Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.02.25 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.02.25

Marie-Hélène Marganne, Bruno Rochette (ed.), Bilinguisme et digraphisme dans le monde gréco-romain: l'apport des papyrus latins. Actes de la Table Ronde internationale (Liège, 12-13 mai 2011). Collection Papyrologica Leodiensia, 2.   Liège:  Presses Universitaires de Liège, 2013.  Pp. 242.  ISBN 9782875620224.  €30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Eleanor Dickey, University of Reading (

This work offers a useful and accessible introduction to recent work on Latin papyri in their Greek contexts, written by the leading experts on this topic. Refreshingly, in view of the tendency of many presses to impose monolingualism on collected volumes, the volume is as multilingual as the texts it considers: there are five contributions in French, four in Italian, and one in English. Readers will also find English abstracts of all papers (as well as abstracts in the language of the contribution itself) on pp. 183-8. The provision of such abstracts is a laudable custom of the Papyrologica Leodiensia series and could be adopted to advantage even in monolingual collections: it makes life much easier for the browser who wants to ascertain quickly which papers are of particular interest to him/her.

The core of the book consists of six chapters. The first is Johannes Kramer’s “Les glossaires bilingues sur papyrus”, which offers an overview of the types of Latin-Greek glossaries found on papyrus. Kramer is the acknowledged expert in this field, having previously published two books and numerous articles on the glossaries.1 Most of what appears here can also be found in those other works, but the information bears repeating, because this material is hard to get a grip on and Kramer is one of the few people who can produce a clear and coherent explanation of it (an explanation aided, in this case, by numerous examples of glossary texts). Making a coherent educational system out of a diverse body of texts is risky, however, and I do not agree with every detail of his systematisation. For example, the assertion that “la lecture de vrais chefs-d’oeuvre littéraires, comme Virgile ou Cicéron, couronnait le cursus de l’enseignement latin” (p. 51) seems to conflict with the existence of numerous fully bilingual papyri of these authors (see below), which seem to have been used by beginners who needed extensive help; to me it seems more likely that the advanced students read not Virgil but authors such as Sallust whose works have been found on papyrus in monolingual rather than bilingual form.

Next comes a piece on “digrafismo nei papiri latini” by Paolo Radiciotti, who died tragically before the publication of the volume. Digraphism is the use in a single text of two different alphabets, which is of course common in Latin-Greek bilingual materials. It is not, however, as universal in those materials as one might expect, for the transliteration of Latin into Greek script was common in antiquity (some notable examples are presented in Kramer’s chapter), and writers of papyri also sometimes transliterate Greek into Latin script. Radiciotti was the unchallenged expert on digraphism,2 and again this chapter is primarily a useful synthesis rather than a presentation of new discoveries.

The next chapter, by Marco Fressura, is entitled “Tipologie del glossario virgiliano”. This provides an overview of the ten known “Virgil glossaries”, a category that traditionally encompasses both “glossaries” in the usual sense of the term and bilingual texts that include every word of a passage of Virgil, in order, with parallel Greek translation. (One papyrus contains both types of glossary, providing full bilingual texts for books 1 and 2 and selected words for book 4, and Fressura argues that this progression from full to partial translation was standard after book 3 -- though of course most papyri no longer contain more than one book.) Although there has been some excellent work on these texts already, much remains to be understood, and Fressura has some promising new ideas. In particular I was struck by his proof that (at least some of) the glossaries were transmitted in glossary form: a corrupt Latin word may have a Greek translation that could only come from the original uncorrupt Latin, indicating that the Latin must have been corrupted after the translation was made.

The following chapter, Maria Chiara Scappaticcio’s “Lectio bilingue, bilinguismo della lectio: sull’ accentazione grafica nei papiri latini: sondaggi dai P. Ness. II 1 e 2” also concerns Virgil papyri. Scappaticcio is well placed to produce such a chapter because she has published both a book on the Virgil papyri and a book on accents in Latin papyri.3 She compares the signs found on two Virgil papyri with the statements of Latin grammarians about the use and meaning of such signs, and reflects on how such signs functioned in a bilingual context.

The next chapter, entitled “Bilinguisme, digraphisme et multiculturalisme dans le codex miscellaneus de Montserrat” and authored by Gabriel Nocchi Macedo, provides an overview of a remarkable document. This fourth-century manuscript, which survives in a surprisingly complete condition, includes texts in both Latin and Greek; as the texts themselves are not bilingual the bilingualism and digraphism is this time to be found on the level of the book rather than the level of the text. If this codex had survived only in the form of one or two pages, as is more common for books of its age, no-one would ever have thought that it might have originally been bilingual. This, and the manuscript’s other diversities (it contains both Christian and secular texts and includes classical oratory and hexameter poetry as well as Christian liturgy), should warn us against too facile conclusions about the other contents of the books for which we have only a page. The chapter also includes five pages of photographs, which are really useful. This is not the only chapter that could have benefitted from photographs; it is a pity that it is the only chapter that contains them.

