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Female Circumcision as a Rite de Passage in Egypt—Continuity through the Millennia?

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image of Journal of Egyptian History

In Greece and Rome, a female stood at the center of attention of her family and the outside world only on two occasions, at her marriage and at her funeral. Therefore a party thrown in the honor of a minor girl, recorded in three papyri, all from third-century Oxyrhynchus (P.Oxy. Hels. 50.17; P.Oxy. LXVI 4542 and 4543) seems rather odd at first sight. From these papyri we learn that this event, the so-called therapeuteria, was a family get-together to which relatives, neighbors and friends were invited. As the editors of P.Oxy. LXVI remark, the girls for whom the event was organized were apparently still minors and unmarried since they lived at home. However, no convincing explanation has been advanced so far that would sufficiently explain this custom. This paper presents evidence from ancient ethnographic reports, medical texts, early Islamic sources and comparative evidence from modern Egypt, which offer highly interesting parallels and a new interpretation of this family party, and which would explain it as an indigenous tradition cultivated already for several millennia in this region.


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