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THE LATE ANTIQUE GREEK EGYPTIAN EPIC POETRY AND ‘ETHIOPIANS’: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE EVIDENCE [Abstract ID: 0518-09]
The researches of the last decades on late Greek antique poetry from Egypt, and on the early fifth-century poet Nonnus of Panopolis in particular, have evidenced how much of the contemporary world is actually represented and directly or indirectly reflected in his works (all in all, c. 25,000 verses in the forty-eight-book poem Dionysiaca and in the Paraphrasis of the Gospel of St John are preserved). There are plenty of allusions to ‘Realien’ from Nonnus’ time, with details of social and historical circumstances to. Besides allusions to cults, customs, and aspects of everyday life, and the reworking of features of Egyptian folklore, another source of influence remains largely unexplored. Very recent contributions (for an overview see Gianfranco Agosti, ‘Nonnus and Late Antique Society’, 2016) have highlighted so far unnoticed elements possibly pointing to Nonnus’ conversation with Coptic monastic environments, as appears to be corroborated by cross-evidence in Coptic sources. Yet, not only the Blemmyes, but even ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘Ethiopians’ (‘Aithiopía’, ‘Aithíopes’) are not infrequently mentioned in Nonnus’ poems (Dion. 2,683; 13,347; 17,385-397 (where Blemmyes, Ethiopians and ‘Eritrean Indians’ are dealt with in detail); 26,228; 26,340, 341; 39,197; 43,165). Still beyond the mere mention of names and labels such as ‘Ethiopians’, which were familiar and had a traditionally established role in epic poetry, the search for echoes of more precisely and historically determined ‘Ethiopians’ (or Aksumites) remains a valuable working hypothesis. This search, also extended to other products of Egyptian late antique poetry (such as the texts preserved in the Bodmer collection), offers the opportunity to contribute to the ‘vexed question’ of the actual meaning and understanding of ‘Ethiopians’, ‘Indians’, and related labels in late antique imagery.