Welcome! Or rather ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁ̀ⲧⲉⲧⲉⲛⲓ̀!

In some ways this post represents the end of an eleven year hiatus, being as it is the first since 2012 at the original the coptist blog. In other ways, though it carries the same name, it is entirely new, envisaged with broader ambitions. It is, in a sense, then, a renewal of sorts as the Ouroboros or tail-devouring snake shown in the image in the image represents. 1

Broad though it is in ambition, there will undoubtedly be peaks and troughs in its fecundity. This is inevitable given the manifold other commitments life will bring. Nevertheless, in the coming month and years, I hope to share with you some interesting and often neglected knowledge on the Coptic language in particular but also on Coptic history and culture.

Read more about the background to this website and blog on the About (ⲉⲑⲃⲏⲧ) page.


Let us begin, then, as seems apt, with a discussion of the Coptic idiom for “welcome!” or more generally “hello!” as an interjection and greeting.

The Coptic expression I have chosen to use is ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁ̀ⲧⲉⲧⲉⲛⲓ̀, originally pronounced something like ga-los a-de-den-i with stress on the highlighted syllables or more precisely in IPA notation [kaˈlos ɐ.tə.tənˈi]. 2

The expression is composed of the adverb ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ, borrowed from Greek καλώς meaning “well,” and the second person plural past tense conjugation (base: ⲁ-/ⲁ⸗) with the verb ⲓ̀ “to come”. So, literally, it means something like “well you came” while addressing more than one person. 3

Although the expression is etymologically similar to English “welcome” but particularly to French “bienvenu” and other cognates in other Romance languages, it is not a modern coined expression. In fact, it is quite commonly encountered in Coptic literature as an interjection and greeting. For instance, in the Bohairic Life of Apa Shenoute (Leipoldt, 1906, §120) we read:

ⲟⲩⲟϩ ⲛⲉⲟⲩⲟⲛϩⲁⲛⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲭⲏ ⲥⲁϧⲏⲧ ⲙ̀ⲡⲓⲧⲱⲟⲩ ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲥⲓⲱⲟⲩⲧ ⲉ̀ⲣⲉⲛⲟⲩⲥⲱⲙⲁⲇⲉ ⲑⲟⲙⲥ ϧⲉⲛⲡⲓⲙⲁ ⲛ̀ⲙⲟϣⲓ ⲙ̀ⲡⲓⲛⲁⲩ ⲉ̀ϣⲁϥϩⲱⲗ ⲉ̀ϧⲏⲧ ϧⲉⲛⲡⲓⲙⲁ ⲛ̀ⲙⲟϣⲓ ϣⲁⲣⲉⲛⲓⲙⲁⲣⲧⲩⲣⲟⲥ ⲉ̀ⲧⲉⲙⲙⲁⲩ ⲓ̀ ⲉ̀ⲃⲟⲗ ϧⲁϫⲱϥ ⲓⲥϫⲉⲛ[ⲙ̀]ⲡⲁⲧⲉϥϧⲱⲛⲧ ⲉ̀ⲡⲓⲙⲱⲓⲧ ⲉ̀ⲧⲟⲩⲭⲏ ⲛ̀ϧⲏⲧϥ ⲟⲩⲟϩ ⲛⲉϣⲁⲩⲉⲣⲟⲩⲱ̀ ⲛⲁϥ ⲛ̀ⲥⲉⲉⲣⲁⲥⲡⲁⲍⲉⲥⲑⲉ ⲙ̀ⲙⲟϥ ⲉⲩϫⲱ ⲙ̀ⲙⲟⲥ ϫⲉⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ̀ ⲫⲙⲉⲛⲣⲓⲧ ⲙ̀ⲫ᷍ϯ ⲟⲩⲟϩ ⲙⲉⲛⲉⲛⲥⲱⲥ ϣⲁⲩⲙⲟϣⲓ ⲛⲉⲙⲁϥ ⲉⲩⲧⲫⲟ ⲙ̀ⲙⲟϥ ⲉ̀ⲃⲟⲗ ϣⲁϩⲟⲩⲟ ⲉ̀ⲟⲩⲙⲩⲗⲗⲓⲟⲛ ϧⲉⲛⲟⲩⲛⲓϣϯ ⲛ̀ⲉⲣⲟⲩⲟⲧ ⲉⲩⲥⲟⲗⲥⲉⲗ ⲙ̀ⲙⲟϥ ϧⲉⲛⲟⲩⲛⲓϣϯ ⲛ̀ⲧⲁⲓⲟ̀.


