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Adespota Papyracea Hexametrica Graeca

Final Report Summary - APHG (Adespota Papyracea Hexametrica Graeca)

Researcher: Dr. Marco Perale, J.P. Postgate Fellow, University of Liverpool, Research Mentor: Prof. Dirk Obbink, University of Oxford,
The project provides a bibliographical catalogue and new critical editions with English translation, critical apparatus and commentary of the extant anonymous hexameter texts on papyri and parchments from Graeco-Roman Egypt. The corpus includes 215 papyri housed at various collections worldwide. The goal of the project is twofold: i.) to gather, classify and order the material, currently scattered in hundreds of different scientific journals, edited collections and other repositories; ii) to improve the text of these papyri, reviewing previously published transcriptions and suggesting textual emendations and new supplements, with a view to offering a reliable text for scholars and a fresh interpretation of the material at stake. Hexameter texts of uncertain or unknown attribution (referred to as ‘hexameters adespota’) were never assessed as a group, which made the project particularly challenging and its output much in demand. The papyrus texts covered by the project were found in various places in Egypt between the third century BC and the sixth century AD, including Panopolis, Tebtunis, Oxyrhynchus, the Memphites, Hermoupolis, Antinoupolis, and the Arsinoites nome. These and other cities in Egypt present a microcosm of the hellenized culture of the Ptolemaic and the Roman Empire; therefore, reading and understanding these texts gives an extraordinary insight on the cultural milieu of Egypt during the Ptolemaic and Roman empire. The study of ‘unattributed’ texts in particular allow us to shed light on ‘uncanonical’ literature that was read, produced and copied during the Hellenistic, Roman and Late Antique times. Adespota tell us how readers were interested not only in authorities like Homer, Hesiod, Apollonius Rhodius and Theocritus - traditionally the most popular hexameter poets copied on papyri and parchments. It shows, instead, that a whole range of authors, the name of whom we ignore, were copied and annotated for centuries in Egypt both under the Ptolemies and the Romans; studying adespota enables us to know more about the preservation and canonization of literature within a giev timeframe from a different angle. Furthermore, the extensive literary corpus examined in this book, which goes beyond ‘lost’ texts from authors read and canonized at Alexandria, shows exactly to what extent ‘ephemeral’ hexameters compositions like encomia, funerary poems and rhetorical exercises were produced in the Imperial age throughout the Late Antiquity by local poets for a distinctively local audience.

Of all metrical patterns, the hexametric verse has the broadest application in that it is used in a variety of different genres. Unlike other traditional stichic metres (i.e. poems consisting of only one type of verse repeated one after the other), which define the genre they were written for (iambic trimeter and trochaic tetrameter for Attic drama, the choliamb for satiric poetry, etc.), successions of hexameter verses can be seen in religious poetry (hymnic, philosophical, or cosmogonic) as well as epic (historical epics, mock-epics, and foundation poems), encomiastic (both dedicatory and funerary) and technical or didactic poetry (astronomical, astrological, or other). With this in mind, material was gathered and classified using the labels of ancient genres and titles: hymns, astronomical and astrological poetry, didactic poems, titanomachies and gigantomachies; epics on the Trojan war (or material related to); epics on the Theban saga (or material related to); Odyssey-based texts; epics on Heracles; argonautica; katabaseis (descents to the Underworld); historical epics; epyllia (short epics); idylls and pastoral poems; epithalamia (wedding poems); encomia (panegyric poetry); epicedia (funerary poems); patria (foundation poems); ethopoeae and eidolopoeae (first-person speeches written in the voices of well-known mythological characters or ghosts); animal epics & Homeric parodies; paignia (‘jests’) and mock hexameters; Homeric centos; sententiae (aphorisms); grammatical papyri containing hexameter quotations; school exercises. A generic definition proved unsuitable to small scraps of papyri of uncertain content, where the portion of text preserved was too small for the fragment to be classified into generic categories. A specific category has therefore been created for ‘fragments of uncertain genre and content’. These fragments in particular had been largely overlooked, which resulted into a substantial number of texts being left out of online repositories and searchable corpora such as the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae ( and relegated into scholarly oblivion.

The project has made new revised editions of texts (in many cases published a long time ago and no longer attainable from the publisher) available to scholars all over the world. These editions will constitute a new starting point for future, more solid and accurate interpretations of the material at stake. The project’s output will be the first volume of a planned three-volume set of ‘Adespota Papyracea Hexametra Graeca. Hexameters of Unknown or Uncertain Authorship from Graeco Roman Egypt’ (W. De Gruyter, ’SOZOMENA. Studies in the Recovery of Ancient Texts’, planned publication: May 2016 - The book will feature a series of plates containing high quality reproductions of papyri otherwise unavailable to inspect. It will thus be possible to use these images to establish new matches and joins with newly or previously published material or use these images to establish palaeographical parallels with similar papyrus hands. Fragmentary texts not included in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae will be made available to the TLG team for future use. This project will also create synergies with a number of online projects,including the Cedopal Project (Université de Liège, and the Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB), which currently host records of Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Demotic literary texts ( and provide an updated bibliographical catalogue of all existing literary papyri. My project will contribute crucially to a more complete updating of the Cedopal and LDAB entries.
Critical editions with English translation and commentary of texts listed under categories ‘A’ to ‘F’ in the appendix below have been prepared. The most important results of the book consist in the arrangement and classification of the material illustrated above (please see ‘appendix’ for details) and the presence of new readings, supplements and conjectures made by the researchers and other scholars around the world that have read and commented on the researcher’s typescript. These are: Peter Parsons, University of Oxford; Filippomaria Pontani and Francesco Valerio, Ca’ Foscari, University of Venice; Enrico Magnelli, University of Florence; Claudio De Stefani, Seconda Università di Napoli; Claudio Meliado’ and Giuseppe Ucciardello, University of Messina; Paul Schubert, University of Geneva. The critical apparatus also records unpublished conjectures by A.S. Hunt and Winfried Bühler.

For a list of the most significant new readings and a taxonomy of hexameter papyri please see the PDF attached herewith.

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