Ancient Egyptian Scientific Literature in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection
May 31st – June 1st, 2018
University of Copenhagen, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
The aim of this first annual conference of the international research collaboration, Scientific Papyri from Ancient Egypt: New Medical and Astrological Texts (SPAE,) was to present new research on unpublished medical and astrological texts in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection while engaging a broader range of topics in the fields of ancient Egyptian and Greek science.
We are grateful to our sponsors, the New Carlsberg Foundation, for fully funding this event.
- Science Nordic, Aug. 14, 2018 (English)
- Videnskab.dk, July 21, 2018 (Danish)
- Videnskab.dk, July 18, 2018 (Danish, with live interview)
- ISAW News Blog, June 21, 2018 (English)
Thierry Bardinet: Présentation de la première édition du papyrus Louvre E 32847
L’étude du grand papyrus médical Louvre E 32847 se devait de commencer par une comparaison avec les autres textes médicaux. Cette comparaison a montré l’originalité de ce papyrus, que ce soit pour les soins aux malades, avec des médications groupées par cas cliniques, ou que ce soit pour la prise en charge des maladies les plus graves, qu’aucun autre papyrus médical n’aborde aussi complétement. Ces maladies, souvent liées à l’âge, sont évoquées dans cet écrit médical composé pour les médecins de la cour royale. Il est destiné à soigner des courtisans souvent âgés et reste orienté vers le pronostic des maladies mortelles qui les guettent et qui, décelées à temps, permettent d’entreprendre une défense magique contre les envoyés du destin. L’admirable concision des descriptions cliniques du papyrus, la science du pronostic médical qu’il montre, ne doit pas nous faire oublier qu’on a affaire dans ce texte à un praticien de son époque, qui reconnaît l’origine divine des maladies et qui cherche à les traiter le plus souvent par des moyens magiques. Cette première publication du papyrus médical Louvre E 32847 respecte les grandes divisions qui le structurent et essaie de suivre, autant que peut se faire, la pensée de son auteur, certainement un grand médecin lettré du début du Nouvel Empire.
Claire Bubb: The Movement of Fluids in Hippocratic Places in Man and the Egyptian Vessel System
This paper will focus on the movement of fluids in the early Hippocratic text, Places in Man. This text offers an explanation for the flow of various liquids within the body that is fairly unusual in comparison with the wider corpus. There is emphasis on the unity and circularity of the vascular system, which is described in some detail, but also clear indications of extravascular flow of (potentially) pathogenic agents. Commentators have alluded briefly to possible parallels to the Egyptian vessel (mtw) system as described in P. Edwin Smith, P. Ebers, and P. Berlin. I seek to explore these parallels in greater depth and inquire to what degree they can be helpful in elucidating our understanding of the physiology and nosology underlying Places in Man.
Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert: A Medico-Magical Handbook on Recipes for Eye Painting in Berlin (p10.484 + p 15.399)
The Berlin Papyrus Collection of the Egyptian Museum houses a substantial number of fragments with eye recipes and incantations written in hieratic and dating most probably to the later Ramesside Period. First described briefly by U. Kaplony-Heckel in 1986, but never studied in full, they once may have constituted a monograph on how to sdm – “paint” the eyes by application of a broad range of ingredients, such as honey, malachite, coloquinth, milk and many others. Since no term for an eye disease, apart from perhaps sHD – “white spots(?)”, can be figured out on the remnants of this manual, the question is if we are dealing with some kind of a “beauty box” or medico-magical treatise. Incantations introduced by Dd.t m-HkA.w – “What is to be recited by way of hekau” and e.g. J-mAT – “Oh granite!”, followed by TAz-pXr – “vice versa”, may favour the second option.
Anne Grons: Coptic Pharmacological Texts: The Coptic Herbal P. Carlsberg 500
The corpus of Coptic pharmacological texts comprises 40 objects of varying length and state of preservation. The texts date from the early fourth century up to the eleventh century CE and offer a multitude of medical prescriptions concerning various afflictions, e.g., eye or skin irritations, affections of the viscera or psychological complaints. While almost all of these texts attest to the then popular practice to gathering prescriptions according to similar but also different symptoms and/or afflictions without any underlying system, only a handful of texts seem to be organised in a special way: so, for example, according to the diseases, as shown by the two fragmentary codices in Paris (B.N. 132(5), fol. 1) and Naples (B.N. I.B. 14.06-07, fasc. 113) or according to the medicinal plants that are to be used, as represented by the very interesting and until now unique Coptic herbal P. Carlsberg 500 which is kept in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection.
Although the codex P. Carlsberg 500 is fragmentary, it is possible to reconstruct the basic structure of its entries. Each entry starts with the name of the herb, which can be followed by synonyms and/or by information about its location or its appearance. Subsequently one or more therapeutic applications of the respective plant are specified. A problem frequently met with in texts of this sort is the identification of the mentioned plants—it occurs not only in Coptic but also in almost each (late) antique language in which comparable texts were composed. While it is sometimes possible to identify the herbs with modern designations, many of the (late) antique names are difficult to understand or completely incomprehensible. Because the Carlsberg Codex, too, poses problems of this kind, the contribution by Anne Grons presents the medicinal plants mentioned in the text as well as the difficulties that are raised by them.
Amber Jacob, Proctological Treatments in the Carlsberg Demotic Medical Corpus
This paper will offer a survey of the Demotic proctological texts in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, focusing on the disorders mentioned and the methods of their treatment, while also seeking to contextualize the material in light of the earlier Hieratic proctological texts.
