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Title: Rewriting the Egyptian river : the Nile in Hellenistic and imperial Greek literature
Author: Todd, Helen Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 5359 3401
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis explores Hellenistic and imperial Greek texts that represent or discuss the river Nile. The thesis makes an original contribution to scholarship by examining such texts in he light of the history of Greek discourse about the Nile and in the context of social, political and cultural changes, and takes account of relevant ancient Egyptian texts. I begin with an introduction that provides a survey of earlier scholarship about the Nile in Greek literature, before identifying three themes central to the thesis: the relationship between Greek and Egyptian texts, the tension between rationalism and divinity, and the interplay between power and literature. I then highlight both the cultural significance of rivers in classical Greek culture, and the polyvalence of the river Nile and its inundation in ancient Egyptian religion and literature. Chapter 1 examines the significance of Diodorus Siculus' representation of the Nile at the beginning of his universal history; it argues that the river's prominence constructs Egypt as a primeval landscape that allows the historian access to the distant past. The Nile is also seen to be useful to the historian as a conceptual parallel for his historiographical project. Whereas Diodorus begins his universal history with the Nile, Strabo closes his universal geography with Egypt; the second chapter demonstrates how Strabo incorporates the Nile into his vision of the new Roman world. Chapter 3 presents a diachronic study of Greek discourse concerning the two major Nilotic problems, the cause of the annual inundation and the location of the sources. It examines first the construction of the debates, and second the transformation of that tradition in Aelius Aristides' Egyptian Oration. The functions of the Nile in Greek praise-poetry are the subject of chapter 4; it is shown that the Nile and its benefactions are used by poets to lay claim to political, religious or cultural authority, and to situate Egypt within an expanding oikoumene. The fifth and final chapter turns to Greek narrative fictions from the imperial period. The chapter demonstrates that the Nile is more familiar than exotic in these texts. It is shown that Xenophon of Ephesus and Achilles Tatius play with the trope of 'novelty' in this very familiar literary landscape, while Heliodorus articulates a more profound disruption of the expected Egyptian tropes, and ultimately replaces Egypt with Ethiopia as a new Nilotic environment.
Supervisor: Whitmarsh, Tim; Smith, Mark Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Hellenic (Classical Greek) literature ; Literatures of other languages ; Ancient Greek literature ; Nile ; Ancient Egyptian literature ; rivers ; Herodotus ; Aristides ; Strabo ; Diodorus Siculus