Hexameters beyond the canon: new poetry on papyri from Roman and Byzantine Egypt
Existing literary histories of ancient Greek literature tend to focus almost exclusively on ‘canonical’ authors, dividing Christian from pagan literature and thus obscuring a number of key features. The project aims at correcting this perspective by studying the diffusion and circulation of non-canonical Greek hexameter poetry within the multilingual and multicultural context of Roman Egypt from the 1st to the 6th century CE. This is the first systematic attempt at charting the textual, cultural and historical dynamics of a rich but understudied body of what is in many cases occasional, use-oriented literature. This functional poetry covers a wide range of genres over a period of time that saw momentous changes in the cultural, political and religious scene of Roman Egypt. Our vantage point will be that of Oxyrhynchus, a provincial metropolis in middle Egypt, that is, outside the main centres of power (Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch). The edition, on-line and in print, of many unpublished papyri of new hexameter poetry will substantially increase the existing body of evidence and will help us offer an interpretative framework for its cultural-historical analysis (the social functions of occasional poetry at large). Mapping the development of this literature over time enables us to see how traditional genres adapted to respond to the changed conditions of literary production. Comparison of this type of poetry with its closer analogue, the contemporary metrical graffiti and other inscriptions of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, is another important step towards a more comprehensive understanding of this type of literature and its literary, cultural and social value.
April 2022-March 2026
Lucia Prauscello, University of Oxford (Principal Investigator)
Amin Benaissa, University of Oxford (Co-Investigator)
Nikolaos Gonis, University College London (Co-Investigator)
Peter J. Parsons, University of Oxford (Co-Investigator)
William Benjamin Henry, University of Oxford (Researcher)