Wednesday, May 31, 2006

OLDEST PAPYRUS? Nowhere near.
Oldest’ papyrus is decoded


Greek and foreign experts have used cutting-edge technology to decode the Greek text of the world’s oldest literary papyrus more than four decades after its discovery, it was revealed yesterday.

The Derveni Papyrus — which has been in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki since its charred fragments were found among the remains of a funeral pyre in 1962 — is described as a “philosophical treatise based on a poem in the Orphic tradition and dating to the second half of the 5th century BC.”

”It is particularly important to us as it is the oldest (papyrus) bearing Greek text,” Apostolos Pierris, director of the Patras Institute of Philosophical Research, told Kathimerini.

Both the headline and the first paragraph of this article are misleading. The third paragraph may be correct that this is the oldest papyrus written in Greek; I don't know. But certainly there are many earlier literary papyri in other languages. The Aramaic text of Ahiqar comes from the fifth century as well. And there are plenty of earlier Egyptian literary papyri, such as the Story of Sinuhe, of which papyrus fragments survive from across much of the second millennium B.C.E.

Still, I'm glad this Greek text is getting the benefit of some new technology for its decipherment.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

(Via Archaeologica News.)

UPDATE (1 June): New blogger Random Colin comments:
Preach it brother. I think that a lot of people fail to understand the incredibly painstaking work involved in getting an ancient document from wherever it got left 2000 years ago to a bookshelf near you. For some reason I found this comment kind of encouraging and inspiring today...nothing like a long day reading ancient literary theory while trying to make some kind of sense of your thesis in your head to make you get a little twitchy.

Remember, this world is a product of the world that was.
Amen. I had hoped that my little comment would inspire that kind of reaction in readers.

UPDATE (2 June): More here.

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