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KRONOS Vol III, No. 4
GENERALISTS, SPECIALISTS, "PERESET", AND ANCIENT ASTRONOMICAL AWARENESS
To the Editor of KRONOS:
Having the onerous honour to be the present Editor of the S.I.S. Review, I have recently undergone a lengthy correspondence with an American researcher (non-Velikovskian and non-catastrophist) who is developing a revision of his own of Egyptian and Israelite history. As well as discussing the relative merits of Velikovsky's revision and his own, he sounded off regarding the dangers of specialisation and the advantages of being a "generalist". Lack of specialisation, he felt, was Man's natural state and had made him the earth's superior creature; our present culture, encouraging further and further specialisation (at ever earlier stages in the educational process) to the extent that, as he has it, many workers in these specialisms remain unaware that their pet theories have been disproven by discoveries in a not far distant field, presents a real threat to the survival of the species, for "a relatively minor emergency for a generalist could be a terminal disaster for a specialist".
I felt bound to reply that, whilst this was certainly a valid view, it tended to overstate the case. Even as a linguist, my sympathies are towards "generalism" or "catholic interests". I feel extremely sorry for those who have no perception of the joys of language because they have lived their lives surrounded by equations; but at the same time for those who are imbued with an empathy for bygone civilisations but cannot grasp the fundamentals of Bode's Law. Nevertheless, in view of the amount of knowledge to be handled in our age, specialists have their place, and I pointed out that I might just as well turn his last statement on its head: a relatively minor emergency for a specialist could be a terminal disaster for a generalist.
In a way, I suppose, we have another dichotomy within scholarship here: after the arts-sciences divide, are we now faced with a split between the specialist and the generalist? I don't think so. Generalism may represent the nature of Man; but for the individual, it is his particular aptitude which will decide the course of his learning. Like it or not, we are all natural-born specialists, with our talents lying in particular directions.
Perhaps it is over-reaching to suggest that a would-be generalist is flying in the face of heredity; but he is certainly flying in the face of progress. There is simply too much to know, and if one sets out to work all fields one becomes a master of none: a dabbler, a dilettante. What can he know of seismology or semasiology who has spent but one-fortieth of his time studying it? There is but one Newton per generation (and maybe he too would have fared less well against today's information explosion); it is given to few of us to find our way easily among the many fields of knowledge now opening up: Dr. Velikovsky is the shining exception, but for the rest of us study must be in depth rather than in breadth.
What price, then, interdisciplinary studies? Has specialisation won the day? By no means; but it should give us to ponder on the shape these studies should take. Whilst ploughing our specialist furrows, we need to inculcate a sense or spirit of generalism; as enshrined in the Objects of our Society:
"To promote a multi-disciplinary yet disciplined approach to scientific and scholarly problems..." and:
"To promote co-operation between workers in specialised fields of learning in the belief that isolated study is sterile."
When we come to apply this philosophy the problem becomes solely one of tactics. Above all, we should not be ashamed of our specialism: those who rule the establishment are themselves specialists and must be spoken to as such – preferably by such. And this demands not only that we attack from a base of scholarly equality, but that we act on a level of psychological equality....
* * *
The area most obviously ripe for conquest is Egyptology. Now, specialists in all areas are subject to dogmas, the foremost among which is that their own field operates on the basis of established and proven principles. As a linguist, I admit allegiance to this dogma, and the following should perhaps be read with this in mind. Nevertheless, I am continually struck by the assumption among non-experts that language, being common property - after all, we all speak it, one way or another – is a simple, obvious activity whose mechanism can be examined without further preparation. Hence the multitude of books professing an "origin" of language or supporting ever-new variations on the diffusionist theme by spurious comparisons of speech or script (the distinction between which sound and sign – is frequently seen but darkly by their investigators).
