[Editorial note: [...] indicates use of Coptic, Egyptian, or demotic text. Original script is available for viewing in the PDF format of this article.]
OLD COPTIC. Although Coptic dictionaries use the abbreviation 0 (or, in German, Ak, or Altkoptisch) in the same manner as the initials of the Coptic dialects (A, L [ = A2], 5, M, F, B, etc.), Old Coptic is not the name of a specific dialect. The term OC is used for the language and script of a number of pagan texts that are earlier than, or contemporary with, the oldest texts in Coptic proper—that is, the oldest Coptic texts of Christian or Gnostic (including Manichaean) contents (Haardt, 1949; Kahle, 1954; Vergote, 1973). Not unlike “demotic,” OC may be primarily regarded as a term for the writing systems or ALPHABETS of the respective texts, rather than for their language. Secondarily, it may refer to the respective idioms. Thus, one may speak of a text written in OC script, but not in OC language (see below, 2.7).
The more important OC texts may be grouped, according to their character, into pagan magical texts and pagan astrological texts. In addition to texts entirely written in OC, some OC passages or shorter texts are embedded in Greek contexts. Furthermore, one has to take into account the OC glosses in several demotic magical papyri. There are a number of other attempts to write Egyptian (Late Egyptian or contemporary vernacular) in Greek letters, with or without addition of demotic signs. This material may be adduced for comparison, but it should not be labeled OC (cf. Quaegebeur, 1982). The texts that have hitherto been regarded as OC (cf. Kammerer, 1950; Steindorff, 1951; Mallon, 1956; Vergote, 1973; Osing, 1976, p. 128, n. 3; the glosses on Isaiah in Kammerer, 1950, no. 1756, are here excluded, since they are of Christian context and of pure Fayyumic phonology) may, in respect to their contents, be classified as follows:
1. Main Group: Old Coptic Texts
Prayer, or plea, to an Egyptian god (Osiris):
1.1. The OC Schmidt Papyrus (present location unknown); first to second century A.D. Perhaps from the Hermopolitan area (Satzinger, 1975).
1.2. The London Horoscope Papyrus (P. London 98); first or second century A.D. (Cerny, 1957; cf. Kammerer, 1950, nos. 1761, 1762, 1763, 1766; Kasser, 1963).
1.3. The Michigan Horoscope Papyrus (P. Michigan 6131); second century AD. From excavations at Soknopaiou Nesos (Worrell, 1941).
Magical spells and prescriptions:
1.4. The OC passages of the Mimaut Papyrus (P. Louvre 2391); late third century AD. (Preisendanz, 1973, pp. 30ff.; cf. Kammerer, 1950, no. 1776).
1.5. The OC passages of the Paris Magical Papyrus (P. Bibl. Nat. suppl. gr. 574); fourth century AD. Acquired at Thebes (Preisendanz, 1973, pp. 66-77; cf. Kammerer, 1950, nos. 1732, 1758, 1759, 1760, 1762, 1763, 1767, 1772, 1776; Kahle, 1954, Vol. 1, pp. 242-45; Roeder, 1961, pp. 218-22).
1.6. The OC insertion in the Berlin Magical Papyrus (P. Berlin P 5025); fourth to fifth century AD. Perhaps from Thebes. This very short text (fifteen words) contains no demotic signs. A sign for f is expected as a suffix pronoun attached to the last word, but it is omitted. Hence, the text may be considered an example of Greek TRANSCRIPTION rather than OC.
2. Comparative Material
Under this heading are grouped isolated words, such as glosses, and a text written in the OC script, but in an idiom that is considerably older than that of the other OC texts. For the rendering of Egyptian in Greek letters from an earlier period, see PRE OLD COPTIC.
