Greek 586 |     Literary Papyrology


  1. Ancient texts on papyrus (cf. English paper) have survived in astonishing quantities, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, mostly from ancient Egypt, and mostly in scraps. The study of papyri is an essential subfield for students of the ancient Mediterranean —historians, cultural historians, specialists in things literary, religious,  linguistic etc. — since it gives us precious witness to many aspects of daily life and literary culture otherwise unknown.  

Literary Papyri

  1. Among the papyrus artefacts from antiquity are several thousand fragments of literary and paraliterary papyri, mostly in Greek, and this body of evidence will be the focus of our course. We will proceed thematically. Among the topics will be: early and intermediate education, scribal habits and conventions, bookroll conventions, early textual traditions for Homer and others, lost literature rediscovered through the papyri, paraliterary texts, and literary culture as revealed in papyrus letters.

  2.     The course will focus intensively on the papyri as (1) artefacts, (2) witnesses to education and literary culture, (3) witnesses to textual traditions. We will make use of the papyri in the Duke Papyrus Collection, but much of our attention will be on papyri available in high resolution digital images.


  1. You will learn by doing in this course. We will have routine written projects and class presentations, on which you are expected to excel. There will be no mid-term or final exam. Each of you will identify a medium-sized, personal project to pursue. This can be in the form of a fresh edition and description of a papyrus, a more statistical compilation and evaluation of data, or a conventional paper.  This project is due by the last day of class.


  1. Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Ed. Roger Bagnall. OUP, 2009. See the web site for a list of principal digital and print resources.


Course Overview

William A. Johnson


    Allen 229B

Office hours:

    2:00-4:00 pm Wed.,
    by chance, by appt.