Petitions to Deities - Edward Love

Liverpool Egyptology Seminar: Petitions to Deities in the “Letters to Gods” from Late to Roman Period Egypt (Dr Edward Love, University of Würzburg)

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Thursday 20th February 2020 / Venue: Lecture Theatre 5, Rendall Building
Type: Seminar / Category: Department / Series: Egyptology Seminar Series
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From Artemisia’s concrete complaint against her husband to Pahōr’s Shakespearian lament “To be! Not to be!”, both women and men from Late to Roman Period Egypt petitioned deities to right the injustices and resolve the disputes in their lives. Succeeding a millennia-and-a-half-old tradition of “Letters to the Dead”, 45 “Letters to Gods” in Demotic (40), Greek (four), and Old Coptic (one) comprise a unique corpus that evidences human-divine direct interaction. Inscribed upon papyri, ostraca, wooden tablets, or ceramics, these “letters” may have been recited in a cultic setting before being deposited in temple shrines, private tombs, and in the cemeteries and catacombs of animal mummies. Although these “letters” refer to themselves with diverse terms, from a “letter of lament” to a formal “memorandum”, this corpus is testimony to a remarkably coherent institutionalised ritual practice, attested from the Late to Roman Period, and from Saqqara to Esna. Encompassing issues from “enacting justice” for embezzlement, robbery or loan defaults, to “passing judgement” on family disputes, and even entreaties for children or healing, the “Letters to Gods” provide direct insights into the social realities of their petitioners, as well as into how they conceptualised being able to interact directly with deities. This paper journeys along the Nile, presenting the different languages, media, cult sites, and issues evidenced in this corpus, to shed light on how relationships of reciprocity with the divine could help overcome some of the “hardships”, “deprivations”, and “miseries” attested in these stirringly human stories.