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Scribes and Grammarians in Roman Egypt

Michael Freeman

Duke University

The grammatical papyri offer unique insight into the intellectual and social dynamics of reading and writing circles in Roman Egypt. Following the collection and editing of a considerable corpus of such grammatical texts by Wouters (1979, cf. 1988, 1997) there has been increased scholarly discussion of the papyri and the role they play in reconstructing ancient intellectual history (cf. Holwerda, 1983; Wouters, 1993; Swiggers and Wouters, 1995, 2000; Dickey, 2007; Matthaios, 2015; Valente, 2015; inter alia). Much attention has been given to the concern the authors and communities which produced these texts had with the codification of the underlying principles of ancient Greek and the correct usage of the language. The development of the Lexicon of Greek Grammarians of Antiquity since its launch in 2002 is a testament to the current scholarly interest in ancient grammars and grammarians, their exegeses and the insight they provide into ancient scholarship and philological-grammatical research. However, little has been said about the social contexts in which the grammatical papyri, that is the physical objects themselves, were produced. This paper considers these social contexts and elucidates how the grammatical papyri may further our understanding not only of the developments within Greek grammar but of the social history of ancient reading and writing circles in Roman Egypt.

In this paper, I demonstrate that a small but statistically significant subset of the extant grammatical papyri were produced as advanced scribal exercises. My own analysis of the orthography, paleography, and voluminology/codicology of the grammatical papyri has revealed that approximately 40% of the extant texts were written on re-used papyrus and in informal, sometimes rudimentary, hands. Cribiore has suggested, I believe rightly, that several of these informal grammars were written by students or teachers in a school context (2001, p. 211; cf. 1996). However, this leaves unaccounted for a group of approximately 10 informally-produced grammatical papyri, the orthography, paleography, and voluminology/codicology of which evince the work of a scribe-in-training. We know little of the process of training a scribe in Roman Egypt, but Bucking (2007), Schubert (2018), and Cribiore (2011, passim) have discussed a number of exercises from this period which were evidently used as practice for scribes. I use these identified scribal exercises as comparanda, coupled with an analysis of the artifactual characteristics of the subgroup of grammatical papyri I have defined. I thus demonstrate that the grammatical papyri within this subgroup were produced as training exercises for literary scribes.

This paper offers an important first step for the future study of scribes and scribal training in Roman Egypt. I establish a body of evidence for literary scribal training exercises and I determine its typology. As a result of the evidence I bring forth, it will be possible to begin to reconstruct the process of education which equipped the scribes of Roman Egypt to record and preserve literature. Abstract: ASP 2021 SCS Panel A-V Equipment Necessary

Session/Panel Title

Culture and Society in Greek Roman and Byzantine Egypt

Session/Paper Number

47.5

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