An Introduction to the Annotation of Papyrus Texts: P.Oxy. 119 as a Test Case
by Stanley E. Porter (02/21/2001)
Common practice in current papyrology is to provide a single edition of an ancient papyrus manuscript. In earlier times in papyrological studies, often a diplomatic text and a reading text were provided, but today the single version is usually made to do double duty. As a result, all of the information gleaned from the papyrus, as well as what it suggests in terms of reconstruction, is transferred to a single sheet. There are obvious limitations to such an approach that suggest that recent advances in corpus annotation can address. We attempt to do so using P.Oxy. 119.
This second or third century A.D. letter from a boy Theon to his father, also called Theon, provides a wonderful window into the ancient Greco-Roman world, in which the New Testament was born and out of which it developed. Published in the first volume of the Oxyrhynchus papyrus series, this letter has continued to be read, studied and appreciated for its many insights. One of the major insights is what it offers into the characters of the letter, in particular the boy Theon and his father. The boy is obviously upset that his father has not taken him with him to Alexandria, and he reacts petulantly by threatening all sorts of mischievous and unkind behaviour in return, all in an attempt to persuade his father to let him join him or at least to give him a worthy gift for his inconvenience. One might well see certain common patterns in human behaviour that transcend the centuries displayed in this letter-with one notable exception being that the ancient boy wrote a letter to his parent (do children write letters any more, much less to their parents?)!
More important for OpenText.org are the various features of this papyrus that merit discussion from a papyrological and textual-annotation standpoint. For this edition, we have re-edited the letter from a photograph. While realizing that this does not constitute a new edition, since the original has not been consulted, enough is clear from the photograph to realize that the early editors were perhaps somewhat optimistic in some of their readings. This new edition (if it can be called such) attempts to curb that optimism, and in doing so provides a range of text-critical features that must be annotated to make this text usable in electronic form. As a result, three editions of the papyrus have been created.
The first is a diplomatic text, in which a number of doubtful letters, several missing letters, a couple of instances of spacing, and several apparent corrections are noted, without word divisions or accentuation or attempts to reconcile doubtful issues.
The second edition is a reconstructed text that retains the lettering of the papyrus but fills in the missing letters, as well as providing word division, accentuation and basic punctuation.
The third edition is a reading text that makes interpretative judgments on a number of issues, such as regularizing spelling and presenting alternative interpretations of the grammar and syntax.
These three editions provide the basis for textual annotation in machine readable form. The first is dependent upon the marking of the individual letters, so that they can be retrieved and displayed individually. The second is dependent upon word divisions, and the third provides alternative words, such as the regularized spellings and alternative grammatical configurations. Through this annotation process, the various levels of reading and interpretation of the papyrus can be retained, in a way that is often lost in the conventional print medium.
Click here to view demonstration of three editions of P.Oxy. 119 (will open in a separate browser window)