“And there were martyrs north of the mountain of Asyut, their bodies buried in the road. Any time he [Apa Shenoute] would go north on the road these martyrs would come forth before him, from before he came to the road where they were, and would speak to him and greet him, saying: ‘Welcome, O beloved of God!’ After this, they would walk with him, escorting him over a mile with great gladness and adorning him with great honour.”

Apa Shenoute of Atripe
Secco painting of Apa Shenoute of Atripe, c. 7th century, Red Monastery © ARCE (source)

In some cases, the expression is used by the person arriving rather than the person receiving a visitor. This implies a meaning closer to “hello” or a general greeting. For example, in the Martyrdom of Apanoub (Balestri & Hyvernat, 1908, 226) a demon is speaking through a possessed woman who boards a ship on which Apa Anoub (Abanoub) is already stood and says: ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ̀ ⲱ̀ ⲡⲓⲃⲱⲕ ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲫ᷍ϯ ⲁ̀ⲡⲁ ⲁ̀ⲛⲟⲩⲃ ⲡⲓⲣⲉⲙⲥⲁϧⲏⲧ “Hello, O servant of God, Apa Anoub the Lower Egyptian.” 4

There are several other instances of this expression in use as an interjection and greeting in Bohairic texts found at the monasteries of Scetis. 5

The same expression occurs in Sahidic texts, for example in the Sahidic Life of Paul of Tamma (Amélineau, 1884, 759), where Apa Pamoun says to Apa Paul: ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ ϣⲁⲣⲁⲛ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲁⲩⲗⲉ ⲡⲣ︤ⲙ︥ⲧⲁⲙⲙⲁ “Welcome, Apa Paul of Tamma.” The inclusion of the preposition ϣⲁⲣⲁⲛ (or ϣⲁⲣⲟⲛ in standard Sahidic) “to us” makes it clear that it is spoken by a group of people receiving a visitor. 6 More interesting here, however, is Apa Paul’s response: ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲉⲣⲁⲕ ⲁⲡⲁ ⲡⲁⲙⲟⲩⲛ ⲡⲁⲧϩⲉⲃⲥⲱ ⲙ̄ⲙⲓⲛⲉ ⲙⲓⲛⲉ “Welcome/Hello to you, Apa Pamoun of the multi-coloured garment.” This hints at ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲉⲣⲁⲕ (or ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲉⲣⲟⲕ in standard Sahidic) being a standard reply to ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ. 7

Nowadays, people learning Coptic are more likely to read that “welcome” is ⲛⲁⲛⲉ ⲡⲉⲕϫⲓⲛⲓ̀ 8 and that “hello” is ⲛⲟϥⲣⲓ. As far as I can detect, these are modern expressions coined well after Coptic had stopped being a language of daily life. 9 As I hope I have demonstrated, by reading surviving Coptic literature we can better appreciate how Egyptians conversed with one another in Coptic while it was still a living language.

References

  • Amélineau E. (1884), Monuments pour servir à l’histoire de l’Égypte chrétienne aux IVe et Ve siècles, 2 fascicules, Paris, 1888 (Mémoires publiés par les membres de la Mission archéologique française au Caire, volume 4). Le Caire.
  • Balestri, I. and Hyvernat, H. (1908), Acta Martyrum, vol. 1 (text), (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Scriptores Coptici, Series 3, volume 1). Louvain.
  • Balestri, I. and Hyvernat, H. (1924), Acta Martyrum, vol. 2 (text), (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Scriptores Coptici, Series 3, volume 2). Louvain.
  • Evelyn-White, H. G. (1926), The Monasteries of the Wâdi ‘n Natrûn, volume 1, New Coptic texts from the Monastery of Saint Macarius, edited, with an introduction on the Library at the Monastery of Saint Macarius, by Hugh G. Evelyn White; with an appendix on a Copto-Arabic MS. by G. P. G. Sobhy. (Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition, v. 2). New York.
  • Leipoldt, J. and Crum, W.E. (1906), Sinuthii vita Bohairice (textus) (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Scriptores Coptici, Series 2, volume 2). Louvain.

