Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.04.11

Jaakko Frösén, Tiina Purola, Erja Salmenkivi, Proceedings of the 24th International Congress of Papyrology Helsinki, 1-7 August, 2004. 2 vols. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum, 122.   Helsinki:  Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 2007.  Pp. 1075; pls. 34.  ISBN 978-951-653-345-5.  

Reviewed by Rodney Ast, Columbia University (

Of all ancillary disciplines that fall under the general rubric of Ancient Studies, papyrology probably exhibits the widest reach, contributing to literary and religious studies; economic, political and social history; linguistics; the histories of medicine and science, etc. Perhaps no other event highlights this extraordinary breadth more clearly than the triennial International Congress of Papyrology. The 24th Congress, which took place in Helsinki in the summer of 2004, was no exception, and the two-volume collection of proceedings that forms the subject of this review goes a long way in reflecting the broad interests of papyrologists, even if the great success of the event is muted to an extent by the quality of some contributions. These are Congress proceedings, and some pieces bear the hallmark of the genre: brief reports and announcements that might not otherwise have warranted publication and partially developed topics or editions destined for full treatment in proper journal articles.

Despite the shortcomings of some articles, a large number of the ca. 85 pieces contribute in important and varied ways to our understanding of both Greco-Roman Egypt and of the classical world in general. Here are a few examples illustrating the range of topics encountered in the two volumes. M. Mirkovic (pp. 743-755) offers interesting insight into the economic realities in place prior to Diocletian's reforms, suggesting that we view the reforms not so much as a dramatic departure from earlier practice but as the natural consequence of changes that were afoot centuries earlier. J. Dalrymple (pp. 205-213) provides a fascinating discussion of the real threat, as documented by papyrological sources, that scorpions and snakes posed inhabitants of Egypt. From Th. Kruse we get detailed analysis of Roman management in Egypt of the production of alum (alumen, στυπτηρία) (pp. 523-547), a class of sulfates used in medicine and in the production of gold, silver and gems, as well as for dyeing and tanning. In a contribution to the history of early Christianity (pp. 341-352), H. Förster reasonably questions the rather simplistic distinction occasionally drawn between religion and magic, taking as his starting point a recent edition of a codex page from Psalms that was thought by the original editors to have been "re-used" as an amulet for the purpose of magic. Förster argues that use as an amulet does not necessarily entail employment as an instrument of magic.

Papyrological scholarship has witnessed a gradual increase in interest in formal characteristics of papyri, in part, I think, because of the much wider availability of reproductions of papyrological objects due to digitization projects that have emerged over the past ten to fifteen years. J. L. Fournet (pp. 353-367) provides an excellent example of the kind of intriguing results that can be obtained from close examination of the different formats used for documents. Viewed together, object and text can elucidate social and administrative realities and sometimes afford good criteria for establishing the genre and date of fragmentary papyri. Several other contributions to these proceedings also explore formal characteristics of papyri, such as paleographical features and critical signs (e.g., L. Del Corso, pp. 233-247; T. Di Matteo, 259-265; L. Giuliano 385-393), to shed light on circumstances surrounding the production of texts.

If any one digital project has dramatically improved our ability to decipher difficult texts, such as the famous carbonized papyri from Herculaneum, it has been the multi-spectral imaging endeavor spearheaded by a team at Brigham Young University in collaboration with the Biblioteca Nazionale at Naples. The efforts of that team are acknowledged in many of the contributions concerned with Herculaneum papyri, and the article authored by R. T. Macfarlane et al. (pp. 579-586) sets out nicely the aims and methods of the project. But one of the most interesting parts of the article is, in my opinion, the caveat voiced by Professor M. Gigante at the Vienna Congress which Macfarlane et al. repeat: "The new images do not replace autopsy, but augment it" (p. 583f.)--a healthy reminder of the necessary human element in all our digital endeavors. This advice is then reinforced with illuminating examples of ways in which the images might mislead.

