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P.Tebt.Med.dem: An Unpublished Demotic Medical Compendium from Tebtunis

Amber Jacob


This paper will present an overview of the unpublished Demotic medical texts in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, currently being edited for publication by the author. The corpus comprises the largest collection worldwide of Egyptian (Demotic) medical texts from the Graeco-Roman period, deriving from the well-documented Tebtunis Temple Library in the Fayum Oasis. This known archaeological context is unique amongst medical papyri from Egypt and the corpus affords multiple opportunities for research in largely unexplored avenues of ancient medicine.

In addition to the Demotic material, Tebtunis has yielded around thirteen Greek medical papyri, some of which can be shown to derive from the same temple library and were likely copied by the same bilingual Egyptian priests responsible for the Demotic texts. The corpus thus provides an unprecedented opportunity for a case-study in the cross-cultural exchange of medical knowledge in antiquity. Due to the unedited status of the bulk of Demotic medical texts, previous scholarship has been constrained to compare Greek medical texts to Egyptian texts from the New Kingdom and Saite periods. This half-a-millennium gap in our diachronic understanding of ancient Egyptian medicine has rendered the project of assessing questions of the internal development of Egyptian medicine, the level of interaction between Egyptian and Greek medicine, and the influence of Egyptian medicine on the Western scientific tradition, problematic at best.

Preliminary work on the corpus has revealed insights into previously unrecognized features of Egyptian medicine, including the first discovered Egyptian treatise on nephrology, the branch of medicine concerning the kidneys. Dermatological treatises reveal a point of common concern between the Demotic and Greek texts and form connections with other papyri from the temple library concerning cult-hierarchy. The proctological material, however, represents a distinctly Egyptian tradition. The manuscripts also contain a trove of information on ancient pharmacy and botany. This paper will provide an overview of the main medical themes and methods of these texts while also seeking to illuminate their professional, social context and the manuscript tradition in which they were written. The project aims to open up new perspectives relevant to Egyptology, Classics, and the History of Medicine.

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Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

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