Following up on yesterday’s news about the recovery of more papyri stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society, I learn from an anonymous commenter on an earlier post that there is a neglected (by me, at at least) item on the “timeline” of events associated with the so-called P.Sapph.Obbink papyrus.
Some background: Last year, scholars at the Museum of the Bible reported that the pieces of the papyrus in the Green Collection were purchased in early 2012, citing a “purchase agreement dated January 7, 2012, and signed by Yakup Eksioglu,” a Turkish dealer and, according to reporting in The Atlantic by Ariel Sabar, a close associate of Professor Dirk Obbink. Some of Prof. Obbink’s own accounts of his first recognition of the Sappho papyrus put the date “in January 2012.” While the next couple months saw Scott Carroll fake the extraction of the Green Collection Sappho fragments from mummy cartonnage and then parade the papyri around at different speaking engagements, Prof. Obbink did not announce the existence of the larger fragments (P.Sapph.Obbink) until early 2014, when news broke in The Daily Beast, The Times, and The Times Literary Supplement.
Also last year, Mike Sampson published an article in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (and recently summarized here) reporting on the existence of a brochure in pdf format said to be produced by Christie’s offering the Sappho papyrus for sale privately to selected buyers. Sampson’s investigations showed that the document had been produced in connection with a sale (or attempted sale) of the papyrus in August 2013 and then updated for another attempted sale in early 2015.
Now to the new information: The commenter points us to a conference that was set to take place at the University of Reading in September of 2013. A blog post dated 2 September 2013 includes a list of participants and titles of papers. Among them is:
D. Obbink (Oxford): “Sailing to Naukratis: Saphho [sic] on her Brothers”
Although the title says nothing about a new papyrus, and the topic might be simply drawn from information in Herodotus’s description of the courtesan Rhodopis, it seems likely this paper would have been an announcement of the new papyrus. I say “would have been” because the commenter also points out that in the actual online program for the conference, Prof. Obbink’s contribution is not present. It seems the paper was pulled at some point between the blog post on 2 September 2013 and the date of the conference (6-8 September 2013).
It’s the timing that is interesting in connection with the metadata that Sampson extracted from the Christie’s brochure, which suggested an attempted sale of the papyrus in August 2013. The last two timestamps associated with this cluster of metadata came from 27 August, just days before what appears to have been Prof. Obbink’s (aborted) first public announcement of the existence of the papyrus.
There is also another connection here with Scott Carroll. I quote from Sampson’s BASP article:
“As David Meadows has documented on Rogue Classicism, [Scott Carroll] made a presentation to the University of the Nations Workshop in San Antonio del Mar (Mexico) on September 6, 2013, where he brought up Sappho and the Times Literary Supplement before boasting that ‘thirty of these items would be front page news when they’re published,’ a claim that would prove prescient. That date, I note, is less than a month following what I believe was the first private treaty sale of the papyrus.”
It makes you wonder if the public unveiling of the fragment (along with an article in TLS) was planned for some time in September 2013 but delayed for an unknown reason. Finally, as Sampson noted, the metadata of the Christie’s brochure pointed toward a second attempted sale in early 2015, specifically in the period around 13 January 2015 to 26 February 2015, the dates associated with the latest metadata in the pdf file of the Christie’s brochure. On this occasion, the attempted sale seems to have taken place just after Prof. Obbink’s public presentation on the provenance of the papyrus at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies on 9 January 2015. There does seem to be a very close interplay between Prof. Obbink’s academic work on the papyrus and the attempted sale of the papyrus on the antiquities market on more than one occasion. It would be useful to learn more about what appears to be the ongoing relationship between Scott Carroll and Prof. Obbink even after Carroll and the Green Collection parted ways in May 2012.
Has anyone contacted the conference organisers about Obbink’s presentation proposal and why it was pulled?
I’m not sure. Perhaps it had something to do with the sale of the papyrus, but maybe not. To judge by the report of Ariel Sabar, dropping out of a conference at the last minute doesn’t seem far fetched: “He struggled even to finish articles. In a crowded elevator at a classics conference, when one academic editor jokingly asked how many others were waiting for a piece of writing from Obbink, half the hands went up.” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/museum-of-the-bible-obbink-gospel-of-mark/610576/
Re: the timing, it’s perhaps worth noting the overlap between the timestamps for the 2013 brochure (49 of the 64 values occur in the roughly six-week period from July 18, 2013 to August 27, 2013) and the Warsaw papyrology congress (July 29, 2013 to August 3, 2013). Obbink’s paper there was on a different topic (“New Prose and Other Texts”), but I wonder whether word of the new find slipped out during the congress or whether it was at one point a candidate venue for the initial announcement.
He gave a talk with the same title at Cornell on November 20, 2013:
“…when one academic editor jokingly asked how many others were waiting for a piece of writing from Obbink, half the hands went up.”
The world has given up waiting for Vol. 2 of Philodemus de Pietate.