Thursday, October 7, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Kai Brodersen, Jas Elsner (ed.), Images and Texts on the "Artemidorus Papyrus": Working Papers on P.Artemid. (St. John's College Oxford, 2008). Historia. Einzelschriften 214 . Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009. Pp. 171. ISBN 9783515094269. €50.00.
Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein, California State University, Los Angeles

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Papyri always produce something new and surprising, but surely nothing was more unprecedented and unexpected than the Artemidorus Papyrus (P. Artemid.). Although its existence was announced in 1994, it was not until 2006 that the public saw the papyrus in Turin and 2008 that the editio princeps was published. In the meantime a fierce controversy over its authenticity broke out, spearheaded by Professor Luciano Canfora of Bari University, who argued that the papyrus was a forgery, most likely concocted by the famous nineteenth century forger Constantine Simonides. Images and Texts on the "Artemidorus Papyrus" contains the proceedings of a conference held at St. Johns College in 2008 during which the major issues posed by P. Artemid. were discussed. Its subtitle—Working Papers on P. Artemid.—indicates their character: preliminary assessments of the state of scholarship concerning the papyrus.

P. Artemid. is in every way an extraordinary document . Its recto contains a curious mélange of contents: an encomium on geography, a passage purporting to derive from the second book of the Geographoumena of the late second century BC geographer Artemidorus of Ephesus, an unfinished map of Spain (?), and a series of figure studies (heads, feet, hands); and its reverse a series of animal studies, a veritable bestiary. The point of departure for the discussions of the papyrus in the papers is the original editors' theory that the papyrus began its existence as a deluxe illustrated edition of Artemidorus' work that, however, was abandoned because of an error in its production, possibly in the choice of the map to be copied. The reverse of the now discarded papyrus found its way into an artist's workshop of some sort where it was used to draw the animal figures, and then in the final stage of its development, the blank spaces on the recto were filled in with the human figure studies.

After a brief preface by the editors on the background and goals of the conference, the proceedings themselves are divided into four groups of papers that deal with the papyrus and its contents. Four papers consider the papyrus as an artifact; two the images; one the map; and three the texts, although, in fact, only the purported fragment of Artemidorus is actually discussed. Whatever their topic, however, the question of the authenticity of the papyrus looms large in virtually all the papers.

In the first paper, Dirk Obbink considers P. Artemid. from the perspective of its layout and the form in which it was discovered, noting that determination of the latter is problematic, since the only evidence for the original form of the mass that contained it is a photograph. He also finds dubious the editors' theory that it was originally intended to be a deluxe edition of Artemidorus, suggesting instead that its layout is more compatible with it being a notebook created by several scribes with varied interests. In the second paper, Gideon Nisbet continues the discussion of the layout of the papyrus, arguing that the order of fragments A and B should be reversed, with the result that the fragment of Artemidorus' account of Spain precedes the encomium of geography, thereby making it clear that the encomium of geography cannot have been the introduction to Artemidorus' second book as its original editors believed and reinforcing Professor Obbink's suggestion that the texts in P. Artemid. are best explained as part of a notebook. Nigel Wilson's paper focuses more narrowly on the script of the papyrus and finds reason for "anxiety" about its authenticity in the high number of letters with seriphs, which reminds him of certain middle Byzantine scripts. In the final paper of the first section Peter Parsons considers P. Artemid. from the perspective of a papyrologist and finds no serious objections to its authenticity. To this end, he makes four points. First, he agrees with Professors Obbink and Nisbet that the theory that P. Artemid. is the remnant of an aborted deluxe copy of Artemidorus' Geographoumena is unlikely. Second, the papyrus itself and ink are both consonant with a late first century BC / first century AD date. Third, the creation of a forgery of this complexity presupposes an extraordinarily improbable series of events. Fourth and finally, the textual conventions employed in the papyrus and, most importantly, the script including its seriphs both have parallels in other texts of this date.

The two papers in the section dealing with the images on P. Artemid. also share a skepticism toward both the idea that it is a modern forgery and the theory of its origin as an edition of Artemidorus' work. Jaś Elsner's paper, however, is unique among the articles in Images and Texts on the "Artemidorus Papyrus" in focusing primarily on P. Artemid.'s importance as a document of ancient art history, arguing that it not only provides important evidence for the history of ancient book illumination but that it also "shows the pluralistic eclecticism, which we see as characteristic of Roman visual production, on the level of drawing and book illustration for the first time, but does so in an object which is in fact Hellenistic and not Roman at all (p. 47)." Gianfranco Adornato's paper by contrast treats mainly the technical aspects of the images, contending that the techniques and tools and workshop practices required for their creation fundamentally distinguish them from the medieval and early modern works alleged by the papyrus' critics to be their sources.

