I’ve written before about Scott Carroll’s connection to a papyrus of Plato’s Phaedo. What I have only just now realized while reviewing some of Carroll’s past lectures is that his association with this piece goes back to early 2012 (or maybe even 2011), when he was still the director of the Green Collection.
In remarks made during a Passages lecture in Atlanta on 27 March 2012, Carroll said the following:
“Three days ago, discovered at Baylor University, ah, with students, ah, one of the earliest texts of Plato. And it’s, just so happens to be an account that Plato wrote of the death of Socrates, a very famous account, that was used in the early Church period as a contrast with the death of Christ. And so it’s a very interesting passage.”
Now, it seems to be a good rule of thumb to take Carroll’s claims of “X days ago I discovered Y papyrus” with a grain of salt. But this description does sound a lot like the description (attributed to Dirk Obbink) of the papyrus of Plato’s Phaedo appraised by Lee Biondi in 2013 (“The account has uncanny parallels with the life and death of Jesus Christ, something not lost on scholars through the ages.”).
But Carroll’s description in the 2012 Passages talk also brings to mind one of his tweets from 2011:
It’s not clear to what papyrus this tweet refers. One of Carroll’s list of his “discoveries” also included a papyrus of Plato’s Menexenus, so it may that papyrus referenced in the Tweet. Nevertheless, the appraisal report for the Phaedo papyrus describes it as having been “recovered in papyrus cartonnage in a private European collection. It was acquired in 2011.” Setting aside the dubious claim about cartonnage, we see again a 2011 acquisition date. So, if we assume that the same papyrus is at issue throughout (and that Scott Carroll just…misremembered about the exact date he identified this papyrus), then the chronology of its appearances looks like this:
[[2011 October: Possibly “identified in a recently acquired collection”]]
2012 March: “discovered” at Baylor University
2013 June: Inspected for appraisal by Lee Biondi (with report by Dirk Obbink)
2014 March: Carroll is in possession of the papyrus during a talk in California
I lose track of the papyrus after that point. And not everything lines up. The appraisal report identified the papyrus as VKGrpap.38, which I speculated might be related to the Van Kampen collection, but I have not been able to confirm that. And according to the tweet, the papyrus was part of a collection “acquired” by Carroll (for the Green family?), which the Van Kampen collection was not. The appraisal report places the papyrus in an anonymous European collection. So the provenance trail is a mess any way you cut it.
My main curiosity about these reports is (if we are in fact dealing with the same papyrus), how is it that it was “acquired” in 2011 when Carroll was working for the Green’s, but then it’s in Carroll’s possession in 2014, well after he split from the Green family in the middle of 2012?