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You’ve Got Mail: Business as usual in the 2nd Century

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Letter of Apion to his son Apion and Horion, [ca. 175-ca. 225] MS Gr SM4358rHere is a letter, written on papyrus, from Apion, a man of property, to his son of the same name and also to Horion, either a close friend of the family or an unspecified relation. Apion’s concerns are those of any businessman: balancing debits and credits, keeping up with his civic duties, minding his real estate, tenants and taxes. Here he is micromanaging his son and Horion, who are taking care of business in his absence: “Tell the twins to be careful of the small change,” he directs them, and “don’t rent the house to anyone but a woman who intends to live in it, especially not to youths…” Of course some things were done differently in Hellenistic Egypt: Apion was also concerned about getting his name into a lottery for the post of tax collector, and he expected one of his debtors, the donkey-driver Pausiris, to pay him back with jars of wine. We don’t know exactly where they lived—various place names such as Tampitei, Sento, and Ision Panga are mentioned; the address on the verso presumes that the person delivering it will know just where to find Apion the younger and Horion—but the letter came to light during the excavation of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt at the end of the 19th-century, nearly two thousand years after it was written.

The papyri from Oxyrhynchus were first published by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (London, 1898-1908). Papyrus was usually the medium of choice for record-keeping and permanent writing in antiquity, up until the general shift to the parchment codex between 2nd and 4th centuries CE. Made from the pulp of the papyrus plant, a reed which was especially common in the Nile delta of Egypt, this writing medium would typically last a few hundred years. The exceptional survival of the Oxyrhynchus papyri depended on the dryness of their immediate surroundings: these documents had been tossed into a garbage dump that was later covered over by layers and layers of sand that kept the rotting damp out.

Apion’s letter, together with 83 other papyri, including literary, philosophical and biblical texts, along with more ephemeral documents like this one, came to the Semitic Museum at Harvard from the Egypt Exploration Fund, London, between 1901 and 1909. The Semitic Museum received them in return for the purchase of a life membership (for $125 ) in the Egypt Exploration Fund by Jacob H. Schiff, the museum’s principal benefactor. In 1960 the papyri were transferred to Houghton Library. You can see digital versions of all of them online.

Letter of Apion to his son Apion and Horion, [ca. 175-ca. 225] MS Gr SM4358r

Letter of Apion to his son Apion and Horion, [ca. 175-ca. 225] MS Gr SM4358r

Translation from The Oxyrynchus Papyri, part 3 ed. B.P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, pp. 272-273.

Translation MS Gr SM4358 from The Oxyrynchus Papyri, part 3 ed. B.P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, pp. 272-273.
Translation MS Gr SM4358 from The Oxyrynchus Papyri, part 3 ed. B.P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, pp. 272-273.

