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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

The Greek Papyri                       253
found resting under the head of a mummy of a young girl. (This
practice results not from a sentimental feeling for a favourite
author but from an adaptation by the Greeks of an Egyptian
habit they failed to understand; that anyone should select a copy
of Isocrates' speech Against Nicocrates, which was found lying
between a mummy's legs, as a companion for the next world is
a strain on our credulity. If, however, they are Greek substi-
tutes for the Egyptian Book of the Dead, it would explain both
this and why the Timotheus roll was already fragmentary when
it was placed in the grave.) However, the mass of them (for
example the papyri from Oxyrhynchus and Arsinoe) were
thrown away as so much waste paper; this is why they are so
often broken and torn. But the oddest transformation has been
suffered by those papyri which were converted into a kind of
papier mache, and used to form the covering or stuffing of
mummies, whether of men or crocodiles; from one such emerged
the earliest fragments of any manuscript of the Bible, the Man-
chester papyrus of Deuteronomy, which were found covered
with glue and wrapped in some pieces of the first boot of the
Iliad—as nice an example of cultural fusion in the second cen-
tury B.C. as could be wished. We should note that the survival
of papyri is determined, generally speaking, as well by the
absence of rainfall as by height above inundation level, and that
consequently almost all our papyri come from Egypt south of
the modern Cairo. Since then, as now, the Delta was economi-
cally the most important part of the country, while Alexandria
was the fountain-head of its intellectual and artistic life, as far
as this was Greek, we must be prepared to allow for a certain
provincial bias in our texts, literary as well as documentary.
So, while from one point of view papyri are so much waste
product, miscellaneous contents of a gigantic waste-paper basket
steadily filled up in the millennium between Alexander and the
Arab conquest, from another they are the raw material from
which a civilization can be reconstructed. Indeed it is only