How is the project of Greek novels discovered on papyri going to be analyzed thanks to the grant from the BBVA Foundation?
There are several things, one is the work on a concrete papyrus that must be rebuilt, there are missing words that must be replaced. This philological operation is called conjecture and it is done by applying knowledge of the Greek language, other novels, history and geography to try to reconstruct the text and the scene and place it in the whole of the work. I work with another professor from the University of Murcia and a professor from the University of Valencia. Then there is the digitization part and the link with other databases that already exist and dissemination. This is how the linguistic heritage is also increasing. It is used for very interesting studies of the ancient world.
What volume of papyri will you decipher in this project?
There are about fifty papyri. There is a group that we already know quite well because several papyri of the same work have been preserved. There are five of them, a novel starring an Assyrian king, another by an Egyptian pharaoh, another about young Greeks, another about the Trojan War and a science fiction novel “Incredible Wonders of Allende Tule.” And of others we have loose papyri, such as a very important one that is of a person who pretends to be a eunuch and who is in the line of the Satyricon of Petronius. Another is starring a freedwoman. Women had a lot of prominence and are usually strong characters. They tend to be braver and more determined than they.
Is the origin of the novel in Greece?
Yes, the origin of the novel is in Greece and with all the features of structure and content that we know today. It is true that many were inspired by Egyptian folk tales, but the long fiction novel is born in Greece. And five titles have been preserved in full. Greek literature is an iceberg. And then we have all these papyri that continue to appear in Egyptian cities buried by the desert where there are archaeological campaigns that are bringing these fragments to light. These papyri must be cleaned before studying them. Now no papyrus comes out of Egypt, but before it did, so they are distributed in museums and private collections around the world.
You have to master the ancient Greek language to intuit the missing parts.
Yes, it is a complex discipline because you have to know the language well and, without believing Homer, respect what is out there and propose what could be written. And know how to read, of course. That is what I do, editing and studying the text. It helps us to rewrite the entire history of Greek literature, part of Latin and therefore of all Western literature.
What genres did the Greeks write within the novel?
Everybody. Historical, romantic Romeo and Juliet type, adventures, science fiction with characters who travel in search of knowledge and reach the moon. More rugged, with zoophilia included, of a picaresque type, there is a Gothic novel with ghosts, magicians and spells. Others that narrate the adventures of bandits and criminals. The same genres we have today.
In recent years, classical culture has been relegated. The new Education law is pending, so you know where are the Latin and Greek?
I have not read the text, but as far as I know they do not look good because they are optional. In no branch of the Baccalaureate is Greek compulsory. It’s a shame, it should stay as it is at least. The entire classical heritage is our world, it is the only thing that can make us strong in the face of superstition and fundamentalism. It is the essence of rationalist thought, it fixes the distinction between science or truth as they said and appearance or post-truth. It is what can help us face the world, provide us with tools. In Greece there is respect for the enemy and analysis of the pests that are given for medical treatises. Everything is there for free to help us, it is irresponsible not to put it at the service of young people to be better citizens.
How could the classical and modern worlds be linked?
Teachers must make an effort, although things are done, such as bringing culture closer through theater. And the authorities must help. Defending classical culture is revolutionary today.
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