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Tebtunis goes to Vegas

What do Tebtunis and Las Vegas have in common? Well, not the gambling (at least not as far as we know!). Surprisingly enough, the two towns do show some similarities: they are both surrounded by a desert, they both see, at some point in their history, the presence of a lively community of people of Greek descent, who far away from Greece, gather together to preserve their Hellenic heritage. The chronological span of this presence of course differs from a place to another: while a Greek community could be identified in Tebtunis for several centuries from the third century BC into the third century AD, a Greek community gathered in Las Vegas only for a few days in October 2015. I’m talking about the annual meeting of the National Hellenic Society (NHS), a festive event that gathers together members of the Society as well as a number of guests, for one purpose: the celebration of Hellenic culture.

One of the highlights of the weekend was the inclusion of CTP in the Heritage and Culture Panel, during which Tebtunis was in great company. Patricia Moore-Pastides, the University of South Carolina’s first lady and public health professional, engaged the public with a fascinating defense of the Greek diet, convincingly demonstrating how eating well can improve our overall lifestyle. Chad Cohen and Jared Lipworth, National Geographic producers, presented a preview of the documentary ‘The Greeks’ (aired next Spring on PBS), impressing with images and clips of some of the cultural achievements of the ancient Greek civilization, including the spectacular Sicilian temples and Greek tragedies.

But first came Tebtunis and its papyri.In the spirit of the event, my presentation explored, through a selection of papyri from CTP, the ways in which the Hellenic culture penetrated into a remote but lively Egyptian village during the Hellenistic and Roman periods: through literature, as documented by the papyri including the work of Sophocles and Homer; through social gatherings and communal celebrations, as attested, for example, by the festival for Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest; and through the language, which over time became the official language of the administration of Egypt.

How did the people of Tebtunis live? What do we learn from the papyri? These were the central questions asked in the presentation. Among the papyri discussed are of course some of the unique pieces yielded by the Berkeley collection, like a fragment in Greek of the lost original, in Latin, Chronicle of the Trojan War, but Dictys of Crete

and a fragment of a lost satyr play by Sophocles, the Inachos.

The Tebtunis papyri give voice to the people who read Homer and Euripides, to those who owned estates and land, and to women, like Zois, who appears in a sale of land as a consenting wife. Her husband Didumos is selling his plot of land, and to be final the sale needs his wife’s approval. ‘Hellenism’ and the celebration of it could be seen everywhere over the weekend, and once the panel presentations were over it was time for party. At the Glendi dinner offered on the Friday night, everybody dressed in white and delicious Greek food and wine were appropriately accompanied by live Greek music and group dances.

The setting (an open portico), a sky full of stars and the warm air all contributed to recreate the vibe and atmosphere of a Greek late summer evening, and it was exciting to see the Tebtunis Papyri showcased at this unique event!

The CTP team

Todd Hickey

Associate Professor of Classics at UC Berkeley and Director of the Center for the Tebtunis papyri

His research interests lie in the social, cultural and economic history of Graeco-Roman Egypt. His first book, Wine, Wealth, and the State in Late Antique Egypt: The House of Apion at Oxyrhynchus (Ann Arbor 2012) concerns the best documented estate from the postclassical Mediterranean, that of the Flavii Apiones at Oxyrhynchus, and challenges recent arguments that this entity was a profit-driven enterprise. He is currently writing a ”collective biography” of the crocodile priests of Tebtunis.

Micaela Langellotti

Elios and National Hellenic Society Postdoctoral Fellow

Her research interests focus on the social and economic history of Graeco-Roman Egypt, and more broadly of the Roman empire. She is currently completing a book entitled Village economy and society: early Roman Tebtunis, which aims to construct the first detailed village study for the Roman empire. At CTP she is investigating the unpublished Greek papyri of the Tebtunis collection in order to examine how far Greek culture and structures had an impact on an Egyptian village in the Roman period.

Michael Zellmann-Rohrer

His primary research interest is in the diachronic study of magical ritual from Greek antiquity through Byzantium and into modern Greece, for which papyri are a crucial source of evidence. He is also interested in Greek epistolography, Classical and Byzantine, and is studying several personal letters on papyrus from the Tebtunis collection in that context.

Krista Griffiths

She oversees CTP’s reference library by submitting requests for new library materials, catalogs library materials into the department’s database and organizes the reference materials according to Duke University’s Checklist of Editions of Greek, Latin, Demotic, and Coptic Papyri, Ostraca and Tablets. In addition to overseeing CTP’s library she is involved in two other projects here at CTP. The first is performing a complete inventory of the Tebtunis Papyri Collection. The second project is to assign P.Hearst numbers to each of our Hearst Papyrus fragments and then enter a description of each one into our papyri database http://tebtunis.berkeley.edu/form

Caroline Cheung

She is primarily interested in the Roman economy and ancient agriculture. Her overall work aims to evaluate the economic and social realities of Roman imperialism by examining a wide range of material evidence and textual sources. More recently she has been cultivating an interest in Egypt especially, thanks to opportunities to study papyrology and work with artifacts from Tebtunis at CTP.

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