Posts Tagged With: text

Ancient Egyptian Language and Text Workshop 4, Cambridge (AELT)

Last Friday, I spent the day in Cambridge at AELT 4 a.ka. the more luxuriously titled Ancient Egyptian Language and Text Workshop ( The Workshop was set up as a forum for collecting and discussing all the interesting work in progress going on in the world of Egyptology, specifically that of language and text research.  From what I saw of Cambridge, it was a green and pleasant town/city/University, though I did not get time to properly look around. Nor did I get time to fulfil my ambition- if that is the word I am looking for- to have a pint in The Eagle (the pub where Crick went to announce his and Watson’s discovery of the Double Helix. Anyway, that aside, what were the topics up for discussion this time? Here is a quick summary of each talk:

The first session consisted of Luigi Prada (Oxford) discussing his work on Roman Demotic Literary Papyri, following on from his work collecting the many manuscripts he is now engaged in the task of translating them, in his paper he focussed on the addition of diacritic marks in certain verbal constructions particularly the third future.
He was followed by the first Liverpool graduate of the day Jenny Cromwell (Macquarie, Syndey) discussing her work on Coptic texts from the early Islamic period, and the Bigraphism therein. Bigraphism is the use of two languages, Coptic and Greek in this case, in the same document interchangeably.  Bigraphism is (more accurately) the use of two scripts, within the same document, this is done with clear intention and in this case with Greek and Coptic.

Followed by a coffee break, the next session was to be started by Rune Nyord (Cambridge). His paper was an interesting take on the concept of Ka within Ancient Egyptian thought. His analysis was informed by philosophy and linguistics as well as a study of Egyptian Religion- leading to a Hypothesis that a number of concepts may exist until one is selected for the situation and actualised. A neat thought experiment I think you’ll agree.

Alys Cox (UCL) who is also speaking at ICYE, Sofia in a few weeks.  She spoke eloquently on the concept of narratology in Middle and Late Egyptian tales, choosing to focus on the differing styles of narration within these texts.

The final speaker of the morning was the Edwards Professor of Egyptology John Tait (UCL) who spoke about the written structure of Demotic literature and the implications for Oral performance of these texts.

After a lunch brilliantly organised by Amy and Sian we were ready for the afternoon sessions.

The afternoon was opened by Kathryn Piquette of Freie Universitat Berlin. Her paper focussed on an Early dynastic inscribed vessel kept in the Worlds Museum Liverpool (NML 1977-112-29), it came from the collection of Col. Danson. The inscription was enhanced by the RTI- Reflectance Transformation Imaging, taken by Dr Piquette. This method showed the intense detail and working put into creating such a text in such material, also highlighting the information that may be gathered using such a methodology.

Richard Parkinson (British Museum) discussed two issues. Firstly, the challenges of publishing Papyri kept in the British Museum and in Berlin. He spoke about the importance of proper publication of Hieratic documents so that they may be directly accessed by the student and the researcher. The second issue was the method of textual commentary currently employed by Egyptologists. He argued, and I am inclined to agree given my experience reading Egyptian texts, that we have separated the text from its reality in Ancient Egypt. Suggesting that the commentary should follow small sections and that pictures are not only reserved for children’s books. The understanding of these texts would then be immensely improved. ( “The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant: A Reader’s Commentary”, Lingua Aegyptia Studia Monographica 10, is out now).

Before the last coffee break, Angela McDonald (Glasgow) spoke about the so-called “Letters to the dead”. After a wider study of texts which may be called “letters”/appeals to the dead. In this detailed study, a few eccentricities of the writing on these artefacts. For example the unusual spiral of writing, the flipping of signs and flattery through choice of signs. Through a close examination of these long known texts thus carry clever implications of the ritual practices associated with these artefacts.

My doctoral supervisor Roland Enmarch (Liverpool) spoke about his field work with Ian Shaw. His fieldwork is focussed on the inscriptions and graffiti in the travertine (Egyptian Alabaster) quarry at Hatnub. This paper discussed the preliminary findings of their survey, including the current destruction of these monuments.

