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Recovering and understanding anonymous ancient Egyptian poems

An EU initiative shed light on unidentified hexameter texts found in poetry while Egypt was under Greek and Roman rule.
Recovering and understanding anonymous ancient Egyptian poems
Hexameter is a standard meter found in classical Greek literature, including the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. Precious Hexameter texts of unknown or uncertain origin known as 'hexametric adespota' have never been assessed in their entirety. Understanding these documents written on papyrus can provide a valuable window into the Hellenistic culture of Egypt during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

With this in mind, the EU-funded APHG (Adespota papyracea hexametrica graeca) project set out to collect, classify and order relevant materials scattered across hundreds of scientific journals, edited collections and other repositories. It also aimed to improve text for scholars by reviewing previously published transcriptions and suggesting textual enhancements and new supplements.

Project partners provided a bibliographical catalogue and new critical editions. The surviving anonymous hexameter texts on papyrus and parchments from Graeco-Roman Egypt were translated into English and analysed. The corpus includes 215 papyri housed at various collections around the world. The papyrus texts were found in several cities throughout Egypt from the 3rd century BCE to the 6th century CE. Hexametric verses were mainly gathered and classified based on ancient genres and titles.

By examining adespota, researchers gained knowledge into the preservation and canonisation of literature during this time. They also discovered to what extent short-lived hexameter compositions such as encomia, funerary poems and rhetorical exercises were produced by regional poets for a uniquely local audience from the Imperial Age to Late Antiquity.

The first of a three-volume book set is scheduled for publication in 2016 that will contain editions of a collection of the anonymous hexametrical texts on papyrus.

APHG significantly advanced understanding of a large variety of texts, from religious and epic to astronomical poems.

Related information

Keywords

Poems, hexameter, Egypt, hexametric adespota, APHG
Record Number: 190748 / Last updated on: 2016-12-20
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