The Derveni Papyrus (PDerveni)

About the find

In 1962 archaeologists excavated a site called Λερβένι, a few miles from Salonika.  The site contained a number of tombs, some with funeral goods, belonging to members of the military class.  The site cannot be more recent that 300 BC.

In the remains of the funeral pyre in tomb A, the top part of a rolled-up papyrus roll was found, completely charred.  This came apart into more than 200 fragments, which contained more than 24 columns of text, with a blank sheet of papyrus at the end (about 16cm wide).

The original roll seems to have been around 20 cm high, of which around 7-8 cms now survives.  Of each column, around 15 lines survives.  Each line contains 30-45 letters, as the text is written out to the full length of the hexameters, and words are divided only in the case of preverbs.  Many of the fragments preserve the final letters of the lines of one column and the initial ones of the lines of the next, so the order of the columns is certain for most of the text.

The script is 4th century, and has been assigned to 340-320 BC by Tsantsanoglou and Parassoglou (1988).  There are scribal variations which seem to be the result of sharpening the quill, rather than changing it.

Paragraphoi are present and used to indicate quotations.  They are also used, accompanied by a dash, for punctuation at the end of a period.  Iota mutum is indicated, and there is almost always assimilation as is usual at this period.

Publication history

It seems extraordinary to this layman, but apparently the text has still to be published! *  Between 1962 and 1982 no text was available to anyone, which suggests very strongly personal selfishness by certain people.  In 1982 an unauthorised anonymous publication of a transcription took place (in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 47, 1982, p.300 ff) which caused "strained relations within the scholarly community" but allowed work to begin.  It is very difficult for a layman like myself to understand just how people whose salaries are paid by the state in order to promote learning end up in a situation where they prevent each other from accessing a new find, if that is what has truly happened.  R. Janko has prepared a new unauthorised text based on information disclosed down the years since (ZPE 141, 2002, 1-62).

English translations do exist, and one is published in Laks and Most, and another in Janko in CP 96.  Others, unpublished, are by R. Lamberton, D. Obbink, and a French translation by J. Bollack.


The manuscript contains a previously unknown text which quotes lines from a poem about the gods, and also pieces of Heraclitus.  It has been described as a commentary on an Orphic theogony, and the name of Orpheus is mentioned.


André Laks and Glenn W. Most, Studies on the Derveni Papyrus.  Oxford: Clarendon (1997). Checked.

Richard Janko, Classical Philology 96 (2001), pp.1-32. Checked.

* The text has now (September 2006) been published: Theokritos Kouremenos, George M. Parassoglou, etc, The Derveni Papyrus, Florence: Olschki (2006), ISBN- 88- 222- 5567- 4.  Series: Studi e testi per il "Corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini" vol. 13.  Text, translation (not sure what language), introduction and commentary.

I have also had an email from Ioannis Kokkinidis drawing my attention to the following article. The publisher of the Derveni papyrus L.A. Pierris wrote an article (in modern Greek) in the newspaper To Vima on 17/10/2006 describing the history of its publication. The article was available at What it generally says was that Professor Tsantsanoglou of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki could not publish it but also did not wish anyone else to do it. After his retirement the publisher assembled a team of experts and published the article in 20 months.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 11th May 2006

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