A palimpsest of Menander in the Vatican

Menander did not reach us.  The New Comedy dramatists works were not part of the Byzantine school curriculum, and, at some time in the Dark Ages, the last manuscript was reused for other purposes.

A post in the CLASSICS-L list tells me that a manuscript was found in the Vatican in 2003, manufactured from reused parchment from a late-antique codex containing works by Menander.  Apparently hundreds of verses of this author can be recovered from the pages. 

A reference is given, with a mention of Wikipedia, which has a link to an article in German about this by D. Harlfinger (which says the Vatican ms. is a *Syriac* manuscript!):

F. D’Aiuto: Graeca in codici orientali della Biblioteca Vaticana (con i resti di un manoscritto tardoantico delle commedie di Menandro), in: Tra Oriente e Occidente. Scritture e libri greci fra le regioni orientali di Bisanzio e l’Italia, a cura di Lidia Perria, Rom 2003 (= Testi e studi bizantino-neoellenici XIV), S. 227-296 (esp. 266-283 and plates 13-14).

But the posters says that this “did not publish entire Greek text, and that in 2006 we were “still waiting” for an edition. “


9 thoughts on “A palimpsest of Menander in the Vatican

  1. From the CLASSICS-L list:

    I don’t have the latest on this, but yes, we’re still waiting. I saw some photographs of the Dyskolos leaf digitally enhanced (some 200 lines of the play are covered) and they were still almost completely unreadable – though I gather there’s nothing much to excite us about the Dyskolos text, only the confirmation of half-a-dozen previously proposed readings. The new play is Titthe (The Wetnurse), of which there are about 100 lines, but 80% of them illegible or simply unintelligible; as one of the speakers at the December 2007 panel at the British Academy ruefully commented on what’s coming out of the image processing, “It produces some things coming out you just can’t credit.” The panellists on that occasion (Francesco d’Aiuto, Colin Austin, Eric Handley, Nigel Wilson) were having to tread carefully not to present too much of the Greek text, which was and is still under wraps, though at one point we got to see an image off one of the speakers’ laptops that we weren’t supposed to and there was an audible scratch of frantic pens (or in my case a silent patter of CyKey keyboard) transcribing. I obviously can’t post here what I was able to jot down, but this excerpt from my general notes seems innocuous enough:

    “The first 37 lines are the end of the divine prologue, closing with a “chaire” like in Perikeiromene 170. A baby has been born recently and handed over to a maidservant; the girl had been raped, and the baby was handed over behind the back of the husband. It may be that the baby was legitimate after all, as usual. There was a foul old lady, and the second page has a lot about her antics; she darts off like a weasel or fox. After the prologue is a woman lamenting, but we only have a word or two of each line before it trails off entirely into odd letters. Later the speaker had been appointed a juror at the trigonon, fell asleep, and had a dream where the magistrate was summoning his daughter who had been harmed by her husband, though the details of the dream are unclear (“How clear it all is!”). Then the husband & wife come in, the wife says she’s done wrong and the husband says she always does, and the wife says the baby is Sophrone’s (otherwise a nurse’s name). The name Philinos is possible in the prologue.”

    The really sensational thing is the nature of the palimpsested leaves. There are two columns of 49 lines per page in a tiny fourth-century script only a millimetre high, so that a full play would have covered only 12 sides or so. We seem to be dealing with a compact edition which would originally have contained much more than just these two plays – perhaps even, d’Aiuto and Handley are willing to suggest, a complete works (!!!!!!!!!) – which would have taken up some 500 folios, not impossible in this format (the Vatican Bible has 750). At any rate, as Handley remarked, “We need to rethink our assumption of a limited canon of M that survived.” Not everyone I spoke to afterwards was as ready to contemplate this rather staggering challenge to our received wisdom on how much Menander was still in circulation at this late date. But the inclusion of Titthe, not previously known as a play that was being read and copied in this period, and indeed the very existence of the palimpsest have at the very least dealt a couple of pretty hefty blows to our standard narrative of Menander’s loss and recovery.

  2. Is there any more on this yet? Any publication date mooted? It seems such a long time since its discovery was announced, but still we have no text, though I realise that this is a most difficult text to read/decipher.

  3. I’ve seen no more on this, which seems very odd to me. But scholars can be dilatory in the extreme in publishing new material can be extreme, as the stories of the Dead Sea scrolls and Nag Hammadi codices make clear.

  4. Has theer been any further developments on this? All seems to have gone very quiet on the Menander front.

  5. Still no news? I have heard nothing apart from the rumour that new photographs had to be taken…….

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