In a newly re-edited bilingual letter from Ptolemaic Egypt (Naether/Renberg 2010), the correspondent states in Greek that "… it also seemed good to me that I should fully inform you about my dream, so that you would know in what way the gods know you. I have written below in Egyptian so that you would know precisely. When I was about to go to sleep, …" and soon after a break in the papyrus proceeds with a dream-narrative in Demotic. Divination by dreams was a common mantic practice in Egypt and is therefore attested in all periods and languages, but rarely do we get so clear-cut a source for a bilingual individual—and thus one influenced by both native and foreign traditions—expressing any sort of religious experience in two languages. This paper aims to examine a selection of Graeco-Roman sources from Egypt which feature bilingualism or represent divinatory practices attested in both Demotic and Greek. This includes "ticket" oracles, lot oracles (sortes), hemerologies, and horoscopes (for a recent overview on these genres, see Naether 2010), and especially the Papyri Graecae (et Demoticae) Magicae (Betz 1992, with references). It will be argued from multiple examples that these genres cannot be properly evaluated by taking into consideration monolingual material alone: a full picture is only possible if both Greek and Demotic materials are examined. This counts not only for bilingual texts, but also for genres being attested in several languages such as the "ticket" oracles bearing evidence in Demotic and Greek, as well as Hieratic and Coptic. In addition to bilingual texts, bilingual archives will be addressed, most notably the dossier of the Sarapieion "recluse" Ptolemaios, son of Glaukias (whose bilingual milieu at Saqqâra is most recently discussed in Legras 2007 and Veïsse 2007).
Bilingualism in Graeco-Roman Egypt has been studied since the early days of (Greek) Papyrology and Egyptology and is still fertile ground for research and debate (see Papaconstantinou [ed.] 2010, especially the contributions of Clarysse, Dieleman and Torallas Tovar for the theme of this paper). Among the many important issues raised by the study of bilingualism in Egypt are some that are especially pertinent to this paper: that the language of administration is the language of a relatively wealthy, upper-class Greek minority; that high-decorum Demotic literary and ritual texts persisted even in the Roman period in certain contexts; and, that there were various cultural implications in the choice of language used for certain genres. Exploring such issues, this paper will present in its second part certain new methodologies, some of which can be seen in the socio-linguistic approach of Fewster 2002. This is especially true for the phenomenon of loanwords, important work on which is currently being undertaken by new online research projects (DDGLC). With the help of computerized databases such as Trismegistos, one can draw fresh conclusions concerning the ethnic milieu and background of individuals who wrote or were named in religious texts of this dynamic period. Using bilingual divinatory texts and genres as a case study, this paper will conclude with a demonstration of how these new methods can be employed in order to illustrate their usefulness for the study of religion in texts of several genres from Greco-Roman Egypt.