Papyri of Rhetoric I

The papyrus roll preserving this book originally contained 4,000 standard lines (ca. 32-38 letters) written in 237 columns, each with ca. 37 lines of ca. 16 letters. The roll was separated into a number of parts, each of which is called a 'papyrus' and bears its own inventory number (e.g., PHerc. [=Herculanean Papyrus] 1427), though it represents only part of the original roll:

PHerc. 1427 contains the last seven columns (along with fragments of four columns preceding them) and subscription--thus, the interior portion of the roll, the midollo or 'marrow', which could be unrolled continuously on Fr. Piaggio's machine;

PHerc. 234, 250, 398, 410, 426, 453, 1601, 1619 are all pieces cut from the external portions of the roll. Each of these 'papyri' was a series of layers of papyrus, written on their internal surface, a so-called scorza or piece of 'bark'. In the early 19th century each such stack was given to a draftsman who would draw its innermost surface, then scrape that layer off (destroying it in the process) in order to draw the layers underneath. These drawings (disegni) are our only source for the text of the interior layers. The outermost piece (sometimes two pieces) is all that survives of the original.

PHerc. 1427, cornice ('frame') 1: the left hand portion contains four 'fragments', which are not connected (they have been mounted in such a way as to seem to form the tops and bottoms of two successive columns), but come from the portion of the roll immediately preceding the continuous columns which are seen on the right; on the right are the first four vertical columns of text.

PHerc. 1427, cornice 1, col. 4, the top of the column, including a correction written in the margin and over an erasure by the scribe: the text reads (the ends of the first three lines, now mutilated in the papyrus, are known from drawings made in ca. 1798, now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford; it can be viewed at


__ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ ⟦μ⟧ οἶμαι

διότ[ι], κἂν λόγωι ποτὲ

`πείθειν΄ ϲυνχωρήϲ[ηι] τινὰ[ϲ

ἰδιώταϲ, ἀλλ’ οὐχ ὅτι γ[ε 5

βέλτειον τῶ`ν΄τεχν[ει-

τῶν ἔϲται δεδειχώ[ϲ,

οὐδὲ κατὰ τὸ ἴδιον τοῦ

λέγειν οὐδὲ πυκνὸν

(⟩οὕτωϲ, ὡϲ ἐκεῖνοι. πολ-) 10 {this line is not included in the photo}

Philodemus here criticizes various arguments which had been thought to show that rhetoric is not a proper 'expertise' or subject of expert instruction.

Translation of lines 2-10: 'For I think that, even if one allows that some laymen sometimes persuade by speech, one will still not have shown that they do so better than the experts, nor indeed that they do so in the proper sense of "speaking", and also not as frequently as the experts do'.

PHerc. 1427, cornice 2, col. 7, the ornamental flourish (coronis) indicating the end of the book's text (the photo on the left is unretouched, that on the right has been digitally enhanced in its contrast and brightness, using standard tools in Adobe PhotoShop¨).


PHerc. 1427, cornice 2, end, with the last lines of the subscription indicating the name of the work (On Rhetoric), its genre (hypomnematikon), and book number (A [=1]), along with the number of lines (4,000) in the book and the number of columns ([2]37) in this copy.

PHerc. 398, the outermost piece, all that survives of a stack of scorze. Note that the surface is not continuous, as upper layers have flaked off over time to expose layers beneath them, which are closer to the outside of the original roll. Seven of the interior layers of this stack were drawn in 1839, then each was destroyed as it was peeled off to reveal the layers exterior (beneath) it. The photo on the right is unretouched, that on the left has been digitally enhanced.


PHerc. 426, top, the outermost piece of a stack of scorze.

Photographs by David Blank, reproduced by permission of te Biblioteca Nazionale "Vittorio Emmanuele" di Napoli; further reproduction without the permission of the library is prohibited.

  • Go to Herculaneum Papyri before Unrolling with photos.
  • Go to Papyri containing Philodemus, On Rhetoric, Book IIa with photos.
  • Go to Papyri containing Philodemus, On Rhetoric, Book IIb with photos.
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