Friday, January 24, 2014

A Complete Ancient Edition Of Livy Will Probably Not Be Found In The Western Sahara Anytime Soon

Night before last I dreamed that somewhere in Tunesia or Algeria, somewhere around there, a large collection of papyrii had been found, including 14 codices containing all 142 books of Livy, copied out in the 3rd century. (AD.) (That would be 10 books per volume except 12 in the last volume. For the past couple of centuries it seems to have been most common to publish 5 books per volume. Earlier, 10 books per volume wasn't unusual. Lately it seems to be growing more common to publish 2 or 3, or even 1 per volume. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe many of the early printed editions contained ALL of the known books in one volume: 30 up until the 1520's, and then 35. I don't think very many people have any justification in grumbling about any supposed good old days, but classicists might be among those few. The trend toward less and less ancient text per volume affect all the classics, not just Livy. 35 books of Livy is about as many words as the Christian Bible or the collected works of Shakespeare, and you can get those for free or very cheap. Why do those guys have all the fun? Grumble, grumble.)

And so when I woke up I began to think about discoveries of ancient papyrii, and to wonder why I had heard of -- well, not of few major discoveries made west of Egypt, but actually of none.

You see, after Alexander conquered Egypt in the 4th century BC, up until the 7th century AD, Greek was a major written language in the area, and for great periods of time it was the predominant written language. This did not change when the Romans conquered Egypt in the 1st century BC. In Egypt, and in Greece itself and Asia Minor and Judea and Galilee and Syria, Greek was the major written language. As you moved west of Egypt into present-day Libya, Tunesia, Algeria and Morocco, Latin became more common. This had been the territory of the Carthaginians or Phoenicians, and after the Romans wiped them out in the Third Punic War, ending in the mid-2nd century BC, use of their language in those western regions declined very sharply, and Latin prevailed until the Muslim conquests of the 7th century AD. So while Greek is by far the predominant language of the ancient papyrii discovered in Egypt, texts on papyrii recovered in Tunesia or Algeria would be much more likely to be written in Latin.

And my main man Livy wrote in Latin, not Greek. And Livy was so popular in the Roman Empire that even among the papyrii recovered from overwhelmingly Greek-speaking Roman-era Egypt, a few scraps have been passages from Livy or summaries of parts of his work. Imagine how many Latin payrii await excavation in the western Sahara.

Except, no, there aren't. I was dreaming in more ways than one: only a few regions within Egypt, in or near Faiyum, and including Oxyrhynchus, have the climate required to preserve papyrus buried in the ground for thousands of years. Outside of those regions, it's much more likely to rot away and become dirt, unless a freak accident of preservation occurs. Or so it says on the webpage of the Papyrology Collection of the University of Michigan, and I can't think of a good reason to doubt those guys about that, or even a mediocre reason. For just a little while I thought I had a reason: the Dead Sea Scrolls, found hundreds of miles east of Faiyum. But, oops: I had mistakenly assumed that the Dead Sea Scrolls were papyrus. Only a small fraction of them are. They're mostly parchment.

And so it appears that the best chances of finding significant chunks of the lost text of Livy on ancient papyrus remain in Egypt. And those chances don't look great even to a cock-eyed ridiculous optimist like me. but hey, papyrology continues to be a miraculously wonderful thing for people studying ancient Greek, and to a somewhat lesser extent for those studying Coptic, and only to a much, much lesser extent when it comes to ancient Latin. But hey, good for those other guys. I've got nothing against them. On the contrary, they are partly us: our fields overlap. My horrible, horrible disappointment should not rain on their sunny parade.

