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Manuscripts and Papyri

By Elinor Mullett Husselman, Formerly Curator of Manuscripts and Papyri

The University of Michigan owes its fine collection of manuscripts and papyri very largely to the enthusiasm and untiring efforts of Professor Kelsey. The last years of his life were devoted to the conduct of the University Expeditions to the Near East and to Egypt, and to the acquisition of manuscripts and papyri for the University.

Up to the time of the first Near East Expedition in1919-1920 there were but three manuscripts in the University Library. On this expedition Professor Kelsey purchased a number of manuscripts, chiefly Biblical and liturgical, and interesting to the student of paleography. In 1922 this collection was augmented by the purchase of forty-two manuscripts at the sale by Sotheby of the Janine manuscripts of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. These Burdett-Coutts manuscripts consist largely of the gospels and other portions of the Bible, early Christian literature and liturgical works.

Later other manuscripts from this same group were acquired, and other purchases have steadily increased the University's collection, until at present there are nearly two hundred in the general series of manuscripts. Most of these are Greek, but there are quite a number of Latin manuscripts, and some Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian. Syria and Hebrew.

Among the later acquisitions are some manuscripts of classical authors. There is a manuscript of Juvenal's satires, probably of the XII century, Italian work, with capitals that are exceptional for design and color. The text belongs to the best type of Juvenal texts.

A manuscript of the Thelanis of Statius of the twelfth century resembles in its text early an early tenth century manuscript at St. John's College, Cambridge, but is free from the mistakes of that codes.

An Eleventh century manuscript of Macrabius’ commentary on the Samnium Scorpions, part of Cicero's Dere publica, which has only been preserved in this commentary, is among the earliest manuscripts preserved of this text. The commentary deals with dreams, with the whole field of cosmography and astronomy, and to some extent with geographical, medical and physical matters.

There is also an interesting manuscript of Bondelmonti's work on the islands of the Cyclades, probably North Italian of about 1440, illustrated with seventy-eight maps.

Besides this general group of manuscripts the University possesses nearly 700 Islamic manuscripts. The majority of these are Arabic, though both Persian and Turkish are also represented. The Abdul Hamid collection, numbering two hundred and eighty-nine titles, is noteworthy for beautiful illumination and calligraphy. These volumes formed part of the library of the Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey, who was deposed in 1909 and died in 1918.

Some of the interesting items in this lot are a Koranwritten in a very minute hand probably of theXVII century; a miscellaneous manuscript containing the prolegomena of Euclid in Arabic, dated 1683-1684A. D.; a geographical work, copied in 1565 A. D., which contains among other maps one of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Tiflis collection of one hundred and sixty-one items is not comparable to the Abdul Hamid collection in point of beauty, but from a scholarly point of view is superior to it. It contains manuscripts of some works never published and valuable reference material. It is particularly strong in Mohammedan law. Both these collections have been inventoried by Professor W. H. Worrell of the Semitics department.

A third collection, purchased from A. S. Yahuda, is as yet uninventoried, though its contents have been examined. It is noteworthy for the age and fine preservation of the manuscripts and for the variety of subjects dealt with. There are two manuscripts written by the authors themselves, ten unique copies of works not elsewhere known, and many rare works of which only one or two other copies are in existence.

The collection of papyri in the University Library ranks among the finest in the world both in the number and the quality of the pieces preserved. There are nearly five thousand items inventoried, dating from the fifth century B. C. to the eighth century A. D., and comprising documents in Egyptian, Greek, Latin, Coptic and Arabic.

The Greek papyri, which form the bulk of the collection, date from the third century B. C. to the seventh century A. D. and are both literary and documentary. There arc government accounts of taxes paid, petitions to government officials, and contracts of all kinds. Contracts for the sale and lease of land predominate, but others deal with the sale of slaves, the receipt of dowry, loans on security, and all the business of daily life. There are private letters, too, usually quite brief, for writing was a difficult art to the majority and letters were generally undertaken only to communicate necessary information.

The original purchase of papyri was made by Professor Kelsey and Professor B. P. Grenfell of Oxford University, in 1920 in Egypt, and the papyri acquired at that time were divided among several institutions. The University of Michigan received five hundred and thirty-four items. Since that time new purchases have been made every year, and there have also been added papyri discovered by the University expedition in its excavations at the site of the village of Karanis in theFayoum.

A group of papyri of unusual interest come from the ruins of the village of Tebtunis, also in the Fayoum. These documents apparently were found in the rubbish heaps of the record office of the village, and are all of the first half of the first century A. D. Coming as they do from a limited area and period of time, they present a clear picture of the life of a Greco-Egyptian community in the first century of our era and probably are representative of communities elsewhere in the Hellenistic world as well.

Also of unusual interest is a group of Ptolemaicpapyri belonging to the important series of documents relating to the estate of Apollonius in Egypt. These are known as the Zeno papyri, from the fact that Zenowas the manager of this estate. They are being edited by C. C. Edgar, who edited the Zeno papyri in the Cairo Museum.

The papyri from the excavations at Karanis are to be transcribed and edited as soon as possible also. Three interesting letters from Karanis have been published by Professor Winter in Classical Philology (XXII, 1927)with three others all written by Graeco-Egyptian soldiers in the Roman army.

Professor Winter has also published in theJournal of Egyptian Archaeology (XIII, 1927) several letters written in the latter part of the third century A. D. or the beginning of the fourth, representing the correspondence of one Paniskos with his wife and brother, and of his wife with her mother. They give an intimate glimpse of a family group and bear witness to the solidarity of family life in Egypt.

Among the literary papyri published in an astrological treatise, edited by Dr. F. E. Robbins in ClassicalPhilology (XXII, 1927).

The Coptic papyri are in the hands of Professor Worrell, who has been working with an interesting group of fragments that apparently constituted a magician's handbook.

One of the most valuable of the literary papyri is a fragmentary papyrus codex of the Shepher of Hernias, which is being published by Professor Boimer. The text of tin's early Christian work has rested heretofore on a single, rather late manuscript, from the monastery on Mount Athos. The Michigan papyrus which dates from the third century A. D., is therefore of great importance in constituting a correct text.

The Michigan Alumnus

May 18, 1929, Page 622

History of the University of Michigan

Manuscripts & Papyri