More on Dirk Obbink and the Provenance of the Sappho Papyrus

The latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists was just published. It contains an article by C. Michael Sampson, “Deconstructing the Provenances of P.Sapph.Obbink.” The article brings a load of new evidence to bear on the question of the origins of the papyrus. Some of this was hinted at in Charlotte Higgins’ excellent piece on Professor Obbink in The Guardian back in January:

“Mike Sampson, a papyrologist at the University of Manitoba, has found evidence, seen by the Guardian, suggesting that the origin-story of the Sappho manuscript reported by Obbink may be a fiction. Sampson was sent a PDF by an academic source. The document is a glossy, lavishly illustrated brochure produced by Christie’s. It advertises the Sappho fragment for sale by private treaty. A ‘private treaty sale’ is a service whereby an auction house will broker a sale between vendor and buyer discreetly, outside the relatively public auction schedule. (The document is quite separate from the 2011 auction, and was produced some time after it.) The brochure will have been circulated very discreetly, too, to a few key collectors. Sampson has analysed the metadata of the PDF, and believes that the Sappho fragment was in fact probably offered for sale by private treaty twice – once in 2013, prior to the public announcement of its existence, and again in 2015.”

Now Sampson has published the details of his analysis and the results of his investigations. Sampson notes that despite multiple queries, Christie’s has neither confirmed nor denied that they produced this document, citing “reasons of client confidentiality.” That they do not deny they produced the brochure is telling in itself.

Some of the revelations from Sampson’s article include an alleged asking price for the Sappho papyrus when it was offered for sale in 2015: £12,000,000. It’s not clear if any sale actually took place.

Sampson’s article includes photos from the Christie’s brochure. Among them are images said to document the extraction of the papyrus from cartonnage. Using metadata from the images in the file, Sampson compellingly demonstrates that these photos were staged.

The metadata from the photos of this alleged “extraction” also badly clash with the timeline of events provided in Professor Obbink’s most recent and ever-shifting account of the origin of the fragments. In a volume published by Brill in 2016 (The Newest Sappho), Professor Obbink claimed that when the large Sappho fragment (“P.Sapph.Obbink”) was extracted, additional material was removed at the same time but not recognized as belonging to the Sappho papyrus:

“Some twenty smaller fragments removed from the exterior of this piece, being not easily identified or re-joined, were deemed insignificant and so traded independently on the London market by the owner, and made their way from the same source into the Green Collection in Oklahoma City.”

We now know that these smaller pieces of the Sappho were purchased by Hobby Lobby (the Green Collection) from the Turkish dealer Yakup Eksioglu (“Mixantik”) on 7 January 2012 in the form of wads of papyrus that Eksioglu claims he manufactured himself. We also know that Scott Carroll has admitted to faking their extraction from a mummy mask on 16 January 2012. We also know that the Green Collection Sappho pieces were framed and waved in front of an audience by Carroll in Atlanta on 7 February 2012. It is thus surprising that the photographs of the alleged “extraction” of “P.Sapph.Obbink” should be dated seven days later, 14 February 2012. The story just doesn’t hold up.

Dirk Obbink with the Sappho papyrus in 2015 (image source: BBC, “Sappho: Love & Life on Lesbos) and Scott Carroll with the Green Collection fragments on 7 February 2012 (image source: Passages Speakers Series)

There are a number of other revelations in Sampson’s carefully researched article, but they’re a bit complicated to explain and will have to wait for another post. What does seem clear now is that all of the different origin stories that Professor Obbink has provided for the Sappho papyrus have fallen apart.

This entry was posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection Sappho, P.Sapph. Obbink, Passages Speakers Series, Scott Carroll. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to More on Dirk Obbink and the Provenance of the Sappho Papyrus

  1. Pingback: Friday Varia and Quick Hits | Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

  2. Pingback: Further Revelations from Sampson’s Article: The Sappho Papyrus and the German Officer | Variant Readings

  3. Anon. says:

    Interesting reading! One addition to the timeline: the first public announcement of P. Sapph. Obbink was due to take place not in 2014 but on September 6, 2013: see the announcement posted on September 2, 2013, , “D.Obbink (Oxford): “Sailing to Naukratis: Saphho on her Brothers””. But apparently the paper was pulled at the last minute: it doesn’t feature on the final program, .

  4. Pingback: A New Item in the P.Sapph.Obbink Timeline | Variant Readings

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