Transcription from the Duke Database of Digital Papyri, accessed 14 July 2012.
II/IIIspc Oxyrhynchus
Ἀπίων Ἀπίωνι τῶι υἱῷ καὶ Ὡρίωνι τῶι φιλτάτῳ πλεῖστα χαίρειν. πρὸ τῶν ὅλων εὔχομαι ὑμᾶς ὑγιαίνειν μετὰ τῶν τέκνων καὶ συμβίων. ὅσα δι\ὰ τῆς/ ἑτέρας ἐπιστολῆς ἔγραψα ἵνα μὴ τὰ αὐτὰ γράψω καὶ Ὡρίωνι γράφω. διεπεμψάμην ὑ(1)-με[ῖ]ν(1) δ[ι]ὰ Εὐτυχοῦς τοῦ ἀπὸ Ἰσίου Τρύφωνος διαστολικὰ γ, β μὲν πρὸς γεωργοὺς Μαξίμου, τὸ [δὲ] ἄλλο πρὸ[ς] Διογ[έ]νην τὸν τοῦ Βε̣λ̣εη ̣( ), εὐθέως δημοσιώσατε αὐτὰ πρὸ τοῦ Φαῶφ[ι ἵ]να μὴ ἐκπρόθεσμα γένηται. ἕτερα δὲ ἀνεπέμφθη Πανεχώτῃ \νομικῷ/ παρʼ οὗ κ̣ο̣μ̣[ίσ]ε̣σθε(2) κα̣ὶ̣ δ̣ό̣τε αὐτῷ (δραχμὰς) ξδ. τὸ ορτόσπερμον πωλήσατε καὶ πύθεσθε τοῦ Ὀ[ ̣]φ[ ̣]λη εἰ χρ[εί]αν ἔχει τοῦ ἀπὸ Ταμπιτεί. αἱ ρόσοδοί μου αἱ διὰ τῶν γεωργῶν διαστ[αλ]εῖσα[ι] ἢ παρὰ τῷ ταμείῳ ἐ[ν π]αραθέσει ογισθήτωσαν ἢ ἐν ἀσφαλεῖ [ἐσ]τω(3) παρὰ [τοῖ]ς γεωργοῖς ἵνα θεῶν θ[ελ]όντων ἐὰν νεθῶσι μὴ ἔχωμεν περιπλοκὴν π[ρ]ὸς τὸν ἀντίδικον, ἢ ὁ κίνδυνος αὐτῶν ἤτω πρὸς τοὺς γεωργούς. τὴν οἰκίαν Τ̣[ ̣ ̣] ̣βιου μὴ μισθώσῃς μηδενὶ εἰ μή τι(4) γυναικὶ μελλούσῃ ἐν αὐτῇ οἰκεῖν ̣[ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣]ατ[ ̣] ̣ρ̣[ ̣]τε ̣[ ̣ ̣ ̣] γ̣ὰρ ̣[ ̣ ̣]ον ἐστὶν τοιαύ[τ]ην οἰκίαν παρα[β]άλλε[ι]ν εανίσκοις ἵ[ν]α μὴ ἔχωμεν στομάχου[ς] μηδὲ φθόνον. εἴπατε Ζωίλῳ τῷ ἀπὸ Σεντὼ γεωργῷ ὅτ[ι] κατὰ τὰς συνθήκας φρόντισον τοῦ χαλκοῦ. εἴπατε καὶ τοῖς διδύμοις ὅτι προνοήσ[α]τε τοῦ κερματίου, ὁμοίως καὶ Ἀπολλωνίῳ καὶ Διονυσίῳ ἐὰν ἰσχύσητε πέμψαι εἰς Πα[κέ]ρκη(5) ἀπηλιώτου πρὸς Παυσῖριν τὸν ὀνηλάτην ὅτι καθὼς συνετάξασθέ μοι δοῦναι κεράμια οἴνου καὶ ἵνα τηρήσωσι αὐτῶν τὴν δεξιάν. παράλαβε παρὰ Ἁρθώνιος ἱερέως τὰς τοῦ (πυροῦ) (ἀρτάβας) κ καὶ παρὰ Ζωίλου τοῦ γεωργοῦ τῆς Σεντὼ ἃς κέχρηται παρʼ ἐμοῦ πυροῦ (ἀρτάβας) ε. ἐπισκέψασθε ἐκ τοῦ λογιστηρίου τοῦ στρα(τηγοῦ) ἐπιστολ(ὴν) τοῦ διοικητοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ Θὼθ μηνὸς γραφεῖσαν περὶ τοῦ ὀνόματα πεμφθῆναι \ἀντʼ ἐμοῦ/ εἰς κλῆρον τῆς πρακτορείας. εἴπατε Σερήνῳ τῷ ἐν τῷ καμηλῶνι ὅτι προνόησον(6) τοῦ χαλκοῦ. εἴπατε Ἑρμίᾳ τῷ τ[οῦ Ἰσ]ίου Παγγᾶ γραμματεῖ πρακτόρων ἀργυ(ρικῶν) ὅτι διάστειλον ὃν ὀφείλεις μοι πυρὸν ἢ ὃν ἐ[ὰν δ]οκιμᾷς. Ἡρακλείδης Ἑρμαίσκ[ο]υ ἀποδότω τὰς τοῦ (πυροῦ) (ἀρτάβας) ϛ ἐν θέματι. ε[ἴ]πατε Διονυσίῳ Ἐπιμάχου ἀρχιερατεύσαντι ὅτι ἐνέτυχον τῷ διοικητῇ ἕνεκα τῆς προσόδου ἵνα πα[ρα]δεχθῇ εἰς τὸ ὄφλημα Σαραπίωνος Φανίου. ἀσπάσασθε Στατίαν τὴν θυγατέρα μου καὶ Ἡρ[α]κλείδην καὶ Ἀπίωνα τοὺς υἱούς μου. ἀσπάσασθε τὸν μεικρὸν(7) Σερῆνον καὶ Κοπρέα καὶ το[ὺ]ς ἡμῶν πάντας(8) κατʼ ὄνομα. ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς Ἀμάραντος καὶ Ζμάραγδος. ἐρρῶσθαι ὑμᾶς εὔχομαι.

ἀπόδος Ἀπίωνι υἱῶι καὶ Ὡρίωνι.

1. r.3-4. l. ὑ|μῖν : ϋ papyrus
2. r.7. BL 1.325 : κ̣ο̣μ̣[ίζ]ε̣σθε prev. ed.
3. r.9. l. [ἔσ]τω BL 1.325 : [ἤ]τω prev. ed.
4. r.12. l. τι
5. r.17. Πα[βέ]ρκη prev. ed.
6. r.22. corr. ex προνοησαι
7. r.27. l. μικρὸν
8. r.28. corr. ex ημ ̣ ̣ ̣αντας

This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.

[Thanks to Susan Halpert, Reference Librarian, for contributing this post.]

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