ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 46 (2009) 235-239
Grob, Eva Mira, and Andreas Kaplony (eds.), "Documentary Letters
from the Middle East: The Evidence in Greek, Coptic, South Arabian,
Pehlevi, and Arabic (lst-15th c CE)," Asiatische Studien/Etudes Asiatiques 62.3 (2008) 671-906. ISSN 0004-4717.
Although we do not normally review other journals in BASP, it is a pleasure to make an exception for this special issue of Asiatische Studien/Etudes
Asiatiques, devoted as it is to letters from Late Antiquity and beyond, especially
from Egypt. The volume is based on a workshop held in April 2007 in Ziurich.'
The contributions are all of the highest quality, and some are especially informative for outsiders unfamiliar with the various disciplines represented.
The focus throughout is on formal features, such as layout and formulae,
and on the changes they underwent in the course of time. Several contributions
bring out the distinctness of the various epistolary traditions, especially in the
case of Greek, Coptic, and Arabic letters from Egypt, which coexisted for a
while and to some extent succeeded one another. Briefly stated: once Demotic
letters petered out in the first century AD, there were only Greek letters for a
while. After 300 there were also Coptic letters, especially from the late sixth to
the eighth century, when Greek letters petered out and Arabic letters took their
place, until Coptic letters petered out in the twelfth century. A more elaborate
picture would perhaps distinguish between the different types of letters. Helpful remarks about epistolary typology can be found throughout the volume.
The volume opens with an ambitious survey of Greek letters on papyrus
from the first through the eighth century by R. Luiselli ("Greek Letters on Papyrus, First to Eighth Centuries: A Survey") on pp. 677-737, including a hefty
bibliography on pp. 720-734 and three illustrations on pp. 735-737, for which
better quality prints can be found in PSI 15. Luiselli pays attention to material
aspects of the papyri (size, folding, and sealing) and the script (orientation
[with the (re)turn to letters written transversa charta in the fifth century - p.
688] and degree of formality or informality) and to formal features of the texts
themselves (opening, body, and closing as well as postscript and address).2 On
p. 679, he is not very clear on the total number of Greek letters on papyrus,
1 One of the papers given at the workshop (on Bactrian letters) does not appear in
the volume under review. See p. 673, note 1, for references to an overview and an edition by N. Sims-Williams.
2 Unfortunately, Luiselli was not able to use J.-L. Fournet, "Esquisse d'une anatomie
de la lettre antique tardive d'aprds les papyrus" (for a volume on Correspondances. Documents pour l'histoire de lAntiquite tardive, which to the best of my knowledge has not