18 Sep 2011

A pair of Minoan deities recorded in Egyptian


Concerning that ever-fascinating Minoan spell written out syllabically in Egyptian hieratic during the Amarna period, I wonder about the ritual context itself of the spell and how it might relate to similar practices around the Mediterranean. Andras Zeke at Minoan Blog had attempted his own explanation but this analysis is unrealistic. (I stopped at the hyperbole that suggested Miguel Valério's inconsequential word-games were a "crucial discovery" rather than a suboptimal, disorganized attempt at translation by pure whim. I've talked about this before.)

What I've been considering is whether the spell simply describes the ritual offering of bread or grains to a lady and lord of the underworld (compare Egyptian Isis/Osiris, Greek Persephone/Hades, Etruscan Catha/Pacha, Hattic Furunsemu/Furunkatte, etc.) in order to plead for the survival of a patient suffering from the disease simply known as Asiatic illness. The seeming determinative symbols, used presumably to aid in reading the non-Egyptian phrase, seem to hint at such an offering. It seems to me as if it's just a way of "bribing" Death incarnate to take the person some other day. There's however the question of why the Egyptian scribe didn't bother to mark the sex of these Minoan deities as one would if writing in Egyptian proper.

Yet if we know that this Egyptian scribe was writing in another language, namely Minoan, is it reasonable to assume that semantic gender (ie. as opposed to grammatical gender) would be marked overtly? What exactly are the rules for transcribing foreign languages in the Egyptian script anyway? If Minoan and Etruscan are related, then judging my Etruscan grammar, we shouldn't expect to find a masculine/feminine gender contrast in the way we find it in Egyptian. This is something to think about.

As far as I can tell, the lack of overt feminine marking on these foreign names doesn't necessarily prove that these deities are entirely masculine. We would be better assured of that if the phrase in question was written directly in Egyptian.

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