Sunday, November 09, 2008

CLEOPATRA knew Hebrew and Aramaic? So Dr. Binoy Barman in a book review in the Lebanon Daily Star:
Cleopatra was accomplished and had an attractive personality. She had command over several languages, including Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Parthian, Median, Syriac, Theopian and Trogodite (many of them are extinct now), besides Latin and Greek. ...
Aramaic, quite possibly. Hebrew, I doubt very much. Syriac, certainly not: it was the Aramaic dialect of Edessa long after Cleopatra's lifetime. I've never heard of "Trogodite" or "Theopian."

UPDATE: reader William J. Hamblin e-mails:
Barman's "Trogodite" may be a garbling of Troglodyte, Greek "cave-dwellers" sometimes used with reference to the nomadic Berber peoples of North Africa, probably meaning in an Egyptian context, the language of the inhabitants of the Western Desert.
That seems to be right. See below.

Reader Carla Sulzbach e-mails:
As to Cleopatra being a polyglot (including "Trogodite" and "Theopian" the latter no doubt being a typo for "Ethiopian"), see:

Trogodytica: The Red Sea Littoral in Ptolemaic Times Author(s): G. W. Murray and E. H. Warmington Source: The Geographical Journal, Vol. 133, No. 1 (Mar., 1967), pp. 24-33 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

(It's online but requires a paid or institutional subscription though)

P. 32 gives the specific info. Apparently this info comes from Plutarch, who is quoted: "to most [of her subjects] she conversed herself; to Ethiopians, Trogodytes, Hebrews, Arabs and many more, whose languages she had learned. This was the more surprising in that most of the Kings, her predecessors, hardly gave themselves the trouble to master the Egyptian tongue" (Plutarch, 'Antony', xxvii, 3-4).
How interesting! I stand corrected.

Incidentally, the Penguin translation by Ian Scott-Kilvert of Plutarch's Life of Antony refers to "Troglodytes" and it also mentions "Syrians," which would account for the Aramaic and presumably the erroneous Syriac mentioned above.

UPDATE (15 November): More on the Trogodytes etc. here.