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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

254                       tte Greek Papyri
because they are the first that the second is possible; it is just
because the material was not consciously selected (if we except
for the moment the literary texts), was not intended to survive,
that they are of unique value to the historian. Our knowledge
of the ancient world rests primarily, and must always do so, on
our literary authorities; but it is not their function to give us
the raw material of history, nor can we always tell what are their
principles of selection, nor, when we do know them, can we
always share them. So to free ourselves from the aristocratic
and political bias common to most of the ancient historians and
to study the economic and social factors commonly of little
interest to them, to catch the inhabitants of this part of the
ancient world not posing in public attitudes but off their guard
in their ordinary business and in their private correspondence,
to look at government from the point of view of the governed,
for all this these ephemeral and humdrum, sometimes tedious,
documents are invaluable. To select two out of the many themes
that the documentary papyri illustrate: we can observe in a way
impossible before what Greek colonization meant, how far the
settler adapted himself to his surroundings and what were the
effects of this invasion in social and political life, and we can
watch what was the actual practice of Roman administration in
Egypt, its methods and its spirit.
Before attempting to outline the kind of contribution that
the papyri have made to historical studies, something must be
said of what is certainly the most startling result of the excava-
tions—the additions to Greek literature. When, after Alex-
ander's conquest, there flooded into Egypt from every corner
of the Greek world soldiers, business men, farmers, and adminis-
trators, they brought their literature with them. The Greeks
were already a literary people in the sense that the literature
of their own past had become a vital part of their own existence;
when all else that had been characteristic of the classical civiliza-