The Egyptian language, of course, has an especial fascination for Velikovskian researchers. Since Champollion's pioneering work over 150 years ago the words, constructions, rules and capabilities of the language have been more and more fully unveiled, the deductions cross-checked with available texts, and a diachronic development established. It cannot be claimed that everything about the language and the script is understood; but such uncertainties as remain and such arguments as continue are of similar magnitude to those surrounding Beowulf or the Eddas: important to the field, crucial to the point in question – but no more than a last polish to our understanding of Egyptian.
The first rudiments of the language can be easily picked up in books from libraries, and it is unnecessary (see Wescott, KRONOS II:4) to refer to Gardiner's monumental Grammar to substantiate the statement that -t is a feminine ending in the language, as this is the first grammatical datum met by any even casual enquirer....
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However, it is certainly necessary to remind the unschooled reader that Egyptian script did not represent the vowels (Wescott, loc. cit.), as this is something which is not always clear from a superficial study of the literature - and, indeed, is not always clear from Velikovsky's work. The problem is compounded by Budge's decision, for reasons best known to himself (but doubtless influenced by the earlier researchers, who thought they were vowels), to represent these consonants with vocalic signs. Thus, in Budge's script: for a read 'aleph' (now written 3), for å 'aleph/yod' (an ambiguous sign probably reflecting phonological changes, now represented by í), for a 'ayin' ( c ), for i 'yod' (y, but in German transcriptions j) and for u 'vav' (w). (Budge also differs from modern transcribers in his treatment of the dentals, having th for t – 'tch' – , [t over dot] for d and t' for d – 'dj'.)
This might well put a different complexion on MacKenzie's comment (quoted in Griffard, KRONOS II:4, 33) that "An ancient name of the moon was Aa, Â, or Ai, which recalls the Egyptian Aah or Ah." The currently approved transcription of [*!* image Egyptian] is í ' h (aleph/yod, ayin, emphatic h); Gardiner (Gramm., p. 37) suggests the vocalisation 'yaeh', where both vowels follow the conventions: he could equally well have said 'ya-ah', 'yuih', 'aoh' (the ao of Pharaoh is '3), and so on. (It might also be added that this indicates the danger of relying on older sources, which do not always have the full respect of current workers – a point touched on by Lorton (KRONOS II:4, p. 73, dealing with Peoples of the Sea, p. 89) – and one must often be Machiavellian in this, as one may well feel that the older works have more claim to be right; though I would not subscribe to this in the field of Egyptology itself.)
I will allow myself a brief excursion here: Griffard (loc. cit, p. 46) quotes Lockyer as affirming that "nothing is more easy to determine than a solstice or an equinox" and that "the equinoxes and the solstices soon would have revealed themselves to these early observers if for no other reason than that they were connected in some way or other with some of the important conditions of their environment". This latter connection, however, is by no means so obvious to Kurt Sethe, who states in his essay Die Zeitrechnung der Aegypter: Nachr. K Ges. d. Wiss. Gottingen (1919-20), 287ff., "To the primitive man, in particular the inhabitant of the warmer countries where a higher culture first developed, the decisive role played by the sun in the change of the seasons cannot have been so easily recognized... The Egyptian, in his almost rain-free land, receives lifegiving warmth from the sun all the year round; he knows no sharp differences in temperature between summer and winter, no great differences in the length of the day... and even the trees bear their green foliage almost throughout the year." Two indications support this: (1) that the day was divided into 12 hours all year round, whatever its length; and (2) that the concepts "summer" and "winter" were not part of the Egyptian calendar, which was divided into three seasons of four months each deriving from the stages of the Nile inundation. Thus, it would not be too surprising if the Mesopotamian/Egyptian calendar were to ignore the sun's progress entirely: this is a factor which must be taken into account when researching ancient calendars.
