Wednesday, 18 November 2020

"A Papyrologist who Worked on this Manuscript, a Man Whose Reputation is Unimpeachable".*

The Sappho stink just will not go away, as more and more details are teased from the scant sources. The publication recently of Michael C. Sampson's article 'Deconstructing the Provenances of P.Sapph.Obbink' in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists volume 57 (1920 pp, 143-69- I've not seen it yet) has led Theo Nash ('Fleecing a Discipline' in his Mycenaean Miscellany blog November 19, 2020) to a number of conclusions.

Sampson received a pdf copy of a snazzy brochure produced by none other than Christie's for a private treaty sale. Unfortunately for this prestigious auction house, this turned out to be rough edit of an earlier document (of 2013) and the metadata in it reveal a number of fatal discrepancies that shed new light on all the claims and counterclaims that had been made about its origins and collecting history.

Nash's text is well worth a read (several recent posts by Brent Nongbri also refer to the Sampson article and its implications). He has constructed a useful Timeline here. The interpretation of what we know so far is devastating. Nash comes to the conclusion: "I think there is now enough evidence to suggest that Dirk Obbink himself was the papyrus’ owner [and seller PMB], and its public announcement a marketing ploy to raise its prestige and asking price".
The inevitable result of this timeline is that everything Dirk Obbink has said in public about the provenance of the papyrus is a lie. There is simply no value in analysing any of his statements or publications for hints of truth. [...] There was probably enough evidence to take this stance before, but I don’t see how it can be disputed now.
He goes on: "His [Sampson's] central finding is that the reported provenance of P.Sapph.Obbink is a demonstrable fiction [...] While Sampson’s article clarifies some questions arising from the changing and contradictory accounts [...] this approach can only reveal the nature of Obbink’s lies, not what really happened".

We do know, however, that the Green Collection Sappho fragments were acquired in January 2012 from the Turkish dealer Yakup Eksioglu (Mixantik - discussed earlier in this blog). Nash questions the nature of the relationship between Professor Obbink and Eksioglu, perhaps as a go-between for him and the Green Collection. Indeed, he also raises the question whether in c. 2011/2012 the Oxford scholar might have been working with Eksioglu at this point to identify the material he was smuggling out of Egypt, through Turkey and onto the market in London. It will be recalled that this would be about the same time (from January 2010 until February 2013) that documents available at the moment suggest that he was personally selling papryi to the Green Collection. If that is the case, and he knew the material was smuggled, that is pretty damning.

Nash says that the information that we have so far from "from the murk surrounding the antiquities market" allows a plausible narrative to be reconstructed [which is that]:
Obbink was involved with the papyrus from its first ‘discovery’, tried and failed to sell it in 2013, and staged an advertising campaign in 2014 and 2015 using the entire discipline of Classical Studies as patsies to drive up the market value of an artefact he should never have owned, all while acting as the heroic scholar who dared to deal with collectors in the interest of sharing information that would otherwise be lost. A dramatic image, maybe, but one that [hardly?] fits a scholar who had already betrayed the principles of his guild.

* Title quoted from Prof Dan Wallace on the so-called First Century Mark

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