A fog continues to sit over the discovery of the two new poems supposedly by the seventh century lyric poet Sappho and questions of forgery have started to appear.
International scholars are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of response from either Dirk Obbink, author of the article on the discovery of the Sappho poems and university lecturer in papyrology and Greek literature at Oxford, or the editorial board of Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik about the provenance of the papyrus fragments. See yesterday's blog post Are The New Sappho Poems All They Seem?
Last night Francesca Tronchin, assistant professor of ancient Mediterranean art and archaeology, Rhodes College, Memphis, kicked off the debate on the Discussing the New Sappho Poems website with some trenchant questions:
Could the author of the article or the journal editor please comment on the provenance of the papyrus fragment itself? At what point did it come into the hands of this private collector? And by what means? Were there other fragments associated with it?
These questions regarding provenance go beyond simply authenticating the papyrus fragment as a work of Sappho, as there are fairly significant cultural heritage issues as well.
She was rapidly echoed with similar questions from Caroline Schroeder, associate professor, religious and classical studies at the University of the Pacific, and Justin Walsh, faculty member of art history at Chapman University.
Despite the furore, none of these simple questions from serious scholars have been answered. As Walsh points out, what especially raises concerns is the silence:
I’ve written directly to Dr Obbink twice in the last six days and received no response whatsoever; I’m hardly the only person who has asked.
Until there is any kind of an answer, rumours and scepticism will continue to grow.
Tronchin has set up a Storify website to track the news here.
UPDATE: Comment from Tim Whitmarsh