The moon is another enigma. Griffard (loc. cit., p. 33) quotes Durant (another shaky source) as deriving the word "measure" from a root indicating the moon. In fact, the usual derivation is the opposite: all Indo-European words for "moon" trace back to a base meaning "measure". The Duden-Etymologie broadens this base to include "wander" and understands the moon as "the wanderer"; Wyld's (admittedly less informed) Universal Dictionary restricts it to "measure". "The Sumerian moon was Aku, 'the measurer'," says MacKenzie (loc. cit.) – a derivation which we might well take as a clue to the moon's late arrival: surely a luminary like the moon, if it had been there from the beginning of things, could aspire to a more prepossessing name, like that of the sun, which at best can be traced back to a base [meaning] "to glow".
Returning to our Egyptology: a seemingly boundless field of investigation is opened up by Wescott's (loc. cit.) questions on the final t of "Pereset".
First, the "Egyptianisation" of foreign names by addition of the feminine t: it is unlikely that this was any more than a convention. As Gardiner points out (Gramm., p. 34 n. 1a), the t was unsounded in later Egyptian (as it is in modern Arabic); and this development had probably taken place as early as the Old Kingdom. The way feminine names were written (the t-loaf above the female 'egg' ideogram) suggests that the two signs taken as a pair may have been considered the determinative for all female names: see any work dealing with Champollion's decipherment of "Cleopatra" (Gramm., p. 14; Jensen: Schrift, p. 69; Doblhofer: Voices in Stone, p. 69 – esp. the last).
Wescott's suggestion that this feminine ending may have been applied to the Pereset as an "ethnic slur" also seems a little glib. Wescott wishes to see this as a means "to deride the long skirts of Persian archers". Although the fighters depicted in the battle scenes and among the captives are clearly seen to be "clad in light tunics, a few strips of mail, and helmets made of scales" (Peoples of the Sea, p. 34), the archers certainly wore longer skirts and there is no shortage of references among early Greek writers to show that Asiatics (Egyptians excluded) were considered effeminate. Nevertheless, my feeling is against this – there is no indication of this intention in the spelling, and I feel it would surely detract from the Egyptians' victory to paint their adversaries as weak from the start. (I am not even sure the unsubtle nature of Egyptian will allow this variety of metaphor, and I hope Dr. Lorton will be able to fill in the details on these points.)
A more appropriate and insulting nickname for the Persians might be akin to the term of opprobrium applied to the Hyksos: í3dt "plague" (see Gardiner: Admonitions, p. 18). At any rate, I would prefer to look elsewhere for an explanation of this intrusive t.
One such is offered by the peculiarity of Egyptian grammar known as the "feminine collective". This uses a derivative in the feminine singular to represent a plural concept (cf. the German neuters: das Gebirge "mountain range" from Berg; das Gefieder "plumage" from Feder – though these can be understood as easily as singulars). Examples given by Gardiner (Gramm., pp. 61 and 415) are mnmnt "herd"; hnyt "sailors"; and, in one sentence: rmtt "people", p't
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"nobility", rhyt "commoners" and hnmmt "sun-folk"; as well as 'wt "cattle" (from Admonitions, 5 :5). If this could be applied to foreign peoples, we might have our answer. Unfortunately, there is no sign that this is so. The peoples mentioned in the Admonitions and those cited alongside by Van Seters (JEA 50, 1964, 13ff.) – nhsyw "Nubians", tmhw "Libyans", md3yw "Madjai", h3styw "Asiatics", etc. – all appear in the masculine plural. Line 13:14 of the Admonitions even offers a comparative case: rmt(t) "Egyptians" against k3wy "foreigners".
It is clear that if, with Velikovsky, we wish to understand the Prst in relation to Prs (Paras), "Persia", then the t must be explained in some way. This problem is mentioned by Lorton (KRONOS II:4, p. 71): pointing out that "aesthetic" considerations will not explain away our unwanted t, he suggests the argument "that a writing Prst for 'Persia' is in accordance with a tendency in Egyptian to treat geographical names as feminine... and that in the writing Prst of Ramesses III's texts, the ethnic designation is derived from the geographical name. In fact, the ending [*!* Image Egyptian] (Pl. 6) lends itself to interpretation as a nisbe adjective."
