In the current context in Romania, with extremely few exceptions, national projects aiming to revivify the study of Classical and Oriental languages are almost entirely non-existent. Romanian universities offer only two Departments of Classical (Graeco-Latin) Philology, at the Universities of Bucharest and Iași – to say nothing of Syriac, a field only on offer as an optional extra at several universities in the country. As for a fundamental course on Egyptology as a primary subject of study – a course that follows a previous one on hieroglyphic Egyptian writing and is succeeded by a special and mandatory course on Egyptian Antiquity – such a specialisation has only come about as the result of a recent project, only three years in the running, initiated by the “Hyperion” University of Bucharest. In turn, the study of Hebrew is very poorly represented (by the University of Bucharest), and has too little an echo and impact on future intellectuals.
Therefore, the few young people in Romania wishing to dedicate themselves to the study of these fields of incredible complexity are faced with various obstacles caused primarily by the lack of available funding for the encouragement of specialistic and doctoral studies but also by the lack of interest and demand for such rare academic competences on the labour market. In some cases (Syriac), the issues are compounded by the lack of available undergraduate or Masters study programmes to aid those interested in acquiring in-depth knowledge in their chosen field, not to mention any potential interdisciplinary activities. At least in the case of Classical Philology, the same situation can be found at the international level, where there are very few centres of prestigious academic tradition dedicated to researching these fields and offering competencies linked to a single speciality instead of a global perspective. In the case of Egyptology and Oriental Studies (Hebrew, Syriac), the international situation is yet better, owing both to the impressive quantity of uncovered or soon-to-be discovered archaeological material and to the developed world’s centennial fascination with the civilizations of Ancient Egypt and of the Ancient Near East – states that can also afford the luxury and generosity to invest considerable sums in the training and formation of scholars with a passion for researching these civilizations.
A thorough understanding of historical processes, mentalities and the representations of power that underpinned the development of these civilizations over the course of seven millennia of continuously shifting dynamics is the foundation on which any subsequent contemporary identification of solutions for peaceful cohabitation, collaboration and development in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Despite being unfortunately considered a useless luxury, the formation of specialists is also proving critical to our Romanian society characterised for the past three decades by petty opportunism driven by immediate gains and rampant individualism. The consequences of this intellectual opacity, this lack of engagement and understanding of the Other and of the penury of specialists that could facilitate the opening of society to these profound millennial phenomena are drastic, and visible across the world – sparking wars, armed stand-offs, religious conflicts, xenophobia, underdevelopment, poverty and illiteracy.
To paraphrase a Mediaeval author, Bernard of Chartres, the modern European civilization is a mere dwarf resting on the shoulders of the giants of Antiquity. The interaction between these giant ancient cultures – in chronological order, Egyptian, Oriental (Syriac), Greek and later Roman – took place in the Levantine space, the cradle of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions. The nurturing and sustaining lifeblood of European civilization comes from Greek Antiquity, nestled around the Mediterranean basin, where the world’s political and economical systems, alongside philosophy, science and the arts, were all developed and perfected. Conversely, beyond the continuous European fascination with the region, the civilizations of Ancient Egypt and the Near East have long been the cradle of mankind, supplying the roots without which the later European civilization, built on the Graeco-Roman model, could never have existed. The geopolitics of the Levant has served to continuously distil these civilizational systems until the present, in a permanent melting pot of mentalities, cultural and artistic influences and religious and spiritual syncretism, their catalysts either peaceful commercial and cultural connections or military conflict.
In order to reach a global understanding of the multicultural models of the Levantine space, we must refrain from perpetuating existing cliches and prejudice, and focus on a thorough investigation of primary sources, a knowledge of source languages and of modern methodologies by which to approach them.
In this millennial, complex and effervescent cultural, political, religious and economic context, we now launch the Annual Interdisciplinary School of Oriental Studies, Ancient Greek and Egyptology, outlining its mission to aid in the formation of young specialists that can tackle the inestimable cultural heritage distilled in the Levant in an interdisciplinary perspective, through the interplay of different dynamics of millennial civilizations that also underpin the foundations of European culture.
The School’s first edition will focus on the theme of Life and Death in Antiquity.
The Programme of the Annual Interdisciplinary School of Oriental Studies, Ancient Greek and Egyptology consists of introductory lectures given by Romanian and foreign specialists in the field, covering the interdisciplinary landscape necessary for the study of these disciplines: history, literature, archaeology, papyrology, epigraphy, theology, the history of art, numismatics, sigillography etc. Also scheduled are workshops for language practice, the presentation and discussion of students’ research themes, and guided visits to museums.