Produced in the first or second century, this dark-brown papyrus roll is among the most famous of the British Library papyrus collection. It contains almost the entirety of Book XVIII of Homer’s Iliad arranged in contiguous columns. Part of the text, nearly one hundred verses, was lost between the first and the second fragment of the roll. Some verses were originally omitted, and were supplied later in the margins by a second hand, which is also responsible for the corrections occurring in the text.
The first sheet of the roll (protokollon) is partly preserved, and so is the blank space (agraphon) at the beginning of the roll. The end-title in two lines, found at the end of the last column, indicates the roll’s contents.
The papyrus is known as the Harris Homer roll, because it was part of the private collection of Anthony Charles Harris (d. 1869), a British merchant and antiquity collector, who lived in Alexandria in the first half of the nineteenth century. The collection was later sold by his daughter Selima Harris (d. c. 1895). In 1872, the British Museum acquired this roll and another papyrus, also known as the ‘Harris Homer’, which contains parts of Books II-IV of the Iliad. The papyri were apparently discovered in the ‘crocodile pits’ of Maabdeh, on the eastern bank of the Nile, where caves containing thousands of crocodile and human mummies were reported to exist.
- Article by:
- Cillian O’Hogan
- The makers of Greek manuscripts, Papyri
What did books look like in antiquity? In this article, Cillian O’Hogan tells how ancient books were made, and traces the process by which the bookroll was replaced by the codex.