Monday, July 16, 2012

The British Library Papyrus of the Constitution of the Athenians

Sean Bonawitz, Neel Smith, and Christopher Blackwell are working during the summer of 2012 on the first steps of a comprehensive publication of only surviving witness to the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians. The papyrus is B.M. Pap. 131, that is, British Museum Papyrus number 131. Christopher Blackwell and Amy Hackney Blackwell, working with Chris Lee of the British Library, photographed this papyrus in November of 2011. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EAGER–1041949. The images of the papyrus are undergoing automated analysis using new algorithms developed by Dr. Constantin Papaodysseus of the National Technical Institute of Athens. This summer’s work is being supported by the Furman Advantage Program.

The papyrus exists in five fragments. The five fragments show four different manuscript hands. The hands differ in appearance and in their use of abbreviations. According to John Edward Sandy’s 1893 commentary, pp. xxxvi–xxxix,, the first hand “extends over Columns 1–12” the second columns 13 to 20, the third hand runs from 20 to 24 and columns 31–37, while the fourth scribe includes columns from 25 to 30. Hands one and four are most similar to each other, but certainly not identical; Sandy’s came to this conclusion by counting the occurrence of abbreviations. While the first and fourth scribes used a significant amount of short-hand (“tachygraphy”) and abbreviations, the second hand hardly uses any, and in the columns written by the third hand they are scarce. Perhaps the most important thing about the change of hands are the editorial notes that occur throughout the piece. Who was this editor, and why did he make these notes?

Images of the papyrus are here.