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The Papyri

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Challenges and discoveries (page 7 of 7)

Summers were spent in Oxford. Here there were more comforts (we find Grenfell ordering ‘500 Best Egyptian Cigarettes’ from a London dealer — the cost, in 1896, £1 7s 6d); but no less work. The papyri offered quite new problems: strange fragmentary poets, whom no one in the West had read for fifteen centuries; documents in late technical Greek from this unknown outpost of Hellenic civilisation.

Sixteen substantial volumes appeared, published jointly: each editor revised what the other wrote. It was an ideal partnership: Grenfell impetuous and extrovert, Hunt shy and cautious; one contributing ideas and intuitions, the other control and critical judgement.

It was not to end happily. In 1920 a third nervous breakdown ended Grenfell’s working life; Hunt went on until 1934, his last years clouded by the early death of his only son. But their partnership had achieved extraordinary things. They had brought back to life both the people of Oxyrhynchus and the books they read.

[The diggers hard at work]

We engaged two men to make tin boxes for storing the papyri, but for the next ten weeks they could hardly keep pace with us. - Bernard Grenfell

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