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Oxyrhynchus: A City and its Texts, Virtual Exhibition: Excavations and Finds

Sappho: late first / early second century AD

The mounds produced a number of papyri of the seventh century BC Lesbian poets Sappho and Alcaeus, from poems previously unknown. The discovery of the papyri early this century coincided with a revival of interest in Sappho among critics and poets. P.Oxy. 2076 is from a papyrus roll containing the second book of her poems: the tiny round hand has some of the informal features of cursive documentary writing. It preserves the end of the book and its last poem (Poetarum Lesbiorum fragmenta 44, ed. Lobel-Page), on the wedding of Hector and Andromache at Troy. As is customary in ancient Greek books, the last line of the last poem (marked by the coronis in the margin) is followed by the name of the author and title (Sappho, Lyrics); the book number (beta = 2) is given in the next line, both decorated with top and bottom-lines:

Gaps in the poem lines are filled in by another copy in a different hand, P.Oxy. 1232. The last six lines run:

‘Everywhere in the streets there were) bowls full of wine, and cups, myrrh and cassia, frankincense, fragrances all pell-mell. All the women of matronly age shouted Eleleu! while the men singing out in the beautiful Steepscale Hymn called on Paeon, the god of the excellent bow and lyre, praising Hector the prince and Andromache as princess.’ — Tr. M. L. West

The same scribe may have written the text in the exhibition’s copy of Plato’s Phaedo.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XVII nos. 2076 and 1232