The Periscope Post (Review by Philip Womack)
This time it’s a star turn for Peter Parson’s City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007). This charming, entertaining and informative book is not only easy to read, it also delights with its clear-sighted analysis of the papyrus fragments found at the site of the Egyptian city of Oxyrhyncos. Here, in the early twentieth century, the archaeologists Grenfell and Hunt stumbled upon a classicist’s dream – mounds and mounds of intact papyroi.
“I make obeisance on your behalf every day before the Lord God Serapis. From the day you left we miss your turds, wishing to see you.”
A few of them gave up texts of Homer; there was a lost play of Euripides, Hypsipyle, (which it is thought concerns the cursing of a group of women by Aphrodite for neglecting her shrine; her curse was to give them all extreme body odour. Perhaps that’s why it was lost.) There were songs of Sappho (who features in a Ronald Firbank novel, Vainglory, in which a professor reads out, proudly, the fragment to assembled high society: “Could not (he wagged a finger) Could not, for the fury of her feet!”) and other Greek lyricists. But most were prosaic, and as such add a huge amount to our knowledge and understanding of life at the height of the Roman Empire, just before Christianity.