Codicology Voluminology

More “Codices” that Are Probably Not Codices

As I work through the Leuven Database of Ancient Book looking at early codices, I continue to see cases of ambiguous format. I discussed one of these, P. Rainer Unterricht (MPER N.S. 15) 7+8+10, in an earlier post.

Here are a couple additional examples of unclear cases. BKT 10.6 (P.Berol. inv. 21313) is a small fragment of papyrus with lines of what looks like a commentary on Thucydides written along the fibers. On the back side are what appear to be the ends of a few lines.

BKT 10.6 (=P.Berol. inv. 21313); image source: Berliner Papyrusdatenbank

The website of the Berlin collection describes this piece as a roll. The Leuven Database describes the papyrus unambiguously as a codex. This case is not clearcut. The first editor of the papyrus, Luciano Canfora, observed that the format of the fragment was actually ambiguous: “It could be either a fragment of an opisthograph roll or a fragment of a papyrus codex (un frammento di rotolo opistografo ovvero del frammento di un codice papiraceo).” The most recent editors, Peter Parsons and Natascia Pellé, doubted the possibility that this fragment came from a codex (“Alquanto improbabile appare l’ipotesi che si tratti di un codice papiraceo”). They noted that, although the traces that can be seen of the hand on the back of the papyrus do resemble the script on the front of the papyrus, the written columns on either face of the fragment do not seem to be aligned. That is to say, the writing on the vertical fibers appears to be the end of a column of writing, while the writing along the fibers does not seem to be the beginning of a line, which is what we would expect in dealing with a typical codex. In any event, this is an ambiguous case. Perhaps “Codex(?)” would be the most accurate description.

In other instances, the Leuven Database simply seems to be mistaken. For example, the Leuven Database unambiguously describes P.Oxy. 78.5162 as a codex, but it is almost certainly not. The front of the papyrus preserves a Greek-Latin glossary.

P.Oxy. 78.5162; image source: The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Online

The back side of the fragment does contain writing, but as the editors note, this writing is “upside down in relation to the text of the glossary” and consists of “two columns of Greek medical prose.” This papyrus is much more likely to be a reused roll and not a codex (there are some examples of codices in which this “upside down” phenomenon occurs–I discussed one here a few years ago–but it is very, very rare).

These may seem like somewhat trivial matters, but when we’re trying to get a sense of what the dataset looks like for surviving fragments of early codices, these details matter.

Sources cited:

Luciano Canfora, “P.Berol. 21313, MP3 1552.04: Un frammento inedito di commento a Tucidide,” Quaderni di storia 74 (2011), 97-98.

Peter Parsons and Natascia Pellé, “6. Commentario a Tucidide III?” in Fabian Reiter (ed.), Literarische Texte der Berliner Papyrussammlung (Berliner Klassiker Texte 10; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), 31-33.

R.-L. Chang, W.B. Henry, P. J. Parsons and A. Benaissa (eds.), The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vol. LXXVIII, Nos. 5127–5182 (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2012.