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Translation as a Means of Textual Composition in the Bilingual Funerary Papyri Rhind I and II

Emily Cole

Under Ptolemaic and Roman rule, a number of innovations appear in Egyptian funerary practices. One of the most interesting is the appearance of many unique texts at this time. New compositions were creatively fashioned by borrowing themes and passages from earlier materials and religious rituals and combining them with original content in inventive ways. One particularly fascinating example is found in Papyri Rhind I and II, now housed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (Inv. A 1956.313-4). The papyri, which date to the 21st year of the reign of Augustus (9 BCE), were discovered in situ in the Theban necropolis by Sir Alexander Henry Rhind in 1857 (G. Möller, Die beiden Totenpapyrus Rhind des Museums zu Edinburg [Leipzig, 1913]). The texts had been placed within the sarcophagi of their owners, a husband and wife from Armant named Monthesuphis and Tanuat.

The Rhind Papyri are exceptional in that each bears two versions of the same text, first in Hieratic Middle Egyptian and beneath in Demotic. Comparison of the two language versions, however, does not readily indicate which one was the source text and which the target text of the translation. Instead, the two versions complement one another and should be read in unison in order to grasp a deeper understanding of the traditional religious principles at work. In this paper, I begin by outlining the ways in which the two versions of the texts diverge from one another; these include the addition or omission of words and phrases, the variation between names and epithets of deities, and the use of individualized references to the deceased. Then I examine the nature of the Middle Egyptian used in this text. I highlight instances where translation between the two versions was unnecessary because the same term existed in both phases of the language, but a variant was nevertheless chosen. This investigation will allow me to touch upon the nature of translation both in ancient Egypt and more generally. By fully documenting the translation practices in the Rhind papyri, I will attempt to demonstrate that the restricted understanding of translation as taking place when a source text is transformed into a target text is not sufficient in this instance (for more traditional views on translation, see S. Bassnett, Translation Studies [New York, 2002], and B. Hatim and J. Munday, Translation: An Advanced Resource Book [New York, 2004]). The Rhind papyri are rather examples of the manipulation of language; it was the scribe who had control over the creative process. The use of translation in these documents was, therefore, not simply as a tool for linguistic comprehension but a means of composition in its own right.

Session/Panel Title

Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

Session/Paper Number

63.1

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