Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.5.02


Bärbel Kramer, Wolfgang Luppe, Herwig Maehler, Günter Poethke (edd.), Akten des 21. internationalen Papyrologenkongresses, Berlin, 13.-19.8.1995. Stuttgart, Leipzig: Teubner, 1997. 2 vols. Pp. xxxi + 329 + pl. xl. DM 230.00 + 245.00. ISBN 3-8154-7535-X + 3-8154-7536-8.


Reviewed by P. Schubert, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

The 21st International Congress of Papyrologists was held in a reunified Berlin, exactly a century after the publication of the first volume of the pioneering Berliner griechische Urkunden (BGU). As could be expected, this congress attracted scholars from all over the world, which helps to explain the bulk of the published proceedings. The two volumes are bound, and the text printed on a very white paper from camera-ready proofs. The editors obviously did their best to produce a clean, if somewhat cold, layout; one shudders at the price that these proceedings would have fetched if the layout had been cared for entirely by a professional printer. The plates are for the most part of outstanding quality.

In the introductory part, the reader will find a table of contents extending over the two volumes, as well as a useful list of all participants, with their addresses. The timetable of the congress will provide an overview of the meetings for those who did not attend, and will serve as a reminder for the participants. This is all the more useful since the papers presented by the participants are not printed according to topics, but following the alphabetical order of author names. Of the 180 papers that were read at the congress, 127 are included in the proceedings.

Inevitably, a review of these proceedings will serve a double scope: beyond the mere appreciation of the work on display, one should also consider that congress proceedings offer us a broad perspective of the current state of a field, in this case papyrology; it should therefore be noted that the present reviewer was also a witness of the actual event. This review will thus start with a summary of the main topics discussed at the congress; since an exhaustive description of all contributions is neither feasible nor suitable, some significant papers will be selected; we shall finish with a critical assessment of the current state of affairs in the field of papyrology.

Out of the seemingly inextricable maze offered to the reader, it is possible to point out some general trends. Editing new literary and documentary texts still constitutes the core of papyrological activity. On the literary side, Herculanum papyri were well represented, along with comedy and medical papyri. As for documents, Ptolemaic texts currently enjoy considerable attention, probably due to the fact that numerous new texts from mummy cartonnage have been available on the market lately; one should also note several studies on the Roman army. The study of legal matters is represented chiefly by papers relating to family and trade. Historians have made use of papyrological resources mainly for the history of the Ptolemaic dynasty (again, an increased interest no doubt due to the recent publication of many Ptolemaic papyri from cartonnage), but also for the history of the Roman army and of trade. Egyptology (hieratic, demotic and coptic) is represented, as well as the study of religion and magic. Other papers focused on books, literacy and education, a seemingly inexhaustible field. Finally, application of new technologies has become standard among papyrologists. A workshop was devoted to mummy cartonnage (restoration, conservation, etc.), along with image processing. Workshops aiming at solving decipherment problems are now an accepted addition to papyrology congresses (since Copenhagen 1992).

If one could fear that some scholars attending congresses give a paper for the sake of justifying their expenses when they return to their home universities, on the other hand some select contributions are worth a special mention. In a masterly blend of linguistics, architecture, history, and deciphering of a short but problematic inscription, Jean Bingen succeeds in shedding a new light on OGIS 61 = I.Philae I 4. This appears to be a circumstantial inscription on the occasion of a visit by Ptolemy III Euergetes and his wife Berenike, along with their infant children (the future Ptolemy IV Philopator and possibly princess Berenike). The history of the Ptolemaic dynasty has been discussed by several other scholars. Michel Chauveau presented a survey of the problem of "double-dating", i.e. coincidence of two regnal years, the first from an old era and the second from a new era. He gives improved readings of original texts (some in demotic), a clearer context to some other documents, and succeeds in showing that sovereigns sometimes inaugurated a new era to celebrate an important event. In an earlier publication (BIFAO 90, 1990, 135-168), he has denied the very existence of Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator. Heinz Heinen tries on the contrary to show here that the existence of the young king is securely attested by our literary sources; Heinen also insists on the difference between the ancient and modern way of listing the members of the Ptolemaic dynasty.

