Papyrus

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For the typeface, see Papyrus (typeface). For other uses, see Papyrus (disambiguation).
Papyrus

Papyrus /pəˈprəs/ is a thin paper-like material made from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus,[1] a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Sudd of Southern Sudan along with the Nile Delta of Egypt. Papyrus is first known to have been used in ancient Egypt (at least as far back as the First Dynasty), but it was also used throughout the Mediterranean region and in Kingdom of Kush. Ancient Egyptians are thought to have used papyrus as a writing material,[2] as well as employing it commonly in the construction of other artifacts such as reed boats, mats, rope, sandals, and baskets.

History[edit]

A section of the Egyptian Book of the Dead written on papyrus

Papyrus was first manufactured in Egypt and Southern Sudan as far back as the fourth millennium BCE.[3][not in citation given][4] The earliest archaeological evidence of papyrus was excavated in 2012-2013 at Wadi al-Jarf, an ancient Egyptian harbor located on the Red Sea coast. These documents date from ca. 2560–2550 BCE (end of the reign of Khufu).[3] In the first centuries BCE and CE, papyrus scrolls gained a rival as a writing surface in the form of parchment, which was prepared from animal skins.[5] Sheets of parchment were folded to form quires from which book-form codices were fashioned. Early Christian writers soon adopted the codex form, and in the Græco-Roman world, it became common to cut sheets from papyrus rolls to form codices.

Codices were an improvement on the papyrus scroll, as the papyrus was not pliable enough to fold without cracking and a long roll, or scroll, was required to create large-volume texts. Papyrus had the advantage of being relatively cheap and easy to produce, but it was fragile and susceptible to both moisture and excessive dryness. Unless the papyrus was of perfect quality, the writing surface was irregular, and the range of media that could be used was also limited.

Papyrus was replaced in Europe by the cheaper, locally produced products parchment and vellum, of significantly higher durability in moist climates, though Henri Pirenne's connection of its disappearance with the Muslim overrunning of Egypt is contended.[6] Its last appearance in the Merovingian chancery is with a document of 692, though it was known in Gaul until the middle of the following century. The latest certain dates for the use of papyrus are 1057 for a papal decree (typically conservative, all papal bulls were on papyrus until 1022), under Pope Victor II,[7] and 1087 for an Arabic document. Its use in Egypt continued until it was replaced by more inexpensive paper introduced by Arabs. By the 12th century, parchment and paper were in use in the Byzantine Empire, but papyrus was still an option.[8]

Papyrus was made in several qualities and prices; these are listed, with minor differences, both by Pliny and Isidore of Seville.

Until the middle of the 19th century, only some isolated documents written on papyrus were known. They did not contain literary works.[9] The first discovery of papyri rolls in modern days was made at Herculaneum in 1752. Before that date, the only papyri known were a few surviving from medieval times.[10][11]

Etymology[edit]

The English word "papyrus" derives, via Latin, from Greek πάπυρος (papuros),[12] a loanword of unknown (perhaps Pre-Greek) origin.[13] Greek has a second word for it, βύβλος (bublos,[14] said to derive from the name of the Phoenician city of Byblos). The Greek writer Theophrastus, who flourished during the 4th century BC, uses papuros when referring to the plant used as a foodstuff and bublos for the same plant when used for nonfood products, such as cordage, basketry, or writing surfaces. The more specific term βίβλος biblos, which finds its way into English in such words as 'bibliography', 'bibliophile', and 'bible', refers to the inner bark of the papyrus plant. Papyrus is also the etymon of 'paper', a similar substance.

In the Egyptian language, papyrus was known by the terms wadj (w3ḏ), tjufy (ṯwfy), and djet (ḏt).

