The Study of Astronomical Papyri From Neugebauer to Today
Danish Society for the History of Science (Videnskabshistorisk Selskab) invites to a lecture with
Prof. Alexander Jones,
Leon Levy Director and Professor of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU
Though they account for a minuscule fraction of all surviving papyrus texts, astronomical papyri in Greek and Egyptian have figured in editions since the mid-19th century, beginning with Stobart's and Brugsch's publications of the Demotic Stobart Tablets (1855–1856) and that of the Greek P.Par. 1 (now P.Louvre N2325), the so-called "Ars Eudoxi," by Letronne and Brunet de Presle (1865).
The starting point I will take, however, is later, with Neugebauer's first exposure to astronomical papyri during his time in Copenhagen in the 1930s and his initiative, only partially fulfilled, to collect and study these papyri for the first time as a distinct body of evidence for the history of ancient astronomy. In the end, an abrupt and dramatic expansion of the corpus from the vast inventory of unpublished papyri from Grenfell and Hunt's excavations at Oxyrhynchus was what it took to reveal the main lines of astronomical activity in Greco-Roman Egypt.
Following a narrative of this course of events, I will review what we learned from the Oxyrhynchus papyri and from a few other important papyri that have come to light since their publication, as well as highlighting major gaps that remain in our understanding of the Greco-Egyptian tradition.