "The Diffusion of the Greco-Egyptian Magical Tradition in Late Antiquity"

The abundance, and wide geographical, chronological and linguistic distribution of magical texts and artefacts from late antiquity, enable a detailed study of the diffusion and cross-fertilization of the different magical traditions active at the time. In the present paper, I wish to examine the spread of the Greco-Egyptian magical tradition -- as known to us, for example, from the Greek and Demotic-Greek magical papyri -- a tradition characterized by a unique Egypto-Greek iconography, by the recurrent recourse to Egyptian and Greek deities and myths, and by a distinct set of voces magicae. That this magical idiom -- whose origins lie in Ptolemaic or early-Roman Egypt -- spread far beyond the Roman province of Egypt is made clear by the presence of Greco-Egyptian defixiones, magical gems, and related artefacts in late-antique Athens, Rome, Carthage, and many other locations. Moreover, this wide diffusion is reflected in the many stories found in Greek and Latin literature of Egyptian priests and magicians plying their trade throughout the Roman empire. And yet, this novel magical idiom did not automatically replace the many local magical traditions, and in numerous cases we find magical artefacts (such as, for example, the defixiones from Bath) which display little contact with the Greco-Egyptian magical technology. Moreover, side-by-side with the spread of the Greco-Egyptian magical tradition we see at least two other magical traditions -- the Jewish and the Christian -- which enjoyed a wide diffusion throughout much of the Roman empire. In conceiving the relations between these different magical traditions, we may speak of the mechanics of cross-cultural contacts, transformation, and competition in the “global village” of the Roman empire. In my paper, I shall examine these processes, with specific attention

Dr. Livia Capponi (Newcastle) "A multicultural party. The translation of the Septuagint and the Ptolemaia of Philadelphus in Egypt"

My paper will look at the context of the translation of the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, at the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, king of Egypt (283-246 BC), with the help of his adviser, Demetrius Phalereus. The translation was completed by seventy-two Jewish elders who were invited to Alexandria from Jerusalem. Before working at translation, the Jewish sages were entertained by King Ptolemy with a banquet lasting one week, during which they discussed philosophical and theological matters; then, they withdrew to a secluded area on the island of Pharos, opposite Alexandria, to work in peace, away from impurities. Subsequently, the translation was approved by Demetrius and welcomed by the representatives of the Jewish community (poli/teuma) of Alexandria and by the king himself. The principal source for the story of the translation is an anonymous work, the Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates, written probably by an Alexandrian Jew in the second half of the II century BC, and summarised by Josephus in Book 12 of his Jewish Antiquities. In addition, in the Life of Moses, Philo of Alexandria tells us that still in his time (1st century AD) the Jews, along with many peoples of different provenance came every year to the island of Pharos to celebrate the translation in a religious festival (panh/gurij). Why should foreign, gentile nations go to Egypt to celebrate the translation of the Bible? What was the reason for this multi-cultural festival – never mentioned in the Hebrew sources – that Philo alluded to? In my paper I suggest that the Letter of Aristeas, Philo and Josephus were all reticent on the real context of the translation of the Bible, which was probably a Ptolemaic religious festival. This festival is to be identified with the Ptolemaia described by Kallixeinos of Rhodes (3rd c. BC) in the Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus of Naukratis (2nd c. AD). From Epiphanius, bishop of Cyprus (5th c. AD) we are informed that Ptolemy Philadelphus' initiative concerning the translation of the Bible was not confined to the Jews. Ptolemy invited to Alexandria many other nations, including Elamites, Persians, Phoenicians and Indians, and ordered them to carry their own national mythologies, to be stored in the Alexandrian Library. On this occasion, probably, Philadelphus also ordered an official translation in Greek of the traditional Egyptian legal code, the Demotic Legal Code, preserved in the papyri.

Prof. John Dillery (Virginia), "Contexts of Translation and Production: the Case of Manetho"

Prof. John Gee (Utah), "Demotic, Greek and Coptic"

Demotic and Coptic are generally viewed as separate and sequential phases of the Egyptian language. Some have even posited a gap of centuries between the two during which time Greek was used. This may not, however, be the most accurate or productive way to view the languages in question. The earliest dated Coptic inscription comes from 200 BC while the latest Demotic inscription is dated to AD 457. This indicates an overlap of over six hundred years when both Demotic and Coptic were in use. I will analyze selected aspects of the overlap between Demotic and Coptic in vocabulary, and syntax, the roll both of the Greek language plays and of certain historical events.

