Oxyrhynchus Papyri site

From: Edgar Krentz (ekrentz@lstc.edu)
Date: Fri Jun 04 1999 - 14:24:48 EDT

I am forwarding this message from the classics list. The Oxford site for
these papyri is marvellous Check it out.

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Date: 4 June 1999
From: BMERR@brynmawr.edu
Subject: bmerra-l: R.L. Hunsucker's Review of POxy: Oxyrhynchus Online
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*<i>POxy: Oxyrhynchus Online</i>

* An informational website about, and providing images of, Greek papyri of
the Ptolemaic, Roman and early Byzantine periods, from Oxyrhynchus in
Egypt: http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/.

* Authors: Concept: Dirk Obbink; produced and maintained by: Gideon Nisbet;
with the cooperation of: Revel Coles, Peter Parsons, and Charles Crowther.

* Site sponsor: Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (Oxford University).

* Audience: Scholars and advanced students (the Oxyrhynchus texts
themselves) / general public (background material). "Essentially, this site
is here to make the results of the imaging project available to the global

* Peer review, Availability, and Permanence: No review procedure explicitly
indicated. Both the Ashmolean Museum (Papyrology Rooms, Beaumont Street,
Oxford OX1 2PH, UK; tel: 01865 278000; fax: 01865 78018; e-mail:
jonathan.moffett@ashmus.ox.ac.uk) and the CSAD (67 St. Giles, Oxford OX1
3LU, UK; tel: 01865 288180; e-mail: csadinfo@ermine.ox.ac.uk -- director:
A.K. Bowman) seem to be committed to the quality, expansion, and
continuance of this site. Gideon Nisbet can be contacted at

* Publication date: Imaging project began: October 1997. Site went online:
22 December 1997. Last update: presumably late 1998 (see below).

* Reviewer: R.L. Hunsucker, Humaniorabibliotheek, Universiteit van
Amsterdam, Singel 425, 1012 WP Amsterdam, Nederland; e-mail:

* Review date: 7 May 1999.


The Marburg papyrologist Hans-Albert Rupprecht has written: "Im Rahmen der
Altertumswissenschaft gilt die Papyrologie als die am besten organisierte
Disziplin."(1) Probably few would want to dispute that such is and indeed
has long been the case. That is one of its particular strengths; and has,
one could argue, at least contributed to one of its major weaknesses.

That this status of 'best-organized' subfield within classical studies
extends also to the application of digital technology may be less broadly
recognized. It is nonetheless now probably the case. And whereas those
printed tools which did so much to facilitate and, yes, help organize
papyrological work from the very beginning of this century were naturally
enough European -- and especially German -- contributions (e.g. the
<i>Archiv fu"r Papyrusforschung,</i> 1900-...; the
<i>Berichtigungsliste,</i> 1913-...; the <i>Sammelbuch,</i> 1915-...; the
<i>Namenbuch,</i> 1922, + <i>Onomasticon</i>; the <i>Wo"rterbuch,</i>
1925-...; the <i>Bibliographie papyrologique,</i> 1932-...), the
large-scale entry into the computerized era has been more an American
initiative. After the beginnings of systematic digital imaging at the
University of Michigan (from 1991), the project at Duke for cataloguing and
imaging the entire papyrus collection (www access since 1995) and
comparable undertakings at other institutions, the placing (by Duke) on the
Internet of the <i>Checklist of editions,</i> but most importantly the
availability of the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri on CD (first in
1988) and on the Perseus website -- the big step came with the
organization, funding, and actual first phase (from 1996) of the Advanced
Papyrological Information System (APIS).

APIS is a project of six US universities "to integrate in a 'virtual'
library the holdings from their collections (and collections that might
want to follow in the future) through digital images and detailed catalog
records that will provide information pertaining to the external and the
internal characteristics of each papyrus, corrections to previously
published papyri, and republications,"(2) and one which hopes to expand
quickly both nationally and internationally -- eventually to achieve
comprehensive coverage of existing papyrus collections. This virtual
library is to be freely available on the Internet. APIS and related
projects (one could already mention the <i>Heidelberger
Gesamtverzeichnis,</i> reviewed elsewhere in <i>BMERR</i>,
[http://csa.brynmawr.edu/BMERR/1998/BagnaHeideAug.html]) will, it is to be
hoped, lead to a logical extension of what I have above called one of the
"strengths" of the papyrological field. But they can also bring the added
benefit of eliminating -- or at least mitigating -- the concomitant
"weakness" (that of exclusivity/isolation).

