Emily Wilson


14 July 2018

Making a Pigsty

Reports have been circulating in the press of a discovery at Olympia of 13 lines from very early in Book 14 of the Odyssey, inscribed on a clay tablet. These reports all seem to be based on an announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports; various muddles in the English press reporting, such as calling Book 14 a ‘rhapsody’, can probably be blamed on Google Translate. The report also claims that the clay tablet, which the archaeologists are said to have provisionally dated to Roman times, ‘probably before the third century AD’, is ‘extraordinarily unique’ (πέραν της μοναδικότητάς), because it ‘may perhaps preserve the oldest known extract of the Homeric epic’. Hordes of newspapers have repeated the claim. There are plenty of papyri of parts of the Iliad and the Odyssey that are far older than the third century AD, however, including the first ever discovered, a piece of papyrus housed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which dates to the first half of the third century BCE. There are even earlier bits of Homer on other materials, such as a line from Odyssey 9 on a potsherd found in ancient Olbia (in modern Ukraine), dating to the fifth century BCE.