Discovery of Ancient Egyptian School References Opium Use

Discovery of Ancient Egyptian School References Opium Use

Archaeologists who had been working in the western desert of Egypt discovered a 1,700 year old school that contains ancient Greek writings on its walls, which includes a text about ancient drug use referencing Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

The house and school are located about 200 miles (322 kilometers) west of the Nile River in the ancient town of Trimithis, (what is modern day Amheida), in the Dakhla Oasis.

In the ancient world, schools were often part of private residences, city halls or temples and therefore, make it very difficult for archaeologists to identify them, according to Raffaella Cribiore, a professor at New York University, from his writing in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

In the past, archaeologists had found another ancient school in Egypt, a university in Alexandria, but the finding of the school in Amheida is unique because of the texts on its walls.

Cribiore stated that the texts are “further proof that teaching and learning took place there, and confirm that they belong to the only building so far discovered from antiquity that was certainly a school and showed educational activities.”

The teacher’s text was written very carefully and was apparently a model for composition for the students. When it was written, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire so Greek was widely spoken.

The text referring to “The Odyssey” that was found tells an ancient legendary story of drug use.

Helen of Troy, who the Trojan War had been fought for, gives her guests a drug (possibly opium) that “takes away grief and anger, and brings forgetfulness of every ill,” (translated from the text).

The text written by the ancient teacher was first published in 2008 in the Journal of Roman Archaeology.

The school was used for only 20 years and contains benches that students could sit on to read, or also stand on and write on the walls. It dates back to a time when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, and Greek was widely spoken.

The school wasn’t in use for long, perhaps because the teacher moved or died, according to researchers.

During this era, according to Crbiore,  “a school was a teacher and ceased to exist when the latter moved or died.”

After this school closed, it’s found that the building was incorporated into a nearby house belonging to a town councillor named Serenos, who used part of it for storage.

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