Neither the Egypt Exploration Society nor Oxford University is at present a
partner in the APIS consortium. Nonetheless, the website here under review,
"POxy : Oxyrhynchus Online" (hereafter: "POxy"), shares certain objectives
with APIS, was inspired by it, and has adopted some of the guidelines and
basic technical standards developed by APIS. The principal purpose of POxy
is simply stated: To offer free access on the www, for purposes of study
and instruction, to high-quality images of all papyri published to date in
the printed volumes of the Oxyrhynchus series.(3) At the moment, only four
volumes, LIX-LXII, have been completed. It is the intention "to continue
imaging upward through the current volume (65) keeping pace with successive
volumes, then work backward through volumes previously published."(4) Now
freely available via Internet are therefore the digital images of
papyrus-numbers 3963-4132 and 4301-4351. These include fragments of new
elegiac poems by Simonides (no.3965), as well as parts of Aeschines (29
numbers), Demosthenes (24 numbers), Thucydides (13 numbers), various pieces
of Menander and Euripides, a fair number of mythographic texts, and 111
official and private documents from the Roman and "Byzantine" periods (the
term <i>Byzantine</i> being used by papyrologists to include what others
call <i>late antiquity</i>). An advantage of the website is that
<i>every</i> papyrus from a volume is imaged, whereas the printed volumes
failed to include photographs of many -- especially documentary -- items.
(The numbers 4133-4300, astronomical texts, have been reserved for
publication outside the series and are not yet imaged in POxy.)

The full images (in color, 150 dpi JPEG format, made through the glass with
a Fuji/PowerPhase digital camera and filtered "for increased contrast")
magnify to somewhat more than twice life-size on a normal, 72 dpi computer
screen. The text is in general easier to read than on the plates in the
printed volumes, thanks also partly to the use of muted backlighting. Of
course there is a price that had to be paid for this good legibility: the
images are of little value for judging the surface texture, fiber
structure, or other physical aspects of the papyri. In the case of
unusually dark or stained papyri and in that of the very few parchment
scraps (e.g. no.4018), there is, however, little noticeable difference in
ease of legibility between the images on the website and the photos
(black-&-white; normally life-sized but occasionally reduced) in the
printed volumes. The quality of POxy's images compares favorably with that
offered on other www-sites, though I consider the images in at least the
Duke Papyrus Archive (in GIF; with both 150 dpi and 72 dpi scans of each
item) to be noticeably better, certainly if one is interested also in
judging the current physical condition of the papyrus remains.

For archival purposes, the Oxyrhynchus project has made a 600 dpi TIFF
image of each papyrus. Such high-resolution images of specific items may be
requested from the CSAD. (When such a request is made, the item in question
will then also be made available, out of the normal sequence, on the POxy
site [see there under "Requests we're handling" -- showing at the moment
only P.Oxy.3522 and P.Oxy.2820].) As Nisbet makes clear, the images
normally supplied as part of the web pages are not of full archival quality
(though he unfortunately at one point refers to the website itself as "a
growing <i>archive</i> of high-quality images" [my italics]). The papyrus
images on the site are, in general, copyright by the Egypt Exploration
Society, but may be freely used (though not re-published) "for teaching and
research purposes."

