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Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society Author(s): John Baines Source: Man, New Series, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Sep.

, 1983), pp. 572-599 Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Stable URL: . Accessed: 20/05/2011 15:47
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From its first occurrencearound3000 B.C., writing was integralto the self-definition of Egyptian culture, especiallyin terms of display where it was part of a system of pictorial representation. 2600 continuoustexts were producedand any linguisticmattercould be By in written;new genresof text appeared stages,literarytexts in the MiddleKingdomandsome additional all of typesin theNew Kingdom.Veryfew peoplewereliterate, of themofficials state; hieratic demotic,havedifferent, and schoolingwas limited.The mainscripttypes,hieroglyphic, functions.The entiresystemsurvivedinto lateRomantimesalongside more complementary the Greek.Writingcanbe relatedto textualelaboration, the senseof the past, magic to widespread to factor. andlaw, andperhaps socialchangeandstabilitybut not as an overriding explanatory Thus writingcannotexplainthe failureof radical changein Egypt or its successin Greece.The in potentialof writingis realised stagesover millennia.

Literacy is an important, if often tacit, criterion according to which fields of study are categorised, and this corresponds to an evident reality. Societies completely pervaded by writing, such as our own, are very different from non-literate societies. In between these extremes comes a range of possibilities, some of which were placed by Parsons (I966: 26-7; I964: 347), to whose ideas later work has referred, in an evolutionary sequence with literacy as a significant element in classification. Against this background, a study of literacy should seek to cross boundaries between disciplines. Generalworks in the field have not been based on detailed studies within the areas they compare, because such studies are mostly lacking. A number of essays on 'traditional'literacy-mostly in a contemporary context, not in dead societies-were gathered by Goody (I968), who has returned to the subject in The domestication of the savage mind (I977; cf. Basso I980). Here he has useful things to say about modes of analysis, which we take for granted, that are closely related to literacy. Available discussions are mostly concerned with societies not closely comparable with ancient Egypt, while Egypt is in some ways comparable with non-literate societies. Yet it is necessary here to concentrate on the literacy of my title, for only vague and generalising statements can be made about ancient Egyptian society as such. In comparison with what has been established for various ancient and oriental societies, and still more for early modern England (Schofield I968; Cressy I980), no precise results are available from Egypt; both
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*The CurlLectureI98I. ) I8, 572-99

but may not constitute a separate script 'hieratic'. D.C. To state the matter thus still takes a broader view than that of the actual users of writing. Because the social background of any such development is very little known. from the latest predynastic period around 3000 B. to whom discussion must be largely confined. the uses of writing and its degree of penetration in society remained similar for very long periods. A. for whom the addition of a new genre of text to a restricted repertory could be very significant. in between. Attestatson of scripts and languages in ancient Egypt. Basically I return to questions of stability and change and of the position of writing in society that Gough studied in her articles on China (I968a) (I980: and Kerala(I968b)and Murrayconsideredin EarlyGreece 9I-9). how is it institutionalised in a way that is nonetheless conducive to stability? Or is this the wrong question. the rest are tabulated for completeness. Cursive is placed earlier because writing was probably invented for administration 3 5 Used in magical texts Earliestdated inscription 591 B C. This temporal span presents a fundamental problem. because it takes too long a view of the subject and does not see it in terms of the actors? Only a few times in Egyptian history will the system have changed markedly in an average lifetime. but it is also vital to guard against an Olympian view. The topic is large and diffuse. In Egypt the largest dimension is temporal. one can often work only from observation of the uses of writing to hypotheses about the range of written genres and then to the social context to which they belonged. 1 It is necessary to refer to evidence from this entire range.JOHN BAINES 573 my survey of the facts about literacy and my interpretations are tentative and impressionistic. If. 500 AD 500 Second First interm interm Middle Kingd. but this does not necessarily prevent our understanding general developments 3000 Form of script Early dynastic 2500 Old Kingdom 2000 1500 1000 Third interm. i. to the late Roman period c. New Kingd Byzantine Late period Graeco-Roman Stages of Egyptian language Hieroglyphic Cursive (from OK= hieratic)2 Cursive hieroglyphs Abnormal hier (Theban area) Demotic Egyptian in Greek letters3 (later Coptic) Greek4 Carian5 Aramaic62 Invention Old Egyptian Middle Egyptian of script Late Egyptian Demotic Coptic -394' ?_ 4521 Latest dated inscription The earliest cursive forms are distinct from the monumental. as is generally assumed. . official language from 332 Language of mercenaries from Anatolia Administrative language of the Persian empire FIGURE I. Only Egyptian and Greek are discussed in the text. for dates and periods see table I). Writing provides direct evidence from a very small proportion of the population. 300 (fig. writing is in itself a stimulus to change.

574 TABLE I. people do not look to a time when it was absent. for most of the time and most of the literate. but are mostly better characterised under general headings such as administration or prestige. and those are activities common to literate and non-literate elites. all exceptthe last areB. so that changes in writing often imply or reflect changes in society. More probably it is devised in response to gaps perceived in the non-literate system. The circumscription of writing is part of society's definition of itself.g. also on clay tablets. I then return to broader issues. Initially. sometimes impressed with signs corresponding with their contents. All this implies that..The three transformations associated with the rise of civilisation are the development of settled.C. C. According to the hypothesis of Schmandt-Besserat (e. which may be specifically literate. These are attested in the Near East from around the 8th millennium B. In order to give a context for these observations. being documented in a series of stages by clay counters of different shapes. In almost all periods the literate use writing for traditional purposes. Dates before 7I2 are in round figures. Although it is a latecomer in social evolution. as against the 'sub-elite' of scribes (cf. JOHN BAINES Chronology. and the appearanceof complex. the neolithic revolution also produced durable accounting systems which were the precursors of writing. Description Origins and development. writing is scarcely perceived as a separate element in the social system. come shortly before the invention of writing. I describe the origins of writing in Egypt and the Near East. 395 related to writing. the rise of urban society. Baines & Eyre i983: 65-74). which in all periods except the earliest originate with the literate or those close to them. period predynastic early dynastic I-3 dynasties dates 5000-2950 2950-2600 2600-2I50 2I50-2040 Old Kingdom Ist intermediate Middle Kingdom 2nd intermediate New Kingdom 3rd intermediate late Graeco-Roman 4-8 9-II I I-I3 I 5-I7 2040-I640 530 I550-I070 I070-7I2 i640-I I8-20 2 I-25 25-30 7I2-332 332-A. I978). its institutional position and range of application. which its members inherit. except perhaps in myth. but it need not do so in a programme of expansion. agricultural communities . centralised states. figurines and open (later sealed) containers. Those chiefly responsible were probably the core elite. in Mesopotamia or conceivably 'Elam in the late 4th millennium . this definition which includes writing relates to the state which formed before writing appeared. the signs on which are the same as the counters used in the previous stage. 'Impressed tablets' of clay.the 'neolithic revolution'.D. Writing may then change society.

whose duration was at least as long as that of the writing systems that replaced it. but it is significant that it evolved relatively rapidly. but for nearly half a millennium there is no evidence that continuous texts were written. 'Emmer: 3 sacks. Egypt was not one of them. Barley: 2 sacks. where writing has stayed at the stage of accounting. producing constructions that depend on tables rather than conventional grammar. complex society and the state formed much faster. I200 B. A script can be adequate for some accounting without writing continuous sentences. although those who used the accounts will have read them in a language (Hawkins I979). allowing improved central control of economic activity.) a handsome cowherd. omitted from her subsequent presentations). but the influence of tabular presentation on written material involving numbers is profound (Edel I955-64 ?? 385-409. and to a lesser extent Egypt. Total: 5' (Lichtheim I976: 204). Its non-textual use could not. Here the original restriction of writing to tables.C. Although there may be cases. In the case of accounting. but some objects of the same general type have been found there and in the Sudan (Schmandt-Besserat I978.JOHN BAINES 575 (Schmandt-Besserat I98 I). the early administrative writing of Mesopotamia (Green I98 I). Because of such a discrepancy. difficult now to interpret and different from later forms. Most probably the idea of writing was introduced indirectly by 'stimulus diffusion' from Mesopotamia.2 Just as writing and developments of it may not be necessary features of the types of society in which they occur. can be partially understood but cannot now be 'read'linguistically. and in the first dynasty became a fairly stable system.3 The system is fully Egyptian and no more than analogous with the Mesopotamian. fail to change the existing patterns of activity for which it was devised. No such tidy development can be demonstrated for Egypt. however. replies. People may not really come to talk like this. henceforth the principal writing material and hypotheses about writings on papyrus are my chief subject here. before the introduction of writing (Schenkel in press). In Egypt. so accounting of this sort is not necessary to neolithic society: most neolithic societies appear to have lacked it. Elam. asked by the evil woman who wishes to seduce him how much he is carrying. but which may not fit the introduction of writing everywhere.4 Payrus. such as Aegean Linear B. a primacy that most have acknowledged. Egyptian writing is first attested in the latest predynastic period. In Mesopotamia. The influence of accounting on written language is so great that it ostensibly penetrates even the spoken form. as well as a more precisely monitored distribution of royal largesse. Almost from the beginning it served the two purposes of administration and monumental display. Helck I974: 87-9I). This system of accounting. the development of complex society and of the state went hand-in-hand with that of writing and lasted many centuries. marks of ownership and captions exerted a continuing influence. It must be borne in mind that only an infinitesimal proportion of what there was has survived: normal . the result was probably a vast proliferation in the amount done. Symptomatic of the frequency of writing is the invention within a century or so of the artificial medium of papyrus. In the Egyptian story of the Two Brothers (c. suggests that administration has primacy in the origin of writing.

the largest centralised state of its time. ratherthan by a specific event. but in origin were probably administrative aids. writing could be dispensed with but was too important to be seen to be omitted (the craftsman might also be illiterate). in principle it could write other languages.C. as the beginning of history (for which there is no Egyptian word). of which all that is accurately retained are these brief year-formulae. the system remained in operation as long as monuments continued to be created. chronological lists of them developed with writing itself and came to have their own ideological purpose. Excursus). 6 In display the system of decorum continues to betray its early origin through the lack of extensive texts. the new medium of communication was an integral part of an ideologically important system I term decorum. The system is visible on the earliest royal monuments and seems to be inseparable from the first development of writing. and constitute the Egyptian presentation of the ordered world. (Shinnie i967: I32-40). was set off from its neighbours by its writing. 'History' does not imply a discursive. writing acquired great prestige in relation to the country and its boundaries. Later Egyptians. especially when iconography was enough to convey the meaning. Enumerative. closer neighbours were not literate. their content and their captions (Baines in press: I. 'History' is thus set off from 'prehistory' by an ordering process analogous to the elaboration of decorum and related to accounting conventions. which defines and ranks the fitness of pictorial and written material on monuments.5 these are perhaps the most characteristicallyEgyptian texts.3. they were not fixed for all time. and Egyptologists. It reinforces the prestige of the sparse written word on the monuments. Since decorum and writing define 'history'. not texts. The link between iconography and text is visible elsewhere in the later production of 'illustrated books'. instead there is a complex of representational conventions including that of writing (cf. and powerful but distant states used a different script. In such cases. These 'annals' name the years by events that show a conception of the king's historical role comparable to that of later periods. reflect state formation. but are expressed in caption-like phrases. yet it is clear that Egypt. define the dynastic period. Fischer I977: 3-4). The less powerful.3.576 JOHN BAINES writing from administrative buildings or settlements is preserved only in rare cases when these were in the desert. On the monuments writing and pictorial representation are not distinct. Partly because of this flexibility. . Written records of the names of regnal years were introduced then. In later periods spaces for captions were often marked out in religious scenes but the captions were not inscribed. No explicit comment on such matters is preserved. B. In the case of monumental display. Together these define the Egyptian presentation of the world and have widespread ramifications for the use of writing. which began a generation or two after the invention of the system of decorum and perhaps a century after the first writing. Rigid though they are. The extent to which the script is identified with Egypt is illustrated by the fact that it was never adapted to writing other languages until a few forms were adopted in the Sudan for the Meroitic alphabet (or syllabary) in the 3rd century. still less an analytical interest in the past.

For him the traditional mixture of relief and caption continued to be the norm. The general context is the search for permanence beyond the initial threshold of death-as Assmann remarks (in press). marks of royal favour and the actions leading to royal favour come to be recorded. but it is unlikely that any 'purely' literary texts were written down. Writing was a centrally-controlled facility in a state which was focused on its chief representative. No royal narrative inscriptions are known. which is the more potent for being restricted.8 their oral prototypes are reflected in biographical inscriptions. which could be displayed in order to make their terms public and operative in perpetuity (Goedicke i967. the function of dating had been lost because years were now identified numerically. yet was not so used. I I. while the 'annals' referred to above became more detailed and recorded matters in sentence form. the most characteristically Egyptian concern of all. general assertions of conformity to social norms.JOHN BAINES 577 The early use of writing and the system of decorum exemplify a principle of scarcity. From the 3rd or 4th dynasty continuous texts were written7 and the script could in theory be used for almost any purpose for which we use writing. because the plainest tombs are later than the first longer inscriptions. even though the king's 'historical' role was fully defined. The Graeco-Egyptian historian Manetho (frag. The extreme sparsity of writing and decoration in private tombs of the 4th dynasty. The administrative significance of this scarcity is paralleled in the use of writing in display. is symptomatic of this manipulation of scarcity: one suspects that an attempt was made to stem the proliferation of a much improved system. as well as perhaps reflecting a changing concept of person. and 'biographical' inscriptions (cf.) the culture hero Imhotep 'devoted attention to writing'.probably in monumental and administrative writing this was a significant precursor of later reforms of writing and language. while contemporary display materials were restricted to title strings and captions. I 2a-b) records that under Djoser (3rd dyn. The writing of continuous texts was probably a response to requirements . For 'pure' administration the number of literate people needed would be very small. long religious and magical texts (chiefly the pyramid texts: Faulkner i969). and this corresponds well with advances visible on the monuments. The earliest continuous text on the monuments (early 4th dyn. samples: Lichtheim I973: I 5-27). a progressive development that took over two hundred years (Schott I 977). major changes were seldom gradual. will themselves have been organised by the state.) appears to be largely legal in import (Helck I972). but the most sophisticated crafts. By the end of the Old Kingdom around 2I50 B. the king. the most centralised period of all. Spiegel I935. and became ever more highly centralised in its first few centuries. If these result from a definite reform . In the expansion of texts biographical inscriptions are revealing. There might have been a strong stimulus to diffuse writing widely had it been necessary for technological purposes. as well as complex techniques such as surveying. Only gradually did ethical precepts (also related to the avoidance of litigation). attested categories of text include copies of legal decrees and proceedings and important private contracts. I970). The existence of technical writings can probably be inferred from other evidence.C. letters (Posener-Krieger I972).

Monumental inscriptions show a strong kinship with literary texts. some texts appearboth on the monuments and on papyrus or ostraca (potsherds and limestone flakes). whose only known use in the Old Kingdom was for royal legal decrees. lists of categories which loosely order words as compendia of knowledge (Gardiner I947. but the new possibilities came slowly to be exploited for different purposes. however. often with mythological overtones. Medical. changes in decorum also slowly extended the pictorial repertory. astronomical and calendrical texts survive and are also 'literary' material.578 JOHN BAINES of administration. kings produced the equivalent of private biographical texts in royal inscriptions recording outstanding events according to set schemata. A possible corollary of this process . mathematical. the Old Kingdom use of writing. and love poems. Although the two groups are mostly separate. What is very rare is the systematic treatment of topics. the system as a whole had to change for elements in it to change (for changes in representational decorum see Baines in press: Excursus 2-3). and various texts less easily categorised. with its scarce currency of continuous texts. Two developments are particularly significant. Monuments of kings and private individuals slowly came to bear more and more writing-often in places to which few had access. First. hymns. the Middle Kingdom. these changes were consolidated.10 which therefore constitutes the transmitted body of written high culture as a whole. the change followed transitional rather than stable periods. which later had the status of a 'classical' period. Second. Goody I977: 99-IO3. Stone stelae. exceptions are a surgical treatise (Westendorf I966) and the onomastica. the development of genres seems to have been limited. Second. In the next major period of history. they may contain biographical texts. First. indicating a common milieu and time of origin. There are two significant features of this slow expansion-our best example of the force of writing as a self-sustaining stimulus to development. narrative stories. The succeeding Ist intermediate period shows a great broadening in the content of biographical texts. mostly in practical contexts.1" There is nothing 'popular' about any of the literature. cf. So long as the centralised Old Kingdom state survived. This need not correlate with an increased rateof literacy. acquired a variety of functions for others. magical. was superseded only after an extension of the circles of people who set up inscriptions and an increased use of texts for prestige and display. largely independent of royal sanction. but does imply that those who created literature looked to a greater familiarity with texts among the literate. The range of literary texts expanded only slightly after the Middle Kingdom. also unpublished texts of the Graeco-Roman period). narrowly literary texts appear. which depart from the objectivising tendencies of other genres.9and include 'wisdom' texts (instructions on how to get on in society or to live a virtuous life). and perhaps religion in contexts now lost. It is. The chief development of the New Kingdom was the addition of superficially 'popular' literary typesvarious genres of story told in simpler style than in Middle Kingdom texts and using folklore-type motifs. law. uncertain whether such texts were more widely disseminated than their predecessors. or religious texts. Because writing and its uses were part of the system of decorum or extensions of it. suitably captioned commemorative pictures of families.

