The Derveni papyrus, an ancient Greek papyrus roll considered as Europe’s oldest surviving readable manuscript, is the first Greek item to be included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. Members of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, where the item is kept, announced the news on Tuesday.
The Memory of the World program aims at preserving against decay and oblivion of the world’s documentary heritage, by highlighting the value of previous works while facilitating access to those same works.
The papyrus is a philosophical treatise and an allegorical commentary on an older Orphic poem concerning the birth of the gods. The author of the piece is an undoubtedly contested issue among scholars, who have proposed that Euthyphron of Prospalta, Diagoras of Melos or Stesimbrotus of Thasos may be one of the authors.
It was found in pieces in 1962 in Derveni, an area near the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, among the remains of a tomb of the late Classical period (4th century BC). Experts believe the document was saved because of incomplete burning, as Greece’s climate doesn’t favor the preservation of papyrus.The text dates from between 340 and 320 BC, during the reign of Philip II of Macedon.
“The Derveni Papyrus is of immense importance not only for the study of Greek religion and philosophy, which is the basis for western philosophical thought, but also because it serves as a proof of the early dating of the Orphic poems offering a distinctive version of pre-Socratic philosophers,” UNESCO says about the papyrus.
“The text of the Papyrus, which is the first book of western tradition, has global significance, since it reflects universal human values: the need to explain the world, the desire to belong to a human society with known rules and the agony to confront the end of life,” UNESCO added.
The inclusion of the document was decided by the program’s International Advisory Committee (IAC) which convened in Abu Dhabi October 4-6. It has attracted international interest and is the subject of study of the CHS Derveni Papyrus Project, conducted by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University.
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki believes its inclusion in UNESCO’s international list will contribute decisively to the further promotion and preservation of Greece’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.