The problem of those 'of the Epigone' stands among the vexed questions that haunt papyrologists. The reader will therefore look with interest at Csaba Láda's new suggestions on the topic. Comparison between the Greek formula and a close parallel in demotic leads to the conclusion that this expression has probably been shortened, the Greek and demotic preserving each different parts of the original full phrasing. A connection with the military seems clear; those 'of the Epigone' were plausibly either active soldiers, or potential recruits, or reservists. Papyrology is often considered as an ancillary field, providing material for other research. In this respect, Peter Arzt's project is a good example: Salzburg scholars are planning to plough through the entire corpus of published documentary papyri and extract material that might help to better understand Paul's epistles. As such, this undertaking follows Adolf Deissmann's steps (Licht vom Osten), and provides a systematic treatment of older material, to a certain degree comparable to what the editors of New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity are doing with freshly published documents.

A prosopography of Roman Egypt, on the scale of the Prosopographia Ptolemaica, seems a hopeless endeavour. On the other hand, some more modest undertakings lead to interesting results. Alessandro Cristofori presented in outline a Bologna project that will record all Egyptians and Alexandrians outside of Egypt (from 30 BC to AD 476). This electronic database is not viewed as a goal in itself: it should allow the development of better documented demographic studies on Egyptian immigrants in the Empire.

Several edicts by the prefect of Egypt were already known to us; Andrea Joerdens presents a very rich introduction to a new edict of Sempronius Liberalis on tax collection. This new document will no doubt improve our understanding of some aspects of taxation with which we are familiar through tax receipts, but for which the normative basis was partly lacking. This important papyrus will be published elsewhere; one would overcome a slight feeling of frustration by being allowed to see the text itself.

Timothy Barnes offers a detailed attempt at redating an anonymous imperial panegyric which was allegedly directed at Julian (ed. princeps MPER, N.S. I 14; recent thorough study by A. Guida, Un anonimo panegirico, Florence 1990). The argument is based on the fact that the emperor being celebrated is said to have protected (and not restored) pagan temples, and that the emperor's city is named Byzantium (and not Constantinople).

In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that Herculanum texts were the first papyri to be studied in modern times, there remains an enormous amount of work to be done on these fragments before we can make good sense of Philodemus' writings. This has been proved again lately by the publication of D. Obbink's Philodemus: On Piety. Another scholar in the same field, Daniel Delattre, improves here readings of Philodemus' On Music, confirming what were mere conjectures by putting together fragments. The Oxford transcripts are shown to be still of immense value.

Our knowledge of ancient scholarship has grown much in the last decades, partly through the publication of texts related to the Homeric poems. Monique van Rossum-Steenbeck tackles in a few well argumented pages the question of the so-called 'Homeric anthologies', and reaches the conclusion that the material adduced to support this theory has been misinterpreted.

Scientists involved in the process of conservation and examination of the physical properties of written material will find an interest in Carsten Thiede and Georg Masuch's paper on developments in the field of microscopy. New microscopes make possible the measurement of the ink's thickness on a papyrus, which in turn enables the authors to distinguish between traces of writing and mere ink spots. They apply the method to secure readings on New Testament papyri. Thiede's thesis that P.Magdalen 17, a fragment from the Gospel of Matthew, is to be dated to the first century, has not met with wide acceptance among papyrologists. However, the technique described here could be used to devise a typology of writers on the basis of the thickness of the ink found on papyri.

To sum up, much of the material offered in these two volumes is to be considered as work in progress, as can be expected from congress papers. The editors did their best to produce the books in a speedy fashion; nevertheless, much will be superseded at the time of publication. On the occasion of the preceding congress (Copenhagen 1992), much time had been devoted to asking what papyrologists actually do. New trends in papyrology had been described, and some contributors had tried to offer a vision of the future. The implication of the arrival of new media in the field (electronic databases, networks, etc.) had been sometimes passionately discussed. By the time the Berlin congress took place, a lot of new projects were under way. However, the Berlin proceedings do not reflect a clear direction. The only noteworthy proposal for steering papyrology onto new paths came from Peter van Minnen, who, using the term 'social drama', suggested in essence that we open papyrology to anthropological methods. This proposal met with some scepticism, and the paper was not published (for an application of this idea, see van Minnen and Gagos' Settling a Dispute).

One last word about the intended readership and market. Most papyrologists will have received a free copy of the proceedings in exchange for their contribution. Given the very high price of these two volumes, it is clear that very few other scholars will be in a position to buy a private copy of the proceedings; and, in spite of the editors' merits, only libraries with a papyrological section will be willing to invest in these books. One could therefore wonder if it would not make sense to reduce the actual publication to a more modest size, with the unavoidable consequence that the papers actually printed would have to undergo a process of editorial choice, as is already the case with most scholarly literature.