Documents written on papyrus[edit]

Bill of sale for a donkey, papyrus; 19.3 by 7.2 cm, MS Gr SM2223, Houghton Library, Harvard University

The word for the material papyrus is also used to designate documents written on sheets of it, often rolled up into scrolls. The plural for such documents is papyri. Historical papyri are given identifying names—generally the name of the discoverer, first owner or institution where they are kept—and numbered, such as "Papyrus Harris I". Often an abbreviated form is used, such as "pHarris I". These documents provide important information on ancient writings; they give us the only extant copy of Menander, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Egyptian treatises on medicine (the Ebers Papyrus) and on surgery (the Edwin Smith papyrus), Egyptian mathematical treatises (the Rhind papyrus), and Egyptian folk tales (the Westcar papyrus). When, in the 18th century, a library of ancient papyri was found in Herculaneum, ripples of expectation spread among the learned men of the time. However, since these papyri were badly charred, their unscrolling and deciphering is still going on today.

Manufacture and use[edit]

Different ways of cutting papyrus stem and making of papyrus sheet
Papyrus plant Cyperus papyrus at Kew Gardens, London
Papyrus plants near Syracuse, Sicily

Papyrus is made from the stem of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus. The outer rind is first removed, and the sticky fibrous inner pith is cut lengthwise into thin strips of about 40 cm (16 in) long. The strips are then placed side by side on a hard surface with their edges slightly overlapping, and then another layer of strips is laid on top at a right angle. The strips may have been soaked in water long enough for decomposition to begin, perhaps increasing adhesion, but this is not certain. The two layers possibly were glued together.[15] While still moist, the two layers are hammered together, mashing the layers into a single sheet. The sheet is then dried under pressure. After drying, the sheet is polished with some rounded object, possibly a stone or seashell or round hardwood.[16]

Sheets could be cut to fit the obligatory size or glued together to create a longer roll. A wooden stick would be attached to the last sheet in a roll, making it easier to handle.[17] To form the long strip scrolls required, a number of such sheets were united, placed so all the horizontal fibres parallel with the roll's length were on one side and all the vertical fibres on the other. Normally, texts were first written on the recto, the lines following the fibres, parallel to the long edges of the scroll. Secondarily, papyrus was often reused, writing across the fibres on the verso.[4] Pliny the Elder describes the methods of preparing papyrus in his Naturalis Historia.

In a dry climate, like that of Egypt, papyrus is stable, formed as it is of highly rot-resistant cellulose; but storage in humid conditions can result in molds attacking and destroying the material. Library papyrus rolls were stored in wooden boxes and chests made in the form of statues. Papyrus scrolls were organized according to subject or author, and identified with clay labels that specified their contents without having to unroll the scroll.[18] In European conditions, papyrus seems to have lasted only a matter of decades; a 200-year-old papyrus was considered extraordinary. Imported papyrus once commonplace in Greece and Italy has since deteriorated beyond repair, but papyrus is still being found in Egypt; extraordinary examples include the Elephantine papyri and the famous finds at Oxyrhynchus and Nag Hammadi. The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, containing the library of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar's father-in-law, was preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, but has only been partially excavated.

Sporadic attempts to revive the manufacture of papyrus have been made since the mid-18th century. Scottish explorer James Bruce experimented in the late 18th century with papyrus plants from the Sudan, for papyrus had become extinct in Egypt. Also in the 18th century, Sicilian Saverio Landolina manufactured papyrus at Syracuse, where papyrus plants had continued to grow in the wild. The modern technique of papyrus production used in Egypt for the tourist trade was developed in 1962 by the Egyptian engineer Hassan Ragab using plants that had been reintroduced into Egypt in 1872 from France. Both Sicily and Egypt have centres of limited papyrus production.

Papyrus is still used by communities living in the vicinity of swamps, to the extent that rural householders derive up to 75% of their income from swamp goods.[19] Particularly in East and Central Africa, people harvest papyrus, which is used to manufacture items that are sold or used locally. Examples include baskets, hats, fish traps, trays or winnowing mats and floor mats.[20] Papyrus is also used to make roofs, ceilings, rope and fences. Although alternatives, such as eucalyptus, are increasingly available, papyrus is still used as fuel.[21]

Collections of papyri[edit]

See also[edit]

  • The papyrus plant in Egyptian art

Other ancient writing materials:

