Sunday 2 February 2014

Sappho Text comes Offline

In Oxford Dr Dirk Obbink announced a few days ago the discovery in an unnamed "private collection", of a papyrus fragment with the text of a Sappho poem which everybody is getting so excited about ('No-Questions-Asking UK Academic Reads a Fresly-Uncovered Ripped-up Papyrus from Unknown Source', Wednesday, 29 January 2014). He made the draft text, to be submitted to Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik available on his website ( Now, as Dorothy King notes, it has gone.

This is deja vu, shades of the "Pap Dodge" ("Jesus wife") story. An academic provokes a media storm prior to publication of a dodgy artefact, releases a pre-publication draft of an article "due to be submitted to XYZ prestigious journal". Are they doing this because they know that said prestigious journal, with a reputation to maintain, will reject the manuscript on the grounds that the material it is based on is potentially of illegal origin or unproven authenticity? Or is mere lust for quick popular fame and acclamation behind this? Are these academics really surprised that instead of "Ooooo how clever of you to spot this, never mind the provenance, wotta luvverly find", they are met with criticism from colleagues concerned with erosion of disciplinary ethics and rectitude? 

Dr Obbink, please let us have the name of the collector and what you ascertained (verified and how) about the collecting history and trade associations of this dugup before you deemed to touch it.

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