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A Tangled Transmission – the Letters of Apollonius of Tyana and a Pause in the Project

A.D. Morrison & Antonia Sarri

The transmission of the Letters attributed to the philosopher and sage Apollonius of Tyana form a good example of the complications which the project is unravelling. Apollonius was a Pythagorean philosopher and wandering sage who lived (probably) in the first century AD. It appears that he travelled widely, even reaching as far east as India. Soon after his death, collections of letters attributed to him began to appear: an instructive example being the appearance of some of his letters in the biography of Apollonius written by Philostratus (second century AD), who himself claims to have collected some of his letters (Vita Apollonii 7.35) and quotes several letters and praises their style, mentioning also that a collection of the letters was obtained by the emperor Hadrian (Vita Apollonii 8.20). It may well be that Philostratus is the author of those letters he includes in his biography. Of these, 14 are also transmitted within the collection of letters attributed to Apollonius, which is the collection which concerns us here. It is likely that the entire collection is pseudepigraphic, though Philostratus may not be responsible for it in its entirety.

The collection of Apollonius’ letters contains some 91 letters (in the largest version) in the medieval MSS, which Penella (1979) divides into two main groups. The second group (of younger MSS) has the letters in the order 1-42, 42a-h, 43-77, 77a-f (to use Penella’s numbering): 42a-h and 77a-f are those shared with Philostratus’ biography of Apollonius. Their peculiar numbering originates from their omission in some modern editions, starting with Olearius (1709), on account of their appearance also in the biography. The order of the second group has nonetheless been the basis for the order in modern printed editions since that of Bartholomaeus Justinopolitanus (1498). However, the first group (of older MSS) preserves the letters in a different order, with some variation in the order in the MSS of that family, and fewer in total than the second group. Parisinus Gr. 1428, for instance, has the order: 14, 15, 5, 16, 17, 6, 52, 60, 18, 9, 10, 19-22, 61, 23, 63, 64, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 54, 31, 65, 66, 32, 33, 34, 70-72, excerpt from 55, 35, 36, 37, 74, 75a, 75, 38, 76, 56, 39, 41, 42, 77, 57, 46, 1, 50, 51, 2, 3, 47, 49, 77a-c, 42a, 42c, 42f, 42d, 42g, 42h, 77d, 77e. But the oldest MS of the letters, Ambrosianus Gr. 81 (10th century AD), has an order much closer to that of the second group, though it is grouped with the first by Penella. It is ordered 14-42, 42a and 42 c-h. Untangling the precise relationship of these different orders and their relationship is a key aspect of the project.

Ambrosianus Gr. 81 is also important in its own right because it is one of the oldest surviving codices of Greek epistolography. It contains the epistolary treatises of Proclus and Demetrius of Phalerum and then letters of Greek epistolographers in the following order: Phalaris, Isidore of Pelusium; Firmus of Caesarea; Theophylact Simocatta; Julian; Basil; Libanius; Aelian; Aeneas of Gaza; Heraclitus; Darius; Brutus; Procopius of Gaza; Dionysius of Antioch; Apollonius of Tyana; Philostratus; Diogenes’ epp. 19–29; Crates’ epp. 11–14; Phalaris; Photius. That such collections of letters were transmitted together in ‘super-collections’ is in turn important we shall try to untangle the relationships of these larger collections also.

The material above reflects the work carried out on the project in May, because we have one final announcement this month: because Antonia Sarri, the project’s Research Associate, is expecting her first child (congratulations Antonia!), she has been on maternity leave since 15 June 2017. The project will accordingly be paused until the 15 June 2018, when it will restart. More news then!


Despotiko: a goat island and its Sanctuary of Apollo

In late spring 2017 I took the advantage of an invitation (and a lull in marking) to participate in an excavation at Mandra, located on the uninhabited Cycladic island of Despotiko (identified with the ancient Prepesinthos mentioned by Strabo and Pliny). The excavation is directed by Dr Yannos Kourayos (Ephor of Antiquities of Paros) and his assistant Ilia Daifa. Despotiko is accessed normally only via a small boat which sails on a sheltered route from a harbour on the south west of the populated island of Antiparos, which is itself 1.9 km from more substantial Paros.