The obsession with order it exemplifies is typically dynastic. but there can be an idea of canonical 'texts'. What it does show is that important ritual texts. Eyre I980. it is necessary to break development into shorter periods. in the system of decorum. So far. as at the workmen's village of Deir el-Medina (c. A possible important exception may be personal diary material. A notable feature of Egyptian texts is that the majority are written in a kind of metre. Status and dissemination. Religious matter of this sort was almost certainly written as soon as the writing system was sufficiently developed. open-ended patterns. among non-monumental sources. Thus the spread of uses of writing in Egypt-not its frequency of use nor its diffusion through society-came very slowly to be comparable with that of the modern world. One familiar concept which developed still more slowly than continuous writing is that of a text itself. which comprised the vast bulk. is very largely lost. mainly intended for performance. Metrical forms can be extremely complex and ill-suited to long compositions. and to look to other factors at least as much as to writing when analysing developments in the use of writing. and its maintenance to the end of Egyptian civilisation is paralleled. because oral works tend to use simpler. stories are set in it and famous people of the time have instruction texts ascribed to them. In Mesopotamia 'lexical' lists occur in the second preserved period of writing (Uruk III.JOHN BAINES 579 is that in literary texts the Old Kingdom has some of the status of a 'golden age'. before continuous texts were written (cf. These were hidden in the royal burial apartments. for example. c. it dominates the record. Despite the unity of Egyptian culture over its huge duration. Faulkner I969). Where it does survive. Its principles could go back beyond written texts into oral culture. and one cannot know how widely such semi-canonical material circulated or when it was fixed. and in any case our sample is fatally biased towards the monumental and. In non-literate cultures traditional formulations will be unstable. both are normative for the culture. The system of metre must nonetheless have antecedents in spoken form. writing could be practised by technicians in these . too.13 This. In Egypt the earliest in this sense are the pyramid texts (from c. the same is true of demotic and of Greek papyri from Egypt. Administrative writing. I300-I I00. suggests that written form is primary. 12 This formalises the stress patterns of the language into units of two or three stresses. Green I98I: 359-60). but the system we have is probably a product of dynastic times. 2350. the discussion has mostly related to a small minority of texts. forms of the script. literary texts are not known until about 2500. The spread is not a significant indicator of distinctions between literate societies. were among the earliest to be written down. 3000). Both in Egypt and in Mesopotamia the recording of traditional continuous texts in set forms came late. Baines & Eyre I983: 86-9I). towards the literary. another instance of the principle of scarcity according to which only the most important matters are recorded at first. Nothing precise can be said about the frequency of genres. and is in theory easy to learn and apply. As an administrative device and an element in monumental art.

I-2). From very early. 2: I2I5 with refs. The titles 'scribe' and 'administrator of scribes' are found in this period applied to people of highest status (Kaplony i963. it is part of the self-definition of Egypt.17 but in a sense reflects the scarcity of writing in Egypt. Such early specialisation will tend to diminish the common culture even of the literate. but in reliefs they were not shown writing except in the symbolic scene of depicting the seasons (James& Apted I953: 20. A magnificent Ist dynasty stone vase in the form of two hieroglyphs may write the name of its owner and/or allude to the life-giving properties of a libation poured from it. The ideal of father and son in Old Kingdom tombs is of a father in the mature prime of life with a young son who is sometimes given a scribal title or scribal gear. under a superior in an office. I40). in the other by the king himself (Lichtheim I973: I72-3. at which basic literacy was acquired. According to later evidence kings were literate (Baines & Eyre i983: 77-8 I). while the elite who benefited from them might not be literate. I0). The retention of scribe statues may reflect the conservatism of sculpture. the sayings are written down.16 All this contrasts with Plato's views of the dangers of writing I 500 years later. is the prestigious symbolic pursuit of fishing and fowling. There are similar implications in the framing stories of several other didactic texts and. a polite way of saying 'you' in a letter is 'your scribe' who. wrote or read out the message (Smither I942: i6).19 except for the core elite. The work of writing is done by other. By the Middle Kingdom this definition had expanded from being literate to being also literary. Like other features already discussed. In two stories where fine words are pronounced. but writing is delegated by those who achieve that status. pl. himself referred to as an 'office-holder' in later texts and probably so conceptualised much earlier. Plato was emphasising the hazards of something relatively common. these were not the only statues of their owners. in one on the king's instructions. the social system centred on literate officials under the king. the same basic point is made in the modern world. Literacy is thus necessary for high status. elite status was completely identified with literacy (Janssen I978: 224). Evidence for teaching is at first sparse.20 In keeping . more broadly.14 In the 3rd dynasty the official Hezyrec was depicted as a scribe in his wonderful mortuary reliefs (Wood I978 pl. this implies. but either way the user needed to know at least the meaning of these signs (Fischer I972: 5-I5). and has thus started in a career.). 18The more important part of a scribe's training seems to have been vocational. By the late Ist intermediate period there were schools. only one of whose attributes was literacy. but was probably never the case in Egypt. but their existence is uncertain for the Old Kingdom.15 Writing was presented as the goal of fine speech. This was often true in the Middle Ages. as against 'observing' scenes and receiving reports and goods. in the respect owed to famous writers of the past (Lichtheim I976: I75-8). the work of writing may be a chore. The highest officials had statues as scribes. almost their only activity. but they show status and perhaps learning rather than depicting a specific scene. In such a situation the identity of one's superior is important. therefore. probably under his father as his amanuensis. Despite all this.580 JOHN BAINES crafts. subordinate scribes. This bureaucraticidiom continued in less centralised periods.

but must have been for many at best half-way to a foreign language. On the other hand.6. i. Coptic. however. in which the position of the specialist in knowledge-that is. such situations are of course common elsewhere. So long as all forms of the script remained mutually convertible. From the Old Kingdom on. as is clear both from stray allusions and from the multiple dialects of its successor. shows that a complex script with variants is not in itself a bar to widespread literacy. for a later community see Baines & Eyre I983: 86-9I).JOHN BAINES 58I with this. There are almost no traces of dialect in texts before the Graeco-Roman period. I8I. but is not prominent except on scarabs. Sons of foreign vassals were often included. from among his close companions. transmitted for millennia. education involving other activities and the imparting of values. such discriminations limit the impact of writing. It may sometimes have generated an inner group round a future king. however. A typically Egyptian manipulation of the script. in the New Kingdom especially military ones. however. These complex discriminations. selected children of various backgrounds were brought up with the royal sons (Feucht I98 I). This institution became more prominent when written and spoken language had diverged a long way. 2). the king also chose prominent officials. a scribe's pupil is often called his 'child' (Brunner I957: Io-II. the monumental but otherwise least widely used form of the script. and probably reciting. are ideologically important: hieroglyphs. another parallel to the system of decorum. and different forms are used for different contexts and types of text (fig. table 2). Most forms of the Egyptian script are not particularly difficult to learn. the locus of transmission was probably the 'house of life'. I926-3I. in traditional texts-is uncertain. a scriptorium attached to temples where traditional texts were both copied and studied (Burkard I980). in which the symbolism and potentially different values of the signs are exploited. contributing to later images of Egypt as a land dominated by priests. written and spoken forms were far apart by the Middle Kingdom (fig. pupils progressed to writing 'miscellanies'-collections of practical and literary texts in the current written language-probably for individual pupil masters. at least. afterwards becoming rulers at home. had humbler offices in later life. could be used for more exclusive purposes.2). these possibilities were realised mainly in cryptography. Some people educated at court. The example ofJapan today.22 A relatively secular picture of schooling emerges. The normal literate person was proficient in only one or two forms and types of text written in them. Such texts were. Here political factors are far more important than literacy. From the late New Kingdom on. Egyptian is almost unique in its variety of script forms. even though Egyptian was not a uniform language. were called 'god's words' (Erman & Grapow 2: i8o-i8i. especially since phonetically. This scarce distribution of high culture was reinforced by language and by the script.21 classical literary texts. and its position in society will have narrowed access to elite culture further than previously. esp.24Its purpose was mostly to add meaning to short texts or interest to . In later periods reading and writing were learned by copying. Afterwards. which occurs in funerary inscriptions from an early date.23 The standardised written form aided communication over the country.

