Resources on Old Nubian   3 comments

Several weeks ago I had HMML order some more books with Old Nubian texts and they arrived last week. Like the bulk of scholarly work on this language and its literature, these books are from the pen of Gerald M. Browne (1943-2004),[1] who worked in the classics department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is best known for his work on Old Nubian, as well as on Coptic.

These most recent acquisitions at HMML are Beihefte from the series Beiträge zur Sudanforschung: Literary Texts in Old Nubian (1989) and The Old Nubian Miracle of Saint Menas (1994). Each volume includes the Old Nubian text with accompanying English translation and grammatical commentary; the former volume includes an Old Nubian-English glossary, and the latter a Greek-Old Nubian index and (bitonal) facsimile of the manuscript. Among other resources, HMML (or Saint John’s itself) has Browne’s Old Nubian Dictionary, CSCO 556 / Subs. 90 (Louvain, 1996) and Old Nubian Grammar (Munich, 2002).

Old Nubian, of the Nilo-Saharan language family, was used in what is now Sudan and southern Egypt, and its descendant, Nobiin, is still spoken in the region today. It was written in an alphabet derived from Greek akin to Coptic, and, as in Coptic, there are a few extra letters, these from Coptic and Meroitic. Notable linguistic features include SOV (subject-object-verb) word order, the use of postpositions (as opposed to prepositions), the genitive noun coming first in genitive constructions, and adjectives following the nouns they modify. Browne produced a grammatical sketch in 1989 (Introduction to Old Nubian [Berlin]) that is rare these days, but his more complete Grammar referred to above is now the standard. His Dictionary was supplemented in 1997 by three appendices in a separate volume, also available at HMML: Old Nubian Dictionary: Appendices, CSCO 562 / Subs. 92 (Louvain, 1997).

Texts in Old Nubian survive from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries, with most from the tenth to the twelfth. Edited, these materials amount to under 100 pages of continuous text and include, among others, fragments from the Bible, some hagiography (the stories of St. Menas, St. George, and Epimachus), and the Nicene Canons. The longest continuous text is the Pseudo-Chrysostomian “Homily on the Venerable Cross”, the Greek original of which also survives. As is not surprising, there are connections between Old Nubian literature and that of Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity.

The study of Old Nubian is rather younger than that of most of its other eastern Christian neighbors. The British Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith (1862-1934) worked on the language in the early twentieth century: his Nubian Texts from the Christian Period (Berlin, 1913) contains some texts with English translation, a short description of the language, and a glossary. Werner Vycichl published some grammatical studies from 1956 to 1961 and, following Nubian excavations in the 1960s, F. Hintze did further work investigating the language. More recently, contemporaneous with Browne, the Russian scholar E.B. Smagina published some important works which, however, remain only in Russian.

There are, alas, no Old Nubian manuscripts available for research at HMML, but we can at least here study the language and its literature!


[1] See a brief obituary here. A partial bibliography of his Nubian studies will be found in his Grammar referred to later in this post.

3 responses to “Resources on Old Nubian

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  1. Another great post! There is a very nice, but not widely circulated, Festschrift for Prof. Browne edited by one of my colleagues in Classics: Stephen M. Bay, Studia palaeophilologica : Professoris G.M. Browne in honorem oblata. Champaign, Ill. : Stipes, c2004. It has a full bio-bibliography to 2003. Here are the details:

    Contents: Remarks upon G.M. Browne’s retirement / Howard Jacobson — Valedictory address / G.M. Browne — G.M. Browne, biobibliography — Some more remarks on Old Bedauye / Helmut Satzinger — Towards a historical (diachronic) grammer of Nobiin Nubian : directionality and the verb / Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst — A Coptic epitaph from Nubia at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid / Sofía Torallas Tovar — Unidentified document mentioning orphans / Richard G. Warga — Das ‘minneclîche Wunder’ in der spätmittelalterlichen Mariendichtung und im späten Minnesang / Katherina Philipowski — Apuleiana / Howard Jacobson — An early anagram? : Pindar, O. 1.1 / William M. Calder III — A Sanskrit hymn to Drugā / W.S. Browne — Semitic aspects of the Greco-Roman pastoral / Frances and Kevin Newman — In my end is my beginning : verbal echoes in Pindar’s 9th Pythian / Staffan Fogelmark — Sallust : a note / J.K. Newman — Tatianus Nubianus / C.S. Browne — A new joke at Cicero Pro Caelio 67 / Gavin Weaire — A Byzantine version of Babrius, Fable 22 / John Vaio.

    Summary: “To honor Dr. Gerald M. Browne, Professor Emeritus of the Classics (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), a group of his colleagues, students and friends have assembled a collection of philosophical essays, presented to the honor and on the occasion of his 60th birthday, 13 December 2003. The volume likewise includes (1) two brief lectures delivered on the occasion of his retirement from the University of Illinois, 20 May 2003; and (2) Professor Browne’s complete biobibliography”–Pref.

  2. Thanks for this bibliographic addition, Kristian!

  3. Pingback: Recently available resources for Nubian studies | hmmlorientalia

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