Fig. 1: The Cyclades; Despotiko


Fig. 2: Despotiko: General view

The sanctuary of Apollo on Despotiko was discovered in 1997 by Dr Kourayos. The ongoing excavations, which started in 2001, have revealed an important sanctuary of the archaic period – one which, remarkably, does not appear to have been mentioned by any ancient literary source. The finds – on display at the Paros Museum – include cult statues, the head of a kouros figure, inscribed shards which attest to the worship of Apollo and Artemis, and an altar inscribed ‘Of Hestia Ithsmia’ (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Finds from Despotiko on display at the Archaeological Museum of Paros: the head of a kouros-figure, inscribed shards, and an altar inscribed ‘Of Hestia Isthmia’.

At the archaeological site there has been excavated a fascinating room containing a drainage system and a bathtub (Fig. 4), which suggest that it was a wash-room for ritual purification before entering the sacred area.

Fig. 4: Room containing drainage system and bathtub.

It is likely that the sanctuary was developed by inhabitants of the vicinity over the course of the archaic period – an era during which certain Parians became wealthy by the export of high-quality white marble, which had a reputation across Greece. Our sanctuary at Despotiko appears to have suffered a sudden and possibly violent destruction towards the end of the archaic period, and it is tempting to believe – as is suggested by Dr Kourayos– that it was razed by the Athenian general Miltiades when he launched his expedition against Paros in 490/89 BC; this may be an indication that the ambitious Athenians were keen to undermine on any communities which were displaying through their activities wealth and piety in a way they saw as challenging to that of the Athenians. The destruction of the sanctuary at this point goes some way to explaining the absence of any account of it from any of our literary sources, including Herodotus.

The sanctuary suffered further destruction and pillaging during Late Antiquity and from piratical raids in the seventeenth century. Efforts are now underway to restore the extant fragments of the sanctuary’s buildings to their original location, and the current excavation programme forms part of this project.

We were involved in the first week of the six-week excavation, so our contribution in the first days involved the clearance of undergrowth, top-soil and donkey dung (Fig. 5). (The offending donkey appears to have done damage to the remains of the sanctuary by toppling over one of the remaining columns of the sanctuary (Fig. 5) when using it as a scratching-post). But there were some exciting finds including an amphora, a six-inch bronze nail dating to the archaic period, and an inscribed shard bearing some legible letters.

Fig. 5: Donkey dung and a general view of the Sanctuary

Spending time on Despotiko gave us also the opportunity also to witness first hand the operation of labour on a goat-island: each day Petros the goatherd would arrive by boat from Antiparos and walk up to his goat-keeping complex (a mandra, from which the name of the site is taken) to release his herd from their pen. The goats would rush down to a field of barley (Fig.6) at had been planted especially for their consumption. It was is an interesting illustration of the use of agricultural resources in the Greek world: the milk, meat, and cheese (Fig. 6) produced through this process are far more highly-valued than is unprocessed barley.


Fig. 6: The goats move down to their barley field; the finished product!

On the way home we took advantage of the opportunity to visit — at the Paros Museum — one of the pieces of the famous Parian Marble, an inscription which lists a chronology of mythical and historical events from the time of the legendary king Kekrops until the third century BC. The other extant substantial fragment is on display at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The other substantial fragment – brought to England in the seventeenth century – was lost at an English country home: proof that antiquities are sometimes safer on a Greek island than in the hands of the British aristocracy!

Peter Liddel

Manumission and Sexuality in Ancient Greece, and a Friendly Visitor to Manchester

This week we bid farewell to our friend and colleague Deborah Kamen. Professor Kamen, of the University of Washington, Seattle, was our Simon Visiting Professor in Ancient History. Taking time out from her sabbatical at the American Academy in Rome, we had the pleasure of her company for a fortnight, during which she offered us a wonderful array of contributions.

