Principatus medio (Plin. NH. XIII. 74). Towards the Interpretation of Pliny's Description of the Manufacture of Papyrus

Antonetz Ekaterina V., Solopov Alexei I.

The passage in Pliny’s Naturalis Historia XIII. 74–82 is the only account on the manufacture of the writing material (papyrus) in the ancient world. The text is not always clear and presents a number of problems. The present article deals with the very beginning of the passage, namely with: Praeparatur ex eo charta diuiso acu in praetenues, sed quam latissimas philyras. princi- patus medio, atque inde scissurae ordine (Plin. NH. XIII. 74).

Having expounded the problems connected with these particular two sentences, the authors make the semantic analysis of the words which have caused these problems. As a result, the following conclusions have been made.

The word philyra, which in Latin authors commonly denotes the linden tree and its bark, re- ceived in classical Latin the specific meaning «narrow strip of bark used for wreaths of flowers worn at banquets» (Hor. carm. I. 38. 2; Ou. fast. V. 335–340; Plin. NH. XXI. 6). Hence is de- rived the meaning «narrow strip», in which Pliny uses the word in the passage in question.

The word principatus, which is interpreted by most scholars as «the best quality» (H. Rackham) or «the choice quality» (N. Lewis), does not have this meaning in classical au- thors. Here the meaning can be conveyed either as «first place» (as in most places in Pliny) with special variation «first place in terms of technology of manufacture», or even simply as «start, beginning» (as in Cicero and Diomedes).

From the point of view of Latin grammar, the word medio cannot mean «the middle of the stalk» (as suggested by I.H.M. Hendriks) and can mean only «the middle of the pith».

The form ordine is practically monosemantic and denotes «in order, in succession» (e.g. Verg. Aen. I. 703–704; Verg. ecl. I. 73; Ou. a. a. III. 279).

The word scissura means here «a cut, a gap formed by cutting», not «the process of divid- ing or splitting» (as in OLD).

Thus, the suggested interpretation is: «The papyrus as a writing material (charta) is made from the papyrus plant, which is divided with a needle into very thin strips as wide as possible. The process of dividing starts in the middle of the pith, and from there cuts are done in succes- sion». This translation removes semantic hapax legomena for the words philyra and scissura and corresponds to the method used in Sicily in modern times and to the interpretation suggested by K. Dziatzko and Vladimir G. Borukhovich.