Saturday, January 17, 2015

The (un)authenticated collecting history of the newly surfaced Sappho papyrus fragments

Dirk Obbink has presented a paper on "Provenance, authenticity, and text of the New Sappho Papyri" at New Orleans, January 2015. (Why do academics continue to use the obsolete term "provenance" when they mean "collecting history"?)

I have commented on the previously stated collecting history before. Now it appears that a new account has appeared "It was one of two pieces flat inside a sub-folder (folder 'E3') inside a main folder (labelled 'Papyri Fragments; Gk."), one of 59 packets of papyri fragments sold at auction at Christies in London in November 2011". Obbink thus places the new Sappho fragment in the David M. Robinson collection (and for the text of the discussion of the catalogue see discussion by Roberta Mazza here).

Lot 1 of Christies South Kensington sale on 28 November 2011 contained the following:
59 packets of papyri fragments, approximately 20 x 45mm to 300 x 100mm, the majority in Greek, from various manuscripts containing texts in a variety of hands and including documentary, petitionary and literary excerpts, receipts, contracts and accounts. A number of fragments belonged to the collection of David M. Robinson, a large part of which was subsequently bequeathed to the Library of the University of Mississippi. The collection is briefly described by William H. Willis in 'The New Collections of Papyri at the University of Mississippi', Proceedings of the IX International Congress of Papyrology, 1961, pp.381-82. Two of the packets were part of the collection of P. Deaton.
Not all --- only "a number" --- the fragments came from the Robinson collection. There is, as yet, no photographic evidence that this Sappho fragment was included in this lot.

But let us suppose the fragment was indeed in a 'sub-folder' that had passed through the Christie's sale. When was the fragment placed in the sub-folder? Who placed it there? Is there a catalogue entry, or even better a photograph, conclusively linking the fragment to the Robinson collection?

Is it possible that the Robinson connection has been constructed?

Obbink needs to demonstrate the authenticated and documented collecting history of the fragment as soon as possible.

And why was Bettany Hughes' account of the collecting history apparently so wrong? How can that be explained?

Obbink continues to raise more questions than to provide answers.

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