The final talk of the day was given by John Ray (Cambridge). His polemical piece discussed the current state of linguistics and philology in Egyptology, as well as his desires for future development of the study of Egyptian texts. My abiding memory of his talk was his advice to read George Orwell’s essays if we are to gain a more readable type of language discussion. So from Books vs Cigarettes to AELT…

Overall, the  5 is to be held in Oxford in May next year.

Categories: Egyptology | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

BM EA 589- The Punishment of Neferabu

BM EA 589 "recto"

This is the first of many Texts from Ancient Egypt that I will post on here in translation. They will probably gravitate towards the research I am performing on personal religion. This text comes from an inscribed stela from Deir el-Medina, and details Neferabu’s experience of the divine punishment of Ptah. This stela, BM EA 589,  forms part of the “personal piety” corpus of the New Kingdom and dates from around the time of Ramesses II. It is also unusual for the fact that it is inscribed with text on both sides.

It is housed in the British Museum and is only small at  39 cm x 8cm x 5cm. It was probably placed in the Ptah sanctuary on the path from Deir el-Medina (the village of the workmen working in the valley) to the Valley of the Kings (the place of truth that is mentioned in the text). The “recto”/front of the stela shows the owner Neferabu (in the bottom right) adoring Ptah, who is sat in front of a table of offerings.The upper register also shows a number of carved ears, so that Ptah may hear the call of Neferabu.  The lower register of the front is a short hymn to Ptah. However, the part of this artefact that I am focussing on in this post is the text inscribed on the “verso”/back of the stela (shown at the bottom of this post). So here’s what it says:

BM EA 589 “verso”

The beginning of the recital of the power of Ptah, of his south wall, by the servant in the place of truth in the west of Thebes, Neferabu, the justified.

He says:

“I am a man who swore falsely by Ptah, Lord of Truth- he caused me say darkness by day.

I will speak of his power to those who know him and those who do not know him,

to the small and the great!

Beware of Ptah, Lord of Truth!

Look, he has not overlooked the  misdeeds of anyone,

avoid swearing on the name of Ptah in falsehood.

Look, whoever says it in falsehood is overthrown!”

“He caused me to be like the dogs in the street,

my being in his hand.

He caused men and gods to look upon me as a man who has transgressed against his lord.

Ptah, Lord of Truth was true against me, as he taught me a lesson.

Be merciful to me, so that I may see your mercy!”

By the servant in the Place of Truth in the west of Thebes, Neferabu, the justified before the great god.

(Translation by D.M.Potter)

This text is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, it discusses the divine punishment of an individual. From the text it appears that through taking a false oath, Neferabu is punished by Ptah. This punishment takes the form of “seeing darkness by day”, whether this means temporary blindness or a lack of divine presence is up to questioning. Language wise there are also a number of illuminating points. 1) there is a fantastic pun of iway n iwyt(the dogs in the street) 2) Ptah has “taught me a lesson” works in a modern an ancient sense and 3) “my being in his hand” is written in a sense of possession and control, in the Teaching of Amenemope it also says that one should not “make fun of a man who is in the hand of god”.

The final thing that should be noted is that Neferabu did not learn his lesson, as  he got himself into trouble again with the godess Meretseger. This interaction is inscribed in the text of Turin N 50058

BM EA 589 "verso"

For more information about this text and the other texts of the personal piety corpus see the following:

Galan, J.M. (1999), ‘Seeing Darkness’, Chronique D’Égypte, 74, 18-30.

Baines, J. and Frood, E. (2011), ‘Piety, Change and Display in the New Kingdom’, in M.A. and Snape Collier, S.R. (ed.), Ramesside Studies in Honour of K.A. Kitchen; Bolton: Rutherford Press, 1-18.

Borghouts, J.L. (1982), ‘Divine Intervention in Ancient Egypt and its Manifestation (bAw)’, in R.J. Demaree, And Janssen, J.J. (ed.), Gleanings from Deir el-Medina; Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1-70.

AND for full information on the artefact from the British Museum:

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