OC glosses on magical names and the like written in demotic or in cipher:
2.1 In a demotic magical papyrus of the British Museum (P. Brit. Mus. 10 588); third century AD. (Bell et al., 1931). (Note: The glosses of 2.1, 2.3, and 2.4 are on magical names and the like only and do not contain any true Egyptian. They do not make use of any letters of demotic origin. It is only for their close relationship to the truly OC glosses of 2.2 that they are here taken into account.)
2.2. In the demotic Magical Papyrus, or “(Bilingual) Gnostic Papyrus,” of London and Leiden (P. Brit. Mus. 10 070, formerly P. Anastasi 1072, and P. Leiden I. 383, formerly P. Anastasi 65); third century AD. Acquired at Thebes (Griffith and Thompson, 1904 1909; cf. Kammerer, 1950, nos. 1763, 1769, 1779; Roeder, 1961, pp. 185-213).
2.3. In a demotic papyrus of Leiden (P. Leiden 1.384); third century AD. or slightly later; written by same scribe as 2.2 (Johnson, 1975).
2.4. In a demotic papyrus of the Louvre Museum (P. Louvre E 3229, formerly P. Anastasi 1061); third or fourth century AD. (Johnson, 1977). Glosses on a hieratic onomasticon, in both demotic and OC:
2.5. In a Copenhagen papyrus (P. Carlsberg 180; further fragments are preserved in Berlin and Florence); about 180 AD. From Tebtunis (Osing, 1989).
Demotic name list with OC glosses:
2.6. A Munich papyrus (schoolbook?); second century AD. A magical text written in the OC script but in the late classical Egyptian language:
2.7. The Egyptian Oxyrhynchus Papyrus (P. Brit. Mus. 10808); second century AD. From the Oxyrhynchus excavations (Crum, 1942; Osing, 1976).
Bilingual mummy labels (Greek and OC):
2.8. Two mummy labels in Berlin; second century AD. From Akhmim (Kammerer, 1950, nos. 1770, 1775).
The OC texts and the comparative material are presented in chronological order in Table 1.
[See PDF version of this article for Table 1. Old Coptic Texts and Comparative Material.]
It can be seen from the chronological arrangement that in spite of the scarcity of the material, and allowing for the random nature of the sample, there is a development in the use of the OC language and script. One of the oldest texts, the Schmidt Papyrus (1.1), is from the realm of Egyptian popular beliefs: just as early Egyptians who found themselves in desperate situations would have recourse to dead persons by writing “letters to the dead,” they would later address their pleas to gods (especially, perhaps, those of the necropolis; see Satzinger, 1984). But whereas earlier pleas (Saite to Ptolemaic periods) were written in demotic, around 100 AD. OC was chosen for a similar purpose.
Two more of the earliest OC texts (1.2-3) are horoscopes apparently connected with the activities of bilingual astrologers. Other texts of the second century (2.5, 2.6, 2.8) served practical purposes. None of the texts mentioned here is of magical character, but about the same time, OC was being applied to magical texts. The oldest of the texts preserved is written in the classical Egyptian language (strongly influenced by Late Egyptian) but in the OC script (2.7). From a later date there are demotic magical texts in which names and certain terms are glossed in OC script. Magical texts in the OC language seem to be the latest stage of this development. When they were produced, Coptic writing was already in full use in the Egyptian church as well as among copyists of Gnostic and Manichaean texts. It may be assumed that some inconsistencies in the latest OC texts are due not so much to a lack of practice in a pioneering stage as to a reluctance to use the conventions of the Christian scribes or even deliberate choice of forms that were thought to give to the texts an archaic appearance. Another significant feature of many OC texts is their connection with Greek texts or even with Greek language (Satzinger, 1984). Both horoscopes are written on scrolls that also contain Greek texts (cf. Kammerer, 1950, nos. 1766, 1778). The OC London horoscope is appended to a horoscope written in Greek; the verso of the papyrus bears the famous funeral oration of Hyperides. The OC magical texts are just parts of larger bodies, the greater part being written in Greek. Some peculiarities of writing and alphabet may point to writers of the Greek tradition as compilers of these Egyptian texts. The demotic magical texts with OC glosses seem to be, partly at least, translations from the Greek. Some Greek spells and several Greek words occur in these texts, written in Greek or OC and occasionally in the alphabetic demotic script. Phonological evidence has been adduced for assuming that the glosses were aimed not at a speaker of Coptic but rather at a Greek-speaker (Satzinger, 1984).
