- 49 - GREEK PAPYRI IN EGYPTIAN TOMBS.*
The finding of written documents in the fab- ric of Egyptian mummy cases, by W. Flinders Petrie, in 1889, attracted the attention of all interested in the land of the Nile. These dis- coveries, remarkable in many ways, have been explained and elaborated by Professor, Ma- haffy, in a work of absorbing interest not only to Egyptologists, but to classical scholars, and to students of history, jurisprudence, and pa- laeography as well. While Mr. Petrie was ex- ploring the necropolis of Tell Gurob, on the shores of the vanished Lake Moeris, he noticed that some of the mummy cases were made of layers of papyri glued together and painted. In these he detected traces of writing, and straightway set about the almost hopeless task of separating and cleaning the various frag- ments. The ink in many places was entirely effaced by the glue or the lime used to form a surface for coloring. But through good for- tune and great care, he rescued a large num- ber of more or less legible lines, and brought them to England. Here they were commkitted to the very competent hands of A. H. Sayce and J. P. Mahaffey, who sorted, arranged, and began to decipher them. Soon it became ap- parent that the mutilated pieces from which later generations had made a kind of papier maché for burial purposes, were portions of the valued and official papers of their prede- cessors who lived in the third century before Christ. There is hardly anything in literary annals more delightful than the account of the days spent at Oxford in the Long Vacation of 1890, by the two scholars, in pouring over these most strangely revealed records of the past. Gradu- ally there emerged the remains of a very care- ---- fully and beautifully written roll containing the Phædo of Plato, in an earlier text than any heretofore known, and probably represent- ing its condition before it was edited by the critics of Alexandria. Then there came to light portions of three pages of the last act of Euripidesí celebrated play Antiope, which we have only in an imperfect condition, going far to complete it. Next appeared a few short pieces of poetry, seeming to be elegant extracts for use of schools, some fragments of the Iliad containing several terminations and be- ginnings of lines not found in any known manuscript of Homer, but identified in part with a passage in the Eleventh Book; scraps from other classical authors, a quotation from a lost play, and a page from a discourse on Good Fellowship, all writ in the purest Greek. One small fragment has a curious interest and importance. It is from the work of Alki- damas, the contemporary and rival of Isocra- tes, entitled the Mouseion, the original tract which supplied part of the material for the ex- tant "Contest of Homer and Hesiod." The book known by this name was produced by some Hellenistic sophist not earlier than the second century A.D., since it cites an opinion of the Emperor Hadrian. Twenty years ago a German scholar, F. Nietzch, made a critical examination of it and the legend it is based upon, and, from a few stray hints in the only known authorities, came to the conclusion that the story of the Contest was old and widely spread long before Hadrianís day, that our present account of it was put together by its author from ancient materials fo which the main source was the Mouseion of Alkidamas, from whom the contest of the two great poets received its earliest literary form, and that cer- tain lines were literally transcribed from the original work, and were not the invention of a later day as some claimed. The text here recovered brilliantly confirms the judgment of this acute critic. It shows the Contest was not an invention of Hadrianís age, but ex- isted in much the same form four hundred years earlier, than it then probably had great popularity, and that reading which Nietzche defends was the reading in the third cen- tury B.C., and therefore almost certainly the genuine text. It rarely happens to a scholar in this field to receive such unexpected proof of the correctness of a theory, and to have it proved to be based upon such profound learn- ing and sagacity. Together with these classical treasures were
- 50 -
many legal or official documents, bearing dates which were a great surprise to their investiga- tors. Up to this time no Greek papyri had been discovered in Egypt of a period before the Christian era. But there was a long series of official copies of wills, labor accounts, records of judgments and other papers in the Grecian language, unmistakably dated in the reigns of the second and third Ptolemies, or from 280 to 220 B.C. There were also portions of pri- vate letters, some in clear and beautiful hand- writing, begging petitions, acknowledgements of money received, and reports of work done, all of about the same period, imbedded in these cases. The private letters were usually written on long narrow strips of papyrus which have been torn in two by the coffin makers, and so mutilated that it is difficult to decipher their meaning. The writing was however, peculi- arly large and fine, by way of showing respect, or as evidence of politeness, as Professor Ma- haffy supposes. He instances the words of St. Paul: "See with what large letters I have written you in mine own hand." One epistle from a steward to his employer, Sosiphanes, is complete except the writerís name. It opens with a greeting and much thanks to the Gods that his master is well, and informs him that the whole vineyard has been planted and the climbing vines attended to, that the olive yard has yielded six measures, and that they are making conduits and watering; which shows that vines and olive trees were then cultivated in the district of the Fayoum. Only such a scholar as Mahaffy could have reconstructed from these fragmentary materi- als, and the stories of his own learning, the his- tory of the Grecian colony in Egypt to which these reconstructed manuscripts belonged. But he has made it as vivid as though the men who read and enjoyed these classic works, who executed these wills and contracts and wrote these letters, were living in our midst to-day. We see the Greek soldiers of Ptolemy Phila- delphus, who paraded the streets of Alexandria at his coronation, dismissed with handsome gifts, and settled as landed proprietors on the fertile shores around Lake Moeris. So minute are the descriptions of them in some of these papers that we know from whence they came, whether, Thrace, Arcadia, or Argos; their age and height, their features, the color of their hair, and weather it was straight or curly, their battle scars, usually about the head, and the names of the old regiments in which they had served, whether the cavalry or the heavy- ---- armed infantry. We see them engaged in the culture of the vine and olive, transacting business, and introducing Grecian customs, forms, and literature. We read the evidences of similar settlements of Grecian veterans in this part of the Fayoum under later kings, and the indications that called to foreign wars under the military tenure by which they held the soil, a native insurrection broke out at home. And they doubtless returned to find themselves dispossessed, and unable to recon- quer their lands; and so their precious things were despised by those of another race, and their books and letters and documents were discarded, and fragments put to the cu- rious use which has preserved them to our day. The subject proper is enriched by the learned author of this Memoir with most interesting disquisitions upon papyri in general, the de- motic writing, the bibliography of Ptolemaic Greek documents, the history of the times of the first two Ptolemies, the texts of the Petrie Papyri, and the palæographical results of their decipherment, each most worthy to be the theme of a separate and special article. There is space only to indicate some of the principal conclusions which Professor Mahaffey derives from the marvellous discovery of the Flinders Petrie Papyri. He finds these to be the recov- ery of by far the oldest specimens of any cla- sical text the modern world has yet seen, and of the best of all the classical manuscripts found in Egypt; ample materials for new stud- ies of the times of the Ptolemies and for a his- tory of them such as has not yet been written; the reconsideration of hitherto accepted theory of jurists as to the development of the right of bequest; and much new light upon the rapidly expanding science of Greek palæ- ography. He tells us, as well may, that this Memoir contains materials enough to satisfy the most exacting lover of antiquarian novel- ties. But it is the privilege of the lover of an- tiquarian novelties of Egypt never to be satis- fied, for each year reveals new wonder of this kind; and hence, as Professor Mahaffy says, that he has still in hand a store of un- separated fragments sent him by Mr. Petrie from the same wonderful source, which he is now endeavoring daily to explicate and read, we may confidently hope to be ere long de- lighted with the revelation of still other treas- ures from among these papyri, so marvellously preserved and brought to light. EDWARD G. MASON.
*The Flinders-Petrie Papyri. With Transcriptions, Commentaries, and Index. By the Rev. John P. Mahaffy, D.D., LL.D. Autotypes I. to XXX. ("Cunningham Me- moirs" No. VIII.) Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.









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