Access to the images is via the "TOC engine"
(http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/papyri/tocframe.htm), presented in three
frames side-by-side -- of which the largest is a reproduction of what in
the printed volumes of <i>The Oxyrhynchus papyri</i> are called the "tables
of papyri" (not the same as their tables of "contents"), here seen one
above the other, and comprising the well-known three columns: papyrus
number, a very brief indication of content or document-type, and dating.
The two narrow vertical frames to the left are for navigating/browsing
within the at present 64 volumes (4441 papyri) by respectively
volume-number and papyrus-number. Unfortunate is that for many volumes the
tables have not yet been entered. At this writing, volumes I-XVIII
(nos.1-2207; published 1898-1941) and LIX-LXIV (nos.3963-4441; published
1992-1997) were already filled in. (Oddly enough, vol. LXV, though long
out, still has its contents shown only at another location on the site:
http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/tocs/lxv.htm. Note also that there is a
separate "sawn-off" TOC engine exclusively for those volumes already
imaged.) Clicking on a papyrus number brings up a thumbnail image (or set
of images) of that papyrus, accompanied by a bit of additional information
(e.g. name of editor; location) and leading -- through clicking on the
thumbnail -- to the full 150 dpi image. Each of these last two steps causes
a new browser copy to be opened (now a total of four separate POxy windows
on your desktop if you came in via the main POxy page). On the pages with
the thumbnails for the documentary papyri, a link has been included to the
Greek text in the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri on the Perseus
website. Somewhat irritatingly, the fragment numbering within a papyrus
item, as assigned in the printed volumes, is nowhere included. This has
therefore to be checked in the printed volumes (which in many cases haven't
illustrated the papyrus in question). POxy incorporates none of the
translations, notes, or indexing from the hard-copy volumes. There are also
-- at least as yet -- no cataloguing records (a vital aspect of the APIS

If the images and "TOC"-browser form the (growing) heart of this site, they
are by no means all that it has to offer. On the site contents page
(http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/frame1.htm) one finds internal links to
brief background information on Oxyrhynchus itself; to project information;
to a copy of the 1974 (new version promised) "location-lists" for
Oxyrhynchus -- with e.g. P. Fayum and P.Hibeh vol. l -- papyri published
prior to 1969 and then distributed to institutions other than Oxford's
Ashmolean Museum, and including indications of published photos; to the
special feature "Athenians at Plataea?: a case study" (attempting to
clarify a reading, by means of digital enhancements, in P.Oxy. LIX 3965,
Fr.2 [called Fr.1 by Nisbet], line 21); and
to a selection of external papyrological and other links.

By far the most extensive and interesting added feature is an online
version of the exhibit "Oxyrhynchus: a city and its texts" (held in the
summer of 1998 at the Ashmolean Museum), accompanied by information on the
British Academy Symposium under the same title, organized to mark the
centenary of the published Oxyrhynchus papyri series. Included in this
well-produced virtual exhibition (starting-point is
http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/VExhibition/welcome.htm) are images of three
dozen or so further Oxyrhynchus papyri, with explanatory text -- and a
great deal of other textual and image material grouped under the headings
Introduction / The site / Excavation and finds / Daily life / A millennium
of documents / After Grenfell and Hunt / Scribes and scholars / Material
culture. Unfortunately, it would go far beyond the space allowed for this
review if I were to try to do full justice to this feature of the POxy
site. I highly recommend that the reader have a look for himself; the
virtual exhibition is something which could easily be put to use in
classics courses. The POxy sidebar also gives access (in the footer frame)
to the scanty beginnings of a papyrological glossary, or "guide to
papyrologese" (click on "Jargon"), a very rudimentary "Help" file, a rubric
for "Site news," a short list of credits, and an abbreviated list of
external links. There is also a form for user feedback.

This is a website which made an impressive beginning now more than a year
ago and clearly held much promise. Unfortunately it seems that nothing has
happened with it in the last half year or so. Vol. LXI images were
apparently added last August (see
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/subject/hd/fak8/papy/logs/log.started970625/022 9.h
tml), and vol. L&nbsp;XII some time later, but the "Site last updated:
05/98" indication has not been changed. Various parts are now out of synch
with each other, the news section gives nothing more recent than a year
ago, some external links are broken. Certain listed features of the site
(e.g. "Conserving the Oxyrhynchus papyri", "Working with the papyri") are
still not yet online. Let us hope that resources will soon at least allow a
steady addition of further Oxyrhynchus volumes. One of the most interesting
of the whole series is next in line, vol. LXIII (see Bagnall's review in
<i>CR</i> n.s. 48 (1998), p. 151-153; the printed volume illustrates only
eight of these 49 papyri!). The printed series is destined to carry on for
several more decades, but systematic imaging of the pre-1992 volumes (and
of course filling in the tables of papyri on POxy for vols. XIX-LVIII),
though more problematic -- many of the papyri being outside Oxford, and
some even of now uncertain location -- is of at least equal importance.

