The Etymology of χάρτης ‘Papyrus Roll’

Authors

  • Gary A. Rendsburg Rutgers University

Keywords:

papyrus, scroll, Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew

Abstract

The major etymological dictionaries (including, most recently, Beekes) are at a loss to explain the origin of the common Greek word χάρτης chartes ‘papyrus roll’.  The present article proposes a Phoenician source, namely, the word חרטית ḤRṬYT ‘scrolls, writings’, attested in a Punic dedicatory inscription from Carthage (KAI 81.2).  The passage dedicates a temple and its contents; as we know from an array of ancient Near Eastern evidence, said contents included temple libraries and archives.  In the Phoenician context, said documents would be in scroll form, naturally.  The word finds a cognate in Hebrew חרט ḥɛrɛṭ, used in the context of writing in Isaiah 8:1; note that the Iron Age pronunciation of this form would have been ḥarṭ- > χάρτ-ης.  Context, meaning, and phonology converge to demonstrate the point, thereby providing the etymology of a key word in the Greek cultural sphere.

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Published

2020-01-19

Issue

Section

Articles