Unscripted: The Visuality of Monumental Scripts in Ptolemaic Egypt

Lecture | February 27 | 12-1 p.m. | 254 Barrows Hall

 Emily Cole, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at The Bancroft Library

 Near Eastern Studies

The Egyptian language is visually associated with its iconic Hieroglyphs. However, by the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BCE), the later form of Egyptian known as Demotic, which employed a different script, was commonly used in daily life. Hieroglyphs retained a prominent position and could imbue an inscription with prestige, but the multicultural shift of the Egyptian population by this period led to modifications in the vocabulary of social presentation. At this time, individuals creating inscribed funerary objects began experimenting with the elements of personal display by producing multilingual monuments in Egyptian and Greek as well as transcribing older texts into the Demotic script.
In this paper, I will discuss the creative ways that individuals wove Demotic into traditional Hieroglyphic texts using a group of funerary stelae from the Ptolemaic cemeteries at Panopolis, modern Akhmim. These stelae created different visual experiences for audience members, dependent on their level of literacy. By drawing on both the textual and iconographic elements on the stelae, I will show that the individual agency of the person or family commissioning these memorials offered a means of innovating within the traditional realm of Egyptian religious representation. The updating of older features on these stelae with new approaches highlights the broader effect of changes to mortuary practice at this time, and the struggle to guarantee the religious efficacy of ancient rituals. Through this material, I will assess how individuals modified the visuality of both text and image on monuments of personal commemoration to accommodate new modes of interaction in the Hellenistic world.