[Table of Contents] [Search]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[BKARTS] SFGate: BERKELEY/Papyrus celebration at UC/105 years later, Egyptian documents finally arrive

 This should interest those studying papyrus scrolls, etc. Betty
This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SFGate.
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Wednesday, October 19, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
BERKELEY/Papyrus celebration at UC/105 years later, Egyptian documents finally arrive
Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

   A tiny piece of Homer has finally reached home after an odyssey longer
than the one endured by the original Odysseus, happy UC Berkeley scholars
said Tuesday.
   At a celebratory ceremony, the campus gingerly offered a glimpse of scraps
of Homer's "Odyssey" and other invaluable texts on ancient papyrus that
were unearthed in Egypt more than a century ago but experienced a delivery
delay on their way to the Berkeley campus.
   "This is an exciting day for us," said Charles Faulhaber, director of the
Bancroft Library, which will house the artifacts, which are nearly 2,000
years old.
   Though it took 105 years for the papyri to reach the campus, Berkeley was
spared the long anxiety endured by Penelope, Odysseus' long-suffering
wife. Berkeley didn't even know the missing material existed until three
years ago.
   Berkeley's papyrologist, Todd Hickey, discovered the materials were
stranded on a distant island called Great Britain, where they were being
held by a notorious document-hoarding tribe known as Oxford dons.
   The material originally belonged to a much larger cache of papyri
documents excavated in Egypt in 1899 and 1900 by an expedition financed by
Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who labored mightily to transform part of her
husband's mining fortune into a world-class university at Berkeley.
   The Berkeley campus was but a 32-year-old academic sprout then, lacking
expertise in deciphering papyri, so it was agreed that the documents would
first go to Oxford for study and then be sent to Berkeley.
   The bulk of the material -- much of it found in the wrappings of crocodile
mummies at the ancient city of Tebtunis -- made its way to Berkeley early
last century to form what campus officials say is the largest papyri
collection in the Western Hemisphere.
   Hickey realized that part of the trove was missing in 2002 when he read a
newly published article revealing that some papyri at Oxford were
inscribed with the same cataloging numbers used in the Hearst expedition.
   Berkeley sent an e-mail appeal for the material's release in early 2003,
but Oxford demurred, said classics Professor Donald Mastronarde, director
of Berkeley's Center for the Tebtunis Papyri. Further appeals, however,
secured their release, and they reached Berkeley in August, their fragile
remains tucked inside decades-old pages of the Oxford University Gazette.
   The recovered material filled three tin boxes with about 1,000 papyrus
fragments found mainly in old temple walls and in human mummy wrapping,
Hickey said. They will join the approximately 35,000 pieces already in
Berkeley's collection, he said.
   The new documents will "have a great impact not only here at Berkeley but
on research around the world," he said. Hickey said he was excited not so
much by the Homer and a segment from Euripides' "Phoenician Women" as he
is by "very important" texts from a library for priests and priestesses.
   The new texts double the documents that Hickey can draw on for a book
about eight generations of a family of priests, who were keepers of
traditional Egyptian society amid Greek and Roman conquerors.
   "I find this fascinating," Faulhaber said. "We have here a window on a
living community in the ancient world."
   Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist and historian from Columbia University who
is a visiting professor at Berkeley, agreed.
   "This I think is going to be very exciting. It just happens to be my dumb
luck to be here when this arrived," he said.
   Egyptian papyri are treasured sources not only for information about Egypt
but also about Greek and Roman culture and history. Greek and Roman
records easily perished in those nations' climates, but Alexander's
conquest of Egypt in 332 B.C. introduced three centuries of Greek
dominion, followed by Roman rule after Cleopatra's death that left many
records preserved in Egypt's arid lands.
   Berkeley researchers said most of the new material has not yet been
examined and that they are hopeful for new discoveries.
   "The real scholarly work has only barely begun," said Anthony Bliss, rare
book librarian at the Bancroft.
   Among the least of their concerns, Berkeley researchers say, is whether
the additional material means that the University of Michigan will now
concede that Berkeley does indeed have the biggest papyri collection on
this side of the globe.
   "We possess the largest collection in the Americas, and did so even before
this addition of around 1,000 pieces," Hickey said of the "friendly
   "If memory serves, there are now twice as many pieces of papyri here as
there are at Michigan," he said.
   Michigan papyrologist Traianos Gagos begged to differ.
   "We have the largest collection," Gagos said. "We have a wider range," he
said, adding that it also contains more substantial fragments.
   Asked who has the largest repository, Bagnall of Columbia -- home to
America's fourth-largest collection, behind Yale University -- answered,
"I think if you weighed it, Michigan would win. If you counted it,
Berkeley would win."

   E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle

Now Online - The Bonefolder, Vol. 2, No. 1 at <http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder>
             For all your subscription questions, go to the
                      Book_Arts-L FAQ and Archive.
          See <http://www.philobiblon.com> for full information

[Subject index] [Index for current month] [Table of Contents] [Search]