THE VIENNA EPIGRAMS PAPYRUS: CORPUS PAPYRORUM RAINERI Band XXXIII

Edited by P.J. Parsons, H. Maehler, F. Maltomini

De Gruyter (2015) h/b 153pp (incl. 7 plates) £109.95 (ISBN 9783110354522)

For those with a special interest in the tradition of Greek epigram or in the continuing and important developments in papyrology, this is a major new contribution to our knowledge. The material covered in the fragmentary papyrus—twenty or more pieces originally torn up to construct a mummy-mask—consists of just the first lines of 226 epigrams written in Greek during the Hellenistic period (probable date the late third century BC). Only one of the lines can be attributed with any confidence to a named poet—Asclepiades. All three editors acknowledge their debt to the multispectral imagining team of Brigham Young University, which has greatly aided the decipherment of the original fragments; colour scans of these will eventually be accessible on the website of Österreichische Nationalbibliotek (ÖNB), which owns the papyrus.

P.’s Introduction covers the details of the papyrus, the scribes, the format, the selection and the anthology, the types of epigrams and their authorship. Much of this is speculative or hesitant, but it is invaluable background to the detailed study of what follows. Each text is first transcribed without word-breaks or punctuation (but with ellipses and brackets); then again with them; and finally followed by a translation into English (where this is possible) and a line-by-line, word-by-word commentary of impeccable scholarship.

Here are some examples of the translation of these first lines:

col. i 14 reads              ουκειμουδετεωνδυοκεικοcι

thus               οὐκ εἴμ’ οὐδ’ ἐτέων δύο κεἴκοιcι

trans              I am not even twenty years old

In the Palatine Anthology (12.46) this is the first of an epigram by Asclepiades; though ‘whether the [letters most difficult to decipher and speculative] would have been so read if the text were unknown, is another matter’ (P. on p. 35).

col. i 17 reads              cιλφιονεγλιβυηcμε .. υμηττε

thus               cίλφιον ἐγ Λιβύηcμε .. υμηττε

trans.             Silphium from Libya …

The reference to the herb silphium, famous from Catullus 7.4 (‘silphium-bearing Libya’), and the possibility that the last word relates to Hymettus, famous for its honey still, make this an interesting culinary or medicinal conundrum which P. explores with characteristic thoroughness.

col. vi 13 reads            γυμνοcμενζηνηcοκαλοcκαλοc

thus                 γυμνὸc μὲν Ζήνηc ὁ καλὸc καλόc

trans.               Handsome Zenes is handsome when naked

This reversal of ‘clothes make the man’ seems to be a unique theme in Greek epigrams, though the final juxtaposition of καλόc has parallels which P. lists.

fr.1 col. ii 27    reads    εγλελοπιcθημορινηcκαινενακταικυμβ . υ .

thus     ἐγλελόπιcθ’ ἡ μορίνηc καὶ νένακται κύμβ . υ .

Of this example on p. 111, H.M. writes, ‘I have no clue what it could mean in this context’. The first word means ‘has been peeled’, the third ‘mulberry-coloured’ and the fifth ‘has been piled up’; is the last word κύμβοc, ‘a cup’? I have plenty of sympathy with H.M.

There will be scope for further discussion of individual lines, their decipherment, meaning and authorship, but the editors have done an outstanding job in presenting the material to scholars and the interested wider world, a marvellous example of laboratory detective work and classical scholarship.

Stephen Chambers – Balliol

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