including widespread cryptography. religious. legal and historical texts in official and public locations. io5o. Crawford TABLE2. 2000. themselves unable to read hieroglyphs. signs could also provide a simultaneous commentary on the texts they wrote. 65o-A. Monumental texts of all periods. as well as some monumental inscriptions (the most important trilingual with Greek and hieroglyphic) Hieroglyphic Cursive hieroglyphs Hieratic Demotic . Forms of the script and types of material for which they are used.582 JOHN BAINES 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 AD 500 3000 1s ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~. responded to a native pressure group and financed their construction and decoration (cf. This system reached its peak in the Graeco-Roman period. Hieroglyphs evolved from a few hundred signs to several thousand. see also table 3. especially temples. adapted from Stricker (1944: fig. when most of the country's writing was in Greek. 3oo. which required extra study. 3 4~~~~ 1 Spoken Egyptian 2 Old Egyptian\ 5\ 3 4 5 6 7 Middle Egyptian Late Egyptian* Demotic Coptic Period when Greek was used 6 1 7 *Late-Egyptianisms occur in texts from the early Middle Kingdom (c. 3). some monumental inscriptions c. scribal training Business and administrative texts C. literary texts. Spoken and written Egyptian compared. 6oo. everyday writing ceased to be convertible into the monumental form.2000) on FIGURE 2. 1050-700 Business and administrative texts c. The native temples had a privileged position because the foreign rulers. 2700-C. private religious texts from c. 47 stereotyped formulae. captions to reliefs and paintings Official religious texts. official religious texts from c.D. religious and literary texts in the Graeco-Roman period. including 'monumental' inscriptions on small objects. With the invention of the demotic cursive script in the late period.

a short miscellany written in cursive hieroglyphs. In the latter the full range was maintained despite the arrival of the simpler Greek. Few natives could gain access to the temples or read the inscriptions. and the same could be true of a group such as Menkheperrec. Greek is the predominant form of writing. The average literate person could probably read little more than simple words and a few names in hieroglyphs. the transfer of language and culture from script to script was beginning. I. Late New Kingdom (c. the prenomen of Thutmose III (I479-I425). hieroglyphic inscriptions contain mistranscriptions from hieratic drafts (e. Distributionof scriptsandtext typesin the lateNew Kingdom(c. diverged more and more from hieroglyphs and tended itself to divide into business and literary forms. In any period the range of use of script types and of stages of the language (fig. which occurs on thousands of scarabs (Jaeger I982). however.25 TABLE3. religious and magical texts for daily use business and administrative hieroglyphic Middle Egyptian hieroglyphic. Many people probably knew hieroglyphs that were important symbols.JOHN BAINES 583 I980: 3I-6). when it was cut short by Christianity and the consequent irrelevance of the old culture. . Probably as early as the Middle Kingdom initial instruction was in the Book of Kemyt (Barta I978). some demotic cursive hierog. the late New Kingdom and Graeco-Roman. Five hundred years after Greek became the official language. thesescriptswereconfinedto priestly nativeclasses. Among these variants. 1200) script form language Graeco-Roman' script form language Middle Egyptian. Hieratic. I200) andthe Graeco-Roman period. perhaps made by stonemasons who could carve hieroglyphs but not read hieratic for its meaning. Middle Egyptian hieroglyphic. knowledge of the monumental script will not have been widespread. this is set out in table 3 for the best-known periods. Middle Egyptian demotiC2. training in writing was mainly in the cursive. the intermediate script used typically for religious texts. in general.2. 'hieratic' script. table 2) forms a system. Fully cursive forms existed from the first and were further removed from monumental hieroglyphs than cursive hieroglyphs ever were. I2). from the Old Kingdom onwards. which were effectively answerable in detail only to the gods-an ideal situation for elaborating priestly knowledge. hieratic. demotic hieratic4 hieratic4 Middle and Late Egyptian Late Egyptian demotic demotic demotic demotic 2 Theremusthavebeen training writinghieratic for andhieroglyphic. Sethe I93 3: I23 1. demotic demotic Middle Egyptian monumental inscriptions scribal training official religious texts literary texts. 4 Not necessarily the same forms Businesshieraticforms later developedinto abnormal hieratic. g. I 3 3 1.3 cursive hierog. but for a small proportion of the population. which was learned after the Book of Kemyt. and circles theuppermost 3 Demoticis the namebothof a scriptandof thestageof thelanguage whichit normally writes The demotic scriptcanalsobe usedto writeMiddleEgyptian.while texts hieratic usedforreligious was traditional ' Native Egyptian literacy only.

if they ever did.reading public. and he did not make his basic living in this way. probably the condition of many relief sculptors.28 Just as the core elite is identified with literacy. before rising in different circumstances. they would go to somebody trustworthy. Schooling was limited in extent and duration. As with other changes. reading and the physical ability to write. but the increment was not steady.29 When somebody needed an amanuensis. it was also used for religious and literary texts. reading and the full ability to compose texts. Thus.26 A significant exception here is the relatively slight shift to the 'classical' Middle Egyptian. There is no evidence of scribes with careers separate from office. This is at least symbolically valid. If the population rose from one million (Old Kingdom) to 4. adaptation to which constituted reform (fig. and. inconsistencies in writing and grammar show that it never kept pace with the spoken language. Several levels of literacy are possible: reading. of various degrees of competence. new texts being written in it down to the Graeco-Roman period. especially in accounting. such scribes were not amanuenses for hire. Literacy may have declined between the New Kingdom and the Graeco-Roman period. a Middle Kingdom(?) text that glorifies the scribe's career at the expense of manual skills.volumeofpaperwork. but even the lower figure may be too high.5 million (Graeco-Roman period. There is little place for literate people who did not use their skills or for barely literate scribes. Numbersof literate. both it and the remainder of the scribal sub-elite are identified with administrative office. Several lines of reasoning suggest that in most periods not more than one per cent. The rate of literacy. recourse was not always to a professional scribe. could be written as rapidly as an alphabetic 27 script. Although the norm of writing shifted very slightly all the time. the literate will have been Io. the carving of signs with limited reading ability. at the other extreme. as a village scribe might be. although the script could write any sort of text ease of use and administration were evidently the chief aims of these measures. and not by itself adequate for reading many types of text or phases of the language. mentions as his occupation only work in an office at the royal residence (Lichtheim I973: I84-92). but concomitantly with other major change. I guess. The general level of competence is relatively high. of the population were literate (Baines & Eyre I983: 65-72). with Greeks the literate majority). Ad hoc use of an acquaintance probably provided the normal access for the non-literate to writing. only occasionally is writing really deficient. The Instruction of Khety. which continued as the monumental form in most later periods. its complexity and especially the tying of genre and stage of language to script form restricted its impact. 2). who could not have performed their administrative functions. the volume and range of written material and the loquacity of texts tended to advance. reading and narrow composing ability. Changes in script and written language did not occur gradually on their own. which were applied to documents before they became current for other purposes.584 JOHN BAINES These systems are yet another example of the structures into which potentially fluid writing was pressed. For the dynastic period statistics or generalisations . mostly in contexts where the presence of signs is more import ant than what they say.