Professor Kamen, Visiting Simon Professor of Ancient History, November 2014

Kamen’s work is characterised by its readiness to tackle broad-reaching, interdisciplinary, questions in a critically-informed way, and its re-assessment of the role of groups traditionally perceived as peripheral. Her publications have concentrated on slavery and status in classical Greece; her work on slave-prostitution, manumission, slave agency and slave invective constitutes an important contribution to the history of non-elite groups in classical Athens. Her most recent major publication is Status in Classical Athens (Princeton University Press, 2013), which has been heralded by Professor Sara Forsdyke (Michigan) as an ‘important contribution to scholarship’. Kamen challenges the widely-held belief that questions of status in classical Greece can be reduced to the tripartite division between citizens, metics (resident foreigners), and slaves, a division which is predicated largely upon the high valuation of citizen-male-oriented civic and political freedoms. The book has wider implications, too, leading its readers to ask whether Greek thought (about status, and other subjects too) was as binary as it is presented by modern scholars.


While she was with us only for a short time, she made great contributions to our teaching and research, and, admittedly we worked her very hard. She gave a lucid and informative lecture to our first-year students on slavery in archaic Greece, introducing them to sources, scholarship, and problems with the topic. Deborah and I co-taught an MA core module on Greek epigraphy, with Deborah introducing and opening up discussion of three epigraphic documents important for research into status and status-dynamics in ancient Greece; this was followed up by a Friday-morning seminar for our graduates and undergraduates. Last but not least, Deborah gave our Research Seminar an excellent paper, entitled ‘Prostitutes, maidservants and slave boys: manumission and sexuality in ancient Greece’.  Sex with slaves – including slave-prostitutes, beloved maidservants, and attractive slave boys – was commonplace in ancient Greece. Deborah explored  the role that sex and sexuality played in who was freed and why, drawing on inscriptions, literary texts, and legal evidence. In particular, she drew upon the texts inscribed upon the ‘Manumission Wall’ at Delphi, which documents the manumission process of several hundreds of slaves, many of whom were freed through the process of a fictive sale to the god Apollo. The evidence of these records strongly suggests that sexual relations may well have played an important role in the selection of individuals for liberation.Her paper went down a treat with the audience, and after the paper and she was joined for dinner at Zouk by 18 colleagues and postgraduates.

Thank you, Deborah, for all your work while you were here; we look forward to seeing you again soon!

Epic and Tragic Performances, Ancient and Modern (part 1)

Epic and Tragic Performances, Ancient and Modern

Emma Griffiths reflects on some resonances between ancient and modern in contemporary performances of epic and drama.

Earlier this year a group of students came with me to see Simon Armitage’s new play Last Days of Troy. After the show, conversation touched upon many subjects (Was Paris completely naked under that sheet?  Was Priam really in ‘Only Fools and Horses’?), including the ethical issues raised by the story, the relationship between ancient and modern, and the problem of creating satisfying drama from epic poetry – Sophocles’ plays may have been described as ‘scraps from Homer’s banquet’, but the Greek tragic playwrights tended to focus on small, discrete episodes from the Trojan War, With this in mind, it seemed like a good point to take stock of some of the productions I’ve seen this year, and reflect on how each play has informed my own view of the ongoing dialogue between ancient and modern worlds – this is part one.


ClAH students at The Last Days of Troy

ClAH students at The Last Days of Troy

Last year, I gave a talk for the School’s programme of WW I events, looking at mud. We’re familiar with images from the trenches, where the mud sucked down men and animals, but my focus was on an equally deadly, literary mud: In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles rages over the death of Patroclus, and we see the only genuine threat to Achilles in the poem so far – the river Skamander prepares to overwhelm him – it will pour forth such a stream of mud that Achilles will be obliterated, forgotten and deprived of glory.

