I would like to express my utmost appreciation to the kind folks at Walter de Gruyter for sending me a review copy of this book.
The standard English-language handbooks on Greek palaeography, namely, those of C.H Roberts and E.G. Turner, were matched in 1987 when the authors of the book reviewed here published what is likely the most referenced handbook on Greek palaeography in current scholarship--Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period A.D. 300–800 (BICS Supplement 47; London: University of London, Institute of Classical Studies). Published in 2008, Hellenistic Bookhands attempts to chart the development and typology of Greek bookhands in the Hellenistic age, a subject which, as the authors note in the preface, “has never been explored in a monograph” (v). The authors note that, with respect to the book’s title, the term “Hellenistic” was preferred over the usually employed “Ptolemaic” on account of the fact that certain features in the handwriting of Ptolemaic papyri continue for some decades into the Augustan period. But, more importantly, since Greek papyri have been found in places outside of Egypt (e.g., Derveni, Macedonia, Palestine, Herculaneum), the geographically restricted “Ptolemaic” is something of a misnomer.
As for the layout and presentation of materials, one will notice that it is similar to that of the author’s 1987 handbook, both of which show many similarities in format with Turner’s Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (GMAW), in which there is an introduction detailing a variety of issues pertaining to the development of Greek handwriting and manuscript particularities (i.e., reading aids, critical signs, layout), followed by a selection of papyri accompanied by plates, transcriptions and detailed discussions. It should be noted here that Turner’s GMAW achieved more in terms of comprehensiveness, which is evidenced in the fuller descriptions given of individual papyri over against those presented in Cavallo and Maehler’s handbooks. The 96 papyri are arranged chronologically in Hellenistic Bookhands, beginning with the famous Derveni papyrus of the 4th century BCE and ending with a 1st century CE declaration of sheep from Oxyrhynchus. According to the preface, the selection of texts was made jointly, but the definition of groups of stylistically related hands, along with the commentaries at the end of each group, was prepared solely by Cavallo (v).
The Introduction, which is written in a marvelously lucid style, is 24 pages long and contains 12 figures. The subsections treat various issues such as the oldest surviving Greek books, book production and literary scripts, the emergence of Greek cursive (in which there is a detailed discussion of the types of script in the Zenon archive), features common to literary and documentary scripts, aids to the reader, etc. Cavallo and Maehler pose several interesting questions relating to historical phenomena regarding handwriting styles. For one, they question whether the script of the 6th and 5th centuries was the only Greek script that existed at that time, in light of the fact that our extant evidence shows a remarkably fixed graphic ideal; the editors refer to this style of script as a “kind of graphic κοινή, of standard Greek script which did not change or evolve much during this period” (4).
There is also an interesting question as to why archaic or “epigraphical” features dropped out of use beginning in the 3rd century and almost altogether disappeared by the 2nd. According to the authors, the reasons are two. First, Rosalind Thomas demonstrates that orality played a higher role in Athens prior to the fourth century BCE, and that before this time “evidence did not have to be presented in court in writing until the fourth century” (Thomas, quoted on page 5). Given that there was a reluctance to take to writing when it came to everyday affairs, the style of handwriting in the 6th-4th centuries remained static. Second, the foundation of the royal library in Alexandria in the 4th century BCE generated an unprecedented interest in bookrolls, and the vast amount of copying forced scribes to develop styles of handwriting that would allow for much more speed in the copying process. Thus, the development of cursive writing is emblematic of an increase in book production beginning in the 4th century BCE.
The “Texts and Plates” section is the meat of the book. Included in the first entry are details relating to the papyrus’ publication, dimensions, number of lines and columns, LDAB numbers (where available), and references to the publication of images. My main criticism of the palaeographical descriptions under each entry is that they are limited. Some of the discussions are a mere line or two (Nos. 12, 15, 21, 22, 53). As mentioned above, Turner’s GMAW is better in this regard. This limitation is, however, partly balanced out by Cavallo’s fuller discussion of the similar stylistic patterns at the end of each group. Most of the images are scaled down in size, but the exact percentage of their reduction is conveniently noted next to the plate itself. Some images represent the original size (=100%) (Nos. 22, 23, 25, 40, 45, 49, 55, 60, 79, 82, 92) and others are increased in size (=greater than 100%) (Nos. 1, 17, 28, 65, 72, 83, 84, 86, 91, 93, 94). In one instance (No. 39), the percentage of size is missing. In general, the plates themselves are very clear and letter-forms are easy to observe. Two small typographical errors were noted: “literay” is printed twice (page 16, last paragraph, and page 17, first paragraph).
I should like to note one correction, which is really more of an update than a correction of a mistake. On page 19 of the introduction, the authors state, “There is no evidence of ruling in papyri…” In support of this statement, the authors cite Turner, who likewise states, “Nor can I point to an example of vertical ruling” (GMAW2, 6; Cavallo and Maehler cite GMAW2, 4 n.7). However, I have recently identified vertical ruling line in the second column of P.Oxy. III 560 (Iliad; 3rd cent. CE), which was not mentioned in the ed. princ. by Grenfell and Hunt. The scribe of P.Oxy. III 560 has drawn a vertical line before copying his text in order to keep his left margin completely justified. Andrzej Mironczuk and myself have given this papyrus a full edition, which is published in ZPE 186 (2013), where an image of the papyrus and a fuller discussion of this vertical ruling line may be found. Thus, there is now evidence of vertical ruling.
This book and its editors are to be praised for the kinds of material they have provided historians, classicists, papyrologists, and others. Cavallo and Maehler have produced arguably the two most important handbooks on Greek palaeography. Hellenestic Bookhands together with Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period represent the essential guides for Greek handwriting from the 4th century BCE to the 9th century CE. For scholars working on texts posterior to the Ptolemaic period, Hellenistic Bookhands is still necessary for understanding the history and development of the graphic phenomena in Greek papyri. I warmly welcome this handbook and look forward to using it often. It will certainly become a “classic” in the field of papyrology.
To order this book from Walter de Gruyter, click here.