Adam Nicholson writes of a scroll Homer found rolled beneath the head of a female mummy: Hawara Homer, written on papyrus in about AD 150, in the Bodleian. How can something so flimsy, perishable, inflammable, soakable, edible (for some species) still be beautifully, masterfully legible for ‘line after line like a wave that will not break’ nearly two thousand years after it was written? Paper and its antecedents enthrall me with their tactile beauty, and their fragility combined with resilience.

Yes, a text to travel to the next world with, or to let your ideas time travel thousands of years into the future.  They may have intended their papyrus scrolls to accompany them through the afterlife, but did they ever contemplate the afterlife of the papyrus among the living?

That someone with bizarre clothes, specs and haircut might get off a noisy, self-propelled chariot, and schlep their laptop into a temperature controlled, electrically lighted manuscript room to view the ‘generous and beautiful’ words they wrote around AD 150?

If that doesn’t amaze you, then try looking at it this way: imagine sitting down and writing a letter that you would like to be relevant for the ages. Then imagine someone finding, preserving and reading it 1,850 years from now.  That takes us to the year 3866.  Your letter, being read then.

What would you write?

 

‘There are no gaps between the words, but they are entirely legible, the relaxed and masterful calligraphy rolling on for line after line like a wave that will not break.  This is a text to travel to the next world with.

This is one of the greatest images of the generous and beautiful word ever made.’

 

Source: The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (London: William Collins, 2015), p. 39-40

Photo credit: pixabay.com

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