Dr. Simone Gerhards

E-mail: gerhards@uni-mainz.de

Project title: Concepts of tiredness and sleep 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 bodily experiences 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. Even a short cross-cultural view of the topic shows multiple adaptations in areas such as religion (e.g. similarity of a dead and a sleeping body, "resurrection") and literature (sleep as element to evoke vulnerability, see the motif of "sleep" in horror film genre).

Sleep in ancient Egypt

The following doctoral study aims at examining the different ancient Egyptian interpretations/explanations 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, headrests 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.

Key questions are:

  • How did the ancient Egyptians explained tiredness, sleep and awakening?
  • What micro- (e.g. place to sleep) and macro-ecological (e.g. day rhythm) factors affected tiredness, sleep and awakening?
  • How did the ancient Egyptians express tiredness, sleep and awakening?
  • What feelings, emotions and fears did the Egyptians associate with tiredness, sleep and awakening?
  • How were tiredness, sleep and awakening mentioned and considered in the context of medicine/magic/religion?
  • What aspects of tiredness, sleep, and awakening have been associated with deities, demons, and deceased?
  • How did deities, demons and deceased influence sleeping behavior (e.g. in dreams)?
  • Did the divine and human sleep cycle differ from each other?
  • How were tiredness, sleep and awakening metaphorically used (as source and target domains)?

In order to take the different research questions into account as well as the heterogeneous sources, a multimodal approach is pursued. Among other things, cultural semiotics, conceptual metaphor theory, prototype theory and aspects of word field analysis are used. The historical period that was chosen for this examination stretches from the Old Kingdom to the beginning of the Roman period (2800 B.C. until 30 B.C).

The dissertation was submitted in spring 2020 and defended in July 2020.

The work was published as Gerhards, S., Konzepte von Müdigkeit und Schlaf im alten Ägypten (Studien zur Altägyptischen Literatur, Beiheft 23), Hamburg 2021.