BMCR 2022.12.28

Response: Janko on Bondi on Thomas, Art, science, and the natural world in the ancient Mediterranean, 300 BC to AD 100

Response to 2022.12.12

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Readers of Chapter 4 of this book, which concerns the Artemidorus Papyrus, should be advised that the crusade of Luciano Canfora and his entourage against its authenticity (though it is written on a genuinely old material support) is not the outlier that the author and his reviewer may wish it to be. Eminent papyrologists expressed to me grave reservations about it when it appeared, notably the late Herwig Maehler of University College London, who, however, was not willing to voice his doubts in public from a wish not to offend colleagues and friends.

In reviewing the publications of both sides,[1] as the editor of Classical Review invited me to do even though I had taken no interest in the papyrus, I found myself obliged to conclude without equivocation that: (i) the language of the papyrus is not ancient; (ii) its spelling contains phonetic errors diagnostic of modern Greek; (iii) the Greek forger Constantine Simonides (to whom Canfora ascribes it) was peculiarly interested in, and knowledgeable about, ancient geography; (iv) the script of the papyrus imitates plates of the Herculaneum papyrus of Philodemus’ De pietate that were published in 1863, when Simonides was at the height of his powers; and (v) Simonides had artistic ambitions and training, as witness the frontispiece for his forgery of the Gospel of Matthew of 1861.[2]

I have seen neither these observations, nor their significance, refuted. I cannot say whether they influenced the finding of the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2018, ‘sulla base di elementi indiziari gravi, precisi e concordanti’, that the papyrus is indeed a 19th-century forgery,[3] since I was neither involved in the case nor called to testify as an expert witness.

Simonides constantly planted within his productions clues that would betray them to anyone in the know. In 1855 he took great pleasure in deceiving the Clarendon Press into publishing an edition by Wilhelm Dindorf of his forgery, Uranius: History of the Kings of Egypt. That book was suppressed only after eighteen copies had been sold. Simonides’ motive was to dupe the best presses and most eminent scholars of his age. The author of the volume under review acknowledges the help of many scholars of our own time and the efforts of the very same press. Simonides may still be having the last laugh.



[1] R. Janko, review of L. Canfora, The True History of the So-called Artemidorus Papyrus, with C. Galazzi, B. Kramer & S. Settis, Il papiro di Artemidoro, and L. Canfora, Il Papiro di Artemidoro, in Classical Review 59:2 (2009), 403–10, with 6 plates.

[2] Constantine Simonides, Fac-similes of Certain Portions of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and of the Epistles of Ss. James & Jude (London, 1861).

[3] Sergio Favretto, “Il papiro di Artemidoro. Verità e trasparenza nel mercato dei beni culturali,” Altalex 06/12/2019.