Further Details on the Robinson Papyri

Once I got to organizing my thoughts about the Robinson Papyri yesterday, it occurred to me that the best thing to do was simply to list them out. As I was working through the collection, I came across another description of the group that is more helpful with regard to numbers and provenance. Again, the source is an article by William H. Willis, “Oxyrhynchite Documents among the Robinson Papyri,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 25 (1988), 99-127. Here, the collection is described by Willis as follows:  

The noted archaeologist David Moore Robinson, though not himself a papyrologist, accumulated a small collection of nearly one hundred papyri over a period of many years. Those bearing inventory numbers 1 to 17 he acquired in the Fayum from Dr David L. Askren between 1903 and 1910. Those numbered 18 to 26 he bought from Erik von Scherling in Leiden during the 1940s. The remainder he acquired from a Cairene dealer in 1953-1955. In this last group are several which join fragments in the collection at Cologne. (p. 99)

So, there is some slightly different information here than what was given in Willis’s 1958 article. First, we see that the early acquisitions can be traced to Dr. David Askren (a Presbyterian missionary doctor and a fascinating character about whom I will have much to say in the coming months). More interesting is that the purchase(s) from Erik von Scherling are said to have been made in the 1940s rather than “between 1950 and 1952.” And finally, the “third purchase” is said to have been made in 1953-1955, rather than “1954.”

Also, the correlation of inventory numbers with purchases allows us to see what was bought when. In my last post, I noted that the Robinson Papyri in the Duke Collection were donated over an unspecified period of time by Willis (to whom Robinson had bequeathed them in 1958). Here are the Robinson items, according to the Duke Library website:

1968 and later: Gifts from William H. Willis (formerly owned by David M. Robinson): P.Duk.inv. 3, 97-99, 232, 244, 747-781 and 783-798

If we look up these P.Duk.inv. numbers, we get the following corresponding “Robinson Papyri” numbers, which can now be divided by dealers (further analysis is below the lists):

Purchased from Askren, in the Fayum, 1903-1910:
P.Duk.inv. 3 = P.Rob.inv. 1 Aeschines
P.Duk.inv. 97 = P.Rob.inv. 2 business letter
P.Duk.inv. 98 = P.Rob.inv. 3 private letter
P.Duk.inv. 99 = P.Rob.inv. 5 receipt for rent paid in kind
P.Duk.inv. 232 = [No Robinson number, 1910 acquisition] wooden school tablet
P.Duk.inv. 244 = [No Robinson number] Coptic parchment bifolium
P.Duk.inv. 747 = P.Rob.inv. 4 order for payment
P.Duk.inv. 748 = P.Rob.inv. 6 copy of a private memorandum
P.Duk.inv. 749 = P.Rob.inv. 7 lease from Oxyrhynchus (?)
P.Duk.inv. 750 = P.Rob.inv. 8 letter (?)
P.Duk.inv. 751 r = P.Rob.inv. 9 r magical text
P.Duk.inv. 751 v = P.Rob.inv. 9 v subliterary text (?)
P.Duk.inv. 752 = P.Rob.inv. 10 mythological text
P.Duk.inv. 753 r = P.Rob.inv. 12 r declaration of land
P.Duk. inv. 753 v = P.Rob inv. 12 v account
P.Duk.inv. 754 r = P.Rob.inv. 13 r two copies of a declaration from Oxyrhynchus
P.Duk.inv. 755 = P.Rob.inv. 14 cynic diatribe (?)
P.Duk.inv. 756 = P.Rob.inv. 16 Herodotus
P.Duk.inv. 757 = P.Rob.inv. 17 literary text

