Homer’s Iliad was one of the most popular and influential writings in the ancient world. Around 2,700 copies of the Iliad survive, second only to the Bible. The Iliad was used in education and provided the basis for Greek mythology.
This papyrus has a portion of the most important literary work in the classical world, Homer’s
Iliad. Homer was a Greek poet who lived in the 9 th century BC. The Iliad recounts dramatic
events in the Trojan War focusing on a great Achaean (or Greek) warrior named Achilles and his
tragic actions and the cascading consequences for his actions. It preserves about 1/3 of a
complete column from a papyrus book-roll (or scroll) with portions of 28 lines from Book 2 from
Homer’s Iliad. It dates to the 1 st century AD or the time of the New Testament. The Iliad was
the “bible” for the classical world. It had an enormous influence on the culture, education and
the religious identity of Graeco-Roman antiquity.
Next to the Bible, the most hand-copied text from the ancient world was the Iliad with over
2,700 surviving copies. In comparison, there are over 40,000 surviving hand-written copies of
the Bible before the invention of moveable typeset printing in 1455. The majority of Iliad
manuscripts, like this one, date to the early Roman Empire when there was a revival in classical
learning. Punctuation and other technical aspects in the writing indicate that this papyrus was
a professionally produced copy that circulated for use by students and educated readers. The
papyrus preserves a portion of the great catalogue of the Achaean kings, heroes, and ships that
set sail for Troy. Lists of this sort, celebrating heroes from place to place, were common in
ancient epics. This papyrus provides the earliest witness to much of the passage. This papyrus
was doubtless damaged and discarded in antiquity. It was recycled (or repurposed) with other
discarded papyri to make the infrastructure of a mummy covering. It was later extracted.
Many important papyri have survived in this way.