Athens, October 14, 2015/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Spiros Sideris
The first Greek entry in the International Directory of Unesco’s programme “Memory of the World» (Memory of the World) is the Derveni Papyrus, one of the most valuable exhibits of the Museum of Thessaloniki.
The inclusion was decided by the International Advisory Committee of the Programme, which convened in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates from 4 to 6 October. The dossier of the candidacy was presented by the President of the Greek National Commission for Unesco, Aikaterini Tzitzikosta, based on a proposal of the Greek Committee for the programme “Memory of the World”, chaired by Professor of the University of Athens Panagiotis Nikolopoulos. For the scientific documentation of the candidancy, the Commission has worked with the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and its Director, Polyxeni-Adam Veleni.
The Programme of Unesco «Memory of the World” seeks in particular to safeguard against damage and oblivion, and highlight, through the maintenance and full accessibility to assure the documented heritage of humanity (ie manuscripts, illustrations, files, documentaries, films, etc.).
The Papyrus of Derveni, the only readable papyrus preserved in Greece, holds a special place in world cultural heritage because it is the oldest readable manuscript of Europe.
The cylinder fragmented papyrus came to light in 1962 in Derveni Thessaloniki, among the remains of the funeral pyre of a rich tomb of the late Classical period (4th c. BC). Its preservation was due to its incomplete combustion, because the climate in Greece is not conducive to maintaining papyrus.
The surviving part of the papyrus is the top of the cylinder, that is the book that resulted from the combination of several sheets of papyrus. From the 266 surviving fragments of the papyrus experts managed to reconstruct part of the text. The writing on the papyrus dates to between 340 and 320 BC, the book but reproduced in it are much older (dating to around 420-410 BC).
According to the experts who have studied the text, it refers to theology and philosophy and belongs to the Orphic literature: the author explains and interprets allegorically an older Orphic poem on cosmogony and theogony. In the first part of the text there is a description of religious practices associated with the posthumous fate of souls, while the second part is an Orphic hymn that accompanied the rituals of mystics, for whom the author wrote the book, since he himself must have been an clairvoyant, chrismologos. The author of the book was probably Euthyphron from Prospalta (near today’s Kalyvia) of Attica.
From the moment of the discovery of the papyrus it has garnered global attention and has been the subject of numerous studies by experts. The main publication of the Team of Th. Kouremenos, C. Parasoglou and K. Tsantsanoglou (T. Kouremenos, G. Parassoglou & K. Tsantsanoglou, The Derveni Papyrus, Firenze 2006), while the study of the papyrus is the subject of a specific programme ( CHS Derveni Papyrus Project) from The Center for Hellenic Studies of the University of Harvard.
This unique sample of theological and philosophical literature of the ancient Greeks is today exhibited in its entirety in the permanent exhibition of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki “The Gold of the Macedonians”.
In 2011 at the 4th Biennale of Thessaloniki, it was the source of inspiration of the exhibition of artist D. Xonoglou, Professor of Aristoteleio University of Thessaloniki, entitled “Mediterranean palimpsests, wear issues and incorruptibility” an event that played a decisive role in becoming accepted in the International Directory of UNESCO, as it proves the timeless value of this valuable finding and its impact on contemporary life.
Its recent incorporation in the International Directory of Unesco is a significant success of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, which is certain that it will decisively contribute to the further promotion, preservation of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Greece.