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Papyrus definition". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 20 November 2008. 
  2. ^ "Ebers Papyrus". Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Tallet, Pierre (2012). "Ayn Sukhna and Wadi el-Jarf: Two newly discovered pharaonic harbours on the Suez Gulf". British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 18: 147–68. ISSN 2049-5021. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b H. Idris Bell and T.C. Skeat, 1935. "Papyrus and its uses" (British Museum pamphlet).[dead link]
  5. ^ Černý, Jaroslav. 1952. Paper and Books in Ancient Egypt: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered at University College London, 29 May 1947. London: H. K. Lewis. (Reprinted Chicago: Ares Publishers Inc., 1977).
  6. ^ Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, critiqued by R.S. Lopez, "Mohammed and Charlemagne: a revision", Speculum (1943:14–38.).
  7. ^ David Diringer, The Book before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental, Dover Publications, New York 1982, p. 166.
  8. ^ Bompaire, Jacques and Jean Irigoin. La paleographie grecque et byzantine, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1977, 389 n. 6, cited in Alice-Mary Talbot (ed.). Holy women of Byzantium, Dumbarton Oaks, 1996, p. 227. ISBN 0-88402-248-X.
  9. ^ Frederic G. Kenyon, Palaeography of Greek papyri (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1899), p. 1.
  10. ^ Frederic G. Kenyon, Palaeography of Greek papyri (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1899), p. 3.
  11. ^ Diringer, David (1982). The Book Before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 250–256. ISBN 0-486-24243-9. 
  12. ^ πάπυρος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  13. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1151.
  14. ^ βύβλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  15. ^ Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography, Maunde Thompson. archive.org
  16. ^ Bierbrier, Morris Leonard, ed. 1986. Papyrus: Structure and Usage. British Museum Occasional Papers 60, ser. ed. Anne Marriott. London: British Museum Press.
  17. ^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-60606-083-4. 
  18. ^ Murray, Stuart (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. New York, NY: Skyhorse. pp. 10–12. ISBN 9781602397064. 
  19. ^ (Maclean et al. 2003b; c).
  20. ^ Langdon, S. 2000. Papyrus and its Uses in Modern Day Russia, Vol. 1, pp. 56–59.
  21. ^ Maclean, I.M.D., R. Tinch, M. Hassall and R.R. Boar. 2003c. Towards optimal use of tropical wetlands: an economic evaluation of goods derived from papyrus swamps in southwest Uganda. Environmental Change and Management Working Paper No. 2003-10, Centre for Social and Economic Research into the Global Environment, University of East Anglia, Norwich.
  22. ^ Papyrus Collection at the Austrian National Library
  23. ^ Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection
  24. ^ "Ancient Egyptian Medical Papyri". http://indigo.ie/~marrya/papyri.html. 
  25. ^ Diringer, David (1982). The Book Before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental. New York: Dover Publications. p. 252 ff. ISBN 0-486-24243-9. 
  26. ^ Digital Papyri at Houghton Library, Harvard University
  27. ^ Digital Images of Selected Princeton Papyri
  28. ^ The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri
  • Leach, Bridget, and William John Tait. 2000. "Papyrus". In Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, edited by Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 227–253. Thorough technical discussion with extensive bibliography.
  • Leach, Bridget, and William John Tait. 2001. "Papyrus". In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, edited by Donald Bruce Redford. Vol. 3 of 3 vols. Oxford, New York, and Cairo: Oxford University Press and The American University in Cairo Press. 22–24.
  • Parkinson, Richard Bruce, and Stephen G. J. Quirke. 1995. Papyrus. Egyptian Bookshelf. London: British Museum Press. General overview for a popular reading audience.

Further reading[edit]

  • Horst Blanck: Das Buch in der Antike. Beck, München 1992, ISBN 3-406-36686-4
  • Rosemarie Drenkhahn: Papyrus. In: Wolfgang Helck, Wolfhart Westendorf (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Ägyptologie. Bd. IV, Wiesbaden 1982, Spalte 667-670
  • David Diringer, The Book before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental, Dover Publications, New York 1982, pp. 113–169, ISBN 0-486-24243-9.
  • Victor Martin (Hrsg.): Ménandre. Le Dyscolos. Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Cologny – Genève 1958
  • Otto Mazal: Griechisch-römische Antike. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1999, ISBN 3-201-01716-7 (Geschichte der Buchkultur; Bd. 1)

External links[edit]