Simone Gerhards, M.A.

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


Project title: Concepts of tiredness, sleep and awakening in ancient Egypt.

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Ursula Verhoeven-van Elsbergen, Prof. Dr. Doris Prechel

Dissertation project:

The occurring feeling of tiredness, the transition into a condition of sleep, and the re-awakening are daily phenomena of our human body and essential for a healthy living. These highly complex processes result in decreasing pupils and a slower heart rate. Even today'€™s medicine cannot come up with a cohesive explanation for these body reactions that make up for a huge part of our lives. However, there have always been plenty of different explanations and interpretations.

The following doctoral study aims at examining the different Egyptian interpretations for tiredness, sleep and awakening, eliciting the concepts behind and comparing them to other cultures. The ancient Egyptian sources can be divided into three categories: archaeological remains such as beds and sleeping places and their representations; flat images and statuary depictions of tired or sleeping human beings, animals or gods; and last but not least written sources that will make up for the major part of this study. The focus will be on lexicological segmentation within the semantic fields of tiredness, sleep, and awakening as well as their connotations.

The entire examination will be taken from an Egyptian perspective and the lexicological part will include the following aspects: an analysis of the word roots, a reflection of the onomatopoeic aspects, proof of borrowed terms from other languages (if available), and the attempt to reconstruct Egyptian thinking patterns with the help of determinatives. Apart from the medical function of sleep, tiredness and awakening, the depictions of these phenomena will play a huge role in this work. The aim is to uncover concepts of ancient Egyptian medicine by examining how tiredness, sleep, comatose conditions and sleep deprivation were depicted as symptoms of diseases and how sleep was used as a healing processes. The typical sleep cycle, the preferred sleeping place and further sleep and wake-up habits as well as the practice of temple sleep will be discussed on a cultural sociological basis. The historical period that was chosen for this examination stretches from the Old Kingdom to the beginning of the Roman period (2800 B.C. till 30 B.C). This allows to observe a larger pool of sources.