I hesitate, as one with no real Egyptological training, to take issue here, but it seems to me that I can offer two real objections to this possibility from the canon of Gardiner's Grammar. First, it would seem from pp. 61-2 of the Grammar that the nisbe (adjective-forming) suffix -y is invariably written, from the Middle Kingdom onwards, with [*!* Imagae Egyptian], or else simply omitted in the spelling. The usage of [*!* Egyptian] is mentioned as an Old Kingdom one – scarcely appropriate to Ramessid times – and the possibility of the suffix being preceded by a biliteral including the suffix is not suggested. Secondly, it seems advisable to take the spelling of the whole name into account, as shown in Plate 6: [*!* Image Egyptian] (curiously, without the [*!* Image Egyptian] – "foreign" – determinative). If read in full, this would give pwrs3tí, and it is clear that translators are deriving Prst from this by reading it as "group-writing" (Gramm., p. 52), an odd method of transcription used mainly for proper names. Both [*!* Image Egyptian] s3 (for s) and [*!* Image Egyptian] tí (for t) are listed as group-writing usages in Gardiner's "Sign-list"; and the latter is the very group which Dr. Lorton prefers to see as suggesting a nisbe formation. It seems to me we cannot read the word as Prst (and orthographical considerations make it clear that this is the only way to read it) and still infer a nisbe: we have to choose one or the other. I should be glad to know Dr. Lorton's views on this.
One solution which does occur to me may help us out; but it will need a Persian expert to check it. "Persian" in Persian, is Parsi: the word has come into English as "Parsee". It might be that a word in an earlier form of the language might take the form Parsit and mean "Persian", "Persians", "the Persian Army" or something similar.
Without this confirmation, we seem to be no nearer validating Velikovsky's identification of the Prst with the Persians; and it certainly seems that linguistic factors militate against it – but these are small when set against the convincing case Velikovsky has built up on circumstantial evidence. The discussion of these issues may, however, serve to indicate the amount of specialist information which needs to be taken into account in our interdisciplinary work and the debt we owe to the specialists who have put their findings at our disposal. Behind every great "generalist", we might say, there is an army of specialists. Maybe there is a dichotomy after all: somebody has to provide the in-depth data for the "generalist" to synthesise.
Editor – S.I.S. Review
Dr. Lorton Replies:
Malcolm Lowery's penetrating remarks are welcome indeed, especially those regarding the "generalist-specialist" dichotomy. The problems of dialogue between/among generalist and specialist, specialist and specialist, and both and the intelligent layman are staggering, thanks to the information explosion, the resulting compartmentalization of knowledge, and (at least in the U.S.A.) the collapse of a general curriculum assuring a basic body of knowledge shared by all educated persons. These difficulties are perhaps in the last analysis insuperable, but they must be obviated so far as possible; thus, one can only say "amen" to Lowery's words: "To promote co-operation between workers in specialised fields of learning in the belief that isolated study is sterile." In recognition of these problems, institutions and funding sources (including the government) in this country have expended large sums of money to promote "interdisciplinary studies." It will be to the everlasting credit of Dr. Velikovsky – and this remark is made without regard to any consideration of the validity of his theories that the challenge laid down by his work has inspired so much voluntary cooperation and dialogue among specialists.
More specifically, in response to two points raised by Lowery:
Westcott has suggested that the feminine ending of the word Prst might be explained as an ethnic slur, and Lowery asks whether this is in keeping with the nature of Egyptian expression. In fact, such a slur would be atypical, and it would be preferable to seek an explanation along more orthodox lines. On the other hand, bearing in mind the context of Velikovsky's reconstruction of history, it could be argued that this anomaly is explainable as influenced by Greek thought. Still, I would prefer an explanation grounded in established philological principles: an explanation so derived would serve to corroborate Velikovsky's identification of the Prst with the Persians, while the alternatives would at best make the identification of the writing a corollary of the main argument, or at worst be subject to an accusation of circular reasoning. Lowery's suggestion of an unattested Persian word *Parsit has the disadvantage of explaining ignotum per ignotius.
