Didyme1, a beautiful Egyptian2, mistress of Ptolemy II3. She is not otherwise known.

[1] PP VI 14719. Gr: Didumh. The name is Greek and means "twin". J. Baines, Or 54 (1985) 461, 472, notes that it could be a Greek translation of the Egyptian name &A-Htrt, also "twin", although it was more normal to Hellenise the Egyptian pronounciation. He also notes (Or 54 (1985) 461, 471) that both Greek and Egyptian forms of the name are so common in this period that it is "most improbable" that it actually denotes a twin. For the same reason, there seems no objection to an Egyptian girl being given a Greek name. Ý

[2] Memoirs of Ptolemy VIII, quoted in Athenaeus 13.576e-f; Asclepiades, Anthologia Palatina 5.210. The Didyme of Asclepiades' epigram is not certainly the mistress of Ptolemy II, but the proposal to identify them seems very plausible. Because Asclepiades calls her "black" and compares her colour to coal, S. B. Pomeroy (Women in Hellenistic Egypt, 55) unreservedly describes her as an Ethiopian. While possible, A. Cameron, GRBS 31 (1990) 287, noting that Ptolemy VIII characterises her as a "native", that Greeks considered the Egyptians "black", and that Didyme is a very common Egyptian name, concludes, I think correctly, that "we have every right to expect an Egyptian".

F. M. Snowden Jr, GRBS 32 (1991) 239, argues against Cameron that, even though people of Nubian ancestry with black skin were well integrated into Egyptian society, Graeco-Roman practice was to reserve deep black for Ethiopian (Nubian/Meroitic) origin. He speculates that Didyme may have been captured by Ptolemy II in his Meroitic expedition of c. 275, and that she may even, like Verdi's Aida, have been the daughter of an Ethiopian king. As much as I would love to argue for a dynastic link between the Ptolemies and the kings of Meroe, I don't find Snowden's reasoning very coherent -- if Nubians were well-integrated into Egyptian society why could she not have been an Egyptian of Nubian ancestry? But it is interesting to note that Verdi's libretto was based on a story idea proposed by the French Egyptologist Maspero, who was certainly aware of Didyme's existence. Ý

[3] Memoirs of Ptolemy VIII, quoted in Athenaeus 13.576e-f. Ý

Update Notes:

10 Feb 2002: Added individual trees
19 Feb 2002: Split into separate entry
3 April 2002: Added discussion of the possibility that Didyme was a twin
11 Mar 2005: Added Greek transcription
11 Nov 2005: Added link to online copy of Baines article

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