[Editorial note: [...] indicates use of Greek or Coptic text. Original script is available for viewing in the PDF format of this article.]
PRE-OLD COPTIC. Pre-Old Coptic is a component of PRE-COPTIC, more specifically the stage preceding OLD COPTIC. It differs from the latter preparatory stage mainly in that no supplementary signs borrowed from demotic were used to transliterate phonemes that did not exist in Greek. GREEK TRANSCRIPTIONS of proper names had demonstrated the possibility of writing Egyptian in an alphabetical script, even though a number of sounds could not be rendered adequately. In Greco-Roman times there are, in addition to the Greek transcriptions of proper names, a number of other attempts to render Egyptian by means of the Greek alphabet. The aim of these instances, which can be individually different, is most of the time not very clear. But the motive has to be different from that of the. Usual Greek transcriptions of proper names integrated in a Greek context.
Fairly well known are a Heidelberg papyrus and a graffito from Abydos, both of the earlier Ptolemaic period. A number of other cases can be added, but several remain uncertain because of difficulties in the interpretation. Here is a short survey:
(1) P. Heid. inv. no. 414 verso (mentioned as P. Heid. inv. 413 by Pack, 1965, no. 2157; the recto is a grammatical treatise), extracted from mummy cartonnage from el-Hiba (Teudjoi), is a list of Greek words with their Egyptian counterparts written in the Greek alphabet. Bilabel (1937, pp. 79-80), who described a few extracts of the text, dates it to the middle of the third century B.C. Because this text is not well known (not incorporated in Cerny, 1976, or Westendorf, 1977), the available data are presented here: [...]; [...]; [...]; [...] (the accentlike mark above the [...] apparently indicated that the consonant did not correspond exactly to the Greek gamma, which equals the Bohairic [...]. The text now appears to have been lost (Quaegebeur, 1982, p. 129, n. 18). In Bilabel’s view, the lexicon itself reveals its purpose: “Der Text zeigt... dass auch in den Kreisen der herrschenden Griechenschicht das Interesse an der alteinheimischen Sprache aus dem praktischen Bedürfnis heraus bestand.” On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that it was a manual for Egyptians to learn Greek.
(2) Graffito from Abydos (Temple of Sethi I), edited by P. Perdrizet and G. Lefebvre (1919, no. 74), which is discussed by P. Lacau (1933-1934); new edition with commentary in P. W. Pestman et al. (1977, doc. no. 11). Of the seven lines of Greek letters, only four can be interpreted with sufficient certainty. The interrupted first line is repeated in full in line two. After the regnal year, given in the Greek manner ([...]) [...] (= 5), we read: [...], which is to be regarded as transcribed Egyptian: “Pharaoh Hyrgonaphor, beloved by Isis and Osiris, beloved by Amun, king of gods, the great god.” Because this pharaoh is identified with the indigenous rebel king whose name should be read [...]r-wn-nfr (Clarysse, 1978, pp. 243-53), the graffito can now be exactly dated to 202-201 B.C. (Vandorpe, 1986, pp. 299-300). Apart from the dating formula, the content of the text is not clear. Yet it remains an important historical and linguistic piece of evidence, which raises the question why a scribe would write such a long Egyptian text in Greek characters. Was he an Egyptian who could read and write Greek but had not mastered demotic script?
(3) Greek papyrus UPZ I no. 79 (Wilcken, 1927), dated to 159 B.C., known as the dream of Nektembes. In a dream the latter is told (lines 4-5): [...] [...] [...]. . . [...] . . . [...] [...] [...] [...]. Though the attempts to understand the text by way of Egyptian were unsuccessful, the editor writes, “Diese barbarischen Lautgruppen. . . können nach Lage der Dinge nichts anderes sein als griechische Transkriptionen von ägyptischen Wörtern.”
(4) Greek inscription from Hermopolis Magna (al-Ashmunayn) preserved in Alexandria, Greco-Roman Museum no. 26.050. The document was published by V. Girgis (1965, p. 121) and again in P. W. Pest-man et al. (1977, doc. no. 12). This dedication by priests of Thoth in honor of a strategos is to be dated at the end of the second or beginning of the first century B.C. After the name [...] follows [...] [...] [...] [...]. If taken as Egyptian, this means “Thoth, trismegas, lord of Ashmunayn/Hermopolis.” Since it is the name of a god followed by epithets, this example could be treated as a special case among the Greek transcriptions.
(5) For Roman times two particularly interesting mummy labels in the Louvre (inv. 532 and 550) are noteworthy; they contain the same demotic religious formula in Greek transcription: [...], to be translated as “May his ba [soul] live before Osiris, foremost in the West, great god, lord of Abydos” (Quaegebeur, 1978, pp. 254-55). Notwithstanding the synchronism (2nd or 3rd century AD.) with Old Coptic, this text belongs rather to the stage of Pre-Old Coptic because of the exclusive use of the Greek alphabet. An interesting feature is that [...] = ntr (‘3) seems to correspond to the Akhmimic form [...] (= Sahidic [...]).
(6) Perhaps a Munich papyrus may also be mentioned here, regarded by the editor as a kind of schoolbook (Spiegelberg, 1928, pp. 44-49) with short demotic sentences, among which are personal names; for a few expressions, a Greek transcription appears between the lines. Because of the use of additional signs, making comparison possible with the Old Coptic glosses, this item should rather be treated as an example of Old Coptic.
(7) The demotic ostraca of Narmuthis (Madinat Madi), which are essentially school exercises from the second century AD., also deserve special mention. Besides using Greek names and words written in Greek, they contain some attempts to render Egyptian terms by means of Greek letters combined with demotic signs.
(8) An uncertain instance from the beginning of the Roman period is P. IFAO III 34, dating to 32 B.C. (Schwartz and Wagner, 1975), an extremely difficult text of which, apart from the name of a prefect and a few elements pointing to Greek, one cannot make sense. Presumably, the scribe was a native who did not know Greek very well at all, but the question was put whether Egyptian was not inserted, written in Greek characters.
(9) Finally, the two lines (9-10) of text in P. Hamb. II 187 (Morenz, 1959, p. 92, n. 1) from 246-245 B.C. have wrongly been considered as Egyptian transcribed in Greek characters, as was shown by E. van ’t Dack (1964, pp. 62—63). The two Oxyrhynchus texts referred to in this edition (P. Hamb. II 167), P. Oxy. 90 (not 40!), ll. 6-7, and 287 (second hand), both from Roman times, were rightly not interpreted as grecized demotic by their editors.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.