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The controversial Papyrus of Artemidorus is back on the scene

by Andrea Carli

The Papyrus of Artemidorus is back at the center of conversation. The scroll has been at the center of a heated debate among scholars over its authenticity, and viewers can now see it for themselves at the Archaeological Museum of the Royal Residence of Turin.

According to analysis conducted by specialists in Carbon 14 dating, the papyrus, which is made of fragments of various dimensions and is 2.5 meters long, was created between the first century B.C. and the second century A.D.

That much is known (almost) for certain. The problem, instead, starts when trying to date the text on the papyrus. In this case there are two opposing theories.

According to the first, the text and illustrations date from the same period as the papyrus itself, so from the first century A.D. According to the second school of thought, both the text and illustrations are the work of one or more forgers in the 19th and 20th century (among these Costantino Simonidis, a highly skilled forger of the 1800s).

On the front of the papyrus is what remains of five columns of Greek text, and a map. The inscription includes the proemia (introduction of an epic work) by an unknown author, and the text. The latter refers to part of the Spanish peninsula. According to several scholars of the papyrus, it's a portion of the work of geographer Artemidorus of Ephesus, who lived between the second and first century B.C.

The work, titled “Ta Geographoumena o Geographia,” is is a treatise of 11 books. The last part of the papyrus, instead, includes more than 40 drawings of animals, real or imaginary, that were made over the course of the 1st century A.D., when the scroll was “recycled” in an artists studio as a design catalog for frescos and mosaics. The first part of the papyrus also has drawings in the text reminiscent of sculpture together with designs of feet and hands in various positions, probably student exercises.

The papyrus of Artemidorus was acquired by the San Paolo Company in 2004. In 2006, it was presented for the first time to the public at the show “The three lives of the Papyrus of Artemidorus,” at Palazzo Bricherasio.

The battle among scholars on dating it, on its origins, its significance and its source started then. The debate, limited initially to the scientific community, was fanned by the media and has since involved a growing number of scholars ever since.Before arriving at the Archaeological Museum, where San Paolo di Torino, the company that owns the papyrus, spent €340,000 to showcase it, the papyrus was conserved at the restoration center of the Royal Venaria Palace in Turin.

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