Footnotes

  1. The Ouroboros, which finds its earliest representation in ancient Egypt, appears here in one of the golden shrines of Tutankhamun. Image source: here. ↩︎
  2. The vocalisation given here is a reconstruction of Bohairic pronunciation at the time Coptic was a spoken language of everyday life in the cities and villages of Lower Egypt – I will certainly have more to say about this topic in future. It is distinct from the so-called Old Bohairic (or traditional) pronunciation which developed subsequently as Egyptians became linguistically Arabised or the Graeco-Bohairic (or Cyrillic) pronunciation which was introduced in the mid-19th century and is still used today for the liturgy of the Coptic Church. ↩︎
  3. The expression is given in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic. It changes depending on who is being address. If addressing a man/boy the expression is ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ̀ and if addressing a woman/girl it is ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲣⲉⲓ̀. It seems only to be attested in the second person, which is expected for a greeting and interjection. ↩︎
  4. The interjection ⲭⲉⲣⲉ (optionally ⲭⲉⲣⲉⲧⲉ in plural address) is also used as a general greeting, meaning “hello, hail; farewell.” It also occurs with the dative as ⲭⲉⲣⲉ ⲛⲁⲕ s.m. (or ⲭⲉⲣⲉ ⲛⲉ s.f. or ⲭⲉⲣⲉ ⲛⲱⲧⲉⲛ pl. address). It is of Greek origin, borrowed from χαῖρε (pl. χαίρετε) of similar meaning. ↩︎
  5. In the Encomium on Saint George of Diospolis (Balestri & Hyvernat, 1924, 264), on being asked by a bishop experiencing a vision ⲙⲁⲧⲁⲙⲟⲓ ϫⲉⲛⲑⲟⲕ ⲛⲓⲙ “tell me who you are,” Paul of Tamma replies with the words: ⲁ̀ⲛⲟⲕ ⲡⲉ ⲡⲁⲩⲗⲉ ⲡⲓⲣⲉⲙⲧⲁⲙⲙⲁ ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ̀ ⲱ̀ ⲡⲓⲙⲁⲛⲉⲥⲱⲟⲩ ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲡⲉⲛⲟⲩⲣⲟ ⲙ̀ⲙⲏⲓ ⲡⲉⲛ⳪︦ ⲓ︤ⲏ︦ⲥ︥ ⲡ︤ⲭ︦ⲥ︥ “I am Paul of Tamma. Welcome/Hello, O shepherd of our true King, our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in another example, in the Martyrdoms of Apa Kradjon and Apa Amoun (Evelyn-White, 1926, 109), Apa Kradjon sarcastically and mockingly greets the King on his arrival: ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ̀ ⲡⲟⲩⲣⲟ ⲛ̀ⲛⲓⲓ̀ⲇⲱⲗⲟⲛ “Welcome, O King of the idols!” There are other examples extant in the literature. ↩︎
  6. The same expression occurs in Bohairic, for example, in the hymn spoken to the Patriarch on his return to Egypt from abroad, which starts with with words ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁⲕⲓ̀ ϣⲁⲣⲟⲛ ⲙ̀ⲫⲟⲟⲩ “Welcome (back) to us today!” (rendered in Arabic مرحباً بقدومك إلينا اليوم) ↩︎
  7. So far, I have been unable to find another example of this reply. ↩︎
  8. Literally, “good is your coming” addressing a single man/boy. If addressing a woman/girl it would be ⲛⲁⲛⲉ ⲡⲉϫⲓⲛⲓ̀ and for more than one person ⲛⲁⲛⲉ ⲡⲉⲧⲉⲛϫⲓⲛⲓ̀. ↩︎
  9. A common theme in such coined expression is the avoidance or purposeful substitution of vocabulary of Greek origin for Egyptian origin vocabulary even where it need to be invented or repurposed as is the case with ⲛⲟϥⲣⲓ. ↩︎
Cite this page:
Boles, A. “Welcome! Or rather ⲕⲁⲗⲱⲥ ⲁ̀ⲧⲉⲧⲉⲛⲓ̀!” The Coptist, 17 December 2023; Available at: https://www.coptist.com/2023/12/17/welcome/. (Accessed: 18 April 2024).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *