In the papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt, we learn about a variety of festival entertainers, including flute players, singers, dancers, actresses, and so on. Usually, these entertainers pop up in contracts used for hiring purposes. But they also emerge in private letters. In a Ptolemaic papyrus letter discussed on this blog some time ago, Demophon hires an effeminate male dancer and places an order for various sorts of instruments and delicacies for a certain women’s festival. When dancers were hired for festivities, parties, or celebrations, they were front-and-center. Dominic Montserrat (Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt [Routledge, 1996]) has suggested that these dancers, donned in their glamorous dancing costumes, ornaments, jewelry, and perfume, would have likely provided sexual services as well. According to Montserrat, “it is not hard to imagine that the tinkling of the dancer’s jewellery, her movements and the music, would have provided a powerful erotic stimulus for some spectators” (176).
In one particular case, we learn that the attraction (of one sort or another) proved fatal. According to P.Oxy. 3.475, Leonides reports an accident in which an eight year old slave boy named Epaphroditus fell to his death while trying to watch dancing girls at a festival:
“To Hierax, strategus, from Leonides alias Serenus, whose mother is stated as Tauris, of Senepta. Late yesterday evening, namely 6th Hathyr, while a festival was taking place at Senepta and the castanet dancers were giving their usual performance at the house of my son-in-law Ploution son of Aristodemos, his slave Epaphroditus, about 8 years old, tried to lean out of an upper room of the said house to see the castanet dancers, fell, and was killed.”
Part of the document is a copy of an application to the strategus of Oxyrhynchus imploring him to order one of his assistants to give Epaphroditus a proper burial. We learn that the strategus did indeed order an assistant to view the dead body in the company of a public physician and to deliver it over for burial.
A very sad ending for little Epaphroditus.
This third-fourth century Greek parchment fragment containing a few partial verses from Leviticus 27 was discovered in Oxyrhynchus and published by Grenfell and Hunt in 1915. I was unaware that this fragment belonged to the Green Collection until an image of it was posted as an "artifact of the day" on the Museum of the Bible's Facebook page. Interestingly, this fragment has a problematic history. In the early 20th century, it was donated by the Egyptian Exploration Fund (now Society) to Crozer Theological Seminary (now Colgate Rochester Divinity School). But this institution ultimately deaccessioned the item. In June 2003, it was sold at a Sotheby's auction for a whopping $36,000 USD. Unfortunately, universities and museums sometimes sell off some or all of their items in order to raise money. Most recently, P.Oxy. 15.1596, a papyrus fragment of John, was deaccessioned by the Pacific School of Religion and sold to an American private collector (full story here). Anyway, the little parchment fragment now in the Green Collection was part of a larger lot of papyri sold on Sotheby's back in June 2003, and scholars debated the sale. Robert Kraft, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, had this to say (originally posted on the PaleoJudaica blog here; slightly edited below):
"It may be of interest to the paleojudaica site that a problematic precedent has been set (or perhaps merely expanded) by the auction on 20 June 2003 of 29 published papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus, including P.Oxy. 1351 LXX Leviticus, that had been donated in the early 20th century to Crozer Theological Seminary (now part of Colgate Rochester Divinity School) by the Egyptian Exploration Fund (now the Egyptian Exploration Society). The materials were divided into 9 lots, and brought a staggering total of $646,000. The most prized piece in terms of bids was P.Oxy. 1780, from the Gospel of John, which went for $350,000. The tiny parchment Leviticus fragment brought "only" $30,000 [correction: $36,000]. The names of the successful bidders are unknown to me.
Fortunately, not only were all these papyri already published in the P.Oxy. volumes, but they had recently been included in the American Theological Library Association "Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative" and thus can be viewed publicly on the internet -- http://www.atla.com/digitalresources/ (Search the DataBase, Limit by Collection, check off Oxyrhynchus Papyri and "Submit," keyword "Oxy," click on descriptions and images). The images and descriptions can even be offloaded ("Save As").
The situation was discussed at some length on the PAPY scholarly electronic list, and some late attempts to stop or delay the sale were addressed both to the sellers (the Trustees at Colgate Rochester Divinity School -- the Library that housed the fragments apparently was not complicit in the sale) and the legal department of the agent (Sotheby's in New York City). Egyptian Exploration Society officers issued a statement that emphasized the intent of EES that the materials were for public use, through museums and libraries. I'm not aware that the Egyptian authorities were apprized of the situation or issued any statement, although it could be argued that ultimately, this is Egyptian property. Some have questioned the right of a not-for-profit institution (CRDS) to sell to the highest bidder materials obtained by "donation" from a not-for-profit organization (EEF). It clearly seems to be a "moral" issue, even if its "legal" status remains murky; and a very questionable precedent!"
