A papyrus of the lost Autobiography of Hadrian; and a papyrus of the lost History of Seneca the Elder

The excellent Carole Raddato posted on her blog this image of a papyrus fragment.  It turns out to be a portion from the lost autobiography of Hadrian, which, it seems, was written in letter form.  The papyrus is from Oxyrhynchus (of course).  Here is a part of what she tells us:

This papyrus (OIM E8349), which Is not on display, was found at the site of Backhias (Umm el ‘Atl) in Egypt by the scholars Grenfell, Hunt, and Hogarth who excavated in the Fayum in end of the 19th century. The document is written on the back of a 2nd century AD tax list. It claims to be a letter from the emperor Hadrian to someone named Antoninus, who can be identified as Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius. The papyrus is not large, consisting of only 20 lines, written in two different hands. The first fifteen lines are written clearly, while the last five (which repeat the first five lines on the papyrus) are written far more irregularly, which shows this was a school text.

A translation of the papyrus, from J. Bollansée’s article: “P. Fay.” 19, Hadrian’s Memoirs, and Imperial Epistolography, published in the journal Ancient Society 1994, is as follows:

Imperator Caesare Hadrianus Augustus to his highly-esteemed Antoninus, greeting. Above all I would like you to know that I am being released from life neither untimely nor unreasonably, pitably, unexpectedly or with faculties impaire, though – as I have perceived – I thus may appear to do you wrong, you who sites at my bedside, never ceases to comfort me and urges me to hold on. Consequently I feel compelled to write you the following, not, by Zeus, to cunningly paint some vulgar picture stretching the truth, but to give a straightforward and accurate account of the facts themselves (…)
My natural father was taken ill and died as a private citizen at forty, hence I have survived him by more than half his age; I have approximately reached the same age as my mother, who lived to be sixty. I am presently in my [sixty-third] year…

This text is thought to form part of Hadrian’s autobiography which was probably written in epistolary form to his successor Antoninus Pius. Other Romans had written their political autobiography in this form such as Sulla who wrote his autobiography to his lieutenant L. Lucullus and Augustus who wrote his autobiography to Agrippa and Maecenas. Several literary sources explicitly note that Hadrian wrote his autobiography.

Very nice!

Another recent papyrus find is reported by La Republica.  The papyrus is from Herculaneum and is P.1067, although the article (in Italian) does not give the text.  But there are some fascinating slides of  the whole roll!

2 thoughts on “A papyrus of the lost Autobiography of Hadrian; and a papyrus of the lost History of Seneca the Elder

  1. From what I can see from the Google translation of the Republica article it is a letter from Seneca’s father which is a historiographical narration dealing the Civil War. In that case it would be the very first historical text from Herculaneum, which so far has mostly given us philosophical texts

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