Wednesday, March 31, 2021

On the provenance and authenticity of the Sappho papyri

VARIANT READINGS: The Retraction of Dirk Obbink’s Sappho Chapter and the Question of Authenticity. Brent Nongbri brings us up to date on the retraction by Brill. He also raises some questions about the authenticity of the papyri.
To summarize, then, we have:
  • Papyrus fragments with sensational and much-desired content
  • Faked provenance stories for these fragments
  • Seemingly false claims about scientific testing of these fragments
  • No access to the main fragment for examination
  • Early doubts about the quality of the poetry copied on these fragments
  • Surprisingly cavalier treatment of supposedly highly valuable unique ancient papyri
Given all this, is it really accurate to say that there is no “evidence to suggest that either P.GC inv. 105 or P.Sapph.Obbink is not authentic”? It might be better to say that most (perhaps all?) competent scholars regard these fragments as authentic even in the face of many suspicious circumstances surrounding these papyri.

Let me reiterate. I can’t pass judgement on the authenticity of these papyri. If these fragments are fakes, they are some of the best I’ve ever seen. But then again, I haven’t actually seen them. And other than Prof. Obbink, who has?

I have no view on this matter myself. I do agree that scholars need to have access to the papyri.

Background on the Sappho papyri and on the complicated Oxford missing-papyri scandal is here and links. Ariel Sabar published the definitive account of the scandal in May of 2020. Brent Nongbri has contined to follow developments.

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