Following up on the fascinating article on Professor Dirk Obbink by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian, Roberta Mazza recently revisited her conversations with a representative from Christie’s in 2014 and 2015, which now raise “further questions and doubts on the newest Sappho provenance narratives, and more broadly on the mysterious ways in which ancient manuscripts move on the market.”
One of the frustrating things about the new Sappho papyrus is the repeated claim that we can be confident about its provenance because of existing documentation that has not yet been made public. All the way back in 2015, Professor Obbink said in an interview with Live Science that more detailed documentation about the provenance of the Sappho would be forthcoming:
“Obbink said he knew the Sappho papyrus had a legal, documented provenance all along. ‘There’s no question in my mind about where the piece came from,’ Obbink told Live Science. ‘I can absolutely guarantee that there’s no question about that.’ . . .In the coming months, Obbink said the plan is to make the collecting documents and related photographs of the London Sappho papyrus available online, including letters, transcripts and other papers from people, including Robinson, who worked on this collection early on.“
This information has yet to appear. It is thus interesting to learn that Professor Obbink is set to publish a new edition of the collected works of Sappho with the respected German publishing house, Walter de Gruyter [[Update 22 February 2020: Link now dead. Archived link here.]]. It’s a little hard to tell what stage of production the volume is in. It has an ISBN. Amazon says the volume has 222 pages and is due out on 30 April 2020, but the de Gruyter website says the book has “approx. 202 pages” and isn’t due out until April 2025. So, perhaps we can look ahead to seeing the full provenance documentation of the London Sappho fragments later this year, or perhaps in 2025.