Purchased from von Scherling, in Leiden, either “1940s” or “1950-1952”:
P.Duk.inv. 758 = P.Rob.inv. 18 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 759 (a) r = P.Rob.inv. 19 r documentary text
P.Duk.inv. 759 (a) v = P.Rob.inv. 19 v documentary text
P.Duk.inv. 759 (b) r = P.Rob.inv. 19 r literary texts
P.Duk.inv. 760 = P.Rob.inv. 20 lease of land
P.Duk.inv. 761 r = P.Rob.inv. 24 r account (?)
P.Duk.inv. 761 v = P.Rob.inv. 24 v literary text
P.Duk.inv. 762 r = P.Rob.inv. 25 r literary text
P.Duk.inv. 763 = P.Rob.inv. 26 literary text

Purchased from Maguid Sameda, in Cairo, either “1953-1955” or “1954”:
P.Duk.inv. 764 b = P.Rob.inv. 27 b biblical commentary
P.Duk.inv. 765 = P.Rob.inv. 28 biblical commentary
P.Duk.inv. 766 r = P.Rob.inv. 29 R hymn
P.Duk.inv. 767 = P.Rob.inv. 30 Odyssey
P.Duk.inv. 768 r = P.Rob.inv. 31 r Odyssey
P.Duk.inv. 768 v = P.Rob.inv. 31 v documentary text
P.Duk.inv. 769 r = P.Rob.inv. 32 r account of taxes in kind
P.Duk.inv. 769 v = P.Rob.inv. 32 v scholia to the Odyssey
P.Duk.inv. 770 r = P.Rob.inv. 33 r account of taxes in kind (?)
P.Duk.inv. 770 v = P.Rob.inv. 33 v medical prescription
P.Duk.inv. 771 = P.Rob.inv. 34 account of expenses in Coptic and Greek
P.Duk.inv. 772 = P.Rob.inv. 35 Achilles Tatius
P.Duk.inv. 773 = P.Rob.inv. 36 Plutarch
P.Duk.inv. 774 = P.Rob.inv. 37 cynic diatribes
P.Duk.inv. 775 = P.Rob.inv. 38 Menander (Bodmer)
P.Duk.inv. 776 r = P.Rob.inv. 39 r epikrisis declaration
P.Duk.inv. 776 v = P.Rob.inv. 39 v account of money
P.Duk.inv. 777 = P.Rob.inv. 40 cynic diatribe
P.Duk.inv. 778 = P.Rob.inv. 41 amulet
P.Duk.inv. 779 = P.Rob.inv. 43 Odyssey
P.Duk.inv. 780 = P.Rob.inv. 44 division of property
P.Duk.inv. 781 r = P.Rob.inv. 45 r petition
P.Duk.inv. 783 r = P.Rob.inv. 42 r division of property
P.Duk.inv. 784 = P.Rob.inv. 48 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 785 =  P.Rob.inv. 49 order to supply seed
P.Duk.inv. 786 = P.Rob.inv. 50 receipt for barley
P.Duk.inv. 787 = P.Rob.inv. 51 account of wine
P.Duk.inv. 788 = P.Rob.inv. 52 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 789 = P.Rob.inv. 53 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 790 = P.Rob.inv. 54 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 791 = P.Rob.inv. 55 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 792 = P.Rob.inv. 56 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 793 = P.Rob.inv. 57 literary text
P.Duk.inv. 794 = P.Rob.inv. 59 order to supply seed
P.Duk.inv. 795 r = P.Rob.inv. 60 r report on the shipment of wheat
P.Duk.inv. 795 v = P.Rob.inv. 60 v account of transportation costs
P.Duk.inv. 796 = P.Rob.inv. 61 unidentified fragment
P.Duk.inv. 797 = P.Rob.inv. C. 1 Coptic 1 Kings
P.Duk.inv. 798 = P.Rob.inv. L 1 Cicero In Catilinam 1, 13-15

There are a number of interesting features of these lists, but for now, I note only that some numbers from the “P.Rob.inv.” sequence are missing: 11, 15, 21-23, 46, 47. What happened to these pieces? Are they among those that never made it from Willis’s own collection to the Duke collection?

