Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sappho: Dr Obbink Breaks his silence

Dr Dirk Obbink now fills in (some of) the details he omitted in his draft of his publication of the Sappho fragments. He states in a TLS article:
the papyrus’s text was found to overlap, in two narrow vertical bands of letters, with fragments of two previously published papyri containing fragments of Sappho[...] it was damaged in ancient times, torn up the centre of the one complete surviving column, and [...] The authenticity of the ancient mummy cartonnage panel, from which the papyrus was extracted [...] has been established through its documented legal provenance. The owner of the papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, [...]
No explanation was offered for the disappearance of the online text.

This seems to me to be a repeat of the Fordham mosaics affair. Some new and exciting artefacts are thrust under the media spotlight without reference to their legitimate origins. Only when questions are raised (and after a delay), do the details of that all-important origin get mentioned, when in the case of legitimate sources, they should be the focus of the initial announcement. Was this whole thing, including the publisher apparently being incommunicado for a week, an elaborate see-it-now-now-you-don't stunt intended to generate gossip, discussion and speculation? Was this a case of media-manipulating  showmanship, to give maximum exposure to the item and its publisher?

Details of the "documented legal provenance" of the cartonnage will now no doubt shortly be released together with those of the other two fitting fragments to provide the missing context of the observations. Where is the cartonnage itself now, and what about the detailed documentation of its dismemberment? What date was it, and from which (legally dispersed) cemetery did it come? What happened to the human remains?

 Source: Dirk Obbink, 'New poems by Sappho', Times Literary Supplement 5 February 2014

Vignette: 'Now, what was it I forgot to write? I know there was something'. 

UPDATE 8th Feb 2014:

See now "Brown Gunk and Documenting the Context of Discovery of the Sappho Papyrus"  PACHI 7th Feb 2014.

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