In the aftermath of the initial announcement of the existence of P. Artemid., the report that it contained a map aroused particular enthusiasm. For the first time, it seemed, we had a genuine ancient Greek map and better still, one that was probably associated with a specific place, Spain, and a geographical text that it illustrated. Richard Talbert's paper preserves some of that original excitement, but now tempered by recognition of the problems posed by the map. Although Talbert has full confidence in the authenticity of the map, the bulk of his article highlights the limitations of our understanding of it. So, our ignorance of its original size, the scale used, and the lack of lettering which would clarify the meaning of the various symbols on it all combine to make it impossible to determine if, in fact, it does represent a region of Spain and, if so, what region. Nevertheless, the author ends on a positive note, pointing out that because of its unfinished state the map offers the possibility of gaining new insight into the processes and methodology of ancient Greek cartography.

The final three papers in the volume discuss the relationship between the description of the Iberian Peninsula in Artemidorus fr. 21 (Stiehle) and P. Artemid. col. IV, lines 1-14. It was recognition of the virtual identity of these two passages that seemed to justify the identification of the text in col. IV of P. Artemid. as a fragment of the Geographoumena of Artemidorus of Ephesus while the differing explanations of the nature of that relationship are at the heart of the controversy over its authenticity.

In the first paper in this group Margarethe Billerbeck meticulously analyzes the textual history of Artemidorus fr. 21 (Stiehle), demonstrating: (1) that the source of the fragment as preserved in the De Administrando Imperio of Constantine Porphyrogenitus was not the original text of the Geographoumena but the epitome of it prepared by the late ancient geographer Marcianus of Heraclea as quoted in the Ethnika of Stephanus of Byzantium; and (2) that P. Artemid. col. IV, lines 1-14 is a fuller but otherwise very similar version of this text, to the extent of even seemingly confirming emendations of Artemidorus fr. 21 (Stiehle) proposed by A. Berkel and A. Meineke. Billerbeck draws no conclusion about the authenticity of P. Artemid. from these facts. Luciano Canfora, however, uses them to argue that, taken together with the papyrus' anachronistic description of Roman control embracing all Lusitania, which was true of conditions during the reign of Augustus but not in the late second century BC when Artemidorus wrote, they prove that P. Artemid. is a modern forgery. In the last paper in the volume, M. L. West responds directly to Canfora's arguments, noting that (1) there is nothing surprising about emendations being confirmed by later discoveries and (2) the description of the borders of Roman Lusitania in the papyrus are not anachronistic but are, in fact, compatible with the situation in the lifetime of Artemidorus.

Seventy figures illustrating the papyrus, its script and images, and possible parallels, and a useful bibliography round out the volume. Images and Texts on the "Artemidorus Papyrus" is a valuable assessment of the current state of scholarship on P. Artemid. and provides a secure foundation for future study of the papyrus and its problems. It is, however, a pity that the editors did not include the papyrus' Greek texts in the volume since the exorbitant price of the editio princeps will make access to them difficult.

Table of Contents

The Artefact
Dirk Obbink (Oxford), P.Artemid.: The Artefact
Gideon Nisbet (Birmingham), P.Artemid.: The Sequence of the Fragments
Nigel Wilson (Oxford), P.Artemid.: A Palaeographer's Observations
Peter Parsons (Oxford), P.Artemid.: A Papyrologist's View
The Images
Jaś Eisner (Oxford), P.Artemid.: The Images
Gianfranco Adornato (Pisa), Goya, Bramante and Others on P.Artemid.?
The Map
Richard Talbert (Chapel Hill), P.Artemid.: The Map
The Texts
Margarethe Billerbeck (Fribourg), Artemidorus' Geographoumena in the Ethnika of Stephanus of Byzantium: Source and Transmission
Luciano Canfora (Bari), Artemidorus fr. 21 and P.Artemid. col. IV
Martin West (Oxford), All Iberia is Divided Into Two Parts

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