Serious studies and editions of ancient manuscripts will never reach a broad audience due to (a) their technical and methodical nature and (b) their subject matter. That does not mean that they are not exciting or fascinating; and for the specialist the essential qualities of a fine edition are more significant than anything else: such an edition is expected to be meticulously correct, to offer all the salient pieces of information about the manuscript (or manuscripts) it includes, and to serve as the basis for further research into the manuscript and its text thereafter.
The book under review is an example of such a fine edition. Louis Capron from the Sorbonne presents three codices from the Louvre which were acquired at the end of the 19th century and partially published by Carl Wessely in 1889.1 In 1990 Capron discovered additional fragments and started work on these and the codices themselves: he could identify new texts, correct mistakes, and modify already published passages. These papyrus codices are of particular importance because hagiographic texts on papyrus are rather rare. The codices are of quite large dimensions and are written in a calligraphic hand that resembles Alexandrine majuscule. The codices preserve passages from Lives of the Saints, in particular from the Life of Euphrasia of Constantinople, the Life of Abraham of Kidunaia and his niece Mary, and the Life of Theodora of Alexandria; in addition there is also a fragment of a homily.
The book opens with a preface by Alain Blanchard underlining the importance of the present edition. Capron himself offers acknowledgements, a list of images, editorial conventions (e.g., the Leiden system for papyrological publications), and a comprehensive bibliography (abbreviated titles and their full equivalents). In his introduction Capron takes his readers by the hand and acquaints them with the codices he is going to edit. Readers get to know about the acquisition of the codices, suggestions of identifying their texts, early editions and analyses of what was there and known in previous times, and attempts to reconstruct the pages of some fragments (3-11).
Then Capron deals with the papyrus fragments/codices themselves. First, there is P.Louvre Hag. 1, one folio from a codex with the Life of Euphrasia of Constantinople. According to Eric G. Turnerʼs classification the codex — originally 26.2 cm high and 19.3 cm broad — belongs to category four. Capron discusses many (palaeographical) phenomena in detail (e.g., margins, kollesis, and certain letters) and illustrates his observations by means of a chart of letter forms. By comparing these with other manuscripts he dates the script of this codex to the end of the fifth or sixth century (17). Plates (26 and 28, each facing a transcription of the Greek text, a critical apparatus, and a French translation) help the reader follow and assess Capronʼs observations and evaluations. Besides, he discusses the text of the Life of Euphrasia of Constantinople itself at some length and presents the manuscripts he referred to for collations.
The second codex, dated to the second half of the seventh century, consists of various fragments and texts. There are pieces of passages from the Life of Abraham of Kidunaia and his niece Mary ( P.Louvre Hag. 2), the Life of Theodora of Alexandria ( P.Louvre Hag. 3), and some unidentified fragments ( P.Louvre Hag. 4-5). First of all, Capron reflects upon the layout of the codex, which consists of quaterniones (i.e. quires of four bifolia); the kolleseis indicate that the roll was folded up to form pages (a sort of a leporello) and then cut in order to form bifolia for the quires. As with P.Louvre Hag. 1 Capron provides concise description of palaeographical phenomena and systematically deals with nomina sacra (48), punctuation (49-50), and textual peculiarities. Again plates of all the pages/fragments face a transcription, a critical apparatus, and a French translation. Two small unidentified fragments also belong to this codex, but they have only a few letters or just a single incomplete word per line left so that there has not been any identification of them with any known text so far (170-173).
The ten fragments of the third codex from the seventh or, perhaps, early eighth century ( P.Louvre Hag. 6) are slightly less lacunose. Here, Capron offers a very cautious attempt to reconstruct some words, presenting both a diplomatic transcript and one with some reconstructed words next to it. Vocabulary and other features (e.g., a citation from Isaiah 54:1) suggest that this might be text from a homily (“Fragments dʼune homélie?”), probably against idolatry [cf. the terms [εἰδω]|λολα̣τρ̣ί̣α[ς] (lines 17-18), ἄκανθα (five times), ἁμαρτία (line 16), ἔρη̣|μον (line 34), and ἰατ̣[ρός (line 39)].2
The book comes with an index of Greek words and additional plates illustrating the reconstruction of pages and the placing of individual fragments. The DVD supplies high-quality images of all the fragments so that readers can easily enlarge details and intensively check palaeographical phenomena and physical features of the manuscripts (e.g., certain forms of letters, eisthesis of first letters of the second codex, peculiarities of the material).
This is a splendidly produced volume. Capronʼs meticulous descriptions, cautious conclusions, masterly reconstructions, and methodologically superb treatment of P.Louvre Hag. are a fine paradigm for others to follow. Although very technical, the book can be recommended to everybody interested in manuscripts from antiquity and hagiographical texts alike.
1. Carl Wessely, “Literarische Fragmente der Papyri aus El-Faijûm”, Wiener Studien 11 (1889) 175-191; “Zu den griechischen Papyri des Louvre und der Biblioèque nationale. II. Die Vita s. Theodorae”, Fünfzehnter Jahresbereicht des k.k. Staatsgymnasiums in Hernals, Wien: Verlag des k.k. Staatsgymnasiums in Hernals, 1889, 24-26; Die Pariser Papyri des Fundes von El-Faijûm, Denkschriften – Österr. Akad. Der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Klasse 37,2, Wien: F. Tempsky, 1889.
2. If so, Capron is right in referring to hymn 24.5 by Romanos the Melode, though the parallels are only with the fragmentary text of the third codex.