A Missing “Robinson Papyrus” Found?

A few years ago, I started looking into the so-called “Robinson Papyri,” a collection of pieces assembled in the first half of the twentieth century by David M. Robinson, a professor archaeology at the University of Mississippi. Upon Robinson’s death, the papyri were bequeathed to William Willis, who donated many of them to Duke University. In 2017, I assembled an inventory of these pieces here. What was curious was that there were some missing numbers in the “P.Rob.inv.” sequence. I’ve since found a couple of the numbers that escaped me. But there are still a few that are, as far as I can tell, unaccounted for: P.Rob.inv. 11, 21, 23, and 46-47. Now I think I’ve found one of them, and it turns out there is an interesting twist in the story.

Sometimes a simple google search does the trick. Googling “P.Rob.inv. 46” yielded exactly two hits. These were two versions of the same data, one at the Duke library in the form of a .dat file, and one a text file on the APIS papyrological website.

Bottom line: According to these files, P.Rob.inv. 46 = P.Duk.inv. 782. But if you look up P.Duk.inv. 782 on the current version of the Duke Papyrus Archive, you find that it is identified differently. Here are the two records side-by-side:

Version in Text FileCurrent Version in Duke Archive
Literary text, [not before 199 B.C.]Title: Literary text, [not before 199 B.C.]
papyrus, mounted in glass, very incomplete ; c7 cm.Material: 1 item : papyrus, mounted in glass, very incomplete ; 7 cm.
Actual dimensions of item are 6.5 x 4.8 cm.Note: Actual dimensions of item are 6.5 x 4.8 cm.
9 lines.9 lines.
Written along the fibers on the recto in a careful hand.Written along the fibers on the recto in a careful hand.
P.Duk.inv. 782 was formerly P.Rob.inv. 46P.Duk.inv. 782 was formerly P.Deaton 28.
Literary text from Egypt, written on papyrus. Possibly a comedy.Literary text from Egypt, written on papyrus. Possibly a comedy.

The designation “P.Deaton” will ring a bell for those who have been following the Sappho story. Recall that Professor Dirk Obbink claimed that the source of the cartonnage from which the new Sappho papyri were extracted was a lot of papyri sold at auction by Christie’s in November 2011. It was said to be composed of a mixture of Robinson Papyri and “P.Deaton” papyri. The nature of these “Deaton” papyri is not well known. In addition to this Duke piece, Roberta Mazza has noted that some of them ended up at BYU.

P.Duk.inv. 782 = P.Deaton 28 (= P.Rob.inv. 46?); image source: Duke University Special Collections Library

It is probably also worth noting that the whole sequence of P.Duk.inv. 747-798 all are donations from Willis with one exception, P.Duk.inv. 782, which, of course, is P.Deaton 28. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but if Deaton papyri potentially are Robinson papyri, perhaps these BYU pieces might account for some of the other missing Robinson numbers, and it would also help to explain why pieces identified as being from these two collections might have ended up together on the auction block in 2011. There’s more work to be done here.

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, P.Sapph. Obbink, Robinson Papyri. Bookmark the permalink.

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