Another area of papyrological research that has gained considerable attention focuses on the physical context in which texts were created, preserved and disposed of. This approach tends towards library and archival studies, and can be witnessed in contributions like K. McNamee's interesting attempt at identifying and grouping ancient libraries (pp. 693-707), in B. van Beek's illuminating discussion of the different criteria that might be met for a group of related papyri to constitute an ancient archive (pp. 1033-1044; see too M. Choat's piece on pp. 175-183), and in E. R. O'Connell's survey of the Tebtunis collection at Berkeley in an article aptly entitled "Recontextualizing Berkeley's Tebtunis Papyri" (pp. 807-826). The value of such studies is underscored by the sheer absence of detailed acquisition records for the bulk of papyri that were unearthed, both legally and illegally, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Related to the topic of library and archival studies is the transmission of texts. One piece in particular that deserves mentioning is H. Maehler's discussion of the relationship between the hypomnema to Thucydides preserved in P.Oxy. VI 853 and later scholia found in the Byzantine manuscripts (pp. 587-593). The editors of P.Oxy. VI 853 saw little commonality between the papyrus and the later scholia, neither of which they held in very high esteem, but Maehler's subtle analysis shows how the two may in fact owe their descent to a single, comprehensive commentary. The differences found in them might simply reflect the different perspectives and interests of the people excerpting the original commentary.

The mainstay of papyrology has always been the publication of new texts, and these proceedings offer several new papyri, both literary and documentary. For example, M. Berti (pp. 105-109) edits a Ptolemaic document from the Heracleopolite that contains early evidence for the Machatas kleros, the name Machatas being of Macedonian origin. R. Cribiore (pp. 199-204) provides us with a letter from a teacher to a gymnasiarch who was the teacher's former pupil. The text is interesting for the elevated tone and clear syllabic division of words, which was apparently intended to facilitate legibility. Other interesting new papyri include fragmentary Greek documents from the Judaean desert (N. Cohen, pp. 191-197), which are accompanied by reproductions (but not, unfortunately, by transcriptions of the texts); a very difficult petition from Soknopaiou Nesos (F. A. J. Hoogendijk, pp. 435-452) concerned with rights pertaining to the transportation of goods by ferry across Lake Moeris; a group of ostraca related to the so-called "Trajan's Canal" which for centuries was the sole shipping route from the Nile to the Red Sea (A. Jördens, with contributions from P. Heilporn and R. Duttenhöfer, pp. 469-485); a new document from the Soterichos archive dated to AD 135 that shows that Soterichos's youngest son, Didymus (alias Didymion), must at some point have relocated from the Tharapia quarter of Arsinoe to the Tameion quarter (S. Omar, pp. 839-843). The volumes offer several new paraliterary and literary papyri, including a couple of medical texts: a papyrus with recipes containing remedies for women's ailments, which is likely to have come from the active medical community at Tebtunis (A. E. Hanson, pp. 427-433), and a medical catechism probably from Oxyrhynchus that deals with the topic of tumors (A. Maravela-Solbakk and D. Leith, pp. 637-650). New literary texts include two pieces from the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat near Barcelona (S. Torallas Tovar and K. A. Worp, pp. 1019-1031). One is a papyrus preserving part of the Comparatio Menandri et Philistionis and the other is a fascinating parchment fragment with what the editors characterize as a vulgar text of John Chrysostom's De virginitate. The parchment fragment consists of phrases lifted in a rather unsystematic way from Chrysostom's work, and it represents the sole extant papyrological witness to the treatise.

The overall quality of the two volumes might have been higher with the involvement of a good copy editor at the press: contributions are riddled with typos and deficiencies in formatting, but there is little to be gained from itemizing these infelicities. I will, however, make a few minor suggestions for improvements to the Greek texts that are edited for the first time. In line 2 on page 106, the circumflex accent is missing from αὐτοῖς. The editor of a document (p. 408, line 8) containing a list of landowners suggests that one of the individuals in the list bears the name Αὖγις, which is unattested in the papyri. I think that another possible reading is the female name Ἀῦσις, which also appears in SB VI 9572.19 (AD 61/62; Arsinoite). In line 2 on page 412, delete πλεῖστα, the abbreviated form of which is not present on the papyrus. Confusion here seems to have resulted from the scribe's apparent correction of the genitive Σαραπίωνος to the dative Σαραπίωνι. In line 14 on page 417, κεράμιον should be in the plural, since there are two of them, and in line 22 at the top of page 418 μου is to be preferred over του, a possibility noted by the author in the commentary. Finally, in line 6 on page 561, I am strongly in favor of reading Παμβῶ, one of the suggestions provided by the editor in the commentary. This is probably the same Hermopolite μερίς attested in SPP XX 241.10.

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