In his 3rd-century BCE account of ancient Egypt, Bibliotheca Historica, Diodorus of Sicily describes a section of the Theban mortuary temple complex known as the Ramesseum: “Next comes the sacred library, which bears the inscription ‘Healing-place of the Soul’ (psyches iatreion).” The ancient Egyptians knew this sacred library as the Per Ankh, the House of Life. Given the importance of the spoken and written word in ancient Egyptian, it is no surprise that a place of words and texts was considered a healing place. Using ancient magical and medical papyri, Greek historical accounts, as well as recent archaeological evidence from the Ramesseum, this paper discusses the Greek reception of the Egyptian Per Ankh to better understand why the Greeks and ancient Egyptians thought libraries were healing places for the soul.
Mark Roblee’s research interests include intellectual and cultural history in Late Antiquity, Neoplatonism, and philosophy of history. As a public historian, he wonders about the allure of objects from the far past. He is currently teaching History and Its Publics at UMass Amherst and West and the World I at Assumption College in Worcester. He also serves as the Alumni Relations Coordinator for the UMass History Department.
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