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R.Janko TLS Review (2-4-2010) Di the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology

R.Janko TLS Review (2-4-2010) Di the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology

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Published by niconarsi
recensione di Roger S. Bagnall, editor THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF PAPYROLOGY 688pp. Oxford University Press. £85 (US $150). 978 0 19 517838 8
recensione di Roger S. Bagnall, editor THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF PAPYROLOGY 688pp. Oxford University Press. £85 (US $150). 978 0 19 517838 8

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Published by: niconarsi on Mar 14, 2011
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Even those of us most committed to academic freedom in the humanities may feel aggrieved at thestatistic quoted by Richard Janko in his review of The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Such, it seems, isthe shortage of papyrologists that it will take a thousand years to publish even the ancient texts that havelong ago been pulled from the Egyptian sands, let alone any new ones. A visitor from space who saw thequantity of secondary analysis that arrives in the TLS each year might wonder whether some of thiscritical effort should be directed to harder primary tasks. Even before this unlikely revolution in academic practice takes place, Janko argues that we should be determinedly discovering more texts, excavating the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum lest Vesuvius erupt again and finish off the job of destruction it failed to complete in 79 AD.
Peter Stothard
“Read the Rolls” Times Literary Supplement 2 April 2010Richard Janko
Roger S. Bagnall, editor THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF PAPYROLOGY 688pp. Oxford University Press. £85 (US $150). 978 0 19 517838 8
 Suppose you track down, by brilliant detective work, the personal papers of a famous writer,dead for 150 years, which have reposed, untouched by his heirs and by theirs, in a trunk in anattic in France. You are the first to remove the pins that he put in to hold the pages together. Thestuff of fiction? Such things do happen.Hundreds of pages from notebooks, extracts of literary works by others, batches of letters sent tohim, drafts of letters he wrote, legal documents, deeds, share certificates, bills, receipts,advertisements, newspaper clippings, train timetables, jottings of ideas, account-books… you areable to study everything just in time, before it is sold at auction for large sums and dispersed allover the world. From such an archive much of a life can be reconstructed in more detail than hewho lived it ever understood, and the biographies of hundreds whom he knew, from all walks of life, can be vividly illuminated.To put the picture back together you can rely on meticulous French archives, organized courtesyof Napoleon. Everything is soluble once you learn which register to check, which box to order;the Paris archives burned in 1870, but persistence, published almanacs and local sources fill thegaps. Foreigners in the dossiers? Off to Aix, Brussels or Kew, where experts will help you (if they are still funded). At worst, you track down missing dates by scrubbing mossy tombstones.All this even before the internet.You could once have done much the same in the ancient world, and especially in bureaucraticEgypt. The life of the famous poet and librarian Callimachus? The city archives of his birthplaceCyrene, personnel records of the royal library in Alexandria where he was cataloguer, taxaccounts, cadasters, property registers, notaries’ papers, family archives – beyond a doubt, allthese once existed, written on scrolls and well able to survive in the bone-dry climate. All arelong since scattered or turned to ash as surely as his dear friend Heraclitus (“They told me,Heraclitus, they told me you were dead”). What we do still have, what still survives the ravagesof invasion, fire, damp, worms, and that mortal enemy of the past, a shortage of storage space(off-site repositories, in other words), is the stuff of papyrology – the study of records onperishable materials, notably papyrus (the early equivalent of paper), from the ancient and earlymedieval world, c500 bc to 800 ad.
Oxford Handbook of Papyrology
, edited by Roger S. Bagnall, is a wonderful volume – acelebration of a vast and important discipline written by experts drawn from every part of it.Such experts are all too few; indeed, none can now master every aspect of the field, which coversso many centuries and languages, from Demotic Egyptian and Aramaic to Greek, Latin, Copticand Arabic, with finds ranging from Hadrian’s Wall to Herculaneum, the Euphrates and evenAfghanistan (where the ink from part of a lost dialogue by Aristotle survived by beingtransferred onto mudbrick).Their skill and persistence must be admired. That nineteenth-century archive reflected the kindsof material that also survive from antiquity – literary texts and documents; we find holy bookstoo, school exercises and magical spells. But the two situations differ vastly. The central statearchives of the ancient world are entirely gone; so are nearly all those of local administrators andindividual families, or at best they are scattered across continents in different collections. Their findspots are very often unrecorded; few come from well-documented archaeologicalexcavations. Worse, nearly everything is horribly damaged by insects, damp or fire. It must beconserved: this book explains how (but gives disastrous advice on carbonized papyri, whichmust not be flattened lest their fibres be crushed and they turn to dust). It must be edited, usingconsistent, internationally agreed conventions. It must be translated if any but a few are to graspits extraordinary interest. And it must be analysed, if we are to see its immense historical value,as both artefact in the history of writing and material for the study of past civilizations.What have finds of papyri taught us so far? Over the last century, the “century of papyrology”,we have recovered many major works of literature we would otherwise have lost: Gnosticgospels, Empedocles’ account of the creation, mythological poems by Hesiod, Egyptian tales,Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens, epigrams by Posidippus, Manichaean scriptures including theLife of Mani, poems by Callimachus and Herodas, heretical writings in Coptic, lyrics byBacchylides and Pindar, Hyperides’ Orations, unknown scenes from Menander, Euripides,Sophocles, Aeschylus – all have come to light in Egypt in the last hundred years or so. Greater or lesser works by great writers, unknown works by minor ones of whom we had hardly heard, allshed light on what was known before. Such finds refresh our knowledge of ancient thought at itshighest. From the remnants of such books we can study ancient handwriting, and use it, in turn,to date otherwise undated texts – a hazardous but necessary art. We can see how and by whoseagency (in fact, the early Christians’) a great technological advance – the shift from roll tocodex, what we now call a “book” – took place. (Going back to “scrolling” is not actuallyprogress.) We can see what was read, and why literature survived or was lost. Homer’s Iliad wasalways used in elementary school. Menander was popular reading for most of antiquity, but wasousted by Aristophanes when purer Greek needed to be taught in schools. We catch sight of some readers enjoying a rather illicit genre – the novel. We learn that circles of scholars sharedbooks and readings even in the provincial Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus; some of them turn outto be known to history. Being learned was as fashionable then as it may be unfashionable now.Then there are the archives, whether of a high official at Ptolemy’s court (Zenon), villagescribes, monks in the desert, soldiers in Iraq, a local magnate who writes Greek verses in hisspare time, a family in Petra, or desperate Jewish insurgents found dead with their essentialpapers, though I missed any mention of the exciting Latin archive of the Sulpicii bankers of Puteoli, found in the 1950s near Pompeii and published by Giuseppe Camodeca. Such archivesmattered more to their owners than the tattered books they sometimes used to wrap them in.Their reconstruction gives us vivid snapshots of particular times and places, and lets us fit intolarger pictures the almost innumerable feuilles volantes that, for the present, lack any suchcontext and are therefore even harder to interpret.

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