Orestes 338-44


This Greek text on papyrus, written around 200 BC in Hermopolis, Egypt, has seven lines of writing containing parts of verses 338–344 from the first chorus of Orestes. Composed in 408 BC by the Greek tragedian Euripides (circa 480 BC–406 BC), the play recounts the story of Orestes, who kills his mother Clytaemnestra to avenge the death of his father, Agamemnon, and is pursued by the Furies for this deed. In addition to a passage of a chorus song (stasimon), the fragment contains vocal and instrumental symbols written above the lines of the lyrics. It is one of a relatively small number of surviving Greek texts with musical notation. Although much remains unknown about the music of the ancient Greeks, scholars have tried to reconstruct from such notation how the chorus might have been sung and played. The papyrus, which was recovered from mummy cartonnage at the end of the 19th century, belongs to the Papyrus Collection of the Austrian National Library, which was assembled in the 19th century by Archduke Rainer. In 1899 he gave it to Emperor Franz Joseph I, who made the collection part of the Hofbibliothek (Imperial Library) in Vienna. One of the largest such collections in the world, the Papyrus Collection (Collection Erzherzog Rainier) was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2001.

Last updated: April 27, 2015