This is a good example of how artifacts can "move" on the market. They leave a museum, exchange multiple hands, and sometimes they simply disappear. I suppose the good thing in this case is that the item is now in a public museum, which was the original condition of donation by the Egyptian Exploration Society (EES). Several questions remain, however. Who bought the item from Sotheby's? From whom did the Green Collection buy the fragment? Does the EES approve of the artifact's relocation? Should it, in fact, be returned to the EES? Will scholars be given access to the fragment for research purposes? And a related question: will the Green Collection ever deaccession any of its items, and if so, how will they do it?
In a couple recent posts (here and here), I discussed two ancient papyri which dealt with violence. In both cases, the writer was seeking justice from the state through an official petition. In this post, we learn of another interesting case of violence in a papyrus mentioning a Christian monk and deacon.
P.Col. 7.171 is a single sheet of well-preserved papyrus that was discovered in the ancient town of Karanis, Egypt. It is inscribed with the text of a petition dated to 6 June 324 C.E. Let's jump right into the text:
"To Dioskoros Caeso, praepositus of the 5th pagus, from Isidoros son of Ptolemaios, from the village of Karanis in your pagus. The cattle of Pamounis and Harpalos damaged the planting which I have and, what is more, [their cow] grazed in the same place so thoroughly that my husbandry has become useless. I caught the cow and was leading it up to the village when they met me in the fields with a big club, threw me to the ground, rained blows upon me and took away the cow—as indeed the (marks of) the blows all over me show—and if I had not chanced to obtain help from the deacon Antoninus and the monk Isaac, who happened by, they would probably have finished me off completely. Therefore, I submit this document, asking that they be brought before you to preserve my claim (to be heard) in the prefectural court both in the matter of the planting and in the matter of the assault. In the year of the consuls-to-be for the fourth time, Pauni 12."
There are several very interesting features of this papyrus. First, it should be noted that this papyrus is part of a larger cache of papyri (known as an "archive") belonging to Isidoros. We learn from some of his other petitions that Isidoros had a reoccurring problem with animals eating his crop. For example, in a document known as P.Cair.Isid. 78, dated five months prior to the papyrus under discussion, Isidoros summons the local police officers in Karanis to hunt down and arrest the owners of some animals who ate his crop. The owners of the animals are not mentioned in that papyrus, but it is possible that they belonged to Pamounis and Harpalos, who are mentioned in our papyrus. We can only imagine what caused this attack. Perhaps Pamounis and Harpalos were fed up with Isidoros going to the authorities about their cows and so wanted to make a point: "leave us and our cows alone and don't go to the police." Or perhaps it all started with a heated argument. I can just imagine Isidoros giving the two men a piece of his mind, to the point that they got fed up with him and took to fighting. Whatever the case, we learn that the two men beat him severely and left him in the wheat field.
Second, two good samaritans come to Isidoros' rescue: a Christian deacon and monk. This is historically important because it is the earliest secular reference to the term "deacon," as well as the earliest reference to "monachos" in the institutional sense of "monk," if we can indeed understand it in this way. Egyptian monasticism as a movement began roughly at the beginning of the fourth century with St. Anthony, and so we have here an extremely early reference to a monk, perhaps within a few decades of the very beginnings of monasticism. We know nothing about these men except their names and ecclesiastical titles, but Isidoros' citation of them suggests that a Christian institution was alive and well in (or near) Karanis in 324, a year of tremendous importance in the history of early Christianity. This was the year that Constantine the Great defeated Licinius, became sole ruler of the western and eastern empire, and upheld with fervor his support of Christianity empire-wide. One year later (325), Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea. Thus, when read against the religious and political backdrop of 324, the petition of Isidoros takes on new meaning. At a time of civil war and heated debate about the place of Christianity within the empire, a Christian deacon and monk—ecclesiastical colleagues?—from a small farming town in Egypt emerge as good samaritans, representing the religion that was on the cusp of exploding across the Roman empire and the entire western world.
Several open-ended questions
* Isidoros mentions the monk and deacon by name. Would the prefect have known who they were?
* Whatever happened to Isidoros? This is the latest dated document from his archive so we learn nothing more about him.
*What was the relationship between the deacon and monk? Obviously, Isaac could not have been a desert ascetic, since he is here associated with a Church clergyman.
*How do we understand "monk" in this case (admittedly a bigger and perhaps more important historical question)?
Tomorrow (May 10) 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.”