The Center for Hellenic Studies

The Derveni Papyrus: An Interdisciplinary Research Project

Editors : Leonard Muellner, G. Nagy, Ioanna Papadopoulou

Information Architects: Saïd Esteban Belmehdi, Julien Razanajao, François Recher.

Over the last 45 years the text of the Derveni Papyrus has undergone extensive reconstruction and study. Theokritos Kouremenos, George M. Parássoglou, and Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou have been among the leaders of this effort, publishing an authoritative text of the papyrus along with extensive commentary in 2006 (Casa Leo S. Olschki, Firenze).

Introduction to the Text by K. Tsantsanoglou

The Derveni papyrus is a most interesting new document of  Greek literature. It is perhaps the only papyrus to have been found on Greek soil, and is, if not the oldest Greek papyrus ever found, no doubt the oldest literary papyrus, dated roughly between 340 and 320 B.C. Its name derives from the site where it was discovered, some six miles north of Thessaloniki, in whose Archaeological Museum it is now preserved. It was found among the remnants of a funeral pyre in one of the tombs in the area, which has also yielded extremely rich artifacts, primarily items of metalware. After the exacting job of unrolling and separating the layers of the charred papyrus roll, and then of joining the numerous fragments  together again, 26 columns of text were recovered, all with their bottom parts missing, as they had perished on the pyre.

The book, composed near the end of the 5th century B.C., contains the eschatological teaching of a mantis; the content is divided between religious instructions on sacrifices to gods and souls, and allegorical commentary on a theogonical  poem ascribed to Orpheus. The author’s outlook is philosophical, displaying, in particular, a physical system close to those of Anaxagoras, the Atomists, and Diogenes of Apollonia. His allegorical method of interpretation is especially interesting, frequently reminiscent of Socrates’ playful mental and etymological  acrobatics as seen in Plato’s Cratylus. The identification of the author is a matter of  dispute among scholars. Names like Euthyphron of Prospalta, Diagoras  of Melos, and Stesimbrotus of Thasos have been proposed with varying degrees of likelihood.

The Digital edition of the Derveni Papyrus

A few years ago The Center for Hellenic Studies made the Greek text of the papyrus available online, as it was published in 2006, © Olschki, Firenze.

The following key institutions worked in conjunction for this online project:

Casa Leo S. Olschki, Firenze, Italy

Universita degli Studi di Genova, Italy

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Greece

Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University, USA

Continuing our effort to improve the digital edition of the Derveni Papyrus, we developed a new form for the text under the framework of the CHS-iMouseion Project. This user-friendly teaching and research tool offers the option of masking or revealing the readings of the editors by simply clicking on the text (wherever the arrow appears). Furthermore, one can easily navigate from one column to another, either successively via the arrows or randomly via the sidebar menu. The iMouseion architecture provides as well the possibility of a multiversion Derveni Papyrus. Due to the existence of unplaced fragments, this exceptionally challenging document is still being reconstructed. New reconstructions can be displayed side by side, offering a simultaneous view of the different versions of each column.

As the study of the papyrus continues, the CHS Derveni Papyrus Project team updates the content of this site. The CHS held a Conference in July 2008. The Proceedings are now available here. Furthermore, we are happy to announce the new edition of the first six columns by Franco Ferrari, under the multiversion iMouseion environment, as well as the articles and images which complete this new edition.

Read the Derveni Papyrus Online:

Editio princeps 2006 (Olschki, Firenze)

New Edition of columns I-VI by Franco Ferrari. Read F. Ferrari’s Introduction here

Multiversion (KPT-FF)