September 22nd, 2020
The second day of the Annual Interdisciplinary School of Oriental Studies, Ancient Greek and Egyptology opened with the fascinating presentation of Dr Ake Engsheden (Stockholm University), an Introduction to the Coptic Language. Dr Engsheden presented a brief history of the fifth stage of the Egyptian language, employed by Christians in Egypt from the 3rd century AD until around 1100: Coptic, with five different variants of written expression. The stellar scholar presented the structure of the Coptic language, its complex tense system and with particular attention to the peculiar characteristic of the definite article. Although no longer a spoken language, it survives in the liturgy of the Coptic Church. The course was followed by a seminar titled Putting the Pieces Together: a Seminar on Coptic Ostraca, in which the participants deciphered and familiarised themselves with several fragments in the Coptic language, preserved on a series of ostraca at the University of Uppsala.
The practical course held by Dr Andreea Ștefan (National History Museum of Romania) focused on Epictetus’ Diatribes (II, VI). Epictetus (50-138 AD), the Greek-slave-turned-Roman-stoic, established a renowned school in Nikopolis. Under the guidance of Dr Ștefan, the participants covered original passages and proceeded to their translation. At a linguistic level, the texts chosen constitute some of the few preserved testimonies of the spoken form of the Greek language under the Roman Empire. In terms of content, the text illustrates Epictetus’ perspective on Man’s sojourn thorugh Life, and his inevitable confrontation with Death. The author’s vision is predicated upon the stoic distinction between things which depend on Man and things that transcend Man’s power – an understanding of these delineations is the key to a life fulfilled, lived in accordance with human nature.
Professor Renata Tatomir (“Hyperion” University of Bucharest) held a course on The Evolution of Funereal Texts from the Old Kingdom to the Late Period, in which she presented the literature of ancient Egyptian funereal texts (collections of funerary magic-religious documents utilized to aid the spirit of the deceased to linger in the afterlife). Associated with burials of Egyptian elites, these documents evolved over time, from the so-called “Pyramid Texts” of the Old Kingdom, through the so-called “Middle Kingdom Texts” and the various “Books of the Dead”, to yet other texts in the subsequent periods. With the passing of time, access to these funereal writings was expanded from members of the royal household to members of non-royal elites, and later to the segment of the common population who could financially afford ritual burials – a process that has been called “the democratization of the Afterlife”. In the afterlife, the only weapon available to the defunct was the word itself, and therefore all such texts were destined for the spirit of the departed. For example, the Ritual of Resurrection found in the Pyramid of Unas begins with the claim “You did not pass dead; you passed alive”, and concludes with the reassurance that “Your name will continue to live among men even when your name will be with the Gods”.
The proceedings were closed by Professor Tatomir’s seminar, titled Ancient Egyptian Words You Didn’t Know You Knew, which explained the etymologies of certain words that express Egyptian realities, words that carry on into modern Romanian such as “adobe”, “barge”, “ebony”, “ivory”, “pharaoh”, “oasis”, “chemistry”, “ibis” and “sphynx”.