n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - The tradition from Egypt to Ethiopia

Supplement 5
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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Among the very many tentacles of tradition is an Ethiopian tradition represented by a set of seven texts written in Ge'ez, a Semitic language that was the lingua franca of Medieval Ethiopia and is still used today in Ethiopian Orthodox liturgy. These texts appear in manuscripts dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and were translated into English in 1896 by Sir Ernest Budge. This paper asks why the figure of Alexander the Great attracted Ethiopian writers and translators from the Medieval period. The historical Alexander had not visited Ethiopia and the word itself appears only twice in the corpus. The texts do, however, show an interest in another African country, Egypt, and in particular the city of Alexandria with which Medieval Ethiopia had strong religious ties. In his recent study of the most important Ethiopic Alexander-text, the or ('History of Alexander the Great'), Peter Kotar points to the dependence of Ethiopic literature from the 13th century onwards on the Christian-Arabic literature of the Coptic church in Egypt, as well as to the particularly religious image of Alexander found in Ethiopic literature. The present paper attempts to extend this understanding to the rest of the corpus by suggesting that the existence of an Ethiopic Alexander tradition is as much a function of the historical relationship between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church of Alexandria as it is of the inherent interest value of Alexander's history, mythical or otherwise.

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