Five reasons why the papyrus is unique

Kathimerini asked Giorgos Karamanolis, a lecturer in ancient philosophy at the University of Crete, to explain why the Derveni Papyrus was such an important find. «There was great interest from the very beginning. There are many reasons: «First, it is the oldest Greek papyrus that has been found to date (and the only one found in Greece). It dates to around 340 BC and was probably written quite some time earlier, possibly in the late fifth to early fourth century, which is of tremendous interest for papyrology and palaeography. «Second, it is interesting from the archaeological point of view, because it was found inside the body of a dead person. «Third, it is indicative of ideas about life after death, the fate of the soul and the role of the gods. «Fourth, it is very important for an understanding of Orphism, one of the least known aspects of the ancient world. «Fifth, of particular interest is the relation between a poem and a philosophical explanation, which indicates the significance of the role of philosophy in general. The papyrus was discovered in 1962 in a tomb in Derveni, near Thessaloniki, among the charred remnants of a funeral pyre, perhaps of a warrior. Petros Themelis, the supervisor of the excavation at that time, removed it to the Thessaloniki Museum. The papyrus was closed when it was found and proved exceedingly difficult to open, so they called in the Austrian conservator Anton Fackelmann. He first made the papyrus more flexible, then exposed it to the heat of an electric lamp. Under the heat and electromagnetic radiation, the sheets began to separate and he then unstuck them with a metal needle. What was saved from the papyrus yielded a more-or-less continuous text of 24 columns. After the final column there is a blank portion of about 16 centimeters, which signifies the end of the text. But we don’t have the beginning of it. The first columns are particularly fragmented, which was to be expected, since they were in the outer part and more exposed to wear and tear. The first publication concerning the papyrus was in 1963 by Stylianos Kapsomenos. Professors Tsantsanoglou, Kouremenos and Prasaoglou undertook the publication of the papyrus. The delay in publication gave rise to criticism and some debate among scholars. In 1982, an unauthorized article with an unsigned transcription of the papyrus was published in a respected journal. Progress was made in 1993 at Princeton, when the proceedings of a conference were published. In 2002, Richard Jancko published the text of the papyrus without having seen it himself, and in 2004, Gabor Betegh published the text with a commentary. Finally, just a few weeks ago, professors Tsantsanoglou, Kouremenos and Prasaoglou published the papyrus with extensive notes, the product of long, reflective work.»