A forgotten Coptologist, Arthur des Rivières

Arthur des Rivières (d. Cairo 1849 [1]) was an early French Coptologist who copied by hand a number of Coptic texts.  Little seems to be known about him.  His handwritten copies are sometimes all that remains of early papyrus discoveries, where the originals are now lost.[2]

He saw the Coptic fragments in the Harris collection in 1845, which he describes in a letter dated 29 February 1848.[3] The letter has been printed.[4]  The editor indicates that Des Rivieres was publishing in the Spettatore egiziano, 29 Feb, 1848, and that the library of the Egyptian museum in Cairo possessed a handwritten translation by him of the Coptic grammar of Peyron. 

He is mentioned in the introduction to the Coptic gospel catena published by De Lagarde.[5]

In 1845 he was transcribing Coptic texts and at least some of his transcriptions as held as “ms. copt.” in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.[6]  British Library Or. 7561 includes Coptic fragments plus two volumes of copies with Latin and French translations and notes made by him.[7]

He also worked on the collection of Coptic papyri brought to Turin in 1820 by Luigi Drovetti. [8]
  1. [1]Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Volumes 21-22, p.384
  2. [2]W. E. Crum, Coptic texts relating to Dioscorus of Alexandria, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 25, p.267 f.: “What is printed here is however but the copy of a copy. The originals, no longer, I fear, traceable, were seen and transcribed, somewhere about 1845, by Arthur Des Rivieres; they were papyrus leaves, once in the celebrated Harris collection. These transcripts were subsequently acquired by the Royal Library at Munich, where they are numbered “MS. Copt. No. 3.” Des Rivieres gives no description of the leaves copied; and their relations one to another are indicated but vaguely when at all. A connection among the originals of those copies here in question may perhaps be inferred from the fact that their copyist has given them consecutive numbers in his portfolio.”
  3. [3]Frederick W. Weidmann, Polycarp and John: The Harris fragments and their challenge to the literary traditions, 1999, which provides a translation of a little known Coptic text about Polycarp.  On p.9: “So far as I can determine based on the written record, the literary fragments of the Harris collection were first described by Arthur Des Rivieres in a letter to Mr. Harris dated 29 February 1848.44 Though little is known about Mr. Des …
  4. [4]Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale, Volumes 5-6, 1903, p.88. This, it seems, is the letter to A. C. Harris, discussing the 156 fragments.  Five of these relate to the martyrdom of Polycarp.
  5. [5]De Lagarde, Catenae in evangelia aegyptiacae quae supersunt, Gottingae, 1886, p.iv: “After the last page of Matthew, the bookbinder inserted a sheet of European paper, on which is read the subscription, reproduced by a hand experienced in inscribing Egyptian [characters] —and its final letters … are given in full, with the addition of this translation… Whether I am right to believe that this was written by Arthur des Rivières, let those who can compare in person the Munich mss. written by Arthur des Rivières (1 4, 100 101 of the catalogue) with this Parhamian page decide.” The reference is to Catalogus Codicum Manu Scriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae Monacensis, Tomi Primi Pars Quarta, Codices orientales, 1875, p.100.
  6. [6]Journal Asiatique, series 10, tome 11 (1903), p.181.
  7. [7]Orientalia 48, p.149.
  8. [8]Jean Claude Fredouille, R.-Michel Roberge, La documentation patristique: bilan et prospective,.  Tito Orlandi, La documentation patristique copte, 127-148. On p.135, after discussing the work of Paul de Lagarde and Eugene Revillout, who were working and publishing literary texts from the collection of papyri in Turin brought there in 1820 by Luigi Drovetti: “Among these above all deserving of mention are the fragments of 22 papyrus codices, in Sahidic, bought in 1846 at Thebes by the English collector Anthony Charles Harris, and transcribed by Arthur des Rivieres.  They contain biblical, liturgical, homiletic and hagiographical texts, which for the most part still await a critical edition.”

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