Mystery of the Basel papyrus solved

ScienceDaily | 7/12/2018 | Staff
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The Basel papyrus collection comprises 65 papers in five languages, which were purchased by the university in 1900 for the purpose of teaching classical studies -- with the exception of two papyri. These arrived in Basel back in the 16th century, and likely formed part of Basilius Amerbach's art collection.

One of these Amerbach papyri was regarded until now as unique in the world of papyrology. With mirror writing on both sides, it has puzzled generations of researchers. It was only through ultraviolet and infrared images produced by the Basel Digital Humanities Lab that it was possible to determine that this 2,000-year-old document was not a single papyrus at all, but rather several layers of papyrus glued together. A specialist papyrus restorer was brought to Basel to separate the sheets, enabling the Greek document to be decoded for the first time.

Discovery - Sabine - Huebner - Professor - Ancient

"This is a sensational discovery," says Sabine Huebner, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Basel. "The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts and receipts. This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable."

What's more, it contains a previously unknown text from antiquity. "We can now say that it's a medical text from late antiquity that describes the phenomenon of 'hysterical apnea'," says Huebner. "We therefore assume that it is either a text from the Roman physician Galen, or an unknown commentary on his work." After Hippocrates, Galen is regarded as the most important physician of antiquity.

Evidence - Italy - Expert - Parallels - Ravenna

The decisive evidence came from Italy -- an expert saw parallels to the famous Ravenna papyri from the chancery of the Archdiocese of Ravenna. These include many antique manuscripts from Galen, which were later used as palimpsests and written over. The Basel papyrus could be a similar case of medieval recycling, as it consists of multiple sheets glued...
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