Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fantastic Film: “Greek Papyri – The Rediscovery of the Ancient World”

In a comment to the previous post on Oxyrhynchus, an anonymous person drew the attention to a fascinating film that has just been uploaded to YouTube, “Greek Papyri—The Rediscovery of the Ancient World”:
Fascinating footage of work on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, including many names familiar to New Testament papyrologists (E. G. Turner, W. E. H. Cockle, J. D. Thomas) in a film about Greek Papyri from 1972, uploaded to YouTube today: .
I am not certain but I think the image I pasted above from the film is of Walter Cockle, who recently passed away.

Brent Nongbri announced the film today (on the Papy-L list):
This 44-minute movie was produced in 1971 by the Greek and Latin Departments and the Slade School of Fine Art at University College London in 1971. It was directed by Mirek Dohnal and features some fantastic archival footage of the British papyrologists of the day. The film is mentioned in an exhibition catalog by T. S. Pattie and E. G. Turner, The Written Word on Papyrus: An Exhibition Held in the British Museum 30 July - 27 October 1974 (British Library Board, 1974).

The quality of the production was said to be excellent. The obituary for Eric Turner in the Proceedings of the British Academy described the film as follows:  “. . . in May [1971] came the première of Mirek Dohnal’s film Greek Papyri (Turner had suggested the subject to the head of the Slade Film Unit; he and his pupils and colleagues starred, with Zauberflöte in the background, and many hours of patient labour; the film won a silver medal at the Venice Festival) . . .”
One notable feature in the film, at about 24.15-25.10, is the dissolvement of a mummy mask to recover papyri, as it was done in the early 70’s – a now very controversial practice since it inevitably involves the destruction of an ancient artifact. In our era there are projects to “make the mummies talk” with non-invasive imaging technology. See here and here.


  1. This video is amazing! Thank you for posting. I find it fascinating how computer, photographuc, and other digital technology such as searchsble databases of ancient text likely speedup the process of editing papyri shown in the video.

  2. This film is an amazing piece of history in its own right now. I'm glad it is out in public where it belongs.

  3. Great find. The video takes us back to a time when we were discovering texts by the droves. While I think that we have pretty much mind the findings of manuscripts, esp. for Biblical studies, the study of textual criticism gets me excited to study the original languages and master what we already have found. Thank you for this post.

  4. I was right, it was Walter Cockle, as Brent Nongri’s recent post confirms: