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Intermediate Times

The Epagomenal Days and their Historical Dimension

This research project explores the liminal spaces of time in Ptolemaic Egypt - whether calendrical, political, or cultic - by analyzing them not as distinct, but as analogous, interconnected, and interwoven.

Ancient Egyptian time concepts, usually coined as cyclical (Egypt. nḥḥ) and durative (Egypt. ḏ.t), operate in parallel in the same time-space, but also follow one another: At the end of the year, after a cycle (in nḥḥ-time) of 360 days (12 months of 30 days), five days “that are upon the year” (in ḏ.t-time), the so called epagomenal (“added”) days, connect the old and the new year, the old and the new cycle. This liminal space in time is conceptually framed as a new beginning, as the birthdays of the Osirian gods are attributed to the five days, but also as a transitory period of conflict and chaos, in which divine and royal kingship is contested and must be defended.

The concept of temporal liminality in the realms of mythology, cult, and kingship raises the question of how these realms relate to one another. How do ritual actors move and act in liminal spaces of time - and how do they emulate divine roles? How is temporal liminality translated into built structures such as the Temple of Opet at Karnak - the cultic stage for the birth of Osiris at Thebes during the first epagomenal day? On the other hand, how do religious temple texts, especially in the corpus of Ptolemaic temple texts, conceive of the epagomenal days, and how do these constructions relate to the description of crises in the political sphere, such as revolts or violent usurpations of power? When royal texts deal with the transition of power, do they use phrases and concepts similar to those found in religious treatises describing the contestation and assertion of divine kingship during the epagomenal days?

The project aims to explore the interdependence of calendar, myth, and history through the lens of the five epagomenal days. Case studies that link these realms, such as astronomers and their divine counterpart Thoth as liminal actors in time, aim to highlight these connections.


The temple of Opet in Karnak, mythical birthplace of Osiris on the first epagomenal day (outside wall, south) © Manna Nader

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