Prof. Richard Jasnow (Johns Hopkins University), "'Between Two Waters'. The Book of Thoth and the Problem of Graeco-Egyptian Cultural Interaction"

In my talk I wish to explore the Book of Thoth within the context of Graeco-Egyptian literary or cultural interaction. I first briefly describe the nature and background of the composition. I then treat, very concisely and by means of examples, the problems involved in establishing connections between Demotic and Greek literary/religious texts. Next I will present several specifically "Greek" features with regard to the Book of Thoth and the environment whence it derives. Finally, I focus on several fundamental themes of the Book of Thoth which might "resonate" in classical spheres. These are: Thoth, Imhotep, and the House of Life (and topics or images related to the House of Life).

Prof. Ivan Ladynin (Moscow), "Virtual History Egyptian Style: the Isolationist Concept of the Potter's Oracle and its Alternative"

The specific object of the present communication is the Potter's Oracle (P. Graf = Vienna G.29787; P. Rainer = Vienna G.19813; P. Oxy. 2332; etc.) highlighted as a specimen of not merely ideological and religious but also a historical concept. Its description of Egypt's calamities and the prophecy on the advent of a legitimate king as their remedy are well-known as belated replicas of the earlier Egyptian texts, especially the Prophecy of Neferti. However, the setting of the Potter's Oracle is the court of the King Amenophis known otherwise from the stories about the 'second Hyksos' invasion' of Egypt at the writings by Manetho (Ios. Flav. C.Ap. I. 26. §§ 232-251= FGrH. 609. F. 10) and Chaeremon of Alexandria (id. §§ 288-292 = FGrH. 618. F.1). Hence, the 'potter's oracle' itself, as planned by the author of the text, must have described a situation specific (corresponding in the historical reality to the Macedonian rule) but by no means unique and occurred in the Egyptian history, to say the least, twice (during the original 'first' and the 'second' Hyksos invasions). The denotation 'city by the sea' is applied specifically to Alexandria but the denotation 'Typhonians' is given to the foreign invaders after the name of god (Typhon = Seth) who is connected with all population of the world outside Egypt, without exemplifying any exact people or land. Moreover, the 'happy ending' prophesized by the potter is rather humble, if compared to traditional Egyptian military texts: he foretells no total victory over the 'Typhonians', or the submission of their lands but merely their expulsion out of Egypt. One should pay attention to the importance given to the return of gods' statues 'imprisoned' in Alexandria – a detail appeared in the text due to Egypt's long contact in the 1st Millennium B.C. with stronger Near Eastern empires. However, still more important is the 'historical conclusion' derived from this experience by the author of the text and, probably, in the prototype of Manetho's and Chaeremon's stories: contacts with the world outside Egypt are no good, the isolationist attitude to it is the best course (probably, because Egypt is not strong enough to achieve something better while a defeat by foreigners costs it too much). This view is blatantly contrasted by another prophecy and its realization in the Romance of Alexander (PsCall. A: I, 4.5, 34.5): Alexander is portrayed there as a 'new Sesonchosis', i.e. an incarnation of a Pharaoh creator of the world empire, which was lost to foreigners but bound to return under Egyptian sway. Affinity with the Prophecy of Neferti can again be discussed here (the king Ameni was foretold to restore order in Egypt and Alexander throughout the world empire with Egypt as its center); however, when this imperial illusion about the benefit of Macedonian rule vanished, another, 'isolationist', historical concept gained the upper hand in the Potter's Oracle and similar texts.

Dr. Nikolaos Lazaridis (American University of Cairo), "Different Parallels, Different Interpretations. Reading Parallels between Ancient Egyptian and Greek Works of Literature"

In this paper I will present a number of textual and linguistic parallels identified in Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek literary works, in an attempt to argue that the interpretation of such parallels differs according to (a) their typology and (b) the nature of textual and cultural context within which they are found. The examples which I will be using to illustrate these differences in typology and context will be drawn from a wide variety of works of literature, such as Egyptian narratives and instructions compared to Greek novels and gnomic anthologies. Some of the exemplary parallels which will be presented, like, for instance, that between the Egyptian Myth of the Eye of the Sun and the Aesopic tales, are already known to the scholarly circles. In such cases the previous scholarly interpretations of these parallel passages will be examined and revised. In other cases I will bring forth new examples of parallel passages between Egyptian and Greek works of literature, which I have identified in the course of my doctoral studies on Ancient Egyptian and Greek wisdom. By presenting and studying such parallels I opt for identifying the most significant factors that must be considered by scholars before approaching literary parallels between two ancient cultures and interpreting them as signs for cultural contact.

Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones and Stephanie Winder (Edinburgh), "A Key to Berenike's Lock"

Taking as a starting point Callimachus' famous text “The Lock of Berenike”, this paper explores how Berenike II, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes, exploited Egyptian theological narrative (in literature and iconography) for propagandistic purposes. This paper argues that in her pursuit to be recognized as the undisputed first lady of Egypt, Berenike, at a time of great political unrest and insecurity, drew upon the image of Hathor, protective goddess of the Egyptian throne, to bolster her status at court and within the Ptolemaic empire as a whole. This new interpretation goes beyond the established scholarly opinion that early Ptolemaic royal women identified themselves with Isis-Aphrodite, by showing that, during the difficult period surrounding the Third Syrian War, Berenike's acumen in terms of her personal propaganda, allowed her to carve out an independent royal identity and to escape from the dominating shadow of Arsinoe II (who was firmly linked to Isis in royal cult practice). In addition, by drawing on established Egyptian conceptions of divinity, monarchy, and gender, embodied in the figure of Hathor of Denderah, Berenike II was able to ratify her status as Euergetes' queen. This paper draws on a variety of Greco-Egyptian sources, including Greek poetry, mosaics, and coins, and Egyptian temple texts (Pharaonic and Ptolemaic) and reliefs: Berenike's full armoury in her campaign of self-promotion.

Dr. Kim Ryholt (Copenhagen), "The Context of Translation of Egyptian Texts into Greek in the Greco-Roman Period"

Prof. Susan Stephens (Stanford), "Plato, the Republic and Egypt"

The argument of this paper is that Plato and Isocrates (and probably all of fourth century philosophical writers) looked to Egypt as a model against which to position Athenian radical democracy. Plato's classes in the Republic are Egyptian, and Plato's concept of justice as immanent order and lawfulness equates with the Egyptian ma'at.

Prof. John Tait (UCL), "Problems of Translation and Adaptation in Greek-Egyptian Literature as Issues of Languaculture"

Dr. Gaelle Tallet (Lille) "Mandulis Apollo: Echoes of Greek Culture and Hellenism in Talmis (Nubia) in the Roman Period"

As G. W. Bowersock points out in his Thomas Spencer Jerome Lectures on Hellenism in Late Antiquity, the question of Greek culture outside of Greece in the Roman and Byzantine Period is of crucial importance in the understanding of the Western Roman Empire. In Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Arabia and Egypt, the Greek language and traditions merged with local cultures that were both powerful and enduring. Hellenism appeared in the Empire as a very flexible cultural and linguistic medium, that provided local cultures with new ways of expression. including a language, an intellectual and literary tradition and a corpus of myths and images, alongside rites and social practices. In relation to this, a set of Greek inscriptions from the temple of the Nubian god Mandulis in Talmis-Kalabchah caught the interest of many scholars after they were published by H. Gauthier in 1910. A. D. Nock, H. Lewy, S. M. Burstein, F. Dunand and É. Bernand provided detailed studies of one or another of the poetical pieces painted on the walls of the courtyard of the temple of Mandulis around the 2nd or 3rd Century AD. The commentators stressed the highly sophisticated – though somewhat awkward – use of Greek metrics and references – especially quotations from Hesiodus's Works and Days – while also underlining the traditional and theological Egyptian background of these very special proscynemata. For A. D. Nock, they were no doubt elaborated by a high ranking Roman officer visiting the neighbouring garrison of Talmis, fascinated, like many young Greek or Roman men, by Egyptian civilization and knowledge. I intend to show that a learned officer or traveller from Rome would hardly have been allowed to inscribe those texts in a working Egyptian temple, and that priestly control would have been, in any case, a sine qua non condition. Furthermore, I feel that these Greek hymns dedicated to a very local god with oracular powers – as the Egyptian texts show – were composed in Egyptian priestly circles. They show how involved in Hellenism the Egyptian priests were, as early as the 2nd or 3rd Century AD. They were familiar not only with the literary images, poetical forms and classical references of Greek culture, but also with its philosophical traditions. We see, for example, that the Nubian god Mandulis is compared both with Apollo the foreteller and with Aiôn, the Greek figure of Eternity. To my eyes, this sophisticated articulation of Greek and Egyptian theological and philosophical speculations can be explained in highly practical terms. In times of restriction of priestly privileges, when temples were probably compelled to call for private and local patronage (as D. Frankfurter forcefully argues), these developed proscynemata, inscribed in verse (amidst most traditional pieces thanking the god for answering prayers), may have worked as an attractive message addressed to the Roman soldiers of Talmis and acting as a good advertisement for the local oracle