Juxtaposing this passage with the imagery of the trenches, my talk explored ideas of glory, heroism and the dangers of nature which characterise much modern understanding of the First World War. It’s well known that classical literature had an impact on a generation of men who were inspired to fight in 1914 (see Elizabeth Vandiver’s excellent book, Stand in the Trenches, Achilles), but ideals of glory derived from the Iliad cannot incorporate this threat of nature overwhelming civilization – my question for the audience was this, ‘If the powers-that-be had really known their Homer, and had really understood the warnings about the power of nature, might reports from the trenches have given them pause? Might the war have ended sooner or differently?’

Discussions with the audience after the talk provoked some lively debate about modern education and Homer’s intentions, before eventually  we came to ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ – has the final scene of poppy fields ever been bettered as a visual image to provoke tragedy in the midst of comedy?  This final point, about translating history and epic poetry into a dramatic form, with its limitations and new potentials, was clear in my mind as I went straight from the talk to the cinema that evening. This rare trip out on a school night was to see the RSC live broadcast of Shakespeare’s Richard II at a central Manchester cinema.  For the record, I should say that I love the immediacy of live theatre, and I was initially sceptical about the idea of seeing a live production beamed into a cinema – would the popcorn, and strange lighting make this seem more like seeing ‘Star Wars’ rather than gut-wrenching, tear jerking Shakespearean tragedy? I was also hesitant about seeing this particular play, because I saw Kevin Spacey’s version many years ago, and came out completely unmoved and rather confused.  However, I was lucky enough to see David Tennant as Hamlet at Stratford, so I was willing to trust his Shakespearan credentials.  And it was magnificent. Yes, you miss the spine-tingling buzz of being in the theatre, but on the other hand, you have more comfortable seats and the benefit of close-ups.  Seeing a play in a cinema is a completely different experience, but once you accept it for what it is, it’s wonderful. I have nothing but admiration for the minds who conceived and executed this programme of live broadcasts – it was flawless.

As for the production itself – amazing. Tennant was a terrifying and tragic king, Henry Bollinger was both plausible and a monster, and there wasn’t a single weak performance in the play. During the interval there was an interview with Jane Lapotaire, returning to the stage after a long illness, which provided a perfect example of the love and intelligence that goes into producing theatre. Although the play stayed with Shakespeare’s words and period costumes, it was a wonderful model for how drama can touch a modern audience without the need for explicit modernisation.

Go to the next post for some news on forthcoming productions of Greek drama…


In the first week of September, scholars from Sydney to Cairo converged on Manchester for heady talk about papyrus fragments. Kate Cooper reports on the John Rylands Research Institute’s symposium, From Egypt to Manchester, Unravelling the John Rylands Papyrus Collection.

Robeta Mazza explaining the so-called ‘last supper amulet’ (P Rylands Greek Add. 1166) to Campbell Price:

Le besoin naturel

Anyone who has watched the Tour de France (or de Yorkshire) with a keen ear may have noticed the commentators talking about the riders taking ‘nature breaks’. We can all work out what this means: if you imagine riding your bike for six hours without a stopping, you know that at some point you’re probably going to have to ‘spend a penny’, ‘have a wee’ or, quite literally since you’re by the roadside, ‘water the flowers’. (For the logistics of this when riding le Tour – and when the cameras are rolling – see this blog).

I sometimes answer ‘the call of nature’ in my English, but ‘taking a nature break’ isn’t a euphemism which I’m familiar with. If you follow some of the roadie chat however you find out that this is an anglicised version of a lovely French euphemism, ‘un besoin naturel’ (‘natural need’). Très chic!

