Review of Edda Bresciani's "Testi Religiosi dell'Antico Egitto"

Submitted to the Egyptologists' Electronic Forum (EEF).

Edda Bresciani, Testi Religiosi dell'Antico Egitto,
I Meridiani series, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milano, October 2001.
With Bibliography and Indexes, XXX + 920 pages; 12 colour plates, b/w drawings; 11 x 18 cm.
ISBN 88-04-48938-3. Hardcover.

Italian language readers had, since a long time, the pleasure and the luck to have at their disposal two major anthologies of Egyptian texts in annotated translation. These are the well-known Testi Religiosi Egizi by Sergio Donadoni (of which even an economic though abridged edition exists) and the Letteratura e Poesia dell'Antico Egitto by Edda Bresciani (of which 3 editions have appeared). With these two ponderous tomes basically all the most important ancient Egyptian texts were made available in correct Italian translation. However it appears that Italian readers are luckier than previously thought: Edda Bresciani has now produced a third tool (even though "tool" is a reductive description), namely a collection of religious texts in a thousand pages to complement the existing literature.

The book is composed of an introductory essay by the author about ancient Egyptian religion, a chronological table, a note to the present edition, abbreviations, 5 parts with translated and annotated texts, the Italian translation of the 43-pages essay "Die Heraufkunft des transzendenten Gottes in Aegypten" by Sigfried Morenz, a bibliography, an index of names and epithets of gods, an index of names of kings, queens and princes, an index of toponyms, an index of notabilia, and a general index.

While reading the book the reader will notice a first important characteristic: the texts are not arranged chronologically, as was done for instance by Donadoni in his book, but typologically and thematically. Bresciani, following a general method introduced first by Donadoni in the '50s, has subdivided the various textual manifestations of the ancient Egyptian religious thought into 5 major categories or themes, into which everything is arranged on a chronological basis.
The five thematic parts are:
1) The Ways of the Creation (pg. 5-39),
2) Divine Tales (pg. 51-157),
3) Hymns, Rituals, Prayers, Letters to the Gods (pg. 169-271),
4) Magical Texts, Dreams, Oracles, Magicians (pg. 283-403),
5) Funerary Religion or Hope for an Eternal Life (pg. 413-795).
This kind of approach to texts has both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it is perhaps easier to get an idea of the Egyptian religion in terms of our present-day categories. But at least two disadvantages come to mind: firstly, it is highly difficult for the unexperienced reader to have a synchronic vision of the phenomena and then to get a historical perspective of the evolution of the concepts; secondly, the division of the texts into categories is not an easy task since many of them possess features that render them to be both texts about, say, Genesis (first part) and about Rites (third part) or afterlife (fifth part). The most evident example of this difficulty is the Great Hymn to Aten (but even the so-called Cannibal Hymn from the PTs is another good example), which has been split up into several parts, each one put in a different section. The result is that the reader cannot get a comprehensive insight of the Hymn as a whole, as a literary, poetical and religious creation. Fortunately the interested reader can read it as a whole in the book by Donadoni or in the Letteratura by Bresciani herself. In this way this third "tool" is complementary to the already existing tools.

But let us now see how much it is complementary from the point of view of the number of texts presented. From the first thematic part we can quote the presence of the main texts pertaining to the so-called Heliopolitan Tradition, Memphite Theology, Esna Tradition, Theban Tradition, Amarna Theology and finally the words from the 24th part of the Pap. Insinger. Of these it can be said that only Heliopolis, Amarna and Memphis were represented in the book by Donadoni. The second part was already completely available if one united the texts from Donadoni's book and Bresciani's literature. The third and fourth parts are about 50% completely new to the Italian public. The fifth part (which is the largest one) is probably already available: it comprises a few spells from PT and CT and the whole corpus of spells from BoD. Here Bresciani wanted to give the entire BoD which was already available in the good volume by Boris de Rachewiltz (the so-called Turin Papyrus). On the whole it can be said that approximately 30% or 40% of the given texts was not previously available in Italian. Not everything available has been put in this book, however. For instance many magical texts from the nice collection by Borghouts have been left out, as well as many of the so-called Unterweltsbuecher which are badly represented in Italian.

The quality of the translations is excellent. The notes are complete in the explanations and in the relevant bibliography (original text, editions, translations etc.). The typographical edition is very good.

The overall judgement is positive, given also the monumental work done for this publication by Bresciani who must be sincerely thanked for this. So, is the book to be recommended? The answer is yes, provided the book is accompanied by the other two complementary "tools" mentioned earlier. I fear that as a "stand alone" it won't fulfil the claim to be the "ultimate" resource for AE religious texts in Italian.

Federico Rocchi

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