Don’t miss a 50% off summer sale from Baylor University Press this weekend (June 10th-12th). The sale is intended for graduate students, but anyone with the code may order! Use discount code BJUN at http://baylorpr.es/s50-off, which applies to books published before 2015. Happy shopping!
This Sunday (May 8) is Mother’s Day in the US and Canada. According to Wikipedia, this holiday is “a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.” This is a time when many children send cards and flowers showing their appreciation to their mothers. While this holiday is modern in origins, we do find examples of mothers becoming angry when their children do not write to them or show proper acknowledgment.
One case in particular comes to mind. In a first-century Greek papyrus letter known as P.Berenike 2.129, found in a Roman dump in Egypt, a mother named Hikane writes to her son Isidoros scolding him for not writing to her. The papyrus is fragmentary, but Hikane’s frustration is clear. Through rhetorical coloring, she reminds Isidoros that she carried him in her womb for ten months and nursed him for three years. So, what is the moral of this story? Maybe it is that you should write to your mothers. Otherwise, you could receive a letter like Hikane's. Or worse: your mom takes her anger to Facebook!
Here is the opening of Hikane's letter:
“[Hikane] to Isidoros [her son, greetings. First of all] I thought it necessary, since the packet boat was putting out to sea, to write . . . me. I am in Berenike. I wrote you a letter [?but did not receive a] letter. Was it for this that I carried you for ten months and nursed you for three years, so that you would be incapable of remembering me by letter? And similarly you dimissed me though the Oasites . . . not I you. But I left your brothers in Arabia . . . so that . . Egypt I might see your face and . . . breath. I only ask and beg and adjure you by the one whom you . . . and by the memory of the one who begot you, to sail away if you are well.”
Those with an interest in early Christian manuscripts will want to have a look at the latest issue of Adamantius — Journal of the Italian Research Group on Origen and the Alexandrian Tradition. This most recent volume (21) includes a thematic section with several articles dedicated to the Bodmer papyri, the results of a conference on the Bodmer collection held in 2014 (noted on this blog here). The editors' introduction to the issue along with a full table of contents is available here.
For now, I'll just single out a couple of the contributions. Pasquale Orsini provides a palaeographic overview of the collection that includes multiple illustrations and a table presenting his revised palaeographic datings of the codices. Paul Schubert wrestles with the problems of figuring out what books actually make up the "Bodmer papyri" proper. Paola Buzi examines the codicology of the collection. As an appendix to the articles, a very short contribution by me gives an overview of my recent work on the construction of the Bodmer "composite" or "miscellaneous" codex; it can be downloaded here.
Most exciting, however, is the publication of more papyri extracted from the cover of P.Bodm. XXIII (the Coptic Isaiah codex) by Jean-Luc Fournet and Jean Gascou. Among these papyri is a document (now designated P.Bodm. LVI) that mentions the name of a person who is very likely a known individual from Dendera, which is just 30 km east of Dishna, the location that James M. Robinson identified as the site where the codices first appeared on the antiquities market. This would seem to be another piece of evidence pointing to the area around Dishna as the place of the production of the codices (as opposed to Panopolis further north).
The Bodmer papyri have a lot to offer students of early Christianity, but it's a challenging corpus for many reasons, so it's great to see these essays begin to treat some of these problems in a systematic way.
Dr. Brent Nongbri is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University.
What did a scribe do when there was a pre-existing hole, tear or abrasion in their writing material? Did they write around it? Under it? Over it? Patch it up? Write through it?
A few years ago, I realized that not many scholars were drawing attention to this phenomenon. For example, I found many cases where authors made no mention of scribes intentionally avoiding damages in their writing material. But it has become clear to me that scribes were accustomed to negotiating faults and imperfections. In my mind, this raises all sorts of questions about the materiality of written artifacts and even the manufacturing process.
Anyway, I put some of my questions and thoughts down in an article recently published: "Scribes Avoiding Imperfections in Their Writing Matierials," Archiv für Papyrusforschung 61.2 (2015): 371-383.
"This article examines the phenomenon of preexisting imperfections in papyri. Rarely noted by modern commentators, many ancient scribes were forced to deal with different kinds of papyrus damage, such as holes, tears, abrasions, stains, cracks, cuts, etc. This study offers several examples of preexisting damage and demonstrates how some scribes attempted to avoid it. It also raises questions about how modern editors might take scribal avoidances into account in their transcriptions."
A downloadable PDF of this article may be found here.
As I admit in the article, these are all very simple questions. But they are questions rarely asked by editors of papyri. A more significant question is how papyrologists should indicate when a scribe "skips" damage in their writing material. In the editor's transcription? In the notes? I cannot answer that question for the field, but I think there is much more to think about in this regard.