The Writing System of the OC Texts
OC texts are written with Greek characters supplemented by a number of signs of demotic origin that resemble rather closely their demotic prototypes. This is the most conspicuous feature of OC. The systems of the individual texts are inconsistent insofar as more than one sign may be used for the same phoneme. In some cases, historical phonology may account for this. By analogy to the demotic spelling, an attempt may have been made to distinguish sounds that had once been different but had coincided by the time the respective OC texts were written. Thus, in some texts (1.1, 2.2, 2.7) a distinction is made between [...] and [...] (or variants), according to etymology, no less carefully than in contemporary (Roman period) demotic. The London horoscope (1.2) once (1. 142) uses a demotic m-sign in [...] (i.e., [...], Egyptian m s3.w), where the element n goes back to Middle Egyptian m. In the same text, [...] is used for an s-sound that goes back to ancient [...] (Cerny et al., 1957, p. 92, n. 149), which is, however, coincidence. The use o — (a demotic n-sign) for an initial n of syllabic quality, in the London Horoscope Papyrus (1.2), offers a clue to the origin of the supralinear stroke of Coptic proper (Crum, 1942, p. 22, n. 2; in other texts, i.e., 1.4 and 1.5, the stroke is still used in connection with [...] only). The Paris Magical Papyrus (1.5) makes use of the Greek spiritus asper for h (originating both from Egyptian h and [...]). In some texts whole words are written with demotic ligatures or ideograms (1.2; 2.2; cf. 1.1).
The principal OC signs of demotic origin are presented in Figure 1.
The Question of Dialects
The OC magical texts were written down at a time when the standardization of the Coptic dialects had just started. Other OC texts were written considerably earlier. In general, the language of many Christian and Gnostic Coptic texts of the fourth century shows an admixture of elements of other dialects, but also mistakes (e.g., overcorrections) that arose from the fact that the writer used a dialect other than the one he was most familiar with.
Similar observations can be made in the OC texts. None of them is written in an idiom that does not show the influence of one or more of the other dialects. Furthermore, one text has obviously to be regarded as an attempt to display several different dialects at the same time (see below, on the second part of the OC texts in the Paris Magical Papyrus).
Generally speaking, it can be said that the OC prayer (Schmidt Papyrus, 1.1) and the OC magical texts (1.4-6) display a kind of Sahidic, whereas the glosses on the demotic magical papyri (2.1-4) can be identified as a kind of Akhmimic (Satzinger, 1984). Of the two horoscopes, the language of the Oxford example (1.3) is close to Akhmimic, whereas the Michigan papyrus (1.2) shows typical Fayyumic features.
[See PDF version of this article for Figure 1.]
Too little of such comparative material as the glosses on the demotic Munich papyrus (2.6) and the mummy labels (2.8) exists to allow for a more precise labeling than “Upper and/or Middle Egyptian.” (To put it more exactly, they hardly digress from the characteristics of A, L, and M, but differ in various details from S, F, and B.) The language of the Egyptian Oxyrhynchus Papyrus (2.7) is not Coptic. An attempt has been made, however, to establish the position of the phonological system of this text among the Coptic dialects (Osing, 1978). The results (namely, an intermediary position between M and L/A?) would be invalidated if it turned out that the crucial features are due to a tradition of pronouncing classical texts in a more conservative way than contemporary vernacular speech. At any rate, the phonological system of this text differs considerably from S and B.
