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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC-AD 800
Bagnall, Roger and Raffaella Cribiore

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006 pp. xiii + 421. $75.00

Description: When historians study the women of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquity, they are generally dependent on ancient literature written by men. But women themselves did write and dictate. And only in their own private letters can we discover unmediated expression of their authentic experiences. More than 300 letters written in Greek and Egyptian by women in Egypt in the millennium from Alexander the Great to the Arab conquest survive on papyrus and pottery. These letters were written by women from various walks of life and shed light on critical social aspects of life in Egypt after the pharaohs. Roger S. Bagnall and Raffaella Cribiore collect the best preserved of these letters in translation and set them in their paleographic, linguistic, social, and economic contexts. As a result, Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC-AD 800, provides a sense that these women's habits, interests, and means of expression were a product more of their social and economic standing than of specifically gender-related concerns or behavior. Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC-AD 800, takes the reader through theoretical discussions about the handwriting and language of the letters, the education and culture of the writers, and the writers' everyday concerns and occupations, as well as comparing these letters to similar letters from later historical periods. For each letter, discussion focuses on handwriting, language, and content; in addition, numerous illustrations help the reader to see the variety of handwritings. Most of this material has never been available in English translation before, and the letters have never previously been considered as a single body of material.

Subjects: Ancient Near East, Egyptian Literature, Literature

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Review by Carolyn Osiek
Published 9/1/2007
Citation: Carolyn Osiek, review of Roger Bagnall And Raffaella Cribiore, Women's Letters from Ancient Egypt, 300 BC-AD 800, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2007).

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