A number of literary texts come from tombs. The position of the higher-ranking priests in the elite seems not to have been prominent in early periods-they were not then a professional class-but this changed later. which implies that their owners kept them for edification or for their role in the next life and attests indirectly to interest in them in this life. and belong with a relatively fluid organisation. provide a most valuable analogy. Here Deir el-Medina forms an exception (Baines & Eyre I983: 86-9I). The Instruction of Khety may . In these spheres we should expect both the greatest proliferation of documentary writing and the greatest interest in texts. as seen primarily in official Greek documents. The only large early body of documents comes from mortuary temples of 5th dynasty kings (Posener-Krieger I976. literally 'he who carriesthe festal (papyrus) roll'. For the Middle Kingdom.32 Literacy was also necessary for the proper performance of temple ritual.33 Many reputed authors of didactic texts were viziers (highest officials of state). This runs counter to the notion that son succeeds father (see above). this could be a truer indicator of the focus of written culture. Some people claimed that they were of little status until the king advanced them. which involved a lector priest. and such material is not good evidence for a widespread ability to bring literary culture into play. and the chief reading public for high culture was probably in these privileged areas. the bureaucraticgrip was probably strongest near the centre. 34In fact they were probably literate and well placed to start with. but their prime role is as magicians. and includesexamplesof minute recordkeeping that are paralleledin the late Middle Kingdom pyramid town of Senwosret II (KaplonyHeckel I97I. representing the royal or state view as against that ofthe individual. Griffith I897-8). but the texts seek to imply that success is based on merit. while for the Roman period the masterly studies of Youtie (I973: i98i30) on provincial literacy and its gradations to illiteracy. at least of the elite. but probably included only a small proportion of the literate. Central administration is one privileged areaof literacy. a number in the hundreds would be enough to keep a tradition alive (the large numbers of garbled school copies are not relevant here). Despite the small body of literate people. and in at least one way ideology was expansionist. Allusions to literature occur in monumental inscriptions. the high status of chief lector priests in literature may point to priestly involvement. and temples became repositories of written knowledge. Verner I979). were relatively wealthy and tightly run. there is no evidence that their numbers were deliberately restricted. There was an ideal of efficiency in the form of the best man being selected for ajob irrespective of his origins. although these were composed by few people.JOHN BAINES S8S about rates of literacy are devoid of the sense of everyday reality that could come from knowledge of the detail of such practices. The archetypal magical practitioner is the lector priest. religion is another. It is uncertain whether such things were typical for the whole country.31 Both were religious foundations near the royal residence. Finds of texts suggest that the learned had a general education and that interest in traditional texts went beyond the core elite. and had the resources for and interest in elaborate documentation. How far they quote and how far they use stock phrases is not clear (Grimal I980 is over-optimistic).

New Kingdom 'miscellany' texts contrast the meretricious attractions of the army with the security of a scribal career (e. the cowherds. During the 3rd dynasty advances in writing. Lichtheim 1976: I7I-2). the interpreters. came together. But for the 5th century. These are the priests. For the larger body of Egyptians the matter might be very different. may have been positively antagonistic to its spreading. Its devisers and improvers estab- . Similarly.586 JOHN BAINES exaggerate in implying a choice between scribal and craft work.36 Less negatively. and although they are not necessarily causally related probably attest to general social and cognitive development. The most significant cognitive achievement in connexion with writing is the invention and elaboration of the script itself.37 Even so. In the minority Greek community.and the boatmen. the swineherds. These could at best be studied only for the literate. In earlierperiods both the embedding of conventions of writing into symbolic systems and the centralisation of power will have stabilised literacy. I have suggested that 'folk' elements in written literature should not necessarily be taken at face value. Youtie considered that the mutual dependence of literate and non-literate was socially cohesive (I98I: I98-9). Our written sources cannot provide an answer here. These questions. some exchange between elite and others must be allowed for: before the late period there is little evidence of cultural heterogeneity between classes. technology and organisation. the tradesmen. except that it contributed to their impoverishment through its part in the centralisation of resources. such a society is not likely to encourage the passage into literacy of the non-literate. but it points in the same direction. Stabilityandchange:cognitiveaspects Texts and theirapplications. For the non-literate 99 per cent. The succeeding Old Kingdom is the first plateau of literate achievement and the earliest period in which extensive cognitive effects of writing could be expected.35 However much the foreigner may misunderstand. in contrast with extensive finds for the predynastic and very early dynastic periods. are virtually impossible to answer. the public proclamation of matters of general concern. a combination of great inequality of wealth and conditions of preservation has robbed us of almost all information about the effects of writing. even if there were effects in the wider society. the warriors.Developments in written forms may help to define potential changes that could be related to writing. the rather less centralised late period. including the construction of the first pyramids. difficult enough for early modern societies.g. they would be strongest among the literate. in which: The Egyptians are divided into seven classes. and perhaps the interchange of narrative and myth between elite and popular culture. Herodotus depicted a very different social order. one might ask how far writing penetrated beyond the literate in the form of administration. An indication of this is the virtual absence of cemeteries of the poor for the central Old Kingdom. when writing and administration were focused on temples.

which are worth copying and commenting even if they are not understood (in this case the text cannot have been very old). but the material is remote indeed from practicalrealities. phonetic association-separated and ordered semantic classes. The symbol of perfection in surveying and planning is the Great Pyramid of the 4th dynasty. surveying. The Egyptian texts may have come after the practical achievements.40 as well as medical practice. although some . mapping and land measurement. it was not formulated in such abstractterms. in extreme cases. The text is also known as an 'abstract' (roughly so called in Egyptian: Hornung i967). These relate to areas of achievement in calendars (Parker I950). I954-73). presented in pictorial form with captions (Bucher I932 pl. The practice of learning to read from whole phrases must have helped their concealment. which presents the underworld in mixed text and picture. 14-22). clear. and accomplishments such as the calendar (also of ritual significance) may be more striking than the texts (in this case astronomical ones). But all of this is deduced from the organisation of writing.39 Types of text that could have broader cognitive significance include astronomical (Neugebauer & Parker ig60-9). employed the highly abstract principle of acrophony. and the perceptions of the inventors were probably confined to themselves and a few others. and few were discarded. This last example illustrates the authority of old texts. significant disharmonies that might point to change should be sought in ideologically central contexts. impressively accurate and well aligned structures were also produced in non-literate bronze age western Europe. cognitively demanding tasks reviewed here are easily compartmentalised. Such secondary elabor- ation to extract information from a text looks forward to farlater developments. and there is a 'catalogue' of the figures in it. mathematical and medical (Grapow et al. The same applies to the glossing and explication of religious texts. Such a case is. nor does the mode of expression even of the 'scientific' surgical treatise (Westendorf i966) seem out of place in Egyptian texts in general. Rather. provided by the Amduat. for the dating-Middle or New Kingdom-see Wente i982: I75-6). Here 'science' referring to the relatively non-empirical might be more important than that of the empirical. The impact of these developments will be restricted by the limited characterof what can be said in such forms-a list is best in a context of continuous text. and is explicitly directed towards 'knowledge' (Hornung I972: 59. the 'Book of the hidden space'. an almost pre-linguistic use of writing (see note 7). Efficiency in reading and writing any language is enhanced by familiarity. however. The precise connexion between texts and achievements is not. The exact. in all of which the Egyptians were advanced. codifying them perhaps more than leading to them. Ever more texts could be gathered and reused. which belongs near the beginning of the time of written texts. however.JOHN BAINES 587 lished principles of derivation-rebus. 74-98) in the use of tables and visual presentation. not by decomposing groups into constituent elements. distinguished morphology and phonology. Cognitively interesting exploitation of written form has been seen by Goody (I977: esp. set up an 'alphabetical' order of initial consonants and. None of this is central to Egyptian ideology.38 so that these insights were the more useful for being concealed from others. which is highly elaborate as early as the Middle Kingdom (Faulkner I973: 262-9).

