|35||THE GREEK PAPYRI.|
the dates upon them refer. In many cases this would be about B.C. 250, in no case after B.C. 220.
The importance of Mr. Petrie's discovery now becomes evident. Here we have a body of Greek documents considerably older than the oldest hitherto known, older even than the age of the great grammarians and critics of Alexandria and their editions of the earlier classical texts. With the exception of some graffiti which I copied on the walls of the temple of Seti at Abydos in 1883 they present us with the first examples of Greek cursive writing as yet met with, and raise the question whether the cursive Greek ostraka from Karnak, which have been assigned by Dr. Wilcken and myself to the reign of Ptolemy Physkôn, do not really belong to that of Ptolemy Philadelphus. These were the only two Ptolemies whose reigns were long enough to allow of certain of the dates met with on the ostraka.
65. If Mr. Petrie's papyri consisted merely of private letters and wills their antiquity would make them sufficiently interesting. But the interest is increased tenfold when we find among them fragments of the works of Plato and Euripides. The Platonic fragments belong to the Phaedo. They number ten in all, some of them being of considerable size. They form part of a papyrus which must have been of great length since the whole of the Phaedo seems to have been written upon it, and probably some other philosophical work as well. The average width of the papyrus was 8½ inches, and it was of a fine and carefully-prepared quality. The text was inscribed upon it in parallel columns, each from 5½ to 5¾ inches in length, and averaging from 2½ to 3 inches in breadth. The lines, however, are of very unequal length, as the scribe always ends the line with a word. Between each column a space is left which averages half an inch, though sometimes it is as much as an inch and sometimes as little as a quarter of an inch. At the foot of the papyrus a margin is left a little over 1½ inches in length (4 centimeters) ; the margin at the top of the page does not measure more than an inch. The text is written in capitals, and the divisions of the dialogue are denoted by a horizontal line drawn between the last word of one speaker and the first word of the next, or else over the first letter (or first two letters) of the following line. Other diacritical marks there are none.
The fragments begin in the middle of chapter xii (67 E of Reiske's edition), and include the first half of chapter xiii. Then there is a break, and they recommence with the last few words of chapter xxvi They further comprise the greater part of chapters xxix and xxx, about a quarter of ch. xxxi, and half of ch. xxxii, the whole of chapter xxxiii and the first three-fourths of ch. xxxiv.
The text differs in many important respects from the received one, and is distinguished by a consistent neglect of the hiatus and by the use of an (translit.: an) with the future indicative. The neglect of the hiatus shows that the received text has undergone a complete recension at the hands of critics who objected to it, and so overthrows the theories that have been based on the supposed observance of the hiatus by Plato. The consistent use of an (an) with the future in so carefully-written a manuscript may be commended to the notice of the authorities on Greek grammar.
More serious arc the numerous and important variations of the papyrus from the received text of the Phaedo which rests on the evidence of one of our oldest and best Greek MSS. (now in the Bodleian Library, and dated A.D. 896). The variations will somewhat shake the confidence of scholars in the purity of the tradition embodied in the texts of the Greek writers which have been handed down to us, at all events as far as regards the texts which go back to a pre-Alexandrine period.
The papyrus must have been a very precious one. Its size and splendour, the extreme care which has been bestowed upon the preparation of the text, and the accuracy with which it has been written, all show that it was of exceptional value. Before any portions of it could have found their way to a waste-paper basket and been handed over to an undertaker to be turned into cartonnage, it is clear that it must already have been some time in use. But if this were the case about B.C. 250 it could not well have been written later than B.C. 300, and is probably of much earlier date. It is thus not only the oldest manuscript we possess of a Greek author, but it is even possible that it may have been written in the lifetime of Plato himself.
66. By the side of the fragments of Plato the two pages of papyrus which contain portions of a lost play of Euripides somewhat pale in interest. But the play was one which was famous in antiquity, and though a few passages from it have been preserved, only one of these is to be found in the portions which have now come to life. The play was that known as the Antiopé, and the fragments discovered by Mr. Petrie belong to the concluding part of it. They consist of two pages which may have formed part of a single roll, each page containing two columns of
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