Papyrology: Literary and Documentary

Rodney Ast

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:
Papyrology: Literary and Documentary

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Papyrology owes its name to the paper-like writing material produced from the papyrus plant on which texts in Antiquity were commonly written. Although papyrus was used throughout the Greco-Roman world, most papyri that survive from the period come from Egypt because the Egyptian climate has been conducive to their preservation, and most are in Greek. More broadly, however, papyrology refers to any nonmonumental artifacts that bear writing: clay and stone sherds; wax, lead, bronze, and wooden tablets; fragments of parchment; and other small finds. In effect, the discipline covers textual material that is not included under the rubrics of epigraphy, numismatics, and manuscript studies, although there is inevitable overlap. In addition to Greek, texts survive in Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, and Demotic (these are generally handled by Egyptologists), as well as in Arabic, Coptic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other languages. Relatively few Latin papyri are extant. Chronologically, the discipline covers the late 4th century bce to the 8th century ce, often divided into four main parts: Ptolemaic (4th century bce–30 ce), Roman (30 bce–284 ce), Byzantine (284–642), and Islamic (post-642), a somewhat arbitrary division not adhered to by everyone. Papyrology concerns itself with a broad range of texts often grouped into two main categories: documents and literature. The former includes official writings (imperial edicts, public announcements, official petitions, etc.) and private affairs (letters, legal contracts, accounts, etc.), while literature comprises poetry (Homer, lyric poems, tragedy, etc.) and prose (historiography, philosophy, rhetoric, etc.) as well as a class of texts often referred to as “subliterary” writings (grammatical treatises, school exercises, magic and astronomical texts, etc.). As a whole, papyrological evidence provides a good perspective on the public and private lives of a larger social stratum than that observed in written records from other parts of the Greco-Roman world. Because of the field’s traditional place within classical studies, this article focuses on Greek and Latin papyrology.

Article.  9120 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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