A New Musical Papyrus

The discovery of a new and substantial musical papyrus lifts the heart even as it raises the eyebrows.  The papyrus under discussion first came to light in California in the 1930s but seems mirabile dictu to have attracted no notice since then; this brief editio princeps, it is hoped, will serve as a stimulus to the learned readership of Sententiae Antiquae in the elucidation of the papyrus’ history and its place in the fields of ancient religion and music.

The text, I claim, preserves the transcript of a magical ceremony, one that has few outright parallels but many mysterious connections to those attested in Greek Macaronical Papyri.  The ceremony seems to involve an officiant performing an unusual baptism upon a layman, whom the officiant addresses throughout (λῇς ‘you desire’ 4, 8, 19; λαικέ ‘layman’ 5, 6, πάσσ’ ‘sprinkle’ 13-16) with particularly hydrological phrasing (σεῖν ‘piss’ 2, τέγγ’ ‘drench’ 4, 8, 9, 19, βρέχομαι ‘I’m getting wet’ 12, ἅμας ‘water-buckets’ 14, 16).  Syncretism is of course to be expected in a magical document of this sort, but the combination of Egyptian proper nouns (Neith 3, Ailou 15) with Pythagoreanism (καλὰ δέκα ‘the beautiful ten’, 18) and cryptic references to the sacred chickens of Roman divination (5, 7) bespeaks a wider spectrum of cultural borrowing than usual.

Perhaps most mysterious of all is the single line of Latin text (17).  Bilingual papyri are “very rare”;[1] the present example, however, seems to be unique in preserving, via a second language, not a simple translation of another part of the text but a comment from the text’s author on the nature of the text itself.  (Peculiar as the ceremony seems, there is no easy way to include the material of this line within the narrative of the baptismal events.)   Here the anonymous author proudly proclaims to his readership the excellence of his text and, in coining a maxim on the topic of wasted effort (cf. γλαῦκ’ εἰς Ἀθήνας, “coals to Newcastle”, vendre des coquilles à ceux qui viennent de Saint-Michel), he defies anyone to improve upon it.

What to make of the brief notation in line 20?  Unless the digamma—in other words, two gammas—is some sort of code by which to identify the composer of the music (though I do not know of any such use of initials in ancient papyri), perhaps it is best, as the following translation assumes, simply to interpret it as a vocalized comment on the nature of the papyrus itself.

I suggest that the four brief lines preserved at the bottom edge of the papyrus are a sort of index, providing the incipits of other magical ceremonies, perhaps even ones with music written by the same unknown composer of the music under discussion.  But whether any papyri preserving these other ceremonies will ever be discovered, only time or more heuretic papyrologists can tell.[2]

I have said that this papyrus preserves musical notation throughout the text—and so it does; for certain technical reasons, however, I have been unable to reproduce the notation in this edition.  Even so, those who take the time to speak the Greek text out loud may find themselves uncannily able to reproduce the original music on their own.

P.Hollywood.inv.2019 H x W = 29 x 22 cm California, ca. 1937 CE

ἰούσῃ ίθ’ ἦρ, ἀν’ αἴσῃ αἰθήρ
ἰοὺ σεῖν ίθ’ ἦρ, ἀν’ αἴσῃ ναὶ θήρ
ίθ’ ἦρ, αἰθήρ, Νηὶθ ἦρ, ναὶ θήρ
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
ἰοὺ λαικὲ ποτητὼ ἄναι λαικέ ποτ’ ἄτω                                               5
ἰοὺ λαικὲ τομὴ θῶ; ἄναι λαικὲ τομὰ θῶ;
ποτητώ ποτ’ ἄτω τομὴ θῶ; τομὰ θῶ;
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
βάτω ἰφύι καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὀφθὲν
νοῦ ἱμάς τε πάρ τε                                                                                 10
ἀνδῶ ἰφύι ἐφ’ ἧπαρ τεθὲν
θάττομαί τε βρέχομαι ἄρτε
σὼ ἶφι ἰοὺ λαικὲ πάσσ’ ἡμᾶς
ἄναι λαικὲ πάσσ’ ἅμας
Αἴλου ἦρ πάσσ’ ἡμᾶς                                                                              15
ἦν γ’ ἔφα πάσσ’ ἅμας
FOR VI NOVI NIDIS ADDAS OVI
βῆτα καλὰ δέκα λίγγ’ ὂφ ὄφ
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
Ϝ                                                                                                                  20
ἰδεῖν Νέσσος ᾖρ’· ἐλεήσω;
ἀλλά, Φύσι, τοὺς τῇ
ὦ αἶγά τε πλήν τι ἄνα τήν
ᾤμην ἔρριφα

Translation

Go, spring, for the lady who goes; heaven is upon destiny.
Whoopie! Piss! Go, spring! Yes, a wild animal is upon destiny!
Go, spring, heaven! Neith, spring, yes, a wild animal!
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!

Whoopie, layman! Two birds (fulfillments, layman!) were finally insatiate!
Whoopie, layman! Cutting; shall I set (it)? Fulfillments, layman! Shall I set sharp things?
Two birds were finally insatiate! Cutting; shall I set it? Shall I set sharp things?
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!

Let beautiful things go to the eyebrow; drench for the god what was seen;
both the mind-strap and together
Let me bind on the eyebrow what was put on the liver,
and I sit for myself; I’m getting wet, bread!

Your pair with strength: whoopie, layman! Besprinkle us!
Fulfillments, layman! Besprinkle the water-buckets!
The spring in Ailou; besprinkle us!
I said, he/she said, “Besprinkle the water-buckets.”
I speak via strength! I know! You would add some egg to the nests!
B, the beautiful ten, twang, ah, ah!

Wow.

Nessus denied that he had seen (it); shall I pity (him)?
But, Nature, those (in) the
Oh, both the goat, only something along the
I thought, I have thrown

[1] Idunno, Oracles, Curses, and Risk among the Ancient Greeks (2007) 45.

[2] See Zeitschrift für papyrologische Enttaüschungen 36 (1979) 75-76.

File:Organist and horn player, the gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany (9291661708).jpg
Organist and horn player, the gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany

N.B. The papyrus under discussion may not be real.  This post is brought to you by Christopher Brunelle (@BrunelleMN), who taught Classics for decades and prefers Ovid to Vergil. Don’t you?

Plutarch, Agesilaus 2.1

 

 

“He did whatever he was ordered not out of fear but because of shame—he was more hurt by reproach than weighed down by toil.”

 

εὐπειθείᾳ πάλιν αὖ καὶ πρᾳό-

τητι τοιοῦτος ἦν οἷος φόβῳ μηδέν, αἰσχύνῃ δὲ

πάντα ποιεῖν τὰ προσταττόμενα, καὶ τοῖς ψόγοις

ἀλγύνεσθαι μᾶλλον ἢ τοὺς πόνους βαρύνεσθαι·

Plutarch, Perikles 1.4 2-4

 

“For those who search them out virtuous deeds inspire envy and a desire for emulation”

 

ταῦτα δ’ ἔστιν ἐν τοῖς ἀπ’ ἀρετῆς ἔργοις, ἃ καὶ ζῆλόν τινα καὶ προθυμίαν ἀγωγὸν εἰς μίμησιν ἐμποιεῖ τοῖς ἱστορήσασιν·