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Durham e-Theses
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Hieroglyphic Semantics in Late Antiquity

WILDISH, MARK (2012) Hieroglyphic Semantics in Late Antiquity. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The primary aim of this thesis is the reconstruction of a development in the history of the philosophy of language, namely an understanding of hieroglyphic Egyptian as a language uniquely adapted to the purposes and concerns of late Platonist metaphysics. There are three main reasons for this particular focus.

First, the primary interest of philological criticism has emphasized the apparent shortcomings of the classical hieroglyphic tradition in light of the success of the modern decipherment endeavour. Though the Greek authors recognize a number of philologically distinctive features, they are primarily interested in contrasting hieroglyphic and Greek semantics. The latter is capable of discursive elaboration of the sapiential content to which the former is non-discursively adapted.

Second, the sole surviving, fully extant essay in the exegesis of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Hieroglyphica of Horapollo can be situated within the broader philosophical project in which the Neoplatonic commentators were engaged. As such, it draws on elements of the distinct traditions of Greek reception of Egyptian wisdom, 4th/5th century pagan revivalism under Christian persecution, and late Platonist logico-metaphysical methodological principles.

Third, the rationale for Neoplatonic use of allegorical interpretation as an exegetical tool is founded on the methodological principle of ‘analytic ascent’ from the phenomena depicted, through the concepts under which they fall, to their intelligible causes. These three stages in the ascent correspond to the three modes of expression of which, according to Greek exegetes, hieroglyphic Egyptian, as composites of material images and intelligible content, is capable.

Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica, I argue, maintains a tripartite distinction between linguistic expressions, their meanings, and the objects or name-bearers which they depict and further aligns that distinction with three modes of hieroglyphic expression: representative, semantic, and symbolic. I conclude, therefore, that a procedure of analytic explanatory ascent from empirical observation through discursive reason to metaphysical or cosmological insights is employed in the exegesis of the sapiential content of the hieroglyphs of which it treats.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica, Shenoute, Neoplatonic semantics
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Jul 2012 14:54

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