Euripides lost and found

We tend to forget that our collection of plays by Euripides is very incomplete.  The Byzantine school syllabus had various set texts and standard collections of classical works.  Any text not in that subset stood a very good chance of being lost in one of the dislocations of culture that have occurred down the centuries. 

The most notable of these is the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the renegade army originally hired for the Fourth Crusade.  In the 9th century Photius had many texts unknown to us; afterwards we have much less evidence of now lost texts.  The capture of the city by the Turks in 1453 did dispose of the complete Diodorus Siculus in the Imperial Palace at Blachernae, reported by some of the early humanists, however. 

In the 1890’s a large fragment of one of the lost plays by Euripides was recovered from mummy wrappings in Egypt.  This consisted of a papyrus of the 3rd century BC.  Of course the man who made use of the old roll for packaging had no idea that this text would not survive otherwise, that all the library copies would die out, that his copy was the only one that would reach the far future.  But so it proved.  It highlights the role that pure chance plays in our access to the literature of antiquity.

In addition two pages from a manuscript written ca. 500 AD also contain portions of the text.  Did more exist at the time?

The text is fragmentary even so.  But a performance of the reconstructed text has just been given in the theatre at Ephesus as part of the 22nd Izmir International Festival, and the event will run for most of this month.   By such narrow shaves are treasures saved from going into the night.


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