The last contribution, by the Finnish scholar Hilla Halla-aho, is entitled “Bilingualism in action: observations on document type, language choice and Greek interference in Latin documents and letters on papyri”. This is the only contribution to focus on documentary texts; it concerns the question of how writers decided which language to use, with particular focus on the use of Latin by people who would have been more comfortable writing in Greek. Three case studies are examined, of which the first concerns documents (such as wills and birth certificates) for which Roman law required the use of Latin if the document concerned a Roman citizen: did language use in these documents change after Roman citizenship was extended all over the empire, when Latin speakers became a minority of the citizens? (The discussion of this issue would have been more comprehensible to the uninitiated if it had been prominently stated that the extension of citizenship occurred in AD 212.) Apparently there was little change in the Latin of such documents at that date – competent Latin scribes were clearly available – but a higher percentage of the citizens signed in Greek, indicating that after 212 more people produced wills in a language they did not know. The second case study concerns receipts and contracts from military contexts, where there were no formal legal requirements for the use of Latin but some pressure to use Latin may nevertheless have occurred. Here Halla-aho’s corpus is uncomfortably small, but nevertheless it suggests that Latin was sometimes used by people whose competence in it was limited and who would therefore presumably have been happier using Greek. The third group comprises private letters, a genre in which language choice was presumably restricted only by the competences of writer and recipient; since virtually everyone in Egypt must have had at least passive knowledge of Greek, Halla-aho argues that the use of Latin could never have been forced upon a Greek speaker in this genre. Nevertheless she finds clear evidence of Greek interference in the Latin of private letters.

This core group of papers is preceded by an introductory section of four chapters. The first of these, Bruno Rochette’s “Papyrologie latine et bilinguisme gréco-latin: des perspectives nouvelles”, provides an excellent and well-balanced overview of scholarship on Latin papyri within the context of ancient bilingualism. Rochette is another long-standing expert,4 and this summary will be useful to anyone thinking of entering this fast-moving field. Marie-Hélène Marganne’s “Le CEDOPAL et les papyrus latins: pour une mise à jour du Corpus Papyrorum Latinarum de Robert Cavenaile” provides interesting information about Cavenaile’s work and the exponential growth in the number of published Latin papyri. Apparently CPL was originally conceived as an offshoot of Cavenaile’s doctoral dissertation Le latin d’Égypte et son influence sur le grec (unpublished, but now helpfully made available online by CEDOPAL atèse_vol.I.pdf; Cavenaile’s updates to CPL are also available, at At the time the dissertation was submitted, 255 Latin papyri were known; by the time Cavenaile defended it a few months later, that number had risen to 297; by the time CPL was published in 1958, there were 380; and by 1992 there were 550. Today there may be as many as 1800 if one includes ostraca, tablets, and materials from outside Egypt.

The introductory section also includes two short bibliographic pieces, Alain Martin’s “Réflexions d’un bibliographe” and Nathan Carlig’s “Une bibliographie critique relative au bilinguisme grec-latin”. These make the point that bilingual papyri and bilingualism more generally constitute a fast-growing field; of course work in nearly every area of Classics has been increasing recently, but work on bilingual papyri seems to have increased also as a percentage of work on papyri, a statistic that indicates good health in this area.


1.   The books are Glossaria bilinguia in papyris et membranis reperta (Bonn 1983) and Glossaria bilinguia altera (Munich 2001); the articles include ‘Essai d'une typologie des glossaires gréco-latins conservés sur papyrus’, in Archiv für Papyrusforschung 50 (2004): 49-60.
2.   Eight papers on this topic, for example “Manoscritti digrafici grecolatini e latinogreci nell’antichità”, in M. Capasso (ed.), Ricerche di papirologia letteraria e documentaria (Galatina 1998) 108-46.
3.   Accentus, distinctio, apex: l’accentuazione grafica tra Grammatici Latini e papiri virgiliani (Turnhout 2012) and Papyri Vergilianae: l’apporto della Papirologia alla Storia della Tradizione virgiliana (I - VI d.C.) (Liège 2013).
4.   E.g. Le latin dans le monde grec (Brussels 1997).

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