Printer Friendly

Fingierte Welten in der agyptischen Literatur des 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr.: Grenzuberschreitung, Reisemotiv und Fiktionalitat.

Fingierte Welten in der agyptischen Literatur des 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr.: Grenzuberschreitung, Reisemotiv und Fiktionalitat. By GERALD MOERS. Probleme der Agyptologie, vol. 19. Leiden: BRILL, 2001. Pp. viii + 338. $75.

This work was presented as a dissertation in 1996, the same year that saw the landmark publication of the collection of papers entitled Ancient Egyptian Literature (Probleme der Agyptologie, vol. 10; Leiden: Brill). The introductory article by the volume's editor, Antonio Loprieno, set up a number of criteria for the identification of specifically "literary" texts in the Egyptian corpus. These criteria serve as the backbone for Moers' treatment of his subject.

The opening chapter, "Prehistory" (pp. 1-17), traces Egyptological views of literature. Noting the lack of analytic tools with which to develop a "science" of Egyptian literature, Moers turns to recent approaches, such as Parkinson's genre poetics and the methodical use of metrics. Moers concludes that the three criteria presented by Lorprieno stand out as providing the most viable approach: fictionality, intertextuality, and reception. Moers further advocates the examination of narrative fiction as a distinct subtype of literary text.

The second chapter, "Theoretical Modeling" (pp. 19-165), discusses these criteria in detail, with the first section dealing with fictionality. Humankind, we are told, has an inherent need for fiction, primarily because it allows us to transcend the limits of our existence. An extensive discussion emphasizes the difference between "fictional" and "fictive" (and their German equivalents), while introducing the term fingiert, used in this context as a correlate for "imaginary," stressing the relationship between the "real" and its fictional counterpart, thus emphasizing fiction as an imagined reality. This is particularly apparent in the Egyptian use of the historical past as the scene for fictional events.

The author then turns to "signals" of fictionality. The "paratext" is represented by, for example, genre designations and colophon. Inconsistency, another signal of fictionality, is found in the peculiar "Egyptianness" of Sinuhe's Asiatic host Amunneshi. After discussing "emblematic names and irony," the "contract" between author and audience, and the expectations thus created, are treated. The journey narrative as a defined type is asserted, while it is noted that these texts might formally be assigned to different genres.

The section dealing with intertextuality is highly theoretical and heavily annotated, presenting the term's intellectual pedigree. Intertextuality is used to describe the relationship of different types of texts. Boundaries between genres are continually intersected as common themes and phraseology are used in diverse contexts.

In dealing with reception, i.e., the manner in which these texts were accessed, Moers takes up the main issues, such as the level of literacy (commonly estimated at one to two percent), and the question of performance contra individual reading. Revisiting the workers of Deir el-Medineh and the preserved evidence of their literary taste, Moers concludes that a preference for private reading had emerged by the Ramesside period, with the evidence of the Deir el-Medineh ostraca suggesting that literature was widely and individually accessible.

The final chapter (pp. 167-283), devoted to individual texts, begins with a discussion of rhetoric as an early compositional meeting point of autobiographic and didactic texts. Narrative fiction shares with these a conceptual coherence with the principle of Maat, "truth" or "order." In contrast to the case with other text groups, however, Maat in a literary text functions as a key concept countering the personal experience of the disruption of order.

The journey narrative deals explicitly with crossing borders, said to be the primary psychological impetus of fiction. In the section entitled "Water, Crocodiles, and Other Dangers," the significance of these themes in a cross-section of literary and religious texts is examined. After identifying water as an ambivalent element associated with both birth and death, Moers turns to the crocodile as an image of fate. To this is added an excursus treating the role of women as an extension of the water-crocodile theme. The ship and sailing metaphors are also examined. Having established a triad of water/crocodile/travel-by-water, the author concludes the section with an examination of the intertextual use of this imagery, with an emphasis on the didactic literature.

With the background provided by the previous discussions, four texts are briefly examined. For the "Shipwrecked Sailor" a particular emphasis is placed on the Island of the Ka, a decisively transitional location, as the setting for the story. The dreamlike quality of Sinuhe's exile in Retjenu is compared to his social reawakening when he returns to Egypt.

A considerable chronological leap is made in treating the next narrative, the "Journey of Wenamun." The story, telling of Wenamun's misadventures off the Levantine coast, differs greatly from that of Sinuhe as, in contrast to earlier heroes, Wenamun lacks a talent for rhetoric and thus fails in his encounter with a Levantine prince. Another element, often attributed to the chronological setting of the story, is the gradual breakdown of Wenamun's identity as an Egyptian official on an important mission. This is compared with Sinuhe's journey that enhances his status and provides him with "upward mobility."

The final text is the lesser-known "Odyssey of Wermai," published as the "Tale of Woe." In the form of a letter, the priest Werami writes of his journey from Heliopolis ("center") to an oasis ("periphery"). The debilitating experience of being "abroad," treated as a form of death, is at the core of the narrative. A resume concludes the chapter and the text. An extensive bibliography and numerous indices fill out the remaining forty-six pages.

The above summary is cursory in the extreme, as the many complex theoretical discussions require first-hand attention by the reader. Formally an Egyptological work, this book deals extensively with issues that require a grounding in literary theory as well as in the way it can be applied to Egyptian texts. A familiarity with previous work by such scholars as Assmann, Loprieno, and Baines is necessary to access this study adequately. Moers has brought together two divergent disciplines, displaying a command of both. His audience, however, is not apt to have this advantage and a greater pedagogic sensitivity to the difficulty of his subject matter would have made this work more enjoyable reading.

That being said, Moers' work, here and elsewhere, makes a significant contribution to the development of the study of ancient Egyptian literature. His insight into the complexity and sophistication of these texts enriches their reading, both as cultural artifacts and as examples of world literature.


COPYRIGHT 2003 American Oriental Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Reviews of Books
Author:Troy, Lana
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Previous Article:Kulturgeschichten: Altorientalistische Studien fur Volkert Haas zum 65. Geburtstag.
Next Article:On Scrolls, Artefacts and Intellectual Property.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |