Burned after reading: the so-called list of Alexandrian librarians in P. Oxy. X 1241
Cet article remet en question la valeur et la fiabilité du contenu du P.Oxy. X 1241, la liste dite des Bibliothécaires d’Alexandrie. Plutôt que de traiter de la liste des grammairiens des colonnes i.5.-ii.30 pour elle-même, comme les savants l’ont fait depuis que le papyrus a été publié, cet article prend en considération le document dans son intégralité. Cette lecture plus attentive du P.Oxy. X 1241 démontre qu’il y a une évidente continuité thématique entre la liste des grammairiens et les catalogues militaires qui suivent, qui n’a jamais été observée précédemment parce que les deux parties du document ont été traitées séparement. Il en découle des questions concernant trois hypothèses essentielles émises par les éditeurs originaux, B. P. Grenfell et A. S. Hunt : (1) la liste des col. i.5-ii.30 est-elle en réalité une liste des Bibliothécaires en chef de la Bibliothèque d’Alexandrie ? (2) le document est-il une copie ou une compilation de quelque œuvre savante qui remonte à la période hellénistique, et non la production d’un savant/grammairien du deuxième siècle de notre ère environ ? (3) Est-ce que les contenus du papyrus reflètent l’œuvre d’un savant/grammairien compétent qui était suffisamment informé sur la chronologie de la période ptolémaïque pour donner un décompte historiquement exact de la succession d’individus liés à la cour des Ptolémées et à la Bibliothèque d’Alexandrie ? S’il est vrai que dans son contenu et son utilisation de citations savantes le P.Oxy. X 1241 partage de nombreux points communs avec les catalogues en prose des époques hellénistique et impériale, les stratégies du discours savant déployées par l’auteur dans le catalogue militaire ne sont pas conformes aux normes des exemples scientifiques fiables. En conséquence, la valeur du texte comme preuve documentaire de l’histoire de la Bibliothèque d’Alexandrie a besoin d’être réexaminée, car il semble probable que nous ayons affaire à une œuvre littéraire manquée.
Entrées d’indexHaut de page
- 1 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, The Oyxrinchus Papyri 10, London, 1914, p. 99-100.
- 2 Ibidem, p. 100.
- 3 Ibidem, p. 100.
- 4 Ibidem, p. 100.
- 5 Among the few naysayers, however, is E. G. Turner, “Ptolemaic Egypt”, in F. W. Walbank (ed.), (...)
1Ever since B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt published P.Oxy. X 1241 in 1914, scholars have considered it to be the most important contribution to our knowledge about the history and organization of the Alexandrian Library. The original editors described the contents as a partially preserved “treatise containing historical and mythological information collected in summaries and lists”, featuring catalogues of famous artists (sculptors, painters), of the grammarians who were Alexandrian librarians, and of mythological and historical figures who invented certain weapons or practices of warfare.1 They also observed a similarity to Hellenistic and Imperial mythographical catalogues and compilations, and so concluded: “Though the name of the compiler is unknown, the class to which this treatise is to be referred is thus clear; it is a characteristic product of Alexandrian erudition”.2 Grenfell and Hunt go so far as to say the list of grammarians “at last determines the order of the holders of the office under the earlier Ptolemies, and supplies fresh evidence for the much-discussed chronology of Apollonius Rhodius”.3 Accordingly, in their view P.Oxy. X 1241 corrects “the mistake in the tradition” by contradicting the Suda, which dates Apollonius a generation after Callimachus and Theocritus and describes him as the successor of Eratosthenes to the directorship of the Library. They also dismiss the military catalogue: “The section dealing with warfare and weapons is, as might be expected, of no great importance”.4 The way Grenfell and Hunt present the list of grammarians within the whole P.Oxy. X 1241 document is as if it were a leaf taken out of the archives of the Library that somehow the anonymous compiler managed to incorporate carefully into an accurate, but otherwise, useless collection of lists. Their assessment has been accepted almost universally among scholars today, partly because of their great personal authority as Oxford papyrologists and partly because of the privileged status papyri seem to have in relation to other types of documents.5 As a consequence, although the papyrus has 180+ lines of text, scholars interested in this question, focus solely on the list of so-called librarians, separating it from its larger context and treating the 150+ additional lines as having no bearing on the list’s historical validity.
2Nevertheless, in this article I take a skeptical view of the value and reliability of the contents of P.Oxy. X 1241. Considering the document in its entirety, I would like to challenge three crucial and related assumptions about it that have never properly been scrutinized. The first of these is the very basic assumption of Grenfell and Hunt that the list at col. i.5-ii.30 is in fact a list of the heads of the Alexandrian Library. The second is the assumption that the work is a copy or compilation of some earlier scholarly piece that dates back to the Hellenistic period, and not a product of a circa second century CE scholar/grammarian. The third is the editor’s related assumption that the contents of P.Oxy. X 1241 reflect the work of a competent scholar/grammarian who was well enough informed about the chronology of the Ptolemaic period to produce an historically accurate account of the succession of individuals connected to the Ptolemaic court and the Alexandrian Library. It is my contention that a closer reading of P.Oxy. X 1241 is warranted, because, quite apart from the fact that the text nowhere mentions the Library or librarians, the mythographical material and the way in which it is handled in this document ought to give us pause in attributing either scholarly expertise or critical judiciousness to the author.
3With that in mind, let us first consider the text of P.Oxy. X 1241:
- 6 Base edition: ed.pr. B. P. Grenfell, A. S. Hunt, The Oyxrinchus Papyri 10, London, 1914 (...)
4P.Oxy. X 1241:6
...sculptors….Pheidias the Athenian; statuemakers Polykeitus, Pythagoras, Skopas; painters Polygnotos…
[Apollon]ius son of Silleus, the Alexandrian, called the Rhodian, student of Callimachus; he was also the teacher of the first king; Eratosthenes succeeded him; after him Aristophanes son of Apelles of Byzantium and Aristarchus, next Apollonius the Alexandrian, called the Eidographer; After him Aristarchus son of Aristarchus, the Alexandrian, but from Samothrace. He also was teacher of the children of Philopater. After him Cydas from the Spear-bearers. In the reign of the ninth king flourished the grammarians Ammonius and Zenodotus and Diocles and Apollodorus. As to the first camp, they say Asias established, after whom they say Asia is named. The first to lead forth an army was Apis son of Phoroneus after he armed those with him with clubs and hides. They say the first war among kinsmen Agenor started by gathering together shepherds to attack and drive out Pelasgus. The first Greek city [they say] was sacked by Amphitryon with Cephalus the Athenian.
…were Taphians of Cephallenia. Aristotle says it happened at Pellene first, but some say no only was Pellene enslaved by Cleisthenes when he warred against it with the Sicyonians, but their wives and daughters were captured and sold into prostitution. They say the first to return the dead during a truce was Heracles. …the first to pardon their enemies they say…a pledge…with difficulty...during war…[they say] Theseus was the first to take up [the dead] …in the Theban war, when he received and buried the bodies of those of the Seven who attacked Thebes and were unburied. The first to murder his kinsman they say was Aetolus who slew Apis son of Io while competing against him at the games for Azan which Cepheus organized. But some say was Ixion was the original kinsman slayer,
who killed Eioneus his father-in-law…Inachus son of Phoroneus [was the first to] make a court and judge murders among kinsmen. They say the first fratricide happened in Thebes between Ismenos and Claaetus, the sons on Ocean, concerning their sister Melia. As to weapons of war, some say they were invented by Ares, but others say the Cyclopes in a cave on Euboea, which is called Teuchion. The first to use metal armor [they say] was Briareus, before him men protected their bodies with animal skins, but some narrate that it was Ares. Others say the first weapons of war were made in Thrace by Enualios, son of Zeus, who was bound by the sons of Aloeus, but Apollo killed them and rescued him. Others say the first to make and don bronze weapons were the Curetes in Euboea, who equipped those with them…[attacked] Cymindis…the queen…But other say the Egyptians made weapons for use against men and protected themselves with animal skins and they wove cloth and made sails
and sheets and sailed. Iron weapons Hellanicus says Saneunos king of the Scythians first made, but Philochorus says weapons first come into being in the time of Cecrops consisting of a wooden spear and wrapping around animal hide, later when oxen were sacrificed, those in Attica made ox-hide shields. The first to bring shields into Argos, they say, was Danaos, but others claim that Acrisius was first when he we made war against Proetus his brother in Argos. Others deny that it was Acrisius, but say it was Proetus who made shields in Argos and these he made out of wood. Some say Pyrrin son of Thermaeus made the first shields of bronze, he was a Cretan living on Ophioussa Island. They say he taught the Eteocretans the dance in armor. Handles for shields and other weapons they say the Carians first fashioned, but some claim that first shields were worn around the shoulders and the Argives were the first to add loops and straps and strapped them to their left arm…
…when against…they warred…light shield [was invented] by the Illyrians…the oblong shield…Samothrace, but the war trumpets they say the Etruscans first fashioned them…of Tyrrhenos… of Ardelos…Ardelos…of Ares…teacher of…Others say weapons…that which is called pelte was invented by the Thracians. As to the sword, they say Lycaon son of Pelasgus first fashioned one. The scythe which some call harpe [they say] Perseus the son of Zeus first fashioned; but others say Peleus son of Aeacus made a curved sword to attack Ameinias…
- 7 Cf. G. Manganaro, op. cit., p. 389-409; he argues that the Philadelphus mentioned at co (...)
5As Grenfell and Hunt note, col. i seems to have been a catalogue of famous sculptors and painters, then somewhere within a break of about 8 lines the theme changes to a catalogue of γραμματικοί with a reference to “Philadelphus” at col. i.17, who is generally assumed to be Ptolemy II.7 It is unclear who the grammarians listed in the first column were, but at the beginning of col. ii the text resumes with [Apollon]ius son of Silleus called the Rhodian, whose name is split over the end of one line and the start of the next. The text as we have it in the papyrus says that Apollonius was the teacher of the first king, διδάσκαλος τοῦ πρώτου βασιλέως; this king must be Ptolemy I Soter (304-283 BCE). All other biographical information that survives about Apollonius, however, places him under the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (246-221 BCE). Hence, this crucial chronological statement is prima facie false. Moreover, it implicitly contradicts the previous statement that Apollonius was the student of Callimachus, whose poetry associates him with both Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283-246 BCE) and Ptolemy III Euergetes I. This chronological error in the text no doubt prompted the editors to suggest that perhaps the reading may be πέμπτου, “the fifth”, which would not be inconsistent with what we know from other biographical sources. In any event, they prefer to emend the text to say τρίτου βασιλέως, “the third king”, reflecting the chronology found in other sources, and in this they are followed by most subsequent editors and translators.
- 8 According to Menacles of Barca FGrH 270 F9 = Athenaeus IV 184b-c, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II e (...)
- 9 The text was evidently produced by “scribe 10”, who according to Turner also produced P (...)
- 10 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 108 ad loc. observe that τοῦ ἐνάτου βασιλέως is e (...)
6This readiness to emend away chronological errors shows itself again at col. ii.21-22, where Aristarchus of Samothrace is said to have been the teacher of the children of Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204 BCE; οὗτος καὶ διδ[ά]σκαλος [ἐ]γέ̣ν̣ε̣[το] τῶν τοῦ Φιλοπάτορος τέκνων). At col. ii.26-27 there is another incorrect chronological marker in the papyrus, which places the last group of grammarians under the ninth king, i.e. Ptolemy IX Soter II (88-81 BCE). As in the case of Apollonius, both of these entries represent an egregious error that reveals the author’s confusion about Ptolemaic chronology. All other reliable biographical sources place Aristarchus under Ptolemy VI Philometor (180-145 BCE) and his death under Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II (164-145 and 145-116 BCE), competitor kings for the same throne. Likewise, the grammarians listed in the papyrus as flourishing under Ptolemy IX must have actually flourished under the same kings, Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII, being younger contemporaries of Aristarchus.8 It needs to be emphasized, moreover, that these errors cannot be attributed to the scribe, but must be laid at the feet of the author: (1) the scribe was an experienced professional, Turner’s scribe 10; 9 and (2) all these errors are variant expressions of chronology.10 Indeed, what is obscured by the editors’ (and translators’) readiness to emend away these blunders in the papyrus is the fact that the author’s mistakes in Ptolemaic chronology were not the result of momentary confusion, but rather seem to be born out of a sort of systematic perversity. Almost too incredible to be believed, every single attempt of the author to date the grammarians is incorrect. Nevertheless, when it comes to the question of establishing the order of succession between Apollonius and Eratosthenes, scholars privilege P.Oxy X 1241, despite its manifold flaws, over the Suda, which is demonstrably more reliable about the relationship of grammarians to Ptolemaic kings.
7And here we come to a crucial point of my argument. For nowhere in P.Oxy X 1241 is there mention of the Library or of the position of librarian, a fact that seems to have been lost as soon as Grenfell and Hunt declared the list of grammarians to be a list of the heads of the Library in Alexandria. The reality is that the only position nominated in the papyrus is that of teacher (διδάσκαλος) to the royal children, and the only grammarians explicitly singled out as having held this position are Apollonius of Rhodes and Aristarchus of Samothrace. The language in both cases is very similar.
οὗτος ἐγέ̣ν̣ε̣τ̣ο̣ καὶ δι̣δ̣ά̣σ̣κ̣α̣λ̣ος το̣ῦ̣ π̲̣ρ̣ώτου βασιλέως· τοῦτον δ[ι]εδέξατο ʼ Ερατοσθένης.
Apollonius was also teacher of the first king. Eratosthenes succeeded him.
οὗτος καὶ διδ[ά]σκαλος [ἐ]γέ̣ν̣ε̣[το] τῶν τ̲ο̲ῦ Φιλοπάτορος τέκνων·
Aristarchus was also teacher of the children of Philopator.
- 11 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 99.
8Moreover, given what is actually present in the text regarding Apollonius and Eratosthenes, as opposed to the preconceptions we bring to it, it is more natural to understand the post involved in the statement about Apollonius being succeeded by Eratosthenes to be the one of royal tutor. Thus, this part of the papyrus which Grenfell and Hunt identified as “an account of the Alexandrian librarians”, is really a catalogue of grammarians in their capacity as διδάσκαλοι to the future Ptolemies.11
- 12 We have no evidence that is independent of P.Oxy. X 1241 that the title of Royal Tutor (...)
9It may be objected that the two titles – royal tutor and head of the Alexandrian Library – referred to the same position, but this would be a fallacious inference drawn from the silence in P.Oxy X 1241 itself about the directorship of the Library.12 While it certainly seems to be the case that those who held the position of Royal Tutor were also most likely to hold the position of Head of the Library, there is no positive indication in any of the sources that these positions were ever held concurrently or that they entailed one another. The Suda entry for Zenodotus, for example, makes it clear that the same person could bear all three titles: “Editor of Homer”, “Royal Tutor” and “Chief Librarian”.
Ζηνόδοτος, Ἐφέσιος, ἐποποιὸς καὶ γραμματικός, μαθητὴς Φιλητᾶ, ἐπὶ Πτολεμαίου γεγονὼς τοῦ πρώτου, ὃς καὶ πρῶτος τῶν Ὁμήρου διορθωτὴς ἐγένετο καὶ τῶν ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ βιβλιοθηκῶν προὔστη καὶ τοὺς παῖδας Πτολεμαίου ἐπαίδευσεν.
Zenodotus, the Ephesian, epic poet and grammarian, student of Philetas, flourished in the reign of Ptolemy I, he was the first editor of Homer and head of the Alexandrian libraries and he taught the children of Ptolemy.
- 13 Philetas of Cos and Strato of Lampsakos, contemporaries of Zenodotus, were both Royal Tutors (...)
10Although it seems to be true from this evidence that the Royal Tutor was often the Head of Library, is also true that there were Royal Tutors who did not hold this title.13 As the link between these positions is one of correlation, and not necessarily one of cause or entailment, again it would be rash to treat this part of P.Oxy. X 1241 as anything more than a list of grammarians connected to the Ptolemaic court.
- 14 I make a distinction between the author, who composed or compiled the text and the scri (...)
- 15 M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests?, op. cit., p. 156. She also speculates (...)
11What about the rest of the papyrus? As is evident from the text above, the list of grammarians passes seamlessly, i.e. mid-line, into the list of military inventors. As I have mentioned, scholars treat these lists as if they were completely unrelated. Nevertheless, when the papyrus is read in its entirety, the distinct impression emerges that there is a common theme. And it is a very basic theme, one that is disrupted in places due to the author’s clumsiness or incompetence.14 The papyrus as a whole seems to be a collection of those who are first in some way, e.g. the best in a certain field, this is most likely the principle that governed the list of artists. In the mythographical catalogue, the organizing principle turns around the first figures to use or invent a certain weapon or practice in warfare. In addition, M. van Rossum-Steenbeek observed that the mythographical catalogue also shows clear signs of being derived from an original alphabetic list.15 Indeed the preponderance of names beginning with alpha at the start of the mythographical list is remarkable: Asias, whom Asia is named after (col. ii.32), Apis (col. ii.34) Agenor (col. ii.39), Amphytryon (col. ii.43); Aetolus who slew Apis at the games for Azan (col. iii.74-76). I submit that the same alphabetic principle also rules over the compilation of grammarians: Apollonius Rhodius (col. ii.10); Aristophanes son of Apelles (col. ii.16); Aristarchus (col. ii.17); Apollonius the Eidographer (col. ii.18); Aristarchus of Samothrace (col. ii.20); Ammonius (col. ii.27); and Apollodorus (col. ii.29). The best explanation for the prominence of alpha-names in both the list of grammarians and the beginning of the military catalogue is that the author was attempting to adapt lists with figures whose names began with alpha to a chronological scheme. The outcome is a spectacular failure, because while the author knows the letter alpha, Ptolemaic chronology is beyond him.
- 16 Legislators (col. vi.10-12), painters (col. vi.13-col. vii.2); sculptors: of gods (col. vii.3 (...)
- 17 R. Cribiore, Writing, teachers and students in Graeco-Roman Egypt, Atlanta, GA, 1996, p (...)
- 18 For discussion see M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests?, op. cit., p. 138. (...)
- 19 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 100; M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers (...)
- 20 The best discussion of this issue is A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World, (...)
12This should prove the death-nell of the theory that the papyrus is a reliable work of ancient scholarly compilation. Yet, the perception that P.Oxy. X 1241 must have been worthy of publication in its day, would seem to be supported by the fact that the papyrus was copied by a professional scribe. In its content and use of learned citations P.Oxy. X 1241 also shares many similarities with Hellenistic and Imperial prose catalogues, as Grenfell and Hunt already observed. Usually cited as an early parallel is the Ptolemaic era Laterculi Alexandrini (Pack2 2068; Diels 1904), which contains several catalogues: legislators, painters, sculptors, architects, engineers, the seven wonders, the largest islands, the highest mountains, the largest rivers, the most beautiful springs and (the largest?) lakes.16 It should be noted, however, that whereas our papyrus most certainly resembles a scholar’s text, exhibiting engagement with learned discourse, the Laterculi Alexandrini has been convincingly identified as a mere school exercise with “shaky strokes, [and] letter size and spacing [that] vary considerably”.17 Other regularly mentioned comparanda are more suitable: the mythographical compendia and catalogues of authors of the Imperial period, e.g. Quintilian at Inst. 12.10.3-10, Hyginus Fab. 223, 274 and 276, Pliny at Nat. 7.200-202, 34.84 and 35.15, Ampelius Liber Memorialis 6 and 8, Athenaeus Περὶ μηχανημάτων 10.5, 27.2 and 29.9 and Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 1.16.74-76.18 The basic similarities that P.Oxy. X 1241 shares with these scholarly prose catalogues of Hellenistic and Imperial times are proof enough for Grenfell and Hunt to declare that it is “a characteristic product of Alexandrian erudition”.19 However, unaddressed in this declaration is the very troublesome fact that the parallels themselves are also compilations of compilations, some many times removed from the actual sources they cite. And few show, if any, direct scholarly sifting and checking of the named sources, let alone unnamed ones. Hence, far more caution is needed in the assessment of P.Oxy. X 1241. Only a select few known authors producing this kind of text in the second century CE can be considered reliable.20 Moreover, in addition to the problem posed by the chronological errors in the catalogue of grammarians, the author relies excessively on anonymous authorities for most of the information in the military catalogue.
13Crucial to a proper assessment of the historical value of P.Oxy. X 1241 is a clear understanding of how the author’s presentation of information and rhetorical strategies follow or flout the conventions of ancient learned discourse expected for a work of this kind. Along these lines, I will show that the strategies deployed by the author in the military catalogue do not conform to the norms. Necessary in such an approach is to first establish what counted as legitimate scholarly practice. For this we can turn to Quintilian. His review of what was good and bad in compendia and grammarians’ notes provides the safe guide:
His accedet enarratio historiarum, diligens quidem illa, non tamen usque ad superuacuum laborem occupata: nam receptas aut certe claris auctoribus memoratas exposuisse satis est. Persequi quidem quid quis umquam uel contemptissimorum hominum dixerit aut nimiae miseriae aut inanis iactantiae est, et detinet atque obruit ingenia melius aliis uacatura. Nam qui omnis etiam indignas lectione scidas excutit, anilibus quoque fabulis accommodare operam potest: atqui pleni sunt eius modi impedimentis grammaticorum commentarii, uix ipsis qui composuerunt satis noti. Nam Didymo, quo nemo plura scripsit, accidisse compertum est ut, cum historiae cuidam tamquam uanae repugnaret, ipsius proferretur liber qui eam continebat. Quod euenit praecipue in fabulosis usque ad deridicula quaedam, quaedam etiam pudenda, unde improbissimo cuique pleraque fingendi licentia est, adeo ut de libris totis et auctoribus, ut succurrit, mentiantur tuto, quia inueniri qui numquam fuere non possunt: nam in notioribus frequentissime deprenduntur a curiosis. Ex quo mihi inter uirtutes grammatici habebitur aliqua nescire. (Quint. Inst. 1.8.18-21)
- 21 D. A. Russell, in his Loeb translation (2002) p. 104 n. 2, notes, “Historiae covers historica (...)
Add to these subjects the elucidation of allusions in stories,21 this should be scholarly, but not crammed with unnecessary labor. For, it is enough to explain the well-known accounts or at any rate those that rest on good authorities. To chase down every single reference ever made, even by the most despised writers, indicates either excessive pedantry or empty ostentation, and it holds back and checks talents that would be better left free to pursue other things. For anyone who searches through every page, even pages not worth reading, can devote his attention to old wives’ tales too! And the commentarii of the grammarians are full of this kind baggage, which the authors themselves barely know. For, there is a well-known anecdote about Didymus – and no one ever wrote more than he did – that when he was arguing against some version of a story as being baseless, one of his own books was produced containing the very story. This happens especially with myths and even reaches such ludicrous and shameful extremes that the most unscrupulous writer has plenty of freedom to fabricate stories, and even to get away with lying about whole books and writers as support; because what never existed cannot be found. For, on more familiar ground they are often caught out by the diligent. That is why in my opinion one of the virtues of the grammarian is not to know some things.
- 22 A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World, op. cit., p. 116.
- 23 For a full discussion of the problems see Campbell, p. 89-163.
14As A. Cameron points out in his important study, Greek Mythography in the Roman World, what Quintilian means by commentarii here are grammarians’ lecture notes, not commentaries as we use the term.22 Such notes most likely consisted of catalogues, summaries of historiae with citations of sources, all derived from compendia similar to P.Oxy. X 1241. Note that according to Quintilian, in good practice the elucidation of allusions, mythological or historical vel sim, should be restricted to those accounts that are well-known and taken from the best authors (nam receptas aut certe claris auctoribus memoratas exposuisse satis est, 1.8.18). He points out that the indiscriminate piling up of recherché versions and citations from any and every text is characteristic of pedantic grammarians who hardly keep track of what they have written themselves. Quintilian also makes the acute observation that mythographical compendia are especially prone to and rife with fraudulent citations because they treat unfamiliar stories and the sources that are cited cannot be controlled: quia inueniri qui numquam fuere non possunt. Quintilian’s insistence on sticking to what is well known and derived from the best sources is the governing principle for proper scholarly citation-practice. And conformity to legitimate scholarly practice is crucial, since serious deviations from the normal engagement with learned discourse will signal to the reader a host of explanations ranging from incompetence to parody to fraud, all of which can be attested in the mythographical material of the second century CE.23
- 24 Campbell, p. 89-163.
- 25 Campbell, p. 119-121.
15Cameron devotes two chapters, “Historiae and source references” and “Bogus citations”, to the practice of learned citations in the works of mythographers of the Imperial period.24 From his discussion in the first chapter of Juvenal’s and Epictetus’ spoofs on the state of education at the time, it can be gleaned that pupils were expected to name the literary sources when they gave a genealogy or other mythical accounts. Homer and the canonical authors were expected to be cited, and those who wanted to impress might throw in one or two names of more obscure authorities, such as Hellanicus or Philochorus. But the fact is that neither they nor their teachers are likely to have ever seen copies of works by these authors, therein lies the humor. From Cameron’s discussion of Plutarch’s Table Talk in the same chapter, it can be further discerned when citations were expected: (1) if the topic was controversial, i.e. the well-known sources were divided; (2) if one introduced an unfamiliar story, even if it was consistent with what was known from a canonical source.25 Additionally, from Cameron’s main conclusions, further points that are relevant to this discussion can be made about the problematic nature of the use of citations in the Imperial authors in general and in our papyrus specifically: (1) most, if not all, learned citations in Imperial mythography derive from catalogues and compendia, as we have already discussed; (2) the reliance on decontextualized citations inevitably made mythographical texts, and especially the compendia they rely upon, prone to compounded distortions and false attributions as citations continued to be copied with little or no verification against the original source. Even the citations of the most conscientious authors were susceptible to these defects, as Campbell has shown to be the case with Ps-Apollodorus and Ps-Eratosthenes. Even if those authors who fabricated sources, such as Ptolemy Quail or Ps.-Plutarch, are left out of consideration, the citations of the majority of mythographers can only be trusted as far as they reflect the best compendia and compilations. For, although Campbell does not mention this, an obvious implication of the reliance on short cuts and compendia is what distinguished the conscientious and scholarly from the pedantic or sloppy was the amount of due diligence applied to sifting of sources against each other.
16The prestige of a classical education encouraged a literary culture and an education system that tended to produce a tension between pedantic and trivial use of citations, on the one hand, and judicious and scholarly use, on the other. Compendia that contained too much anomalous information, especially without reasonable seeming citations, would be considered inferior by the scholarly mythographer and consequently discarded in his weeding-out process. This textual “survival of the fittest”, as it were, would have ensured that versions attested in poorly documented and idiosyncratic compendia would eventually be eliminated from the scholarly pool. There was, nevertheless, a powerful retardant to this process. Bad texts would still continue to be copied and circulated among the unscholarly. In other words, in the Imperial period as it became fashionable to show off one’s learning as a display of elite status, this phenomenon increased the tendency toward pedantry and triviality and contributed to a rise in the demand and production of idiosyncratic compendia. And most significantly for this argument, it also opened up a space for fraudulent and parodic exploitations of learned citations as is evident in the works of, for example, Ptolemy Quail, Ps.-Plutarch, Petronius, and Lucian.
- 26 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 100, oddly describe the practice of citation as “ (...)
17Returning to P.Oxy. X 1241, obviously our text does not conform to Quintilian’s ideal. Most if not all of the mythical accounts mentioned are either very obscure or only found here. In the military catalogue the phrase “they say” (λέγεται) is used several times. It appears twice impersonally (v.13, 29-30) and once with a named source as subject: Φιλόχορος δέ... λέγει (v.6-7). The active form of the verb λέγω also occurs three times in oppositional clauses: “λέγουσιν οἵ μέν... τινὲς δέ” (iv.11-12); “ἄλλοι δέ...λέγουσιν (iv.33); “ἕτεροι δὲ λέγουσιν” (vi.16-17). Similar constructions using other verbs also occur: “ὡς δὲ τινὲς ἱστοροῦσιν” occurs 3 times (iv.18-19, v.14-15, 30-31); “ἄλλοι δέ φασιν” occurs 2 times (iv.19-20, v.18-19); ἕτεροι δέ... φασιν (iv.26-27); Ελλάνικος... φασιν (v.3-4); τινὲς κάλουσιν... ἕτεροι δέ (vi.23-25). Authorities are rarely named, but when they are, they are fifth and fourth century BCE authors whose works are not likely to have been accessible first hand to second century CE readers or much less scholars in the Fayyuum: add to this that those named, Philochorus, Hellanicus and Aristotle (?), were not standard reading in schools. In col. ii citation is used 3 times, in col. iii 6 times, in col. iv 9 times, in col. v 7 times and col. vi 4 times for a total of 29 times in relation to 7 topics.26 What is more, the references to anonymous authorities increase with each successive category and the complexity of managing more and more conflicting sources intensifies. The first categories, i.e. the first army and the first war among kin, have a very simple type of citation, “they say”, with no contrasting opinions cited. By the last category reached, i.e. weapons of war, there is an excessive accumulation of complicated oppositional citations of the type, “some say... but others say”.
