Moving from Vindolanda to Nessana, from Oxhyrhynchus to Narmouthis, from Masada to the Mons Claudianus, a spread knowledge and reception of Virgil’s works in the Roman Empire (and in its provinces, in particular) is documented through papyrus and parchment scraps, wooden tablets and ostraka, all containing verses from the Aeneid, Bucolics and Georgics.
Virgil has, actually, the leading role in Latin calligraphic exercises by Oriental scribes (PHaw. 24; POxy. 3554; PMasada 721), but – as we know reading about the Arusianus Messius’ quadriga, too – he is also the main ‘instrument’ to teach and learn Latin language both in grammatical treatises (PLaur. III / 504; PMich. 459) and though Latin-Greek glossaries (PNess. 1; PRyl. 478+PCairo 85.644+PMil. 1; PBerol. 21138; PVind. 62; PSI 756); he was stored in libraries and sometimes object of annotations (PAnt. 29) or simply copied in manuscripts in his original hexametric sequences, just to be read and studied (PNess. 2; PBerol. 21.299; PSI 21: maybe it is not something accidental that all these papyri have signs of lectio, made by ‘second’ hands, different from the scribe himself) and his verses were also the object of rhetorical exercises and rewritings (PSI 142, a real Vergilian progumnasma). Nowadays, we have more than thirty fragments with Virgil’s verses, more than the ones of any other author of Latin literature; and it is not something secondary, especially if compared to what we know through the modern editions of Virgil’s works.
The acquisition of papyrological data in the Vergilian recensio is something recent: Roger Mynors (P. Vergili Maronis Opera, Oxonii 1969) collated only the parchment fragments from the Ambrosiana in Milan, the Palin. Ambr. L 120 sup., while, before him, in a partial edition of the Aeneid, Arthur Stanley Pease (Publi Vergili Maronis Aeneidos Liber Quartus, Cambridge 1935) used in his apparatus only the PSI 21 and the bilingual POxy. 1099. It was in 1973 that Mario Geymonat mentioned eighteen Virgil’s papyri and these will become twentynine in his new edition in 2008 (Vergili Maronis opera, Roma 20082): the role of papyri has been vitalized and ‘pondered’ at the same time. It has been vitalized as it was the first time that all the know Virgil’s papyri were presented as witnesses of Virgil text (together with manuscripts) and all mentioned in the critical apparatus; it has been ‘pondered’ as papyri go into Textkritik as witnesses of Textgeshichte without giving particular attention to their ecdotical relevance (Geymonat writes: haec fragmenta nos perraro ad textum Vergilianum emendandum adiuvant (…), maximi autem momenti sunt ad haec studia apud antiquos illustranda et ad formulas rationesque scribendi vel Graecas locutiones explorandas, p. XIII n. 34). What has to be emphasised is that Virgil’s editors – including the Spanish équipe (L. Rivero García – J.A. Estévez Sola – M. Librán Moreno – A. Ramírez de Verger (edd.), Publio Virgilio Marón. Eneida. Volumen I (Libros I-III), Madrid 2009) and Gian Biagio Conte (P. Vergilius Maro. Aeneis, Berolini – Novi Eboraci 2009) – followed the papyri’s (sometimes really old) editions, sometimes in a not critical way.
The paper will present the results both in a palaeographical and papyrological and in a philological and linguistic dimension and will give a balance concerning all the Virgil’s papyri, once having made an autoptical examination of most of them: papyri give significant contributions to our knowledge of how Virgil was read and learnt – and so, spread, acknowledged and understood – in the pars Orientis of the Empire, from the I a.D. till Late Antiquity.