The Center for Tebtunis Papyri logoContexts--Graeco-Roman Egypt header


This is an archived exhibit of The Bancroft Library, University California, Berkeley.

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papyrusThe papyri show people in all aspects of everyday life. They also give insight into the reading habits of the inhabitants of Tebtunis. The books that have been found at Tebtunis include both Greek and Egyptian blockbusters. On the Greek side, the most popular author in Tebtunis, as in the remainder of Greco–Roman Egypt, was Homer, especially the Iliad. The hands of the Homer manuscripts identified thus far range from exquisite bookhands to clumsy scripts; some, perhaps, are writing exercises.

Among the books on the reading tables of at least certain people in Tebtunis were also a number of Greek works one might not expect in the Egyptian countryside. Two works stand out: The first is a substantial fragment of a work that was known only in its Latin adaptation until the discovery of the Tebtunis papyri. The work concerns the Trojan War and was allegedly written by a certain Dictys from Crete, the supposed companion of the Greek warrior Idomeneus at the walls of Troy. The second is a fragment of a work from that was considered to be lost: the Inachus, written by the Greek tragedian Sophocles (5th century BCE).

On the Egyptian side, other collections with papyri from Tebtunis (notably Copenhagen) possess literary texts like romances and mythological works. Up to now, very little scholarly attention has been given to the Egyptian part of the Berkeley collection. However, a rapid survey of the uncatalogued portion of the collection by a scholar who is presently publishing Egyptian literary material from the Copenhagen collection has revealed as many as three dozen fragments that likely are part of Egyptian narrative texts. These texts have not yet been properly studied.


Homer--Iliad, Book 2 Homer
Iliad, Book 2
2nd century CE

Recovered from a house at Tebtunis, this is one of several fragments that survive from a scroll containing Book 2 of the Iliad. To date, 18 different Homeric papyri have been found in the collection -- proof of the popularity and wide distribution of Homer's work in antiquity. The writing on this fragment is a particularly beautiful Greek uncial. The Bancroft has 14 fragments from this particular scroll mounted in 6 glass frames.

P. Tebt. II 265


Dictys Cretensis Dictys Cretensis
De bello Troiano IV, 8–15
Early 3rd century CE

The Trojan War was an enormously popular subject during the Middle Ages. Its story had been transmitted through the Latin version of a work by Dictys Cretensis (Dictys of Crete), not via the Homeric version. For years it was disputed whether the Dictys really had an ancient Greek original as claimed. The discovery in the Tebtunis papyri of this large fragment of Dictys's "novel" in Greek settled the question.

P.Tebt.II 268


Sophocles--Inachus Sophocles
2nd century BCE

Sophocles is known to have written over 120 plays, but only seven texts survive today. His best known works are Oedipus RexOedipus at Colonnus and Antigone. Recovered from a human mummy at Tebtunis were these fragments of a satyr play that has been identified as the lostInachus. It includes lines for the chorus and for the god Hermes.

P.Tebt. III.1 692