- 27 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., ad loc.
- 28 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., ad loc.
18This bludgeoning of the reader with anonymous citations has the effect of destabilizing the author’s own authority, especially since he offers no opinion of his own nor makes any judgment about the relative validity of the conflicting opinions. Particularly undermining in this respect is the fact that not only does the author attribute most of his information to nameless authorities, but what he attributes to them appears to be unheard of or at least extremely obscure. It is disconcerting, for example, that not only does the author’s first military entry refer to anonymous sources twice (λέγεται, ii.22; φασιν, ii.23), but the story about Asias being the first to set up a camp is so rare that it only occurs here.27 Similarly, he reports that the first war between brothers was when Agenor and a band of shepherds attacked and drove out Pelasgus (col. ii.28-32). Yet, once again, despite his “they say”, our papyrus is the only text that seems to mention any conflict between them.28 The constant appeal to anonymous authorities for novel or obscure material is the general pattern in the military catalogue. Most of the versions of the myths presented in this papyrus are not found anywhere else; that is to say, they are certainly not found in the ancient canon of texts that would have been read by the average educated Greek of the time. Additionally, as noted, the author presents most of this information as disputed amongst his sources. This means that the author assumed a very narrow and extremely bookish readership. It is worth noting that the comparable lists, e.g. in Pliny (Nat. 7.200-202), Athenaeus (Περὶ μηχανημάτων, 10.5; 27.2; 29.9), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 1.16.74) and Hyginus (Fab. 274) do not exhibit this kind of excessive anonymous citation.
- 29 On the Alexandrian footnote in general see D. Ross, Backgrounds to Augustan Poetry: Gallus, Elegy a (...)
19Hence, it seems very likely that these references to anonymous sources have no real evidentiary value. Rather, they serve a primarily literary function, which is to establish the tone of the work as hyper-learned and to characterize the author’s persona as extremely pedantic, almost comically so. Indeed, it is this intuition that we are being fooled with that may grant us the most reliable insight into the tenor of this strange text. Accordingly, if the work can be said to be deemed intentional rather than haphazard, its surface ridiculousness strongly suggests that it is a parody of contemporary scholarly catalogues, mimicking and mocking the stereotype of the excessively erudite grammarian, as if he were a second century CE Polonius. After wading through a text that grows increasingly baroque at every turn, the punch line comes when the reader remembers that this merry prank was begun with the list of grammarians, the obvious culprits of just such an endeavor. Even more hilarious is the fact that these are not normal grammarians but, to continue in the spirit of the parody, the most criminal of the criminal, the very inventors of the Alexandrian footnote.29 In conclusion I submit that P.Oxy. X 1241, is a sister text to works of Ptolemy Quail et al. The fact that it was copied by a professional means that at least its author took some pride in it is scholarly high jinks. Although P.Oxy. X 1241 may not be a great example of the genre, we should at least start considering the possibility that rather than being a paraliterary compendium, it may very well be a literary parody whose humor has not withstood the test of time.
1 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, The Oyxrinchus Papyri 10, London, 1914, p. 99-100.
2 Ibidem, p. 100.
3 Ibidem, p. 100.
4 Ibidem, p. 100.
5 Among the few naysayers, however, is E. G. Turner, “Ptolemaic Egypt”, in F. W. Walbank (ed.), The Cambridge Ancient History: The Hellenistic World, vol. vii, Cambridge, 1988, p. 171 n. 156. Turner’s assessment was more skeptical, referring to it as a “mutilated and erratic list” that he thought could not be used to overturn previous views that are supported by other sources “without a generous injection of hypothesis”.
6 Base edition: ed.pr. B. P. Grenfell, A. S. Hunt, The Oyxrinchus Papyri 10, London, 1914, p. 99-112; other editions: M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests? Studies on a Selection of Subliterary Papyri, Leiden, 1998, p. 322-327; G. Manganaro, “Una biblioteca storica nel Ginnasio di Tauromenion e il P.Oxy. 1241”, PP 29, 1974, p. 401-409.
7 Cf. G. Manganaro, op. cit., p. 389-409; he argues that the Philadelphus mentioned at col. i.17 is not Ptolemy II but Attalos II of Pergamum and that the grammarians mentionned in the first column are connected to the Pergamene Library. This seems possible, but unlikely. It seems more probable that the grammarians in col. i are part of the subsequent catalogue of librarians connected to the Alexandrian Library.
8 According to Menacles of Barca FGrH 270 F9 = Athenaeus IV 184b-c, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II expelled from Alexandria all the intellectuals who were attached to his brother Ptolemy VI Philometor with whom he was in a civil war.
