C. Michael Sampson Featured on “As It Happens”

by Phillip Witteveen on November 7, 2012

C. Michael Sampson, co-author of the recent New Literary Papyri from the Michigan Collection, discussed new findings on the mythology of the Siege of Troy with host Carol Off on As It Happens. The papyrus in question, which  dates from the late 3rd century, was acquired by the University of Michigan over 80 years ago, but was not studied until the 1990s because it “was mis-catalogued.” “Scholars who were working, no doubt fairly quickly …  filed it away as being a Coptic piece,” Sampson said

The 44 lines of poetry that make up the contents of this discovery represent  “a speech delivered to the Greek army at Troy, in which the speaker commands the army to head up the side of Mount Ida (ai-dah), and essentially undertake a lumber jacking expedition,” which is to say “cut down a bunch of trees, preferably big ones, and float them down the river Scamander. In response to these commands, the Greek army is disturbed and agitated. Presumably they’ve been told about the expedition and the Trojan Horse they are to build… and they’re a bit scared about it.”

This papyrus joins the body of literature that also includes Virgil’s Aeneid and The Iliad, and contributes to scholarship focused on the mythology of the Trojan War. “Every piece is unique for adding to what we know, and in matters of mythology, this one is certainly interesting. It tells us part of the Trojan story, that we really don’t hear about too much — the construction of the horse, and how … the army [felt] about it.”

While the papyrus brings many new aspects of the siege to light, there are also a lot of unknowns involved in its interpretation. The physical condition alone makes it difficult to understand, (as “It’s full of holes, and in many places the ink is quite faded”) but also because of the nature of the language used.  “We don’t know who’s speaking, we don’t know who’s narrating, we don’t know, specifically, that the wood being cut on Mount Ida, is to be used for the Trojan horse”.

Ultimately, commented Sampson, “It raises as many [questions] as it answers.”

Listen to the full segment on As It Happens, beginning at 21.57. New Literary Papyri from the Michigan Collection is available now.

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