Once Again, Scott Carroll and a Papyrus of Plato

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?

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Lee Biondi, Scott Carroll, Van Kampen Collection. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Once Again, Scott Carroll and a Papyrus of Plato

  1. Anonymous says:

    One small point: it was surely a facsimile that he was using in his presentation, like the facsimile of this papyrus that you showed at https://variantreadings.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/tambiyi_plato.jpg . Note the simplified edge of the papyrus in the latter, e.g. 8 lines up, to the left of ωιλογωι and the interlinear space above, where the facsimile has a smooth edge while the edge of the original is irregular, https://variantreadings.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/screen-shot-vk-obbink-plato-papyrus.jpg . If it’s just a facsimile he’s using, there’s no way of telling who owns the papyrus.

  2. Pingback: Once Again, Scott Carroll and a Papyrus of Plato — Variant Readings | Talmidimblogging

  3. Thanks for the observation. That is definitely a possibility. He does use facsimiles in some of his presentations, but he usually flags them as such when he does. He didn’t do so in this talk, and I would be surprised if some of the other pieces from that talk (that were captured on film in more detail) were facsimiles. I’m thinking of the Menander in particular. But you’re right that we can’t know for sure.

  4. Pingback: The Fate of the Van Kampen Collection | Variant Readings

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