aided by literacy but not transformed by it. which is of a different order from the glossing mentioned above. Among these. such as Judaism. In art and in literature 'archaism' can be seen repeatedly in different periods.588 JOHN BAINES were lost in breaks between periods or stages of the language. Their metrical form is complex. as arose gradually in Greece. in both they ease the process of composition and often the comprehension of the message. copies more often have passages omitted or interpolated than in narrowly literary texts. not simple and open-ended. their form is far from an 'oral' one. Magical texts have a rather different position. see also Smith I977. Even so. which are the basis of the Parry-Lord hypothesis of oral composition (Haymes I973. an increase of precision in exploiting it. are nearly as characteristicof written texts as of improvised poetry. Their composition by accumulation of epithets and phrases which do not form sentences looks closer to oral form-except that there is little repetition (e.43 and they could be legitimated by introductory matter which emphasised the efficacy of a spell. These are probably the most prestigious texts of all. Here Egypt was in a common intermediate position. and yet. Sacred writings are at one extreme of a range of possible modes of transmissions of cultural materials extending to the completely oral and loosely structured. In a non-written culture most such possibilities are absent. Formulae. A religion with a canon and exegesis.g. and an active relationship with it. In such cases writing and religious development are closely. although most religious texts are not narrative. More specifically literate developments would be a fully historical view of the past. constitute a discursive or analytic history. so that it is significant for the effects of writing that they did not acquire a 'canonical' form. despite their function. Attitudes of this sort. of an absolute remote period (attested as early as the 4th dynasty41). and in the late period became a comprehensive and eclectic phenomenon. Great emphasis was placed on age and on exact copying and performance. or be specifically sited. Finnegan I98I). while for the written culture the very common conception of a past 'golden age' may be of the rule of the gods (Luft I978. Christianity or Islam. or a statue was covered in inscriptions over which . as when a god issued a written oracle used as an amulet (Edwards I960). but it did come to have important texts transmitted in (in principle) accurate copies. especially in letters and documents. so that a theoretical distinction in function from 'pure' literature persisted. Here writing brings a definite extension of the past. the less obvious thematic organisation leads to a looser perception of text structure. which implies a different kind of interest in events and processes and is rarein the world as a whole. legitimation mentioning earlier events or texts42 and cults of deified men or kings enlarge on the definition of 'history' given above. Almost all could in principle be declaimed in rituals. non-repetitive) are not visible in ancient Near Eastern material. is a literate phenomenon. narrative or didactic literary texts have a well-defined structure and a non-'oral' style. related. however. Writing could also be brought into play in other ways. Egypt had neither oral epic nor scriptures. but at first not causally. They do not. Assmann I975). or the appearance of canonical sacred writings. especially in its exegesis. Lichtheim I976: I97-9). Here sharp distinctions between oral (formulaic) and written (free.

Where there is no document. Bloch i968. a loose rule of inheritance could lead to endless conflict. i968b). Gough I968a.C.JOHN BAINES 589 libations were poured. This point is important because special beliefs about writing and pictorial representation. not always according to set social patterns. barely literate society of the Indus valley. as in a subject's right to petition the king in writing (Baines & Eyre i983: 70-I). Stability and change.g. There was a high degree oflegal autonomy for women in Egypt.g. could affect a general analysis of their position in society.g. While such 'constraints' are 'flexible'. with .Janssen ig60: 33). defacing the monuments of those who fell from favour is a symbolic and perhaps magical practice. Even if cultures are stable. 30). which was fundamental in the early extension of literacy and exemplifies the principle of scarcity. g. still less a concomitant of it (it was ended by the Ptolemies). the citation of precedent and of statute (e. Old Kingdom material includes written court proceedings (Sethe I926). the cultural stability of such civilisations compares ill with that of prehistory. In any case. These practices mostly respond to needs that can be differently catered for in a non-literate society. Similarly. Writing is significant in the more open-ended. Legal matters could be 'published' in monumental form in a protected but accessible place. Lacau I92I-2). Teotihuacain and other Mesoamerican states. Iverson I975: 6). Most such women were probably not themselves literate (Baines & Eyre i983: 8I-5. and writing may be a contributory factor in these cases. No such special beliefs need be assumed. Within the same officially sanctioned context are also wills (technically deeds of delayed transfer)which define inheritance freely. Symbols are therefore manipulated. (Bray I979: 92). to enable them to exist above a certain territorial size (cautious statement of the negative corollary: Beattie I97I: 2-3). I46) and a law code (Mattha & Hughes I975). written safeguards buttressed it. Janssen & Pestman i968: I56. the resulting 'infusion' becoming a magical remedy (e. often posited for Egypt (e. and various African kingdoms. which used writing surprisingly little in view of its being invented there by the 6th century B. Wills of women are known as well as ones that give women the right to decide on an inheritance (Janssen & Pestman i968: I 50-2). and to endure beyond a certain time. These areas are vital because symbolically they order and interpret the world. the non-literate Inca empire. In such cases the symbolic power of writing is as a vehicle conveying the import of the spells. In comparative studies writing is often claimed to be necessary to the cohesion of large societies and to promote their stability (e. counter-examples can be found for any of them: the long-lived. but this is not relevant here. Elaborate record storage served legal institutions (see text in Lacau I949). although the attitude towards them is a general and not a specifically literate one. Apart from monumental versions of legal documents. but they acquired a notable rigour and generated new modes of intercourse. hardly a product of literacy.44 The wholesale idealisation of the monumental written and pictorial record-the two being inseparably linked by decorum-is the reverse of the same phenomenon. while in later times one finds the use of documents as overriding evidence (Gaballa I977: 23. socially important area of law. their politics may not be: Egypt and Mesopotamia. but at least among the wealthier.

I. II. develops) and religion. Invention and early dynastic period. the expressive aspect proliferates in the form of written literary texts. although it operates in a different way and can come to be insulated from outside pressures. attempts to monitor reducing resources. The concept of a text appears. increased wealth. to c.590 JOHN BAINES their similar writing systems and use of them. Following stimuli of the decentralised Ist intermediate period. which is complex. instrumental matter. another type of text. IV. Middle Kingdom. Increase in writing. Writing is reformed so that its potential to record continuous language is realised. but remain vital and continue to grow. but more complex and less instrumental. Apart from these possible 'proclivities' of writing. The formation of literatureinto a canon is the termination of the expressive development. There may also be technical texts. but similar counter-examples can be found for most of the causal correlations that have been proposed between writing and change. being manifest first in biographies. Elite culture looks to a broader base. In the world as a whole writing has seldom come to be less used or to disappear completely. its expressive possibilities increase. that is. It is confined to administration and display. The development can be characterised by the polarity of instrumentality on the one hand and expression or content on the other: as writing develops. The system must be adequate to its needs. centripetal. 1350). The importance of scarcity decreases and expression and comment are possible. however. which are the points of departure for later development. The main points to retain here are the potentially self-sustaining characterof writing and its possible role in coercion. is not automatic. Such an outline refers only to the elite and can hardly incorporate the perspective of the actors. the case for correlating literacy and change looks more plausible. Writing is now prominent in law (where the legal document. for it endures some centuries without great change or loss. were also similar in their cultural stability. which become the least instrumental writings. In coercion writing can serve a symbolic system. In the later periods in Egypt. The literary canon has an ideological role comparable to that of the system of decorum. rather. when literacy was probably less widespread than before. it may be useful to summarise the material reviewed here. but politically Egypt was much the more stable. as with the Old Kingdom bureaucratic hierarchy which organised the construction of the pyramids and focused on the king. New Kingdom (i8th dyn. The proliferation of written and artistic high culture among an elite is characteristically self-sustaining. not to lead. Royal inscriptions appear to follow private stimuli. its chief development is not progressive. (Administrative functions are not specifically mentioned after stage I. Writing can assert. but in the absence of written sentences can hardly comment.) For my stage IV I consider in more detail how far change may be related usefully to writing. 3rd dynasty and Old Kingdom. the military became more important. in order to present a model of some generality while attempting to avoid extremes of global interpretation. III. It can also serve military force directly. Rates of literacy probably rise. stimuli towards its proliferation come from other developments such as centralisation. and in its implications focused on the core elite. but an army does not have to rely on written niceties. including . Writing is a symbolic system that passes through stages. Innovation is almost certainly confined to the core elite. but perhaps only for ritual. The principles of instrumentality and scarcity predominate. A priori. simply because social structures have changed faster since writing appeared than before.

