This paper challenges the historical value of P.Oxy.X.1241, part of which is the list of Alexandrian Librarians. It questions the basic assumption that the list at col. i.5 - ii.30 is in fact a list of the heads of the Alexandrian library. It calls attention to the fact that every single chronological statement needed to be emended and shows the fallacious reasoning behind the editors' influential conclusion that the papyrus is the most trustworthy of all sources pertaining to the history of the library.
In 1914, B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt published an anonymous 2nd cent. CE papyrus containing lists of famous artists, grammarians and historical/mythological inventors of weapons of practices of warfare. They observed its similarity to Hellenistic and Imperial mythographical catalogues and concluded: “Though the name of the compiler is unknown, the class to which this treatise is to be referred is thus clear; it is a characteristic product of Alexandrian erudition.” They, therefore, assessed the papyrus to be the most historically accurate source about the Alexandrian library. Their view has been accepted almost universally.
The papyrus is 6 columns with the list in question occupying col.i.17-ii.30. After a break of about 8 lines, the text picks up in the midst of a catalogue of grammarians, γραμματικοÎ¯, with a reference to “Philadelphus.” It is unclear who the grammarians in the first column were, but at the beginning of col.ii the text resumes with Apollonius of Rhodes, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Aristarchus, Apollonius the Eidographer, Aristarchus of Samothrace, Cydas the Spear-bearer, Ammonius, Zenodotus, Diocles and Apollodorus.
The first observation is that the library or of the position of librarian is not mentioned. The position that is explicit in the papyrus, however, is royal tutor (διδÎ¬σκαλος to royal children), and only two grammarians in the list are singled out as having held it: Apollonius of Rhodes and Aristarchus of Samothrace. Thus, it is only an inference of the editors that the list refers to “head librarians,” an inference that is apparently based on a supposition that royal tutor = head Librarian. Yet, the link between these positions is merely one of correlation, and the main basis for this correlation is P.Oxy.X.1241 itself. Rather than following this circular logic with the editors who assert that the list is “an account of the Alexandrian librarians,” it is submitted here that the list is as it appears, a catalogue of grammarians connected to the Ptolemies, some of whom were known to be heads of the library.
Additionally, the unemended list is full of chronological errors. Indeed, the editors found it necessary to emend every single chronological reference in the papyrus in order to make it consistent with other sources. Particularly egregious is the case of Apollonius Rhodius. The unemended text says that Apollonius was the teacher of the first king, διδÎ¬σκαλος τοá¿¦ πρ[ÏŽ]του βασιλÎως, Ptolemy I Soter (304 — 283 BCE). This is prima facie false. The editors, prompted by this error, emended the text to say τρÎ¯του βασιλÎως, “the third king,” which reflects the chronology of Suda and MS H of the Vita A of Apollonius. Hence, Suda and Vita A are the basis of the papyrus’ corrected chronology. Nevertheless, the papyrus’ singular report that Eratosthenes succeeded Apollonius is preferred to the Suda’s report that he was Apollonius’ predecessor. Apart from the fact that the papyrus is most likely only referring to the position of royal tutor, it is fallacious reasoning for the editors to base their emendations on one source, then to conclude that the emended text is more reliable than that source. Accordingly, left unemended the papyrus is useless because it is full of errors; whereas emended it must be regarded as the least reliable of our sources concerning the history of the Alexandrian library.