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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

250                        The Greek Papyri
material of the ancient world flickered out in the Dark Ages.
Though more than a hundred years were still to pass before
excavations were undertaken for the definite purpose of dis-
covering Greek papyri,1 the number of texts which were found
by natives and, passing through the hands of travellers and
private collectors, eventually found their way to the museums
of Europe steadily increased throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury. That the first literary papyrus to be found should be a
manuscript of part of the Iliad was both proper and symbolic
of the enormous, indeed unwelcome, preponderance of Homeric
texts; of more promise for the future was the discovery in 1847
of fragments of six speeches, hitherto unknown, of the orator
Hypereides. Not long after the plundering of the Greek rubbish-
heaps of Arsinoe (Medinet el-Faiyum) had flooded the market
with thousands of papyri (often very fragmentary)2 the age of
scientific excavation began, and though it is not yet over it
seems certain that no site will rival the riches of Oxyrhynchus
which rewarded the pioneers in this field, B. P. Grenfell and
A. S. Hunt. With it began that minor renaissance which has
affected nearly every department of classical studies; to-day,
when social and economic conditions are the recognized material
of history, even the Charta Borgiana has come into its own.
, For the legacy of the papyri is in its nature indirect, a legacy
to civilization's knowledge of its own past rather than directly
to the world of to-day, except in so far as modern institutions
—the Church is an obvious example—are modified by increased
knowledge and insight into their own origins. Nor are papyri
objets d*art, or only very rarely (we may think of the one or two
1  The term 'papyrology* is commonly used to describe the study of all
written material from Egypt, except inscriptions on stone, i.e. parchment,
ostraka, or potsherds, and tablets of wood or lead, and is so used in this essay.
The great majority of the texts are on papyrus.
2  It is so rare for a literary text to be found entire (though documents often
are) that it must be assumed that the literary texts mentioned are, in very
varying measure, incomplete.