Well, at least one of them does appear to have turned up. But, the story is a little problematic, as we’ll see. Bear with me, as we get through the details. In the printed version of the paper he delivered via skype at the Society for Classical Studies meeting in January of 2015, Dirk Obbink said the following about the provenance of the Sappho papyrus fragments he was publishing:

As reported and documented by the London owner [of the Sappho fragments], all of the fragments were recovered from a fragment of papyrus cartonnage formerly in the collection of David M. Robinson and subsequently bequeathed to the Library of the University of Mississippi. [note: as I pointed out in my previous post, the papyri were, it seems, bequeathed to Willis, not the University—B.N.] The Library later de-accessed it in order to purchase Faulkner materials. [note: This seems wrong as well; the University Library sold 2 Coptic codices for this purpose, not the Robinson Papyri—see James M. Robinson, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri, p. 92—B.N.] It was one of two pieces flat inside a sub-folder (folder ‘E3’) inside a main folder (labelled ‘Papyri Fragments; Gk.’), one of 59 packets of papyri fragments sold at auction at Christie’s in London in November 2011. They contained texts ranging from the 2nd to the 4th century AD, probably originally from the Arsinoite nome where many of Robinson’s other papyri were purchased or originated. The collection was documented by William H. Willis in a 1961 article, in which the folder labeled ‘Papyri Fragments; Gk.’ (and folders numbered ‘E1’ to ‘E12’ within it) are part of the ‘third group’ of Robinson Papyri described by Willis. The ‘Egyptian dealer’ from whom Robinson, then a professor at the University of Mississippi, acquired the papyri 1954 is now known to have been Sultan Maguid Sameda of the Art Gallery Maguid Sameda, 55 Gambhouria Street in Cairo. (pp. 1-2)

A couple questions here: As the Christie’s advertisement indicated, this was a mixed lot, and only some of the papyri were from Robinson’s collection. Was there some special indication that the cartonnage in particular was part of the Robinson Papyri? Did it have a “P.Rob.inv.” number? And: Why is this material specifically associated with the “third group” of the Robinson Papyri? This latter question becomes even more pressing when we look at one of Obbink’s footnotes to this section.

Other fragments described as part of Christie’s 28 November 2011, lot 1 were also among this group: P. Rob. inv. 22 (a receipt for a wheat transaction, ϲυναγορ[αϲτικόν], from Bakchias: in folder ‘9’) and parts of the extensive 2nd century Sitologoi report from Theadelphia (shown in the plate in Christie’s 2011, 2—explicitly designated ‘P. Rob.’, but without inventory number; an additional piece of this was in folder ‘E12’), together with several fragments from cartonnage showing traces of painted gesso.
(p. 11, note 5)

Now, it seems we have found one of our missing Robinson Papyri—P.Rob.inv. 22 (and possibly one other). But P.Rob.inv. 22, as we saw above, would be a part of the second group of Robinson Papyri (the Leiden purchase from Erik von Scherling), not the third. So where is that information about the “third group” coming from?

And, of course, where are the rest of the Robinson Papyri? Recall that in the 1958 article Willis said there were close to 160 Greek and Coptic papyri in Robinson’s three groups. What would be useful is a full list of the numbered “P.Rob.inv.” papyri known to Willis (Does such a thing exist in the records at Duke?). Then we could compare with the material in the Christie’s lot (to the extent that these pieces have been made public). At the end of all this, I’m still having a hard time imagining Willis neglecting to mention this inscribed cartonnage if it was part of the Robinson Papyri (to say nothing of the Coptic leaf of Galatians, which has just come into the news again).

About Brent Nongbri

Visiting Professor at Aarhus University
This entry was posted in Antiquities Market, Duke Papyri, Green Collection, Mummy cartonnage, Robinson Papyri. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Further Details on the Robinson Papyri

  1. Pingback: Just a Bit More on the Robinson Papyri | Variant Readings

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