may make it more efficient or restrict it. Ramessid period (I9th-2oth dyn. In representation there are developments towards unified composition and accommodation to the visual image in pictorial schemata.45another describes how he devised a clock (Helck I975b: I IO-I2). Some features of these changes continued in the following. development in the i 8th dynasty is towards greater culturalplurality. so in Greece the focus of change was on very few people. implying more individual access to deities than before and a less centripetal general ideology. Writing becomes more diverse in script forms but literacy more restricted. Assmann I975: 2i9). Changes are within the system and may realise more of its potential. but without decisive change from III. and in variety of genres. In his later years Akhenaten replaced the toleration of an indefinite number of deities with the worship of the sun-god alone. These attitudes are more 'open' than 'closed'. This continues the later New Kingdom. In summary. In his reign representational art also developed faster and more radically than before. and a third speaks in highly subjective terms of his physical exaltation in performing a dangerous feat and saving the king (Sethe I927: 894. stage IV. Change of this sort could. g. but in Egypt only the first signs are visible. following Popper). specialised and harder to acquire. Io-I5). Writing proliferates further in volume and context. Common to all phases is the unquestioned maintenance of culture and writing. in the terminology of Horton (i967: I55-6. I360) constitute a drastic simplification of the previous interpretation of experience. Finally. but the system is treated as given (in myth. In iconography rules of decorum become notably looser. The first phase of pluralisation in Egypt is visible as much as anything in shifting cognitive styles. The only time when this may not be true is the New Kingdom. a view enshrined visually in the underworld Book of Gates (Hornung I972: 234 fig. As in Egypt. form part of a 'cognitive revolution' such as occurred in archaicGreece. be seen when a man says 'I was not taught by an old man. whereas in Egypt it specifically affected those symbols. In Greece pluralisation did not replace central symbols. 32). V. The cognitive change that is so striking in Greece is one aspect of more widespread social change. the religious reforms of Akhenaten (c. in both cases a wider society that tolerated at least the initial stages was a necessary precondition. Egyptians also cease to consider foreigners not to be 'human' like themselves and accept them as beings of the created world (e. Other comparable elements . scepticism. 3rd intermediate period and later. and the written language was brought much closer to the spoken. which it broadened to some extent. for example.JOHN BAINES 59I folklore. Some secular genres in literature and iconography almost vanish. Egyptian change was within a very old written tradition. In Greece writing had a less fixed place in society and textual forms were in process of development-although contemporaries may not have viewed these matters thus. in future years I will be praised for my ability by those who will surpass(?)what I did'. language and writing were invented in the beginning by the god Thoth).). I suggest. a potentially fruitful mixture of relativisation. knowledge of whom was gained solely through Akhenaten. Relativisation can. The amount of inscription in public places continues to increase until Roman times. dogmatism and observation. while a new centripetal ethos tends to supersede one of more subjective personal achievement (Baines 1983).

where it took hold. but one among many. was scattered. as Akhenaten could well have been. What is also missing in Egypt is the abstract form of textual argument that arose in Greece. however. distance in communication and diversity it allows. however. suggest possible reasons why changes were or were not accepted. as likely to affect the individual directly. In Egypt no such mid-level metalanguage appeared. and 'harpist's songs'. as in possible stimuli: new influx of wealth. used in conjunction with mortuary ceremonies. One can. Egypt.592 JOHN BAINES occur first then. even when as clear as Akhenaten. the failure of change would probably not need explaining. and iconoclasm. the only literary texts to be primarily subjective in focus. who has considered the matter for Greece (I980: go-9). is the gradual replacement of the king by gods as the focal symbol of society (kings remain formally significant). can encourage individual variation and response. Religious change. Greece. For Greece plurality may have helped to formulate a mode of discourse that allowed different areas to be discussed in the same terms without necessary recourse to ultimate values. In Egypt an instant transformation was attempted. The most radical impulses of Akhenaten were diverted or negated in the ensuing reaction. Involvement with a changing textual tradition. publicly juxtaposing the affirmation and the doubting of major values. and Greece was a relatively 'open' society before writing spread widely in it. The tiny number who initiated developments would have been from among the literate. These were the developments that remained in . Such shock tactics highlight problems of change and of analysis. The major part of the change brought by plurality is. such as i8th dynasty Egypt possessed. we may say what he built on. most notably love poems. monetised. was very different.the 'revolution' of Akhenaten was couched in traditional terms and centred on traditional concerns. its success in Greece would. Comparison with archaic Greece shows clear parallels in the concurrence of new attitudes and artistic development. however. A more important development. most noticeable in temple decoration.47 in comparison a new culture. The person or group of people who break widespread social forms so drastically may be eccentric or deranged. probably social change consequent on the other two. where change aborted. Murray. only partly urban. and had a storage economy. which question the value of preparation for death and the certainty of life after death. From the standpoint of an ancient Egyptian. These contrasts do no more than suggest where one might look for an explanation. can hardly be analysed. however. so that the source of change.46 Radical reform under Akhenaten involved deliberate reversal of existing convention. was monolithic. urban. and the status of writing in it was less well defined. decides as I do that literacy is a necessary factor. and in parallel a new restriction of decorum in which secular themes come to be depicted and celebrated much more rarely. But the explanation of genius or of madness is at or beyond the limit of what we can do. foreign trade and travel. but scarcely why he did it. 48 The hypothesis of plurality and relativisation is compatible with a major role in these changes for writing that can record continuous texts. and to be related to a changing conception of person and view of the position of man. because of the increased temporal perspective.

: Emery (I938: 4i no. which was in a fine inlaid box. and their memory in compass and duration.). Klaus Baer. The papyrus. in counters. 35 with refs. for many early dynastic personal names form sentences (Kaplony i963. ritual and law. Hornung I972). 2 Schenkel (in press) has an excellent discussion of theories of script origins. Norman Yoffee. Only late in its evolution in a society is writing likely to provide the reinforcement associated with rapid social and cognitive change. Literacy is a response more than a stimulus. It is more likely to have been meant for the tomb owner than for a scribal employee of his. The literate can extend their communication in space and time. The final version was written during a Humboldt-Stiftung fellowship at the University of Heidelberg. J. 1 mostly omit Graeco-Roman material. Dieter Hagedorn. It is not always possible to give proper documentation. 4 Papyrus from an official's tomb of the mid Ist dyn. innovations disappeared again. Piankoff I957). This question is tangential to my topic. most of these refer to the next life. later said to be two rolls: i96i: 23 3-5. 5Perhaps significantly. Jan Assmann. whereas most of the cognitive. comm. New Kingdom underworld books (Piankoff I954. W. tokens or knotted ropes. pers. or in art the representational. earlier statement probably correct). This situation is quite different from that of the multilingual cuneiform script. Some material has been extracted and published separately (Baines & Eyre i983). On chronological grounds alone the former should be excluded. Peter Machinist. full realisation of its possibilities comes very slowly. but the route is quite uncertain (most recently Zauzich ig80). It may be a necessary precondition for some social and cognitive change. (Our alphabet may be derived ultimately from Egyptian writing. the Book of the Dead (Hornung I979). 432. but no text more than a sentence long is preserved. C.JOHN BAINES 593 Egypt in later periods. I: 377-672). But although they soon exploit such skill for status. Only in the modern age of institutionalised invention has this altered markedly. but it does not cause such change. Erika Feucht. mythological papyri (3rd interm. Tait. 2000. but tends to be introduced after they have come into being. Faulkner I978: I27-89). It enhances complex organisation and may be necessary to complex societies above a certain large size. John Callender. The origin of the alphabet is not the same as the adoption of a complex script. period. cumbrous way of writing foreign words. 3 This is a widespread guess. The discovery of late 4th millennium sites in Syria (Tells Habuba Kabira. Tait 1977 no. which is not part of the original system of decorum. the .. for administration.) 7 Possible in principle from the beginning. 'Falyum papyri' (Graeco-Roman. was blank. I supply citations which refer to other material. which are basically the same in all its forms (Schenkel I976). Helen Whitehouse. Schmandt-Besserat i98I: 323-4). 6 There are insignificant exceptions from the New Kingdom and an Aramaic text in demotic script. but no Egyptian objects have been found there (Kay Simpson. and I am grateful to many people for comments. The initial impact of writing is a huge increase in and elaboration of memory. As with any invention. they may not see what they do with it as different in kind from the use of similar skills in oral form-or. Nor do I discuss the principles of the script. In chronological order important texts are: the Book of Two Ways (c. Qannas and Qraya) renders the idea more plausible. which is the province of others. if at all. J. in particular to: Jon Anderson. There was also a special. but much must go unsupported. Eyre. In Mesopotamia the advent of continuous texts was marked by a decline in tabular presentation. NOTES Since this lecture was first delivered the topic has been presented in various places. Other theories emphasise 'historical consciousness' and cult.