This reminded me of a euphemism which LSJ – the big dictionary of Greek – uses in its definition of the verb χέζω (che-dzoh). As LSJ puts it, this verb means ‘to ease oneself, do one’s need’. In all the literary texts which we have from Classical Greece, this verb is found only in comic plays: this suggests that it is obscene in nature and something not to be used in ‘polite’ literary discourse. One example from the playwright Aristophanes serves to illustrate what it refers to, with our verb and its translations in bold; here we find Blepyros – an old man – sheepishly leaving his house in the middle of the night to ‘do his business’ (Eccl. 320-2):

ἀλλ᾽ ἐν καθαρῷ ποῦ ποῦ τις ἂν χέσας τύχοι;

ἦ πανταχοῦ τοι νυκτός ἐστιν ἐν καλῷ.

οὐ γάρ με νῦν χέζοντά γ´ οὐδεὶς ὄψεται.

But where, oh where can I find a place to shit?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter during the night:

No one will see me shitting as early as this.

A ‘besoin naturel’ can also apply to doing what Blepyros needs to do, or ‘go serious bathroom’ as the man in the video in the link puts it (even more tricky on a road bike).


Detail from a red-figure Rhyton from the Walters Art Museum (Walters 482050), c. 450 BC. Explore the object at:

It is certain that the compilers of LSJ knew that χέζω was a word with this non-euphemistic tone, as did their subsequent revisers, but rather than use a four-letter word equivalent (e.g. ‘crap’, ‘shit’), the lexicon goes for something more metaphorical. This attitude is perhaps unsurprising in a work which was put together at the beginning of the nineteenth century, although the dictionary isn’t always as prudish as you might think (I’ve written a paper on this: see future blog posts). Similarly, if you look at the Greek-German dictionary by Passow on which LSJ was based, you find something quite different: this defines χέζω as ‘scheissen, kacken, seine Nothdurft verachten’ (‘to shit, crap, to do one’s necessary’). Whatever the tone of ‘scheissen’ and ‘kacken’ in early nineteenth century German, these are not euphemisms. And if you think this is bold, you should see how Passow definition for ψωλή, for which LSJ retreats to four words of Latin… Suffice to say that different cultures have different levels of tolerance of unsavory things, and also of words which refer to such things: this is as true of contemporary British society as compared with the ancient Greeks as it is of us and the Victorians, or early 19th century Germany.

We might think that we have moved beyond the time when classical texts were denuded of their rude words, but this is not necessarily the case: the translation of Aristophanes above is Haliwell’s from the Oxford World’s Classics series, whereas the same lines of Greek are rendered in a translation from Methuen Drama as ‘…and come out here to find a place to … | But where? Not here… it’s a bit public… | Oh, I don’t know though, it’s dark, who’s to see?. The reader or performer is left to provide their own (hopefully suitably obscene) term, if they can work out what is going on. ‘Shit’ is a good word to use in the right circumstances, but I’m still taken by ‘besoin naturel’.

Text copyright © 2014 Amy Coker. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Image from Walters Art Museum reproduced under Creative Commons License.

Obscenity of the month: Walking like an Egyptian?

This latest word is not to do with sex, but rather with another bodily action which is often a source of taboo words, excretion. More specifically, this post is about words I have been affectionately characterising as denoting ‘solid waste’ (or ‘poo’, ‘faeces’, etc.). One of the words in ancient Greek for the noun ‘poo’ is κόπρος (ko-pross), the word which gives us English scientific words beginning with ‘copro-‘ such as ‘coprolite’ – fossilised faeces – coined in the early nineteenth century. Despite the unpleasantness of the substance κόπρος indicates, the word itself is not really ‘taboo’ or offensive, and is found in a range of Classical works from Homer’s epics to medical works in the Hippocratic corpus: κόπρος is milder in tone than the English four-letter word, ‘sh*t’. What sparked this post is an example in our ancient texts of a word similar to κόπρος – κόπριον (ko-pree-on). In technical parlance, this word is the stem κοπρ- plus the diminutive suffix -ιον (-ee-on): this last part is a segment which makes a word meaning the same thing as the stem, or a smaller version of it, or indicates affection from the speaker to the object (a bit like English ‘toe’, diminutive ‘toe-sie’).