In my "Reaction" to Peoples of the Sea (KRONOS II:4), I attempted to supply such a means of identifying the Egyptian writing with the name "Persians," and Lowery has questioned whether my suggestion is feasible. In
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stating that the writing "lends itself to interpretation as a nisbe adjective," I chose my words carefully, since I was well aware that the nisbe adjective is usually written with a double, rather than a single, reed leaf. However, in a text of the Ramesside period, neither an archaism nor a defective writing is at all astonishing, and as one who works closely with problems of Egyptian philology – which admittedly must seem at times rather like a snakepit to the non-specialist – I do not feel uncomfortable with the prospect of this relatively small anomaly. Further, in response to a specific point raised by Lowery, it is certainly possible for a nisbe ending to be added to a "group writing": cf. the example H3rwyw "Syrian" – .yw added to H3rw "Hurru," i.e., "Syria" – quoted by Erman, Neuägyptische Grammatik, second edition, 104 (Anm. to § 229). This is, of course, an example of the ending added to a masculine form rather than to the feminine termination, thus producing .tyw, but the principle remains the same. In questioning my suggested explanation, Lowery proposes to read all phonetic elements of the word in question as a group writing. If one is to pursue this line, then the parameters of the possibilities are pretty well defined by Albright, The Vocalization of the Egyptian Syllabic Orthography ("Syllabic Orthography" is Albright's term for what Gardiner calls "group writing": the system devised for rendering foreign words and names which, through conventions, indicated the vowels as well as the consonants): [*!* Image Egyptian] = pá, pí, pú (the accents indicate only that these are alternatives to other writings for the same syllabic values), p. 42.
[*!* Image Egyptian] = ra, (la), p. 47.
[*!* Image Egyptian] = sa, p. 54.
[*!* Image Egyptian] =ta, p. 62~
We thus have a word parasata/palasata, pirasata/pilasata, or purasata/pulasata, with a remaining uncertainty as to whether the plural strokes of the determinative group [*!* Image Egyptian] indicate a further phonetic termination (-u?).
Thus, based on available philological evidence (as opposed to manufactured evidence, such as the suggested *Parsit), the current state of our knowledge leaves us with two possible interpretations of the writing in question: (1) a nisbe ending .tyw (with slightly anomalous orthography) attached to a consonantal base p-r-s, which can be interpreted as "people of Persia," i.e., "Persians," and (2) a form with the consonantal base p-r-s-t (the t must be included) whose vocalization accords well with attested vocalizations of the name "Philistines" in other ancient languages (for a summary of these, see Albright, op. cit., 42). If the latter interpretation is selected, a wedge is driven into Velikovsky's argument that the war of Ramesses III was waged against the Persians. With the evidence set forth, I leave it to Lowery and others to choose between the alternatives.
Dr. Griffard Replies:
To suggest that early discovery of the (uniformitarian) Sun's fixed relation to the seasons seems unlikely, Lowery offers Sethe's conjectures about the environmental awareness of "primitive" founders of higher culture. He suggests that the early "Egyptian, in his almost rain-free land," would not have recognized the relationship easily because of the nearly uniform climate and minimum of visible change in the environment.
This reference is from a time (1919-1920) before ethnography had achieved fully scientific perspectives; when ethnocentric views, especially of non-western cultures, were commonplace. Use of the term primitive has been particularly troublesome because of clearly negative connotations in its use, prominently including the concepts of "simplicity, antiquity, undesirableness, and undisguised inferiority" (See Hsu, Francis L.K., "Rethinking the Concept 'Primitive'," in The Concept of the Primitive, Ashley Montagu, ed. (New York, 1968) p. 47. I have alluded to a similar problem stemming from uniformitarian assumptions regarding cultural achievements in pre-history; cf. KRONOS II:4, p. 44).
