[ilds] Meaningful Arab Characters

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 28 07:49:30 PST 2016


Merrianne,

I stand by my comments about the modern Egyptians and their Islamic heritage.

Yes, 640-41 is the period of the Arab Conquest of Egypt.

As I said, ancient Egyptian is a dead language and ceased to be spoken (not withstanding the Coptic Church) by about 300 years after the Arab conquest.  Egyptian Arabic retains some of the vocabulary of Ancient Egyptian, but this is a veneer, much as English has thousands of French words resulting from the Norman conquest.  English, however, remains a Germanic language.  No one calls English a Romance language.  Egyptians today speak a dialect of Arabic.  Re this topic, a good book is Ahamad Abdel-Hamid Youssef’s From Pharaoh’s Lips:  Ancient Egyptian Language in the Arabic of Today (Cairo, American U in Cairo P, 2003).

How Arabic replaced Egyptian is an interesting topic, which I haven’t yet found adequately explained.  It was a gradual process, but the result was clearly the elimination of a spoken language with over 4000 years of history.

The Nubian people in Egypt are primarily located in Upper Egypt around the Aswan area.  They have their own culture and language.  They also speak Arabic.  They are not, however, descendants of the ancient Egyptians.  The ancient Egyptians distinguished between themselves and the peoples in Nubia (from the First to the Sixth Cataracts) and what is now the Sudan.  That is quite clear from the historical records and the paintings.  Ta-Sety (land off the bowmen) was the First Dynasty term for the land around the First Cataract.

What did Nubian mean to Lawrence Durrell?  How did he think of Memlik Pasha?  As you point out, Durrell would have most probably encountered Nubians working in hotels of Egypt.  In Durrell’s description of Memlik in Mountolive, I see a strong suggestion of ancient Egypt:

Physically too, the long silky head-hair with its suggestion of kink, the nose and mouth carved flatly in dark Nubian sandstone and set in bas-relief upon a completely round Alpine head — they gave the show away.  (p. 254)

I am arguing in an article that Memlik alludes to a famous dwarf in the Tale of Harkhuf, part of a Sixth Dynasty autobiography.  Too obscure?  Durrell had his contacts among Egyptologists, George Reisner among them.

Edward W. Said seems to think that imperialism in Egypt begins with Napoleon’s invasion in 1798.  I would argue that modern imperialism in Egypt begins in 640-41 with the Arab Conquest, which resulted in the most profound changes in Egypt’s long history.

Bruce




> On Feb 27, 2016, at 6:42 PM, Merrianne Timko <timlot at comcast.net> wrote:
> 
> Bruce,
>  
> Some random thoughts … 
>  
> 640 is a debatable date. 641 is a more commonly accepted date, in view of the founding of Fustat in 641 and its significance for the Arab conquest of Egypt and 'Amr.
> Fustat was an incredibly cosmopolitan city, the subject of a major exhibition in 2015 at the University of Chicago. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/special-exhibits/cosmopolitan-city-old-cairo <https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/special-exhibits/cosmopolitan-city-old-cairo>
>  
> As for information regarding “orientalism” on the list serv, I would like to see some interesting current thoughts on the subject. 
>  
> As for the “lost” Egyptian language, when I see words like ebony and adobe, ancient Egyptian has morphed into our modern languages.
>  
> Also, when Durrell returned to Egypt in 1977, he would have seen Nubians, especially men, displaced by the construction of the Aswan Dam. Durrell would no doubt have encountered the Nubians working at the hotels. Richard Fernea of the University of Texas documented this vanishing culture, and Hamza el Din was the musician that captured the Nubian culture’s spirit.
>  
> I would be very cautious when analyzing Arab, Islamic, Coptic, etc. characters based on today’s perception of race and religion. 
>  
> Merrianne Timko
>  
> From: ILDS [mailto:ilds-bounces at lists.uvic.ca] On Behalf Of Bruce Redwine
> Sent: Saturday, February 27, 2016 5:57 PM
> To: Sumantra Nag <ilds at lists.uvic.ca>
> Cc: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at gmail.com>
> Subject: [ilds] Meaningful Arab Characters
>  
> Another interesting question which raises the question of Postcolonialism, specifically Edward Said’s “Orientalism.”  Justine is full of interesting Egyptians, namely, the Copts, the Hosnanis.  As we all know, Durrell’s Hosnanis are the “original Egyptians.”  Although Arabic speaking, they are not Arabs.  In fact, most Egyptians are genetically not Arabs, although they call themselves such, as in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s short-lived “United Arab Republic.”  The Egyptians lost their language about 300 years after the Arab conquest in 640.  The Copts preserve a descendant of ancient Egyptian in the liturgy of the Coptic Church.  So what does it mean to be a “meaningful Arab character?”  Someone like Memlik Pasha?  And even he is half Nubian, an ethnic group which the Egyptians themselves consider alien to their native “Arab culture.”  It’s probably more accurate to say there aren’t any “meaningful Islamic characters” in the Quartet.
>  
> Bruce
>  
>  
>  
>  
>  
>> On Feb 27, 2016, at 2:26 PM, mail at durrelllibrarycorfu.org <mailto:mail at durrelllibrarycorfu.org> wrote:
>>  
>> In his "Lawrence Durrell in the OED" (sent as a link below) J Gifford states that "Justine" is "without any meaningful Arab characters". Eh? Sure proof that one can read a very different book to the next guy.
>> RP 
> 
>  

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