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Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, Virtual Exhibition: Daily Life

Private Letter about a Meeting dated by Zodiac: AD 194

A private letter from one Elis to his friend Carpus, reminding him about some household effects he has ordered. The author then appears to date a planned future occurrence by the arrangement of star-signs, i.e. the kind of data found in astrological texts: ‘when the Moon is in Sagittarius ... ’ He goes on to specify variable options in the calendar when such a position would be possible. For this calculation it would have been necessary for him to consult an astronomical calendar or ephemeris, of which examples survive on papyrus. Perhaps Elis is an astrologer providing or relaying the information of a katarchic horoscope (i.e. one which provided the basis for individual decision-making) to his associate, advising him of the best day for his planned meeting. The arrangement of star-signs and the days specified, allow us to date the planned meeting precisely: within the first four centuries AD. Only the year 194 gives a position implied by the letter.

‘Elis to his most esteemed Carpus, very many greetings. Don’t forget about the order for the three plates, two big ones and (one line missing here, perhaps ‘and one small one’));. ... meet (or: make a contract with) your friend when the Moon is in Sagittarius, at the 4th hour; it arrives there on 12th Thoth; it is there again also on the 13th and 14th until the 7th hour. At these times meet (or: make a contract with) your friend. Farewell.’

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. LXV no. 4483