Sethe extends this ethnocentric perspective by describing the Egyptian tropical year as though there is very little change of any kind to mark the passage of seasons, except for the rise and fall of the Nile. But these observations are not correct. Native Egyptians, especially those who work the land, are attuned to a variety of details of seasonal change which may escape notice or go unrecognized as such by Westerners. There is the additional problem that the early Egyptian environment was different from that as presented by Sethe. In a more recent source, Gardiner (Egypt of the Pharaohs, Oxford: 1961) describes the rich and varied ecosystem which characterized ancient Egypt and which provided a complex sequence of change to mark the tropical year. The Nile itself showed "considerable variation in both the dates and the quantity of the flood..." making it an unreliable correlate of seasonal change in general and wholly precluding its use for precise calendrics.
Sethe's scenario does not present the situation accurately from either the contemporary or the ancient Egyptian's point of view and cannot serve a scientific evaluation of the question. Nor does Lowery's addition improve the case. The suggestion that the ancient Egyptians ignored the variation in day length is first cousin to Sagan's argument concerning the 360 day year, a rationale Velikovsky has called "simplistic" (KRONOS III:2, p. 25). At the latitude of the Great Pyramid, the difference between the longest and shortest day is roughly 3-1/2 hours. Though not as great as in more northern latitudes, the difference is not negligible and certainly would have been observed by those who oriented temples astronomically and who had developed formalized use of the gnomon (obelisk) by the time of the 4th Dynasty.
From a catastrophist's perspective the even division of light and dark may be an actual observation, given the past differences in the Earth's rotational axis. But the schema for subdividing the periods of light and dark (where the units may be arbitrary) says little about whether the ancients recognized and exploited the appreciable horizon-calendar of the Sun or correctly counted the number of days in its cycle.
Nor should one expect to find the English-language concepts of "summer" and "winter" in the calendar of people far to the south where the pattern of seasonal change is quite different. It is false inference to assume that, because their names for the seasons were different, the ancient Egyptians were unaware of environmental cues to seasonal change other than the highly variable stages of the Nile inundation.
The point about the Moon was raised to show that the concept of measurement has astronomical reference from the earliest times. Whether it was originally associated with the present moon is not at issue and I assume that the identification of Thoth with the planet Mercury may help clarify the problem. Thoth was clearly a measurer who "computed the times and seasons," (See Budge, E.A.W., Book of the Dead, New York: 1960, p. 343) suggesting that Mercury may once have played a role not unlike that of the Moon in relation to the Earth, giving rise to similar calendric use.
But it is difficult to understand why the concept of astronomical measurement is considered to be insufficiently "prepossessing" when the achievement of controlled agriculture and the rise of full civilization is said to rest on its mastery.
Lowery Responds to Lorton:
In taking my suggestion of a Persian word *Parsit as "manufactured evidence", Lorton would seem to have misunderstood my intention. I was not trying to explain ignotum per ignotius by putting up an unattested form as a firm explanation, but suggesting that a Persian expert might be able to confirm whether such a form was known. (Note that the reconstruction mark – effectively, a statement that the form cited is not attested – is Lorton's addition, not my own.) I would agree heartily with Lorton's apparent implied conclusion that the use of this form in the absence of any attestation of it is of a lower level than circular reasoning. On the question of influence by Greek thought, on the other hand, it might be well to preserve an open mind, and it could be a worthwhile exercise to look for examples of this in other contexts to reinforce the possibility suggested by Wescott. With these small reservations, I accept the additional points made by Dr. Lorton and can only express my sincere pleasure at finding such a receptive "listener" and gaining so accommodating a response.