The example of κόπριον we are interested in comes from a papyrus letter written in Egypt in the late 2nd or 3rd century AD, known as P.Oxy. 1761. Greek was the dominant language of Egypt for around a thousand years from the conquest of Alexander the Greek to the Arab conquest in the mid 7th century AD, so that fact that this letter is written in Greek in Egypt is not unusual. This letter is in other respects too typical of those written in vast numbers by individuals about everyday matters; these people are otherwise lost to history, but their correspondence by chance survives. (See picture for an example of what a papyrus letter looks like).

P.Oxy. 1672 Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, AD 37-41. Image courtesy of The Garstang Museum, University of Liverpool. Follow the Museum’s blog at:  The first two lines read: Δημήτριος καὶ Παυσανίας Παυσαν[ί]αι | τῶι πατρὶ πλεῖστα χαίρειν καὶ ὑγι(αίνειν)- ‘Demetrius and Pausanias to their father Pausanias very many greetings and wishes for good health.’ The two sons go on to request that their father send some more wine to them, since they have already sold what they brought with them.

P.Oxy. 1672 Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, AD 37-41. Image courtesy of The Garstang Museum, University of Liverpool.
The first two lines read: Δημήτριος καὶ Παυσανίας Παυσαν[ί]αι | τῶι πατρὶ πλεῖστα χαίρειν καὶ ὑγι(αίνειν)- ‘Demetrius and Pausanias to their father Pausanias very many greetings and wishes for good health.’

It is lines 6-7 of P.Oxy. 1761 where the surprise lies: as Grenfell and Hunt put it in their edition in the early twentieth century, here ‘A very singular symptom of regret for an absent friend is specified’. Here is a full translation of the letter, as given by Montserrat’s Sex & Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt (1996, 8); the bold words are the ones which concerns us:

Callirhoë to her dear Sarapis, greetings. I say a prayer for you every day in the presence of the lord Sarapis. Since you have been away I go on the trail of your shit in my desire to see you. Greet Thermouthis and Helias and Ploution and Aphrodite and Nemesianus. Carabus and Harpocration greet you, and everyone at home. I pray for your health.

The Greek text which lies behind this ‘singular symptom of regret’ is: ἐπιζῃητοῦμέν σου τὰ κόπρια, literally, ‘I/we look for (or miss?) your κόπριον-s’ (κόπρια is the plural of κόπριον). There is no wandering about here, despite the impression the translation might give. A slightly more recent translation by Bagnall & Cribiore in their collection of women’s letters (2006, 392) renders these words as the striking ‘we are searching for your turds’.

Is Callirhoë really looking through the dunghill because she misses her friend? Even when we accept that ancient peoples did things differently, this seems a stretch. We could be tempted to think that this is an idiom peculiar to Egypt, perhaps stemming from a native expression, but there seems to be no obvious parallel (suggestions are welcome). I think rather the best explanation comes back to what κόπρος/κόπριον means. Both these words are also used more broadly of ‘rubbish’, or things which can be taken away to be used as fertiliser: remember that most ancient waste was organic. κόπριον is found in this kind of sense in the Magical Papyri, an ancient collection of spells, where it is something picked up from the ground where a corpse has lain (PGM 4.1395-8, 4.1441-2). Dieter Betz translates this as ‘polluted dirt’, but the pollution comes only from the context of the spell. I think here and in our letter we should rather take κόπρια as indicating ‘useless remains’ or ‘traces’, akin to English ‘crap’: note how ‘crap’ has just this double meaning of ‘excrement’ and ‘rubbish’ in contemporary UK English (e.g. ‘there is so much crap in my house’). The result is that Callirhoë is not looking for any particular bodily waste produced by her dear Sarapis, but rather for indications that she has been around: a rather loose translation of this sentiment might therefore be ‘I go through your crap wanting to find you there’.

Thanks to the Gartang Museum for use of the image of P.Oxy. 1672: follow the Museum’s blog at:

Copyright © 2014 Amy Coker. Not to be reproduced without permission.