December 13, 2012, by Alan Sommerstein

From Mount Sinai to Michigan: the rediscovery of Menander’s Epitrepontes (Postscript)

Just as I thought I had finished with the subject, comes news of yet another little papyrus fragment of Epitrepontes, again in the Michigan collection, again published by Cornelia Römer in the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik (volume 183, pages 33-36).  This little scrap, just 70mm long and 30mm across at its widest point, contains three to six letters from each of the last ten lines of Act Three of the play and the first line of Act Four.  Parts of these lines were already known from other fragments of the same second-century papyrus roll and from two later copies (the Cairo codex, and a small fragment in Florence), and by my reckoning the new fragment adds only 17 letters that we did  not have previously; but now, putting all our sources together, the end of Act Three survives almost complete.

And the new fragment will also stir controversy.  Last week I wrote:

“When Smikrines goes in to speak to his daughter, Charisios’ friend, Chairestratos, is left alone on stage, and says that everything has gone wrong for him, but he must go and carry out a task which has been assigned to him.”

Römer has argued that the new fragment makes it likely that these final words of Act Three are spoken not by Chairestratos (referring to a mission to purchase Habrotonon on behalf of Charisios, who believes himself to be the father of a child of hers) but by Smikrines (referring to his impending visit to his daughter).  Not everyone will agree (I don’t), but this is not the place to argue the issue.  Meanwhile, let us welcome the recovery of another 17 letters of Menander – and the debates to which they will give rise.

Posted in ComedyMenander