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20.5.Depauw

At least since Herodotos, the Egyptians are commonly known as an especially religious people (II.37: θεοσεβέες δá½² περισσῶς ἐόντες μάλιστα πάντων á¼€νθρÏŽπων προσκύνημα). Their piety can be illustrated in numerous ways, not least by the presence of Egyptian gods in contexts where this is unusual in the Greek tradition, e.g. in epistolary style. In the Ptolemaic period, religious elements in Greek letters are rare, and for the most part only found in those written by priests in almost perfect Greek (Clarysse/Sijpesteijn 1995). The so-called proskunema, a common opening reference to an act of worship performed by the writer on behalf of the addressee, only appears in Greek letters around the beginning of Roman rule (Geraci 1971). It will be argued here that this development comes from Egyptian (Demotic) epistolary style, where in this context it was common for the sender to honor the local god (Depauw 2006). The expression προσκύνημα itself is first attested in inscriptions, and was later rendered in Egyptian as wšt (‘worship’). This calque only became common in Demotic graffiti from the Roman period onwards (Thissen 1989). Thus not only did Egyptian practices influence Greek, but the Greek vocabulary used for these practices was in turn translated into Egyptian.

This mutual influence between Greek and Demotic is typical of the Roman pe riod, when the cultural and linguistic exchange between ‘ethnic’ groups seems to have intensified. Theophoric names illustrate this in several ways. It is probably no coincidence that names referring to the god Sarapis, newly created by the Ptolemies in an effort to unify Greek and Egyptian traditions, only became popular under Roman rule (Clarysse/Paganini 2009). Mixed ‘Greek-Egyptian’ and ‘Egyptian-Greek’ names, combining Egyptian and Greek onomastic elements within a single name, also appear around the same time: a typical example is Βησίων, consisting of the Egyptian dwarf god Bes and the Greek derivational morpheme -ίων. Polytheophoric names, referring to two gods, also only become common in Greek between the 2nd and the 4th century AD, and may ultimately derive from Egyptian practice (Benaissa 2009).

As with epistolary style, these onomastic developments may have been the result of the gradual acceptance of Greek as linguistic vehicle, matters of religion included, among the native Egyptians. As more and more speakers of Egyptian started employing Greek in a variety of contexts, this led to cross-fertilization between the two traditions. One of the results seems to be the growing prominence of originally Egyptian religion. The ancient Egyptian gods and their modes of worship thus lived on, albeit often in a Greek disguise. Only Christianization would definitively steer Egypt in a different direction.

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