Some time ago, I posted on Literature about Sappho's Hector and Andromacha. To sum-up, the sources for that are P.Oxy. 1232 and P.Oxy. 2076. P.Oxy. 1232 is three scraps of papyrus, one of which has a big part of the poem in two columns, another one of which is considered to contain a different poem, and the last one is (for what I can tell) a tiny scrap containing the ending of some lines. The question at Literature was: the two-column scrap and P.Oxy. 2076 clearly go together, but the tiny scrap? Why is it together with those as well? Now once we have P.Oxy. 2076 we clearly see the lines in P.Oxy. 2076 join very nicely with those of the tiny scrap, which is reason enough to put them together. However, before P.Oxy. 2076, the only reason I can see to hypothize a link between the two-column scrap and the tiny scrap is the P.Oxy. number. So I was wondering:

Why are those scraps under the same number? And more generally, how are P.Oxy. numbers chosen for scraps of Oxyrhynchus papyri?

  • 2
    There is a vote to close as off-topic. I think that the use of text corpora is important in the study of Latin and Greek (both of which are currently on-topic) and questions about them are therefore welcome here. Others are free to disagree, of course, through voting, at meta or in chat.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 15:50
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    @Joonas Just to clarify: I think you are referring to a close vote, not a down vote. There is no reason to downvote this well thought-out question.
    – brianpck
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 18:19
  • @brianpck Oh yes, I meant disagreeing by voting to close, not down. But as undeserving of a downvote as this question is, people are free to vote as they please – although an explanation of such a vote is always appreciated.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 18:35
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    To better answer your questions, it'd be good to know how much you know already. In other words, do you have any background in linguistics?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 18:43
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    @Alex no. Unless you count occasionally looking at etmologies on Wiktionary as such background :). I did ask a couple questions about inconsistencies of those etymologies at the Wiktionary Tea Room, and even one on a semantic change from PIE to PG on Linguistics SE. I also asked about Perfect Imperative over at Ling, but that's it.
    – MickG
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


They're pretty much arbitrary.

A papyrus is assigned a P.Oxy. number when it's published, by order of publication. In other words, P.Oxy. 7 (the first Sappho fragment found at Oxyrhynchus) is the seventh papyrus to be published: no more, no less.

So if multiple scraps are grouped together, it's because some academic or archaeologist thought they belonged together, and believed it strongly enough to publish them as a single piece.

P.S. Sometimes a volume is listed as well, as in "P.Oxy. X1231": the 1231st fragment published (total), which can be found in volume ten. This is just a convenience to make them easier to locate; "P.Oxy. 1231" is just as correct.

  • Any idea why the P.Oxy. 1232 fragments were placed together? And since you mention them, what about the 1231s?
    – MickG
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 19:29
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    @MickG I'm afraid the best I have is—the archaeologists who first published those fragments decided they belonged together. Possibly based on the circumstances of their discovery?
    – Draconis
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 19:36

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