Papyrus Series IV: Throwing the Wrestling Match Legally?

The most recent ‘newsworthy’ papyrus discovery seems to be a wrestling contract dealt with in detail by Owen Jarus. Some excerpts:

Researchers have deciphered a Greek document that shows an ancient wrestling match was fixed. The document, which has a date on it that corresponds to the year A.D. 267, is a contract between two teenagers who had reached the final bout of a prestigious series of games in Egypt.

This is the first time that a written contract between two athletes to fix a match has been found from the ancient world.

In the contract, the father of a wrestler named Nicantinous agrees to pay a bribe to the guarantors (likely the trainers) of another wrestler named Demetrius. Both wrestlers were set to compete in the final wrestling match of the 138th Great Antinoeia, an important series of regional games held along with a religious festival in Antinopolis, in Egypt. They were in the boys’ division, which was generally reserved for teenagers.

The contract stipulates that Demetrius “when competing in the competition for the boy [wrestlers], to fall three times and yield,” and in return would receive “three thousand eight hundred drachmas of silver of old coinage …”

The contract includes a clause that Demetrius is still to be paid if the judges realize the match is fixed and refuse to reward Nicantinous the win. If “the crown is reserved as sacred, (we) are not to institute proceedings against him about these things,” the contract reads. It also says that if Demetrius reneges on the deal, and wins the match anyway, then “you are of necessity to pay as penalty to my [same] son on account of wrongdoing three talents of silver of old coinage without any delay or inventive argument.”

The translator of the text, Dominic Rathbone, a professor at King’s College London, noted that 3,800 drachma was a relatively small amount of money — about enough to buy a donkey, according to another papyrus. Moreover, the large sum Demetrius would forfeit if he were to back out of the deal suggests his trainers would have been paid additional money Rathbone said.

The match fixing took place at an event honoring Antinous, the deceased male lover of the Emperor Hadrian (reign A.D. 117-138). After Antinous drowned in the Nile River nearby, the town of Antinopolis was founded in his honor, and he became a god, and statues of him were found throughout the Roman Empire.

[…]

The contract was found at Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt, more than a century ago by an expedition led by archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. It was translated for the first time by Rathbone and published in the most recent volume of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, an ongoing series that publishes papyri from this site. The transcription of the text was done by John Rea, a now-retired lecturer at the University of Oxford and Rathbone did the translation.

[…]

Of course, this is almost what one ‘expects’ in terms of a papyrus find if you’re an academic. The piles of stuff from Oxyrhynchus yielding something of interest and, in this case, something which might catch the imagination of the wider public. Found by Grenfell and Hunt’s expedition … can’t get better provenance than that, eh wot?

The World of Ancient Papyri

Long-time blogger Ben Witherington has been running an interesting little series summarizing William Johnson’s Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus which folks might want to spend some time with:

The Deification of Poppaea Sabina … now in Poem Form

LiveScience’s Owen Jarus has put a good one out there … from the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, it’s a recently-translated poem all about Nero and Poppaea Sabina, and the latter’s ‘deification’ … here are some excerpts from Jarus’ piece:

A just-deciphered ancient Greek poem discovered in Egypt, deifies Poppaea Sabina, the wife of the infamous Roman emperor Nero, showing her ascending to the stars.

Based on the lettering styles and other factors, scholars think the poem was written nearly 200 years after Nero died (about 1,800 years ago), leaving them puzzled as to why someone so far away from Rome, would bother composing or copying it at such a late date.

In the poem, Poppaea ascends to heaven and becomes a goddess. The ancient goddess Aphrodite says to Poppaea, “my child, stop crying and hurry up: with all their heart Zeus’ stars welcome you and establish you on the moon…”

[…]

Headed for the heavens

The newly deciphered poem, however, shows a very different side to this ancient couple. In the poem, Poppaea is depicted being taken away by Aphrodite and told “your children for Nero [both deceased] you will guard them for eternity.”

Poppaea does not want this, wishing to stay with Nero. “[S]he was downcast and did not rejoice in the offered (favor). For she was leaving her husband, (a man) equal to the gods, and she moaned loudly from her longing…” part of the poem reads.

“The poet is trying to tell you [that] Poppaea loves her husband and what it implies is this story about the kick in the belly cannot be true,” said Paul Schubert, a professor at the University of Geneva and the lead researcher who worked on the text, in an interview with LiveScience. “She wouldn’t love him if she had been killed by a kick in the belly.”

The poem records her ascending to heaven, mentioning all the planets known to the ancients including “the Cyllenaean star” (Mercury), “belt of the Aegis-bearer” (Jupiter) and “Rhea’s bedfellow” (Saturn).

Her arrival among the stars is also triumphant, “under a clear (moon), the dance of the blessed (gods) she viewed…” with her then going to the northern pole to watch over Nero “looking around for her husband under the darkness…”

[…]

The original article has some other details and a photo of the papyrus, which has been around for quite a while (why did the Dead Sea Scrolls get published so quickly and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri seem to require centuries of work? Oh … right) …