Not overstrong in his Greek: modern interpretation of 'Egyptian' Greek texts in the Zenon Archive

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


The Greek of documentary papyri from Egypt has received an inappropriately dismissive and even derisive response from many modern editors and commentators. That of documents whose named authors are apparently indigenous Egyptians has endured a particularly bad press. The worst of ‘bad Greek’ has been associated with such texts, often on the basis of extreme or poorly understood examples. The problematisation of their linguistic and stylistic competence is very often linked explicitly or implicitly to issues of language contact.

This presentation will examine ‘Egyptian’ Greek texts found in the remarkable third-century BCE assemblage known as the Zenon Archive. I will argue that these are far from a linguistically and stylistically uniform subset within the corpus and that some exhibit a level of Greek that essentially reflects the contemporary standard. I will discuss examples mainly of this type. My specific objectives are to demonstrate the unreliability of some modern judgements on the Greek usage and to cast fresh light on the complicated questions of authorship, the role of scribes, and the ethnicity of participants involved in the composition of the documents. The overarching purpose is to test the validity of the distinction between ‘Greek’ and ‘Egyptian’ authorship of texts from lower social levels preserved in the Archive.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPapers on Ancient Greek Linguistics
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Ninth International Colloquium on Ancient Greek Linguistics (ICAGL 9), 30 August–1 September 2018, Helsinki
EditorsMartti Leiwo, Marja Vierros, Sonja Dahlgren
Place of PublicationHelsinki
PublisherSocietas Scientiarum Fennica
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9789516534445
ISBN (Print)9789516534438
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventInternational Colloquium on Ancient Greek Linguistics (9th : 2018) - Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 30 Aug 20181 Sep 2018

Publication series

NameCommentationes Humanarum Litterarum
PublisherSocietas Scientiarum Fennica
ISSN (Print)0069-6587
ISSN (Electronic)2736-9374


ConferenceInternational Colloquium on Ancient Greek Linguistics (9th : 2018)
Abbreviated titleICAGL 9


  • Greek linguistics
  • papyrology
  • Zenon Archive
  • Ancient Greek
  • Koine
  • Egyptian


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