g. to whom I am most grateful for a mass of documentation. In so far as finds may attest to 'libraries'. M. with others (Lichtheim 1973: IOO-I). i). Lichtheim (I973: 5-8) and Assmann (in press) argue for a later dating of texts ascribed to Old Kingdom authors. 17 Phaedrus(274C-275B). Thoth) wishes to spread writing. 22 Lichtheim (I 976: I 67-78. add demotic legal code. but cited good evidence for the Ist intermediate period. which I have not seen) but I believe to be established beyond reasonable doubt in their essentials. 9 Some texts are ascribed to the Ist interm. In the story of Horus and Seth. like Old Kingdom ascriptions. 20 Pointed out by Y. the 'lord of divine words' (hieroglyphs and Seshat are almost the only literate deities.594 JOHN BAINES one compensating for the other (Green I 98 I). 18 Brunner (I957: IO-I3) stated that there were no Old Kingdom schools. 25 Some texts were translated into Greek: Roccati (ig80: 82-3. Rea I978: . selection with bibl.d. Thoth has ajoke at the expense ofhls illiterate master Rec by writing in a letter that Rec is 'beloved of Thoth' (Lichtheim I976: 2 I 5). i982. in press. 27). see e. 14 Matters are complicated by a granite statue of a shipwright.). including that with the name of the famous Imhotep. only inferiors can be 'beloved' of superiors. 15 Gods were preliterate. 20). 16 For a cryptic allusion to the superiority of written over oral form see Korostovtsev (I 947: I6I line 7). the king or perhaps king of the gods. it is uncertain whether this is true in terms of dialect. I: 364-76). An Egyptian king is also said to have 'chanted the writings'. which implies that any high craftsmanship was worthy of display. they could be later. I8). whose views have been disputed (also by Burkard. thinks it wise to restrict it. earliest example c. and perhaps in order to discourage bystanders from butting in. 9). 12 Numerous publications by Fecht (e. Thoth. but Thamous. text comments that the protagonist had a certain office '[without?] neglecting books in school' (Helck I975a: 88-9 line 4. Smith & Tait in press). 23 Roccati (ig80: 8o) proposes that the written language was essentially that of the court. This slower victory of language over layout probably related to the prominence of monuments and to decorum. mnemonic texts which appear to help the memorising of an 'alphabetical' order of consonantal phonemes (Smith & Tait in press no. (Epigraphic Survey ig80: 35-6). also a member of the 61ite. 9). presumably while learning them in school. the satirical letter of Horn.C. point in the same direction (cf. was never alone. Early dynastic inscriptions. being buried in their tombs. Surprising numbers of these papyri are known.g. but. 24 A related formal device is the 'crossword' inscription. Lepsius (n. the institution could very well go back to the Old Kingdom. they are studied in detail by Burkard (ig80).g. I69-84). 13 E. g. 11 From the latest periods there are some grammatical texts (Kaplony-Heckel I974). Erman & Grapow I926-3 I. 8 Helck (I972). Harpur. mostly two hymns written vertically and horizontally with the same signs or sign groups. 21 Cf. Goody & Watt (i968: 42). 19 A igth dyn. citing criticisms). The most important text. and they may have had a special value for their authors. pl. Kitchen ig80: go. period (e. Compare also the story of the Two Brothers with its 'cantos' and cantiche' (Assmann I977: 3-5). Such iconography is absent in later periods. Striking evidence for the universality of reading aloud in antiquity is St Augustine's statement (Confessions III. Gardiner I 93 5. is a separate composition known from many copies (Gardiner I91I. Lichtheim I973: 97-Io9. Note that this is projected onto Egypt. but proximity to the king continued to rank high. 3) that St Ambrose read in silence because he 6. In Egyptian the commonest word for 'to read' means 'to recite' (sdj. The prestige of crafts and of personal servants of the king seems to have yielded to that of bureaucratsas the latter proliferated. Fecht (i965 no. In Egypt the monuments always remained 'tabular'. Theuth (the god of writing.holding his tools (Spencer ig80 no.g. 10 Shown chiefly by the grouping of texts in finds from the Middle Kingdom to the Roman period (e. 4: 563-4). and a herbal (Tait 1977 no. The practice is treated as entirely exceptional. I360 B. no modern edition). as for a long period were public documents (Helck I974). Kaplony I 963.

This surely contrasts deliberately with normal literary stereotypes. A. his could be authentic. 26 Akhenaten (c. perhaps not of independent value). Such cognitive challenges are available in any multilingual context. text '[The like had] not been ] any [ [done ] since the antiquity of the land' (Sethe I933: 43.g. this may have sharpened scribal polemics against the military. Assmann ig80: 9-I4).4. 32 At frontiers government interest is again intense (e.). Perhaps as significantly. An effective route for advance for Egyptians and foreigners was the army. 6. It still constituted an advance in communication for those who mastered it. This relates to rites performed on the deceased and dangers of the hereafter. . The only texts known to be translated the other way are public decrees of the Graeco-Roman period. such as the Rosetta stone (i96 B. and texts were translated from one stage of the language to another. 6o). with unquantifiable implications for writing among craftsmen and reading among patrons. Dunham (I938: 4). 45 and the prowess of the chief lector priests is doubted (Lichtheim I973: 2I7-I8). such as a monthly inventory of the entire moveable property of the temple. The search for precision may have stimulated the first writing of Egyptian in Greek letters (2nd cent. 73-4. i. Westcar an exceptionally wise magician is a 'commoner' (n. v). It was desirable to know the likely content of a text before reading it. Epigraphic Survey (i980: 43. He too might be illiterate and have to draw on other scribes (Youtie I973). 5). 42 43 E. 3-5) Pieper (I929: 8). 3285). but these need not be closely based on fact. True also of the mutilating of hieroglyphs showing living beings so that these could not come 4 to life (Lacau I9I3). 'True' folk materials are extremely rare (for a possible source see Guglielmi I973). Goedicke I97i nos. 28 The range of objects with inscriptions increases. there too only the literate rose enough to be visible to us. 30 Steinmann (I974) analyses valuable material for Christian Egypt. but this is true of much handwritten material. but are clearly incomplete. areas not accessible to direct experience. which can only be read in groups.D. single words often also being unintelligible.JOHN BAINES 595 30-8 no. I360) modified the monumental language greatly along with his many other reforms. 39 With time those who learned to read also learned a second. 41 Two royal fragments have formulae with 'since the beginning' (reign ofKhufu) and 'antiquity' (contemporary?. 29 The Graeco-Roman period 'village scribe' was placed in office by the government and had government functions (Criscuolo I978).I0-284. 34 E. but requires expertise in writer and reader.). Kitchen (i980: 283.C. the dimensions of Egypt and its provinces were measured by the I2th dyn. This is paralleled by the diminishing size of signs from the Old Kingdom on. 31 Only a minority is published. At the end it is probably indicative of the small numbers who used native Egyptian writing. given as an oracular selection). A possible early example is the Old Kingdom herdsman's song.g. Christian Coptic is only indirectly related to this.). 35 ii. Classical languages must have been hard to read on account of the general absence of word breaks. especially in the New Kingdom. See also an early sth dyn. Smither I945). being limited also by reading aloud. 45 Helck (i963: 59 n. Jan Assmann remarks that in such institutions things were written that one could not easily have guessed. but probably not in advance of documents of the time. 64 (less concisely: Diodorus Siculus i. 33 In P. but unique in a private monumental text. with ref. The Instruction of Khety contains Egyptian folk categories of occupational classes which cannot be matched with those of Herodotus. which apparently alludes to a rare myth but is perfectly compatible with other beliefs (Kaplony i969).g. (Schlott-Schwab i98 I). 6. 27 Reading was probably slower. 36 37 Compare the remarks of Adams on Egypt and Nubia (I977: I35-41). older language. 38 Especially true of demotic. Peet (I930: 4I. In the Amarna period far more radical claims for the king's role in advancement were made (cf. 40 Always cited as a great achievement and said to be required by the effects of the Nile inundation. forerunner in the Instruction for Merikarec (Lichtheim I973: I03). Small scale is economical and rapid. One can imagine non-literate soldiers improving themselves more easily than peasants. but his estimates of literacy are unsound in method and exaggerate the reality by several orders of magnitude.

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