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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

260                       *The Greek Papyri
That some of our earliest texts are both slovenly and eccentric
might seem a reason for doubting the general soundness of our
tradition; but we should note that these texts are relatively few
in number, that they mostly come from one or two village sites
and so may be regarded as 'provincial5 texts not necessarily repre-
sentative of the best then in existence; further, that several of
them are anthologies and in. all ages anthologies are notorious
corrupters of texts, and finally that (except in the case of
Homer) their eccentricity has been exaggerated—there are
several quite 'normal' texts of this age. But when all this is
said, a real difference remains between the early and the late
texts, and the explanation of the change is to be found in
Alexandria. The deep influence exercised by the scholars of the
Museum and Library at Alexandria in establishing the texts and
often the authenticity of classical works has always been recog-
nized; now the papyri, and above all the papyri of Homer, allow
us to observe this influence at work.
In the earlier papyri we find marked divagations from the
received text and not merely in single words; whole lines are
omitted or more commonly added (though these new lines are
as a rule 'repeats' from other parts of the poems and make little
or no difference to the context); in one Odyssey papyrus there
are as many as nine additional lines out of seventy. That this
'eccentric' text is inferior to the received tradition is clear; it
is equally clear that in the third century B.C. the text of Homer
was in a confused and fluid state, at any rate in Egypt. But after
about the middle of the second century B.C. these eccentric texts
tend to disappear and in the several hundred papyri of Homer
later than this the text is in all essentials that of the medieval
manuscripts, is in fact far closer to them than in the case of any
other author; indeed, the Homeric papyrus of the Roman
period is rarely more than a witness to the poet's popularity.
There can be little doubt that this is due to the skill and
thoroughness with which the Alexandrian scholars did their work.