Discovered: A 5-6th century fragment of Methodius’ “Symposium”!

Methodius of Olympus.  5-6th century papyrus fragment of the Symposium.
Methodius of Olympus. 5-6th century papyrus fragment of the Symposium.

I learn from Brice C. Jones that a marvellous discovery has been made: a papyrus leaf, or the remains of one, containing a portion of the Symposium of the Ante-Nicene writer Methodius of Olympus (d. 311 AD, as a martyr):

New Discovery: The Earliest Manuscript of Methodius of Olympus and an Unattested Saying about the Nile

… The only complete work of Methodius that we possess is his Symposium or Banquet—a treatise in praise of voluntary virginity.

Until quite recently, the earliest manuscript of this text was an eleventh century codex known as Patmiacus Graecus 202, which is housed in the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos.

But a remarkable discovery has recently been made in the Montserrat Abbey in Spain.

Sofia Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, who have been working on the manuscript collection in the Montserrat Abbey for many years, have just published a fragment of Methodius’ Symposium that they date on palaeographical grounds to the fifth-sixth century—about 450 years earlier than the Patmos codex mentioned above. (On another recent, important discovery by Tovar and Worp, see here.)

Published as P.Monts. Roca 4.57, this fragment is the first attestation of a work of Methodius from Egypt. It is a narrow strip of parchment, with thirty partial lines preserved on the hair side (see image of fragment at right).

The text on this side of the fragment comes from Oratio 8:16.72-73, 3:14.35-40, 8.60-61, and 9.18-19 (in that order).

The flesh side contains thirty-five partial lines of text unrelated to the Methodian text. This is an unidentified Christian text with “Gnomic” sentiments, as the authors explain.

In addition to the wonderful fact that we now have a significantly earlier manuscript witness of Methodius’ text, there is also another remarkable feature in the new manuscript: a previously unattested saying about the Nile. In lines 5-8, the manuscript reads:

“The rise of the Nile is life and joy for the families”
ἡ ἀνάβα̣σ̣ε̣ι̣[ς] τοῦ Νείλου̣ ζω̣ή̣ ἐστι κ̣[αὶ] χαρὰ ἑστία[ις]

As the authors note, this saying does not occur in Methodius. And indeed, it does not fit the immediate context. Where it comes from is a mystery, but the saying is nonetheless very interesting.

Marvellous!  And thank you, Brice, for making this known to the world!  Brice adds that the publication is:

Sofía Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, ed., with the collaboration of Alberto Nodar and María Victoria Spottorno, “Greek Papyri from Montserrat” (P.Monts. Roca IV) (Barcelona: 2014), no. 57.

What this find also reminds me, is that Methodius is one of the very few ante-Nicene authors whose works have not been translated into English.  This is because they survive only in Old Slavic versions.  I paid some attention to these, in previous posts, and even acquired some texts; but I must hurry up and try to get some translations made!


8 thoughts on “Discovered: A 5-6th century fragment of Methodius’ “Symposium”!

  1. Isn’t this kind of thing wonderful? I remember the thrill we classicists had in my final year at Oxford in 1979, when several lines of the poet Gallus (the ‘missing link’ between Lucretius and Virgil) were discovered in Egypt, where Gallus had been prefect. It seems that he had been in the habit of distributing copies of his poems as gifts, and many of these gifts had been thrown away by their ungrateful recipients: hence the survival of these few lines on a papyrus preserved in an Egyptian rubbish tip. ‘What would we not barter of all the epics of empire for a few lines of Gallus?’ a 19th-century classicist mused. Now we have them, and Gallus comes alive again (see my translation and comments in the Wikipedia article Cornelius Gallus, before I was driven away by the constant squabbles I got into with mindless trolls). It’s one of the reasons that Classics and Patristics continue to be such exciting subjects. You never know what will turn up next!

  2. It is quite marvellous to know that these finds are out there, waiting to be discovered.

    I can quite imagine that Gallus was a special discovery. Any idea which classicist said that?

    Is this the best version of the Wikipedia article?

  3. Alas, I can’t remember who said it. Thomas Babington Macaulay, by the sound of it … I haven’t followed the fortunes of the Gallus article since I added the section on his surviving lines of poetry, and I don’t imagine anyone has disimproved it in the interim. Come to think of it, I don’t imagine many people have even visited the article since 2009. I remember searching for stuff at the time about Viscus (brackedted by Gallus with Cato as a formidable literary critic), but not being able to find anything.