It was a nice dream for a day or so. 3rd century, that was a very nice detail, I don't know whether there actually are any manuscripts of the major Latin classics which are that old. Probably a half-dozen or so, and probably some of them on papyrii which were discovered in Egypt. There's a 4th-century copy of a passage from book 1 of Livy found at Oxyrhynchus; the text goes something like: regiam uenire pastoribus ad regem impetum facit et a domo Numitoris alia comparata manu adiuuat Remus ita regem obtruncat Numitor inter primum tumultum hostes inuasisse urbem atque adortos regiam dictitans cum pubem Albanam in arcem praesidio armisque obtinendam auocasset postquam iuuenes perpetrata caede pergere ad se gratulantes uidit extemplo aduocato concilio scelera in se fratris originem nepotum ut geniti That's the oldest Livy MS I know of -- but don't take my word for that, because although I'm pretty smart in some areas, one of them is not following the convoluted descriptions of manuscripts delivered by some classicists who also, maddeningly, do not include dates of the MSS on their sigliae, which would compensate greatly for said convolutions. Also, expert opinions about the dates of old manuscripts do change occasionally. Apart from papyrii, I think that the oldest known MSS of Livy are 5th-century. But one more MS might be as old or older as that 4th-century fragment from book 1: many websites repeat the information that around 40 words of the otherwise-missing book 11 are on a piece of papyrus found in Egypt, whose text was published in 1986. But they don't tell you who published the text, or where they published it (I'm 98% sure or so that years ago I held the periodical in question in my hands and gazed upon the transcription), nor how old the copy is estimated to be, nor none of that useful stuff. After extensive googling I telephoned a professional papyrologist and asked for help. I'll stick a PS on here as soon as I know more.

PS, February 1, 2014: Thanks to the very kind help of Monica Tsuneishi, the University of Michigan's Papyrology Collection Manager, I now know more. I was wrong in several respects about that fragment of book 11: it was found in 1986, in Naqlun, near Fayum, Egypt. The text was first published in 1988. It's 5th-century, and it's not papyrus, it's parchment. And it's 2 fragments, two different episodes, on the front and the back of one piece of parchment. And I know now why everybody kept saying it contained "about" 40 words: because the writing is broken up to the point that at several different points there could be fewer long words or more numerous long words. And now I'm more than 99% sure I saw it once before in the Classical Quarterly, New Series, vol 53, no 1 (May 2003), p 248, in the library of the University of Alaska, Anchorage. And it goes something like this: [------ .e(m) [----- ing]ens [ei era]nt ha[u]t pro[cul G]abiis [u]rbe. cu[m] [Ga]uios nouos exer[cit]us indictus [e]sset ibique centuriati milites essent, cum duob(us)milib(us) pe[ {.} ]ditum profect[u]s in agru(m) suom cons[ul?] and g[-------] ar[------] se[d] reaps[a nega]tam eo [[e]]dicto f[acturum] quoa[d inuissu suo in pr[ovi(n)-] cia maneat, et [si] pergat dicto non parar[e], \[s]e/ [i]n praese(n)tem habiturum imper[i]um. Fabius, [acc]eptus mandatis-----]

Get it? Got it? Good. Keep an eye out for the PPS. (Oh yes, there will be more.)

PPS, 16 December 2017: Above, I wondered whether there were any manuscripts of Classical Latin literature as old as the 3rd century AD. Since writing this post, I have learned that a fragment of papyrus dated to the 1st century BC, containing the only surviving poetry, 9 lines' worth, of the highly-regarded ancient Roman poet Gallus, was excavated in Egypt in 1978. And also that a copy of the Carmen de bello Actiaco, an otherwise-unknown poem which may or may not be considered "Classical," was unearthed at Herculaneum in 1752 and unrolled in 1805, and must have been made between 31 BC, when the battle of Actium, which it describes, took place, and AD 79, when Vesuvius erupted and buried Herculaneum. And also that the Oxyrhynchus papyrus of Vergil known as P Oxy 1098, originally dated to the 4th century, may actually be as old as the 1st or second century AD. That's what is now known to me, as far as manuscripts made the 3rd century AD or earlier, and containing Latin literature, are concerned. I am not at all certain that there is no more known to anyone. Especially when P Oxy 1098 is only 1 of 17 papyri containing work by Vergil. And, as I say over and over on this blog: ancient manuscripts continue to be discovered. I very much doubt that we've already found 'em all.

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