Prof. Steve Vinson (SUNY), "Good and Bad Women in Greek and Egyptian Literature"

Because many of the Greek extended prose narratives traditionally referred to as the "Greek novel" or "Greek romance" are replete with Egyptianizing material, the problem of the relationship – if any – between these tales and Egyptian oral or written literature has attracted substantial scholarly interest. Two aspects of this problem may be identified. Some scholars, most prominently Reinhold Merkelbach, have argued that Greek novels are nothing other than thinly-disguised re-tellings of the myth of Isis and Osiris, or of other divinities who figured in the "mystery cults" of Graeco-Roman antiquity, and that the novels were intended specifically for use by initiates into the mysteries. While this interpretation of the corpus has not found broad acceptance, it has been more widely conceded that a general cultural relationship exists between the themes and structures of the Greek novels and the general religious concerns and mythological underpinnings of mystery religions. On this view, the problem of the relationship of Greek novels with Egyptian or Graeco-Egyptian religious discourse resolves itself into a more general problem of defining the extent to which, the ways in which, and the reasons why Egyptian topoi, motifs, narrative structures or even entire plots may have jumped from the Egyptian cultural stream into the stream of Greek literature. A new approach to this question may be found in an examination of how Demotic tales may reflect religious preoccupations that also find expression in cults like that of Isis and Osiris, and I propose to consider the characters of the Ptolemaic "First Tale of Setne Khaemwas (First Setne)" on this basis. While the male characters Naneferkaptah and Merib can be interestingly compared to Osiris and Horus-the-Child (Harpokrates) respectively, the two female characters, Ihweret and Tabubue, are of even greater interest. Ihweret and Tabubue resonate strongly with Isis in her two aspects: as a benign, mother/sister figure, and as a threatening, punishing divinity concerned with justice and vengeance against the enemies of Osiris and of Horus. Superficially-similar dichotomies between "good" and "bad" women have been observed in Greek novelistic fiction, especially Heliodorus' Aithiopika. In the Aithiopika, it may be possible to regard the heroine Charikleia is an Isis-like figure who is not dissimilar in function and characterization to “First Setne's” Ihweret. However, the negative females of the Aithiopika – Rhadopis and Arsake, most especially – are not really comparable to Tabubue. While Tabubue's own Isis-like characteristics mark her as an ultimately positive character, the femmes fatales of the Aithiopika are completely evil, and function in ways substantially different from the role Tabubue plays in "First Setne." There is, therefore, no simple correspondence between the views of the nature of the feminine taken in "First Setne" or in Egyptian literature dealing directly with Isis on the one hand, and in the Aithiopika on the other. That said, the similarities between Ihweret and Charikleia may support the notion that the Aithiopika could nevertheless be partially rooted in stories of Isis and Osiris – even if indirectly via Egyptian tales like "First Setne" whose narratology is strongly influenced by the myth, and even if substantially simplified and popularized.

Nick West (Reading), "Murdered, Dismembered and Hellenized: The Plight of Osiris and His Myth in Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride"

Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride has been described as either a representation of the Hellenized Isis cult in Roman Alexandria or alternatively as a discourse asserting the priority of Hellenic philosophy and reason over the barbarous Egyptian religious understanding and practice. While the former hypothesis by Scott-Moncrieff suggests that Plutarch believed he was describing traditional Egyptian religious practice and failed to discern the Hellenized nature of the cult, Richter advocates the latter hypothesis, that Plutarch's account was concerned with returning cultural supremacy back to the Greeks by postulating a Greek origin for the name 'Isis' and using Greek philosophy to illuminate the true nature of the Egyptian religious doctrine. Seemingly, the content of the Osiris Myth as collated by Plutarch is of secondary importance. Pinch has also deemed the account of the myth as 'damaging' to the study of native Egyptian mythology. It is true that to include Plutarch's version of the Osiris Myth amongst other native Egyptian versions in modern anthologies without stressing the differences of source or language is unhelpful. Similarly, to give precedence to Plutarch's myth above other less complete Egyptian versions can be deceptive to readers not familiar with the nature of the sources. In this paper, however, I would like to challenge the hypotheses given above. I intend to demonstrate that Plutarch's version of the Osiris Myth is not in the least 'damaging' to the study of Egyptian mythology by tracing Plutarch's sources and the possible transmission of his version in the De Iside et Osiride from native Egyptian sources. The result of this inquiry will also indicate that Plutarch was not so much attacking the barbarity of Egyptian religious thought but rather the accounts of previous Greek writers on the subject of the Osiris Cult.

