History on Parchment

A parchment from the first century BC is telling its history.

The parchment’s story begins around the mid-first century B.C., when a copyist in Alexandria, Egypt, began working on a blank parchment to copy the second of 11 books by Greek geographer Artemidorus of Ephesus.

“This papyrus is returning the most ancient geographic map of the classical world and helps write new pages of ancient history,” said Claudio Gallazzi, a professor of Papirology at the University of Milan who has studied the parchment since the 1990s.

During the transcription, the copyist left room in the Greek text to insert drawings of maps, and later took it to a painter’s studio to have them drawn. Yet the painter designed only a partial map, which appears to be what Artemidorus believed was the shape of the southwestern Iberian peninsula.

“The painter must have drawn the wrong map and as soon as he realized it, he stopped (working),” said Gallazzi, who also directed the papyrus’ restoration. The map has no names and looks incomplete. He probably should have painted a generic map first, instead of a specific one. By then, the papyrus was ruined and it was useless to go on.”

A few years later, scholars began using the blank spaces on the nearly 10-foot-long parchment for rough drafts and to keep a catalog of drawings for clients. The drawings include pictures of real animals, such as giraffes, tigers and pelicans, as well as mythical ones, such as the griffin, marine snake or a dog with wings, Gallazzi said.

He added that the drawings were used as an index of mosaics and frescos that the painters would offer to their customers. At least two scholars also used the papyrus for practice and drew heads, feet and hands until there were no blank spots left.

I like the animals, especially, for my book. Who knows? Maybe they weren’t mythical at all, maybe just exaggerated.

from the Washington Post