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Richard Janko F'16

Richard Janko

Gerald F. Else Collegiate Professor of Classical Studies
Classical Studies
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
last updated: 09/25/17

ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowships 2016
(with Mirjam Engert Kotwick, The New School)
Classical Studies
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
The Derveni Papyrus: A New Edition with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary

The Derveni papyrus is the most important evidence discovered since the Renaissance for the study of Greek philosophy, religion, and literary criticism, as well as the oldest European book that physically survives. Carbonized on a funeral pyre near Thessaloniki in ca. 330 BCE, and probably written within Socrates’ lifetime, it was found broken into 266 pieces in a 1962 archaeological excavation and first published in 2006. The papyrus contains an interpretation, using allegory and etymology, of a religious poem ascribed to Orpheus and used in mystery-cult. Its author argues that the poem is not about scandalous deeds among the gods, but rather is an account of the creation of the world in terms of the molecular theory of Anaxagoras. The damaged exterior of the papyrus contains interpretations of religious rituals and quotes Heraclitus and Parmenides. The treatise continues to puzzle because of the complex convergence of religious issues, presocratic physics, and allegorical approaches to myth and ritual. Yet, with the help of new technologies in microscopy and digital imaging, substantial improvements can be made in reading the carbonized fragments of this text. Images now show that the 2006 edition was flawed, both in the reading of individual passages and in the sequencing of the opening fragments. Classicists Richard Janko, who has worked extensively on carbonized papyri, Greek religion, and theories of poetic interpretation, and Mirjam Kotwick, who is currently preparing the first German translation of the papyrus, are working on a critical edition of the Derveni papyrus based on 10,000 digital photographs and an understanding of this enigmatic treatise built on a more reliable Greek text that fully and accurately represents the papyrological evidence. The edition incorporates new text and an English translation, along with an extensive critical commentary and introduction to the material. Award period: September 1, 2017 through August 31, 2019