The aim of the conference was to celebrate the scholarly achievement of Professor Peter J. Parsons, FBA, just before his 70th birthday on 24 September 2006. Peter Parsons has spent most of his career at Christ Church, as an undergraduate, and later as University Lecturer in Papyrology; subsequently he was Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford from 1989 to 2003, and remains a warm and much-valued presence in the Oxford academic community. He has been editor and Director of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a long-running British Academy project, for decades, and has done work of fundamental importance in editing and commenting on new texts, among them important finds such as Callimachus' Aetia and Simonides' Plataean elegies. In collaboration with Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, who preceded him in the Regius Chair, he edited the volume Supplementum Hellenisticum, which transformed the study of three centuries of Greek poetry. This is not to mention his supervision of numerous graduates, his six-year term as Tutor for Graduates in Christ Church, or his many years of devoted service as a member of key committees in Oxford and as Chairman of the Faculty Board at a turbulent time. It is widely felt, and not only in Oxford, that he deserves the tribute of a celebratory conference and a Festschrift.
The conference recognised his distinction as researcher and teacher by gathering an international team of scholars who are either former pupils or colleagues of Prof. Parsons, and all share a deep respect for his work. The theme of the conference was 'Culture in Pieces', alluding to the problems of reconstitution of tattered papyri and reconstruction of historical and cultural contexts from fragmentary evidence. The contributors did not all tackle specifically papyrological topics, but the general aim was to consider how the discovery of new evidence, especially new literary texts, has fertilised or enlarged the study of older evidence, either by setting the old in new light, or by enabling us to ask new questions. The papers delivered were new and will be published in a volume entitled 'Culture in Pieces' by Oxford University Press. Thematic groupings include questions of general interpretation, the study of Menander and his contemporaries, the nature of Alexandrian poetry, and the influence of the key figure Callimachus.
Many members of the Classics faculty attended, as did scholars and graduate students from Oxford and elsewhere. A high point in the conference was the celebratory dinner in the Hall of Christ Church, attended by some 70 scholars and friends. Dr Richard Rutherford gave a eulogy of the guest of honour and Professor Colin Austin of Cambridge (formerly a senior Scholar of Christ Church and a friend of Peter Parsons for 40 years) recited a poem composed by himself in ancient Greek, praising Professor Parsons as tôn papyrologôn promos ('supreme among papyrologists').
This poem had been printed on the programme of events, but an additional surprise for the honorand was the sudden revelation that a text of it had been put on an actual piece of papyrus in a hand imitating the lettering style of a scribe from the scribe from the 3rd century AD, period from which Peter Parsons himself has studied and published many texts (click on the image on the left for a larger view). After this had been presented by the scribe, Dr Revel Coles, Professor Parsons himself spoke with characteristic wit and elegance about his career, recalling the eccentricities and achievements of his mentors and dwelling on the debts he owed to many friends past and present. All those present will remember the occasion, and the guest of honour, with pleasure and affection.
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