CHAPTER 10 THE GREEK PAPYRI

PAPYRA, throned upon the banks of Nile,
Spread her smooth leaf, and waved her silver style.
--The storied pyramid, the laurel'd bust,
The trophied arch had crumbled into dust;
The sacred symbol, and the epic song,
(Unknown the character, forgot the tongue),
With each unconquer'd chief or sainted maid,
Sunk undistinguished in oblivion's shade.
Sad o'er the scatter'd ruins Genius sigh'd,
And infant Arts but learned to lisp and died.
Till to astonish'd realms PAPYRA taught
To paint in mystic colours Sound and Thought,
With Wisdom's voice to print the page sublime,
And mark in adamant the steps of Time.

ERASMUS DARWIN, The Loves of the Plants ( 1789).

IN the year 1778 a commercial traveller in Egypt was offered by the fellahîn some forty or fifty rolls of papyrus; one of them he bought as a curiosity for a small sum and left the rest to be burnt by the natives, whose noses were tickled (so the story goes) by the aroma of burning papyrus. The survivor found its way into the hands of an Italian and was by him presented to Cardinal Stefano Borgia. The hopes cherished by many savants, Winckelmann among them, that here was one of the lost treasures of Greek literature were soon disappointed. The roll was found to contain nothing more than a list of peasants who had performed in the village of Ptolemais Hormou in the Faiyûm their quota of compulsory labour on the neighbouring canals and dykes, and, as the age of social history was still far in the future, it is no matter for surprise that the roll and the circumstances of its discovery were soon forgotten. And yet the incident is significant, for the Charta Borgiana was the first papyrus to reach Europe since the trade in what had been the primary writing

-249-

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