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Lasting Influence of Coptic Literature

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Glossary

Bohairic

Coptic dialect that was spoken in the Nile delta and is considered the dialect of the Coptic Church

Coptic

It is a name for Egyptians of the Christian faith and their Church. It is also the name for the last form of the ancient Egyptian language, which was written with mostly Greek letters. The Coptic language survives only as a liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Hellenistic

the style of Greek art or architecture during the period beginning with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to the accession of Caesar Augustus in 27 BC

Sahidic

Coptic dialect that was spoken in Upper Egypt from the fourth century BC and was looked upon as Classic Coptic

Shen

oval shaped figure or sign, symbolic of all that the sun encircles throughout the daytime; also, sign of eternity

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Development of Coptic Literature
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Coptic literature initially was influenced by Greek, especially in Alexandria where the Hellenistic culture was dominant.

Many church fathers had to write in Greek, the most prevalent language. Their writings were then translated into Coptic. Examples of purely Coptic literature are the works of Abba Antonius and Abba Pachomius, who only spoke Coptic, and the sermons and preachings of Abba Shenouda, who chose to only write in Coptic. Abba Shenouda was a popular leader who only spoke to the Copts in Coptic, the language of the repressed, not in Greek, the language of the repressive ruler.

Pure Coptic literature had two centers, Wadi al-Natrun and al-Dayr al-Abyad and the Pachom Monasteries in Upper Egypt. At Wadi al-Natrun, Coptic literature was written in the Bohairic dialect. In al-Dayr al-Abyad and the Pachom Monasteries in Upper Egypt.

Coptic was written in the Sahidic dialect. Thus, monasteries were the premier centers of Coptic literary output written in its two main dialects. In some of the manuscripts of the time, Coptic is called the language of the people of the mountains. This may refer to Upper Egypt where the altitude is higher and the monasteries were located up in the hills. The monastery of al-Dayr al-Abyad under Abba Shenouda in 383 AD became a center for Sahidic, the literary language of the Coptic Church in its golden years.

As the Coptic literary movement spearheaded by Abba Shenouda grew, Greek receded. In fact, the wane of the Greek language was in direct proportion to the spread of Christianity in the countryside, the increasing use of Coptic as a literary language, and the rise of the Copts, both in numbers and in their sense of self and community.

By the time the Arabs conquered Egypt, Sahidic was the general language of Coptic literature, while any spread in Bohairic in this period was related to translation activities of Sahidic literature, a phenomenon that was prevalent in the first six centuries of Christianity.

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