Ian Rutherford (Reading), "Primaeval Eggs and Mythopoetic Bricolage: Orpheus and Egypt"

In his 2002 edition of the demotic mythological narrative "On the Primeval Ocean" Mark Smith discusses a demotic cosmogonic text describing a primaeval cosmic egg, apparently brought into existence by the four winds (pp.208-11). Smith considers, but rejects, the possibility that there is a link between these and the role of cosmic eggs in the branch of Greco-Roman religion known as Orphism. This paper offers a revaluation of the relationship between Orphism and Egyptian religion. Beginning with Herodotus, ancient Greek writers affirm that ancient Greek "Orphic religion" drew on Egyptian sources, and modern authorities have endorsed this view, at least to a limited extent. Three areas of similarity stand out in particular: 1. Orphic views about the afterlife could well reflect distant knowledge of Egypt, possibly via Phoenician intermediaries (Burkert.2004); 2. The role of Demeter/Rhea in reviving the infant Dionysus may well reflect the role of Isis in reassembling the body of Osiris (Graf and Johnston.2007, 76); and 3. It has been claimed that Orphic cosmogonies reflect Egyptian elements, specifically: a. Morenz.1954 argued that the notion of a cosmic egg, possibly engendered by the winds, may have been inspired by the role of cosmic eggs and cosmic winds in Egyptian mythology; b. West.1983, 105 etc suggests that the figure of Re, with the uraeus-snake on his head, lies behind the figure of Time in the Orphic cosmogony and also the figure of Protogonos, who had a serpent on his head c. Burkert.2004 has suggested that the idea of the gods of the first generation amalgamating inside the body of Zeus suggests the coalescence of primeval deities in early Egyptian cosmogony. Individually, these points are not convincing, but taken together, they are more convincing. We should not expect to find in texts of this period direct citation of Egyptian cosmogonies, as we do in elite or magical texts from the Roman period (cf. e.g. Brize.2003; Bergman.1984). Instead, what we seem to find is a borrowing of key features of Egyptian cosmogony by the Greek ritual specialists who created Orphic cosmology, the process that Graf and Johnson have recently referred to as "bricolage". Works cited J. Bergman, "An Ancient Egyptian Theogony in a Greek Magical Papyrus (PGM VII, II.516-521)", Studies in Egyptian Religion Dedicated to Professor Jan Zandee [Numen Supplements 4] (Leiden, 1982), 28-37 G. Betegh, The Derveni Papyrus: Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation (Cambridge, 2004) M. Brize, "Le Rite et les Larmes du Démiurge. La Cosmogonie de Neith à Esna et ses Parallèlles en Grec", Égypt, Afriue et Orient 29 (2003), 5-10 W. Burkert, Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis: Eastern Conetxts of Greek Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 2004) C. Faraone and E. Teeter, "Egyptian Maat and Hesiodic Metis", Mnemosyne 57 (2004), 177-208 F. Graf and S.I.Johstone, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife. Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets (London, 2007) E. Hornung, "Komposite Gottheiten in der ägyptischen Ikonographie", in C. Uehlinger ed, Images as Media. Sources for the Cultural History of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean (1st millennium BCE) (Göttingen, 2000), 1-20 K. Kristiansen and T. B. Larsson, The Rise of Bronze Age Society (Cambridge, 2005) D. Mendel, Die kosmogonischen Inschriften in der Barkenkapellen des Chonstempels von Karnak (Monographies reine Elisabeth 9) (Turnhout, 2003) S. Morenz, "Ägypten und die altorphische Kosmogonie", in Religion und Geschichte des alten Ägypten: gesammelte Aufsätze (Cologne, 1975), 452-495 (= Aus Antike und Orient. Festschrift für Friedrich Zucker zum 70. Geburtstage (Berlin, 1954), 275-290) M. Smith, On the Primaeval Ocean (= Carlsberg Papyri 5) (Copenhagen, 2002) M. West, Orphic Poems (Oxford, 1982) M. West, "Ab Ovo", CQ 44 (1994), 289-307

For questions about the department please contact the secretary at classics@reading.ac.uk. For queries about our web pages please contact a.c.smith@reading.ac.uk.

Page last updated 14 September 2007

Department of Classics
School of Humanities
University of Reading, Whiteknights
Reading RG6 6AA, UK

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