For the past week, the world has been in a frenzy about the discovery of a couple of new poems by Sappho. The Telegraph said "a new Sappho poem is more exciting than a new album by David Bowie"; Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian was enthusiastic; and Tim Whitmarsh wrote a beautiful article for the Huffington Post.
The elephant in the room however, is the distinct lack of provenance of the poems.
Scholars on Twitter have questioned this for the past few days. As Douglas Boin, assistant professor of Ancient and Late Antique Mediterranean History at Saint Louis University, pointed out on Twitter over the weekend:
Few articles have addressed this issue in any meaningful way. James Romm, professor of classics at Bard College, in the Daily Beast writes simply:
The new Sappho papyrus probably came from Egypt and perhaps from Oxyrynchus, but its provenance may never be known.
Under normal circumstance this is just part of the rough and tumble of classical scholarship. But what does raise more serious questions is both that the link to the original article at Oxford's Papyrology Institute is no longer working and that scholars have complained that Dirk Obbink, author of the article and university lecturer in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford University, has not been responding to emails.
There may be innocent reasons that the article has vanished, but until there is more clarification it is unsurprising that there are mutterings about a second Gospel of Jesus' Wife scandal.
UPDATE: A couple of bombastic posts on the same subject from Paul Barford. Sappho text comes offline here and No-Questions-Asking UK Academic Reads a Fresly-Uncovered Ripped-up Papyrus from Unknown Source here.