New Sappho Followup ~ Some Questions Answered in TLS

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post (A New Sapphic Poem ~ Wading into the Morass), we now see that Dr Obbink has a very nice piece in TLS which deals with the two new poems and answers some questions (but probably not the most important ones) about provenance (and authenticity, interestingly enough). Inter alia, he confirms the mummy cartonnage origins:

But how can we be certain that such resemblances are authentically Sapphic and that these new fragments are genuine? After all, you might wonder, doesn’t “The Brothers Poem” rather too conveniently fill a gap in what we know of Sappho and her family? And doesn’t it rather suspiciously confirm Herodotus, in mentioning two names we know, and none that we don’t? Palaeography provides a criterion, but also a model for forgers. Some scholars did, at first, doubt its authenticity, including one of the editors of the last “New Sappho” to be discovered. But other indicators leave no room for doubt. Metre, language and dialect are all recognizably Sapphic and (more difficult for a forger to achieve) there are no contrary indications whatsoever of date or handwriting . The authorship of Sappho was clinched, however, when 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. The antiquity of the physical fabric of the papyrus is beyond reproach: indeed, it was damaged in ancient times, torn up the centre of the one complete surviving column, and still bears the ancient papyrus repair strips on its back applied in antiquity. It is written in black carbon ink in an identifiable professional bookhand, but with idiosyncratic stylistic traits that would be difficult for a modern calligrapher consistently to emulate. It also passes tests of spectral analysis for density of ancient carbon-base ink. The authenticity of the ancient mummy cartonnage panel, from which the papyrus was extracted, having been recycled in antiquity to accompany a burial, has been established through its documented legal provenance. The owner of the papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, but has submitted the papyrus to autopsy and multi-spectral photography, as well as Carbon 14 testing of an uninscribed portion of the papyrus sheet itself by an American laboratory, that returned a date of around 201 AD, with a plus-minus range of a hundred years.

The opening paragraph is also interesting:

An “Oxford secret” is supposed to be a secret you tell one person at a time. Add social media and it’s across the world within hours, often in garbled form. In this case, the “secret” was the discovery on a fragment of papyrus of two new poems by the seventh-century BC Greek poetess, Sappho. The first concerns her brothers, “The Brothers Poem” for short. The second, “The Kypris Poem”, is about unrequited love and addressed to Aphrodite (by her other name, “Kypris”). The full evidence will be presented in an article in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik (2014), and I am grateful to the editors Jürgen Hammerstaedt and Rudolf Kassel for permission to publish some preliminary facts here, and to raise some key questions: why is the discovery important, what do the poems tell us about Sappho, and how do we know they are genuine? […]

… so it sounds like we’re passing blame for the kurrent kerfuffle onto the editors of ZPE?

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