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July 27, 2012


Figure 1: Cover page of Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus by Athanasius Kircher (1636).


Figure 2: Athanasius Kircher (1601 – 1680).

 Athanasius Kircher (1601 – 1680) was a German scholar and mathematician, a man of wide and varied learning, amongst which was his interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics and Coptic language: he learned Coptic in 1633, and in1636 published his Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus, the first grammar in Coptic by a European. In 1643, he published his Lingua aegyptiaca restituta.[1] Kircher saw the connection between ancient Egyptian and Coptic before the Rosetta Stone was discovered, and before Jean-François Champollion (1790 – 1832) was later able, in 1822, to decipher Hieroglyphics by the help of Coptic.

The full title of Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacusis Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus: … in quo cum linguae Coptae, sive Aegyptiacae, quondam Pharaonicae, origo, aetas, vicissitudo, inclinatio, tum hieroglyphicae literaturae instauratio … exhibentur . It has recently been published electronically by the European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO),[2] and the reader can access it all at the link below:

In three pages of the book (pp. 283-285), Athanasius Kircher, underDe Literis Coptitarum

(Coptic Letters), lists the 32 Coptic letters, and then in four columns, gives each letter’s figura (shape, upper and lower case), nomen (name) [in two columns), and potestas (power/sound). Then, under De Literarum quarundam pronunciatione (Pronunciation of some letters), he talks about the sounds of sixteen of the Coptic letters in more detail (pp. 285-287).

This is also important in the raging debate between what I call the “Old Bohairites” and the “Greco-Bohairites” on the authenticity of Coptic sounds.

I simply reproduce the relevant five pages below:


Figure 3: Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus (1636), page 283.

Figure 4: Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus (1636), page 284.

Figure 5: Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus (1636), page 285.

 Figure 6: Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus (1636), page 286.

 Figure 7: Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus (1636), page 287.

[1] Other works on Egyptian he published is and Oedipus Aegyptiacus, hoc est universalis doctrinae hieroglyphicae instauratio (1652-55).


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