  4. I have found a source for the quote, here. It is in Frank Tenney, “Vergil: a biography” (1922):

    The tenth _Eclogue_, to Gallus, steeped in all the literary associations of pastoral elegies, from the time of Theocritus’ Daphnis to our own “Lycidas” and “Adonais,” has perhaps surrounded itself with an atmosphere that should not be disturbed by biographical details. However, we must intrude. Vergil’s associations with Gallus, as has been intimated, were those, apparently, of Neapolitan school days and of poetry. The sixth _Eclogue_ delicately implies that the departure of Gallus from the circle had made a very deep impression upon his teacher and fellow students.

    What would we not barter of all the sesquipedalian epics of the Empire for a few pages written by Cornelius Gallus, a thousand for each! This brilliant, hot-headed, over-grown boy, whom every one loved, was very nearly Vergil’s age. A Celt, as one might conjecture from his career, he had met Octavius in the schoolroom, and won the boy’s enduring admiration. Then, like Vergil, he seems to have turned from rhetoric to philosophy, from philosophy to poetry, and to poetry of the Catullan romances, as a matter of course. It was Cytheris, the fickle actress–if the scholiasts are right–who opened his eyes to the fact that there were themes for passionate poetry nearer home than the legendary love-tales; and when she forgot him, finding excitement elsewhere during his months of service with Octavian, he nursed his morbid grief in un-Roman self-pity, this first poet of the _poitrinaire_ school. His subsequent career was meteoric. Octavian, fascinated by a brilliancy that hid a lack of Roman steadiness, placed him in charge of the stupendous task of organizing Egypt, a work that would tax the powers of a Caesar. The romantic poet lost his head. Wine-inspired orations that delighted his guests, portrait busts of himself in every town, grotesque catalogues of campaigns against unheard-of negro tribes inscribed even on the venerable pyramids did not accord with the traditions of Rome. Octavian cut his career short, and in deep chagrin Gallus committed suicide.

    The tenth _Eclogue_[6] gives Vergil’s impressions upon reading one of the elegies of Gallus which had apparently been written at some lonely army post in Greece after the news of Cytheris’ desertion. In his elegy the poet had, it would seem, bemoaned the lot that had drawn him to the East away from his beloved.

    “Would that he might have been a simple shepherd like the Greeks about his tent, for their loves remained true!”

    And this is of course the very theme which Vergil dramatizes in pastoral form.

    [Footnote 6: This is the interpretation of Leo, _Hermes_, 1902, p. 15.]

    We, like Vergil, realize that Gallus invented a new genre in literature. He had daringly brought the grief of wounded love out of the realm of fiction–where classic tradition had insisted upon keeping it–into the immediate and personal song. The hint for this procedure had, of course, come from Catullus, but it was Gallus whom succeeding elegists all accredited with the discovery. Vergil at once felt the compelling force of this adventuresome experiment. He gave it immediate recognition in his _Eclogues_, and Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid became his followers.

    The poems of Gallus, if the Arcadian setting is real, were probably written soon after Philippi. Vergil’s “Eclogue” of recognition may have been composed not much later, for we have a right to assume that Vergil would have had one of the first copies of Gallus’ poems. If this be true, the first and last few lines were fitted on later, when the whole book was published, to adapt the poem for its honorable position at the close of the volume.

  5. Thank you very much for digging out that enjoyable appraisal of Gallus! Sesquipedalian. What a splendid word. Remind me to use it more often … He is certainly right about Gallus’s taste for self-publicity. In fact it’s not a bad critique at all, considering how dated it now is.

  6. That’s clearly a good book on Vergil. It made *me* want to read the Eclogues. Any criticism that makes you want the author is good criticism!

  7. I suppose I’d better amend the Wikipedia article when I have a moment. I don’t mind coming across rubbish on Wikipedia written by teenage video game players, but I feel distinctly uncomfortable allowing an inaccurate statement by myself to stand. What a strange thing the mind is. How could I possibly have edited out the word ‘sesquipedalian’ when quoting that compliment to Gallus from memory? And getting the century wrong, too. Mea culpa …

  8. I understand, although I wouldn’t bother. You’re not responsible for Wikipedia – that’s Wikipedia policy (WP:OWN). All those people who run it are responsible.

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