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During the final centuries of the 4th Millennium BCE (c. 3200 – 3000 BCE) north-east Africa experienced the evolution of an unprecedented social organization, viz. the earliest nation state on Earth.  As an indispensable concomitant of this phenomenon, a civil service rapidly took shape which was constrained to develop several mechanisms for the running of a complex society: a standardized system of weights and measures, a calendar, a tax system, and an aide memoire to provide security for archival memory, viz. a script. The latter, wrongly dubbed by the Greeks “sacred signs” (hieroglyphs), was used to write the Egyptian language.

The development of the Egyptian language, as reflected in texts written in hieroglyphs, spans four millennia. After a period of experimentation (the Archaic period), a dialect appears called Old Egyptian, the language of the royal court at Memphis during the Old Kingdom (“the Pyramid Age”).  This, a dialect associated with the elite, was swept away in a revolution in the 23rd century BCE, and replaced by the “language of the streets”, Middle Egyptian c. 2200 BCE.  Middle Egyptian remained the accepted literary dialect of the language for over 800 years. The assumption of power by the Ramesside Kings (c. 1300 BCE) ushered in a new dialect, Late Egyptian (c. 1300 – 700 BCE.), which evolved through two further stages: Demotic (c. 700 BCE – 200 CE) and Coptic (c. 250 – 1400 CE).  The first three phases of the language employed the hieroglyphic script for formal inscriptions, and the cursive hieratic for business documents, literature and epistolography; while Demotic developed a much-reduced cursive “short hand,” and Coptic employed the Greek script.

The study of the Egyptian language is rewarding both for its structure and content. For the linguist it provides a long-lived language undergoing an evolution little affected by the outside world.  For the historian doors are opened on a time span longer than that of any other nation on earth.  For those interested in comparative literature a vast library is available. Genres include religious texts, archives and historical texts, short stories, love poetry, encomia, satirical pieces, myths, mythological stories, wisdom literature, onomastica, didactic texts and much more.

All phases of the ancient Egyptian language, including cursive scripts, are taught in the CAMS department.  Middle Egyptian is the habitual point of entry for the novice, because of its simplified orthography; and it is offered every semester.  Upon demand, the successful student can move on, usually to Late Egyptian.  This opens up Demotic and Coptic, much in demand by both Hellenists and Romanists, and those interested in Christian origins and Church History.  Old Egyptian, because it is essentially the same dialect as Middle Egyptian, can be entered upon at any point in the student’s career.



CAMS 481:  Introduction to Middle Egyptian & Hieroglyphics

Archaic Egyptian, Old Egyptian, Late Egyptian, Coptic and advanced reading courses are offered as CAMS 490: Ancient Mediterranean Languages or CAMS 496: Independent Studies for undergraduate and graduate students when there is sufficient demand.

Demotic can also be offered as CAMS 490 or CAMS 496.

Student Testimonial

“The day I changed my major to Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies was one of the happiest of my college career.  Even before switching to CAMS,  I was interested in what the department had to offer. (...)
An undergraduate advisor suggested LATIN 003 as a way of easing into college life, as I had taken Latin classes throughout high school and had performed well on the Advanced Placement exams.  The beginning was rough, but I enjoyed the challenge of translating Latin prose and the information that the texts conveyed.  Although I pursued an Advertising degree during my first two years of college, I continued to sign up for Latin courses, and by the end of my sophomore year, I had realized that Classics, not Advertising, was the right major for me. In addition to the Latin courses, I also studied the ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece, and Egypt in the CAMS major.  All of these classes were interesting, educational, and taught by knowledgeable faculty members.   The CAMS faculty is always helpful; they provide insight into the class material and make suggestions for outside reading during office hours and after class.  When I wrote my senior thesis for the Honors College, I received much help from the CAMS faculty while researching and writing the thesis.  Now that I have received my diplomas from Penn State, both in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Spanish, I have decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Education.  I have been accepted at the Complutense University of Madrid, one of the oldest universities in Europe, to study secondary education, specializing in classical languages.  I am confident that the education I received at Penn State, notably in the CAMS department, will aid me greatly in my postgraduate studies and in securing a teaching job, whether in the United States, Spain, or elsewhere.”

Celia Meehan
2010 CAMS graduate

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