Jessica Knebel, M.A.


Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Graduiertenkolleg 1876
Hegelstr. 59
55122 Mainz


Projekttitel: Studies on concepts of fire in Ancient Egypt

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening, Prof. Dr. Jochen Althoff

Dissertation project:

Fire is mentioned in different ancient Egyptian texts, showcasing an ambiguous role. While some written sources indicate the light or protection aspect, others focus on the destructive or punitive connotation of fire. In addition, fire can be also found within metaphors and similes, for example as verbalization of speech, emotions, or physical symptoms. Besides written sources, fire is represented in pictures (images of cooking processes, fire pits in funerary texts) and archaeological sources (fireplace in models, incense burner).

Previous work in Egyptology has only been dedicated to individual aspects of fire or selected fire metaphors. So far, there is no lexicological-semantic analysis of the semantic field [fire] nor a detailed analysis of how fire was conceptualized in ancient Egyptian texts. Often neglected are comparative studies within the Egyptian culture, but also transcultural. This research project within the framework of the Research Training Group 1876 aims to take a broader perspective and will be the first comprehensive study on this topic. It is dedicated to the conceptualization of fire as well as related phenomena like heat, warmth, etc. This project aims to clarify key questions such as: How was fire understood in the different periods and text genres? What was fire associated with? Which fire metaphors existed? How do notions, contexts and metaphors differ from those of other cultures? How and to what effect was fire represented in different contexts like everyday life, medicine, and religion?

In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to gain a lexicological-semantic understanding of the semantic field [fire]. Since this dissertation project is philologically motivated, words classified with the sign Q7 (coal basin with flame) will be detected. This includes words with the meaning of “fire”, “flame, “heat” or “warmth” etc. and verbs derived therefrom. The chosen words are analyzed from a lexicological-semantic point of view in order do synchronously examine the semantics and to diachronically investigate possible changes in meaning of the words. In addition, this project intends to trace ancient Egyptian concepts of fire (like destructive power of fire), to analyze their development and to correlate the ideas in excerpts with other ancient cultures (Mesopotamia, Greece or Rome), and modern ideas regarding to universality, specificity and interchanged. A study on concepts of fire in Ancient Egypt offers a complex frame to examine cross-cultural similarities and cultural specifics within the topic.

The object of the research project includes written sources from the Early Dynastic (3000 B.C.) to the Roman period (400 A.D.). The examined text corpus consists of funerary, literary, medical, magical, historical-biographical, and daily life/administration texts. In order to study the relation between concepts on a linguistic and visual level, images and objects will also be considered. Methodologically, several approaches will be used, including semantic field analysis and methods from historical semantics and cognitive linguistics.