Ancient Egyptian medical practices of all eras placed a strong emphasis on proctological treatments, owing largely to the prominent role played by the noxious, disease-causing agent referred to in the literature as wḫd.w (wekhedu), which circulated throughout the system of vessels (metu) within the body. Although not restricted to proctological or even gastroenterological afflictions, the earlier literature makes clear that wekhedu was strongly associated with the anus and an important part of Egyptian health care was devoted to its removal, most often through the use of anal enemas.
In the corpus of Demotic medical texts from Tebtunis, housed largely in the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection at the University of Copenhagen, the prominence of proctology is readily apparent. This corpus of texts, dating to the 1st-2nd centuries CE, comprises the largest collection of Demotic medical texts that have come down to us, and among this material, texts concerning the treatment of the anus comprise the largest part. Hence, the material offers a fruitful opportunity to explore questions of continuity and transmission of medical knowledge in ancient Egypt.
Alexander Jones, Astronomical Papyri: What Have We Learned Since 1999?
Otto Neugebauer’s 1962 checklist of astronomical papyri and ostraca comprised 45 items; by 1992, in Donata Baccani’s inventory, the number had grown only to 52. Though the majority of the astronomical papyri known at that time were tables, only two recurring varieties of table were easily recognizable, namely the ephemerides (tabulations of day-by-day longitudes of the Sun, Moon, and planets in a calendrical framework) and sign-entry almanacs (tabulations of dates when each planet crossed the boundaries between zodiacal signs). The discovery of well over a hundred Greek astronomical texts and tables among the papyri excavated by Grenfell and Hunt in 1896-1906 not only made a much broader classification of the tabular formats possible, but clarified the relationships between them and cast light on the methods by which their data were computed. Of particular importance were tables, previously unattested, containing dates and positions of planetary phenomena computed according to the algorithms of the Babylonian mathematical astronomy of the last three centuries BCE. Since the publication in 1999 of my Astronomical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus, presenting editions of these new papyri from Oxyrhynchus, further discoveries of astronomical papyri and ostraca have generally confirmed the picture presented in that volume of a Greco-Egyptian astronomical tradition largely in the service of astrology. In this paper I will survey several significant new insights on Greco-Egyptian astronomy that have emerged from recently published fragments.
Sebastian Richter, Four Late Coptic Medico-Alchemical Papyri in Oxford and Paris
The earliest alchemical manuscripts—recipes originally aiming at the imitation of precious metals, gems and purple, later getting more narrowly focussed on the replication of silver and gold—have come down to us in three collections of Egyptian papyri. In the famous bilingual (Greek/Demotic) ‘Theban magical library’ (3d/4th c. CE) and the barely known Coptic ‘Berlin magical library’ (7th/8th c. CE) single manuscripts of alchemical content were kept together with magical writings. In my talk I will deal with a third assemblage of papyri, now housed in the Bodleian Library (Bodl. Mss.Copt. [P] a.1, 2, 3) and in the Louvre (AF12530). Dating to the 9th/10th c. CE, these texts belong to a number of testimonies to the reception of Arabic sciences by Coptic-writing authors. Three of the four mss. which can so far be assigned with certainty to this collection contain alchemical instructions, the recipes of the fourth one have medical purposes. This Oxford-Paris medico-alchemical assemblage bears evidence of a certain professional profile of persons dealing with alchemy, their laboratory practice, and their education.
Sofie Schiødt, New Findings from the Unpublished Medical Papyrus Carlsberg 917
Papyrus Carlsberg 917 is an unpublished New Kingdom medical text owned by the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection in Copenhagen. With the recent publication of the medical text P. Louvre E 32847 by Th. Bardinet (Médecins et magiciens à la cour du pharaon) it has been possible to establish with certainty the correlation between the Louvre papyrus and P. Carlsberg 917. Together they make up one of the largest surviving medical manuscripts from pharaonic Egypt. This confirmation of a single, large medical papyrus has enabled a more holistic and in-depth understanding of the manuscript in its entirety and of the conceptions it displays. This talk will present details of P. Carlsberg 917 and how it fits into the Louvre text.
Lingxin Zhang: An Astrological Manual from the Tebtunis Library concerning Women
I will present my on-going work on several unpublished papyri from the Tebtunis library (1st or 2nd century C.E.). Most of the texts from this library are now conserved in the Carlsberg Collection of the University of Copenhagen. The three texts of concern here all belong to the realm of astrology. Particularly interesting is PSI inv. D 35, an astrological manual for women. The papyrus contains a formula resembling P. Carlsberg 66 + P. Lille and P. Carlsberg 86. However, PSI inv. D 35 is unique in dealing with enquiries of female patrons. It is also noteworthy that this papyrus preserves a complete colophon, which attributes the text’s authorship to Imhotep and sets the composition date far back to the reign of Djoser: an instance of pseudepigraphy. The two other papyri, P. Carlsberg 684 and P. Carlsberg 100, share the same rubric as PSI inv. D 35.
In the phrasing of the rubric, the term “wHm” deserves special attention. Chauveau and Quack translated the word as “level” or “storey” based on its Coptic counterpart. I argue that a consideration of its Demotic semantics will shed more light on the incorporation of decans into Hellenistic astrological practices.
These texts also provide more insights on the lives of women and gender roles in Graeco-Roman Egypt. The beginning of PSI inv. D 35 seems to be primarily concerned with the conception of a male child; this is, of course, a reoccurring theme in several other contemporary texts of different genres. Additionally, a comparison of the astrological manuals of women to those of men helps us better understand the social construction of gender.