I was hesitating to write an entry about my trip to Italy last week.
The purpose of this trip was twofold: on the one hand, the inspection of the papyrus codex with the Coptic Vita of Saint Epiphanius of Salamis at the Egyptian Museum in Torino (EMT); on the other hand, a workshop at the Norwegian Institute in Rome of the Phanes network under the theme “Hagiography and Biography”. Both projects a collaboration with my dear friend, Christian Bull, post-doctor at the University of Oslo.
So, do such matters really fit within the scope of the MedievalSaiProject blog?
First of all, the project of the edition of the Coptic Vita Epiphanii began in 2012 after I read a reference to an “Epiphanios” in one of the parchment fragments from the cachet discovered by H.U.N.E. at Sur Island, and which was the data base for my PhD thesis. The Epiphanios mentioned in the Sur fragment may very well have been the Bishop of Cyprus, renowned for his heresiological work “Panarion“, as well as for his conflict with John Chrysostom. Chrysostom is in turn the Father of the Early Church most attested in Nubian manuscripts and author of the text in the largest fragment discovered at Sur.
Here we are, in the heart of my interest in things regarding Christian Nubian literacy, and therefore one good reason to write about this trip in the blog!
Trying to figure out the contents of this manuscript from Sur, I was going through different texts by Epiphanios and at some point found the 1893 publication by Rossi of the Coptic Vita Epiphanii kept then, and today again, at the EMT. Back in 2012, I was reading Coptic on a weekly basis with Christian Bull and we were then in search of a new text. The Vita Epiphanii and its re-edition seemed an interesting case and we began work on something that is now coming close to being published. Therefore, it was now important to visit Torino and examine the papyrus up close.
How important such experiences are for everyone studying manuscripts makes this text relevant for the blog, since a major advantage of the new generation of people working with Nubian texts is that we have all tried to gain experiences with working with various traditions and scholars from neighboring disciplines (Coptology and Papyrology among others).
In Torino last week, Christian and myself got acquainted with the manuscript’s codicology; with the challenges that the entire collection of Coptic papyri in Torino is facing; with the projects planned for its rehabilitation, place in a general catalogue, and of course publication. Guides and companions in this adventure were curator at EMT Dr. Alessia Fassone and conservator Sara Alicardi, as well as Christian’s colleague from Oslo, Ágnes Mihálykó Tothne. We thank them all for the help and good company!
Especially nice to be able to thank Agnes, who has also helped with my work on the ostraka from Qasr el Wizz, when we had a workshop at Oslo on this collection last year, while she has also given great feedback in my effort to understand Coptic liturgy and Coptic paleography!
The “papyrotheque” of the EMT consists of some very important pieces the publication of which is dispersed in local journals of two centuries ago, which certainly need to be updated. Their cataloguing and partial publication is in the hands of professors Tito Orlandi and Paula Buzi. The treatment of such a papyrus collection is definitely worth the best investment possible, but it is sometime overseen due to the great interest and importance of the overall collection of Egyptian and Nubian objects at the Museum. The following photos illustrate some – very personally selected – highlights of the exhibition.
Moreover, the collection of the EMT is not uninteresting at all when it comes to things Nubian: the Italians have installed the rock temple of Ellesiya in the museum, showcasing their own share of the UNESCO Aswan High Dam campaign…
…while they also posses a very interesting collection of mainly women’s tombstones from Nubia, especially from Faras and Sakinya. Major figure in the publication of this collection has been Sergio Donadoni.
Undoubtedly more treasures can be found in the magazines, perhaps even manuscripts. For the time being, I think I might have identified a sherd of a Nubian ceramic vessel, as the comparison of the two following photos shows.
We left Torino a week ago for Rome, and the Coptic Vita Epiphanii from EMT for the Greek one from the Patrologia Græca at the Norwegian Institute in Rome. The choice of the venue at NIR was partially the result of Christian’s collaboration with Alberto Camplani from University Sapienza in Rome, who was his first opponent during the defense of his thesis in 2014 in Bergen. And it gave us the opportunity to meet professor Orlandi who kindly came to our workshop on Friday and discussed the status and future of our project with the Coptic Vita Epiphanii.
In our workshops in the frame of the Phanes network, we always pick a pagan and a Christian text to enhance the discussion of the selected overarching topic. Some years ago it was Religious Legitimization; later it was Religious Overachievers; now it was Hagiography and Biography. The Vita Epiphanii from the Patrologia Graeca was read in conjunction with the Vita Plotini by Porphyrios. The comparison was made on the axis of heresiological topics, which fit well with the case studies that Christian works upon in the frame of his post-doctoral project at the School of Theology in the University of Oslo, namely “New Contexts for Old Texts: Unorthodox Texts and Monastic Manuscript Culture in Fourth- and Fifth-Century Egypt” directed by professor Hugo Lundhaug.
The funding for this year’s Phanes’ workshop was kindly provided by the Norwegian Institute in Rome. The premises at Gianicolo are a luxury but the hospitality extended too a degree that made the days in Rome a real pleasure for all of us.
Einar Thomassen (Bergen), Anders Klostergaard Petersen (Århus), Dimitris Kyrtatas (Volos), Alberto Camplani (Rome), Despina Iosif (Athens), Anna Lampadaridi (Paris), Nuncia di Rienzo (Rome), and Pietro d’Agostino (Paris) created a fantastic group to read, discuss, and have fun together! We are looking forward to next year’s workshop already!
Organizing these workshops has meant the selection of premises and the collection of funds. For the former, as soon as Phanes moved outside Norway, the Norwegian Institutes abroad became a natural pole of attraction. It was Athens last time, Rome this year. For groups like ours, it is important to uphold the tradition of such Institutes and we hope that future agendas of university policies will not demolish these centers of knowledge and research.
After the end of the workshop on Saturday, Ágnes, Christian and myself had a last afternoon together, reminiscent of the way the week opened in Torino. Despite all the heavy program of the week, and the wish just to be tourists in the eternal city, arriving at the church of Santa Maria at Trastevere, famous among other things for the inscriptions built in its facade wall, we could not resist spotting out, reading and deciphering the Greek texts among the mainly Latin collection!
We stood longer in front of one and attempted to reconstruct in chorus its very interesting text, full of variations in the language and writing style, probably under the influence of the Latin literacy of the milieu. For me, a great parallel to the way Greek was used in Nubia!