Lecture 5: Fragments
When classicists talk about ‘fragments’ they may possibly mean literal, physical
fragments of text preserved (usually on papyrus) in archaeological contexts (usually
Egypt, although many were also preserved (carbonised) in Herculaneum).
The vast majority of surviving papyrus documents from Hellenistic and Roman
Egypt are not literary texts but more mundane documents (which does not make
them less interesting – if anything the reverse is true).
Most of the literary papyri from Egypt come from Oxyrhynchus.
Note in passing that most inscriptions (the subject of chapter 17 in the textbook)
survive in a physically fragmentary state.
Consider the example of Menander (a comic poet of the later 4 century BCE), who
wrote more than 100 plays; all of them were lost in the 7 & 8 centuries CE.
However, in other surviving works he was quoted over 900 times (often only a single
line, but sometimes passages up to 16 lines long).
Many papyri from Hellenistic and Roman Egypt have also been disco