The Schmidt Papyrus (1.1), written in S, has, however, [...], with (S [...], B [...]), and [...], nurse (S, [...]; B, [...]), thus perhaps proving a certain affinity to B. On the syntactic level, note the use of the third future in a relative clause (as in B), where S would have the first future.
In the Akhmimic London Horoscope Papyrus (1.2), a few forms agree with S and B, contrary to the A characteristics that are found in the remaining material: [...] (qual.), to be separated; [...], law; [...], to him; [...], closing; [...], to see; [...], two.
Lack of vowel-doubling produces an agreement with B and M only in [...], evil. The preformatives of the conjunctive display the full B forms, contrary to all the other dialects: [...] (read [...]) before noun, [...], [...], [...]. But this may be due to an archaistic attitude. The syntax shares certain features with late demotic (conditional constructions).
In the few intelligible remains of the Michigan Horoscope Papyrus (1.3), the following forms diverge from F: [...], give (as S, A, L, M; cf. B [...], [...]); [...], this (as in B). This may point toward an influence from K/K71 (Kasser and Satzinger, 1982), intermediary idioms between B and V (Kasser, 1980, p. 69, under sy: V).
In a very corrupt passage of the Sahidic Mimaut Papyrus (1.4), a [...], name, occurs (ll. 347 ff.), whereas in ll. 396ff., 418, and 633ff. definite non-S features are lacking.
The invocations of the Paris Magical Papyrus (1.5), recto and verso of fol. 2, are S except for [...], Abydos; [...], come (imperative), l. 76, but [...], l. 92; [...], bring (imperative), ll. 14 and 16, but [...], passim; [...], name, ll. 21, 22, and 84; [...] (read [...]), neck, l. 76; [...], to be (qual. of [...]), l. 17; [...], about the matter, l. 25, may correspond either to S [...] (A and L, [...]) or to [...]. All these non-S features could be expected in an L-like idiom.
L. 94 is the beginning of a mythological story of Isis. At this point, the character of the idiom changes. A distinction is made between h ([...], [...], etc.) and [...] ([...]), as in B ([...] and [...], respectively) and A ([...] and [...], respectively); the text has, however, the [...] sign where A would have [...], contrary to the s of the other dialects: [...], dust, ll. 95 and 97 (cf. A, [...]).
The aspirate consonants of B are alien to the phonological system of the papyrus. The glottal stop, lacking in B and M, is indicated by doubled vowels when following an 0-sound ([...], slim, l. 111; [...], hand, l. 120 bis), but never when following an A- or E-sound ([...], [...], eye, ll. 95 and 97; [...], noon, l. 94; [...], daughter, passim; [...], to think, l. 152; [...], mother, l. 102). There is no trace of the F lambdacism. As regards vocalism, many words are provided with glosses, indicating variant dialect forms of words or parts of words. (The glosses are hardly corrections, as Erman [cf. Kammerer, 1950, no. 1759] calls them.) But neither the main text nor the glosses retain the same dialect. Even when a word is repeated, it may assume a different form—for example, [...], in the moment, the moment, ll. 121-22. In this way, three or four known dialects are indicated simultaneously (not to speak of forms that are alien to any known idiom): B, S, L, and perhaps F.