9 The text was evidently produced by “scribe 10”, who according to Turner also produced PSI XI 1211 = Aeschylus, Myrmidons, see E. G. Turner, “Scribes and Scholars of Oxyrhynchus”, Akten des VIII. Intern. Kongresses für Papyrologie, Vienna, 1956, p. 146.
10 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 108 ad loc. observe that τοῦ ἐνάτου βασιλέως is expected at col. ii.17-18 and found the expression ἐπὶ δὲ τῶι ἐνάτωι βα]σιλεῖ in the text awkward.
11 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 99.
12 We have no evidence that is independent of P.Oxy. X 1241 that the title of Royal Tutor and Head of the Alexandrian Library were interchangeable; cf. E. R. Bevan, House of Ptolemy, London, 1927, p. 126; P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria, Oxford, 1972, p. 322-323; R. Pfeiffer, A History of Classical Scholarship, Oxford, 1968, p. 105-141; P. Green, Alexander to Actium, Berkeley, 1993, p. 86 with n. 28; G. A. Kennedy and D. C. Innes, “Hellenistic Literary and Philosophical Scholarship”, in D. C. Innes, Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Cambridge, 1989, p. 200-219.
13 Philetas of Cos and Strato of Lampsakos, contemporaries of Zenodotus, were both Royal Tutors to Ptolemy II but neither held the title of Head of the Libraries, see R. Pfeiffer, A History of Classical Scholarship, op. cit., p. 92.
14 I make a distinction between the author, who composed or compiled the text and the scribe who simply copied the text. It is clear that the errors of fact are to be attributed to the author or his sources because the scribe was an experienced professional, E. G. Turner’s scribe 10, on the hand of the scribe see his “Scribes and Scholars of Oxyrhynchus”, op. cit., p. 141-146.
15 M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests?, op. cit., p. 156. She also speculates that there could have been indicators of themes in the damaged line beginnings, this may be true for themes within the military catalogue, but this does not explain the abrupt mid-line shift at col. 11.21 from the grammarians to warriors and the continuity of alpha-names in before and after the shift.
16 Legislators (col. vi.10-12), painters (col. vi.13-col. vii.2); sculptors: of gods (col. vii.3-5), of men (col. vii.6-9); architects (col. vii.10-19); engineers (col. viii.1-21); the seven wonders (col. viii.22-col. ix.6); the largest islands (col. ix.7-20); the highest mountains (col. x.1-col. xi.2); list of the largest rivers (col. xi.3-col. xii.4); the most beautiful springs (col. xii.5-16); the topic heading of the list of lakes is barely preserved (col. xii.17-21). The Laterculi Alexandrini was written on the recto of a first or second century BC Ptolemiac papyrus (P.Berol. inv. 13044); it was glued together in antiquity to other text on the same side, the Dialogue of Alexander and the Gymnosophistai (Pack2 2099; Wilcken 1923, p. 160-174 = Jacoby FGrHist 153 F 9). On the verso is a paraphrase of a poem on the rape of Persephone (Pack2 1774; BKT V. p. 7-18; Bücheler 1907). On the provenance of P.13044 see E. Salmenkivi, “Cartonnage Papyri in Context”, Comm. Hum. Lit. 119, 2002, p. 42-43. U. Wilcken, the first editor of this papyrus, concluded that both the Laterculi Alexandrini and the Dialogue of Alexander and the Gymnosophistai were written by the same hand. For the similarity in content to P.Oxy X 1241 see M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests?, op.cit., p. 138 n. 42.
17 R. Cribiore, Writing, teachers and students in Graeco-Roman Egypt, Atlanta, GA, 1996, p. 220, with Plates LXVII-LXIX.
18 For discussion see M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests?, op. cit., p. 138.
19 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 100; M. van Rossum-Steenbeek, Greek Readers’ Digests?, op. cit., p. 156.
20 The best discussion of this issue is A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World, Oxford, 2004, especially p. 89-163.
21 D. A. Russell, in his Loeb translation (2002) p. 104 n. 2, notes, “Historiae covers historical, geographical, mythological or even scientific information”.
22 A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World, op. cit., p. 116.
23 For a full discussion of the problems see Campbell, p. 89-163.
24 Campbell, p. 89-163.
25 Campbell, p. 119-121.
26 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., p. 100, oddly describe the practice of citation as “occasional”, yet it is more accurate to say the author rarely makes a statement without citing other anonymous sources.
27 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., ad loc.
28 B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, op. cit., ad loc.
29 On the Alexandrian footnote in general see D. Ross, Backgrounds to Augustan Poetry: Gallus, Elegy and Rome, Cambridge, 1975, p. 78; S. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry, Cambridge, 1998, p. 1-16.Haut de page
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Jackie Murray, « Burned after reading: the so-called list of Alexandrian librarians in P. Oxy. X 1241 », Aitia [En ligne], 2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 26 juin 2012, consulté le 12 décembre 2013. URL : http://aitia.revues.org/544 ; DOI : 10.4000/aitia.544Haut de page
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