The emphasis given to the Oxyrhynchus exhibition and other background
material, the design of the site (note the winking and bubbling Oxyrhynchus
"fishies" which help in navigating), and the chatty language used, suggest
that POxy aims to make the world of papyrology more appealing and
accessible to a broader public than that of specialists or even classicists
in general. In this respect it has much in common with the papyrological
sites of numerous American institutions (many of which -- unlike the Egypt
Exploration Society through POxy -- plan to make freely available digital
images, with standardized cataloguing, of even the as yet unpublished and
unstudied material in their collections). Of fundamental importance to
their APIS project is not only that its new integrated Internet system will
greatly facilitate the work of the papyrologist, but also that it will
render easier (and will thus encourage) the use of papyrological materials
and tools by all those who study and teach classical antiquity in its
various aspects, and that it will increase the awareness of and interest in
papyrus studies among the educated public at large.(5)

Many papyrologists have the feeling that their discipline, while developing
these last hundred years into an unusually well-organized research area for
a small group of specialists, with their own particular techniques,
instrumentarium, and terminology, has understandably acquired -- not in the
last place <i>by virtue of</i> such organization and formalization -- among
outsiders the image of a "hortus conclusus," a mysterious realm to which
even other classicists cannot easily penetrate and in fact to which they
need pay little heed.(6) Perhaps there are still a few papyrologists who
prefer it that way, but most today realize that this is in the interest
neither of papyrology nor of the study of antiquity as a whole and may even
threaten the survival of the specialization within academia. Digitalization
and the Internet have been seen as a golden opportunity to enhance the
awareness, protection and utilization of the papyrological heritage (and
the papyrological discipline). Though not quite the oldest papyrological
series still being published, <i>The Oxyrhynchus papyri</i> is surely the
best known, and perhaps the most important. We should be grateful that such
an attractive and ambitious beginning has been made to rendering these
manuscripts accessible, and their significance more broadly known, via the


(1) <i>Kleine Einfu"hrung in die Papyruskunde</i> (Darmstadt :
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994), p. 24.

(2) On APIS, see Roger S. Bagnall, "Imaging of papyri: a strategic view",
<i>Literary and linguistic computing</i> 12 (1997), p. 153-154; and his
grant proposal 'narrative' at
http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/papyrus/texts/APISgrant.html. I quote above
the wording from the project description page at the University of
Michigan: http://www.hti.umich.edu/a/apis/.

(3) <i>The Oxyrhynchus papyri</i> / published for the British Academy by
the Egypt Exploration Society. - Pt. 1 (1898) [ed. with translations and
notes by Bernard P. Grenfell & Arthur S. Hunt] - .... - London : The
British Academy [orig.: the Egypt Exploration Fund], 1898-.... -
(Graeco-Roman memoirs). - ISSN 0306-9230.

(4) Quoted from a posting by Dirk Obbink to the Papy discussion-list on 4
June 1998: see Papy archive at
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/subject/hd/fak8/papy/logs/log.started970625/018 2.h

(5) See Bagnall (cited above in note 2).

(6) See especially Jean Bingen, "La papyrologie, d'avant-hier a` demain",
in <i>Proceedings of the 20th International congress of papyrologists,
Copenhagen, 23-29 August 1992</i> / coll. by Adam Bu"low-Jacobsen
(Copenhagen : Museum Tusculanum Press, 1994), p. 42-47; and Bagnall's
'narrative' mentioned above in note 2. Also: Peter van Minnen's more
ideological article, "The century of papyrology (1892-1992)", <i>BASP</i>
30 (1993), p. 5-18; Italo Gallo, <i>Greek and Latin papyrology</i> (transl.
by Maria Rosaria Falivene and Jennifer R. March. - London : Institute of
Classical Studies, University of London, 1986) (Classical handbook ; 1), p.
94-97 ("Prospects for papyrology"); and Theodore Brunner's words in the
same volume as Bingen's paper (above), p. 604 and 606.


For access to the file in Web format, see
http://csa.brynmawr.edu/BMERR/1999/HunsuOxyOnMay.html. Citation permissions
and copyright information: This document is copyrighted by the author and
the Bryn Mawr Electronic Resources Review. Citations should include the
date of the document cited.

Edgar Krentz
Professor of New Testament Emeritus
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
1100 E. 55th Street
Chicago, IL 60615 USA
e-mail: ekrentz@lstc.edu (Office)

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