Examples of words of pure B phonology are [...], (he) found her, l. 96; [...], rise, l. 106; [...], flame, ll. 114 and 115; [...], to do them, ll. 116 and 117; [...], glory, l. 127; cf. [...], Thoth, l. 139. Some words of pure S phonology are [...], mountain, l. 94; [...], dust, ll. 95 and 96; [...], Thoth, ll. 96, 99, and 105; [...], in (adverb), l. 96; [...],what is the matter with, ll. 96 and 99; [...], light, l. 142. Some words of pure L phonology are [...], your (fem.) eye, l. 98; [...], there, l. 108 ([...] presents both Coptic [...] and [...]); [...], foot, l. 111; [...], flame, l. 114 (gloss); [...], two, l. 140; [...], one (masc.), l. 148. Some words indicate mixed features (L versus S and B): [...], sigh, ll. 95, 97, and 115; [...], she said, l. 98. A few words appear in a form that is attested only in F: [...], every, ll. 115 and 116 (var. [...]); [...], to be remote (?), l. 151; [...], to know, l. 151 (but [...], l. 130). But perhaps F (as well as V and M) has to be discarded, since none of its most characteristic features can be found ([...] for [...]; [...] for B, S, L, and A [...]; [...] for B [...] and for S, L, and A [...]). may appear as [...], but not only in the cases where L has [...]: [...], father, ll. 95 (gloss), 99, 100, 104, and 105. It may appear as [...], but not only in the cases where M has [...]: [...], to drink, l. 147. It may also appear as [...] (no dieresis!): [...], Abydos, l. 107 (gloss); [...], l. 114 (gloss); [...], over me, l. 125; [...] (gloss [...]), l. 116; [...] (gloss [...]), l. 117; [...], if, l. 147 [...]; [...], to eat, l. 147.
Summing up, it may be said that in ll. 97ff. an attempt was made to encompass several Coptic dialects simultaneously. It may be assumed that this was to serve a practical purpose. The individual reader should be placed in a position to be able to use the spells in his own vernacular idiom. It should be remembered that the text was most probably put down by a Greek compiler. If he found the source of the text written (or recited) in an Egyptian idiom other than the one(s) he was most familiar with, he may have changed it—partly in the main text and partly in the glosses, though retaining the original version. He may also have substituted vowel signs according to their sound values in contemporary Greek, if such differed from the Coptic graphic tradition (e.g., ou and oi, respectively, for Coptic w), thus indicating a pronunciation [o], not [ ], and [ø] (?), not [o], respectively).
Because of their pagan background, OC texts employ many names, epithets, and terms that are not found in Coptic proper, such as tbaitwu, who is on (his) mountain, an epithet of Anubis (Egyptian, tpy-dw.f); ci- or ci n-, son of (Egyptian, z3, z3 n); and t/, underworld (Egyptian, d3t). Apart from that, words are used that have become obsolete in standard Coptic, such as doeim, help 1.1, 1.8 (Coptic bo/yia); *nike (?), to copulate, 1.1, 1.6 (Coptic, r-noeik); maouce, liver (?), 1.5, l.117; o@, rise (?, imperative), 1.5, ll.123, 138, etc.; af, strong, 1.5, l.15; /ou, limbs (?), 1.5, l.122; peer, enchant, 1.5, l.149-150); kep-, fumigate, 1.4, l.665; counoufe, good star (sb3 nfr), couqan (cf. demotic n, prefer), agreeable (?) star, coubwn, evil star, cou a e, hostile star, 1.2 passim; ah/f, a ef (?), period of his life (?), 1.3 and 1.2, l.164). A conspicuous feature is the almost complete lack of Greek words. Exceptions are aggeloc, messenger, 1.5, l.16; and a/r, 1.5, l.23. Other pre-Coptic features can be found in the morphology of the verb, such as residues of the demotic relative form (Haardt, 1963-1964; Satzinger, 1975, pp. 42f.) or the form -prtou-, before they, 1.3, l.153 (Coptic, mpatou-).
A rather strange feature is nou-, in (1.2, passim), since the w of Egyptian m-hnw had already been dropped in the second millennium B.C.; possibly the form is influenced by the nw sign of the traditional Egyptian spellings on a purely graphic level. Syntactic uses of a pre-Coptic nature in the London Horoscope Papyrus (1.2) include lack of an indefinite article (ac ime a wpe naf, a woman shall be to him, third future, l.144); possessive use of suffix pronouns with a word like. ra=, voice (l.141); and conditional construction af wpe a- (a construction found in Roman-period demotic). Nevertheless, the OC texts are definitely not transcriptions in OC script of demotic texts; their morphology and syntax are essentially Coptic.
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