Literary texts are typically easy to recognize and easy to read, because they are written in what is known as a book hand. A book hand is easy to recognize because of its carefully written letters and even spacing. Also, Book hands generally have no ligatures - each letter is completely separate from the others - which makes them easy to read. This makes literary texts a great place to start for beginners. Below you will find several examples of the various types of literary papyri in our collection.
Prose & Poetry
The image below is a fragment from a lyric papyrus, and shows some of the typical features of a literary text. First, note the regularity in the size and spacing of the letters. This is a feature of a good book hand. Also, notice the margin at the top of the page. This is a fairly large margin, but all literary scrolls will have a margin at the top and bottom of the roll, as well as between columns. This fragment has been cut, so that only the top and right margins are visible.
Even if you can't read Greek, you could probably recognize poetry written on papyrus. Notice how the ends of the lines form a jagged margin. This is because one line of poetry makes one line of text, regardless of the length of the line. Conversely, for a prose text, the scribe will try to end the lines at a point that gives an even margin.
You may have noticed that in the middle of the papyrus some letters have been crossed out. This is an ancient correction. Ancient corrections are quite common, since it was easy for a scribe to make a mistake when copying a manuscript. Often, as in this case, the mistaken letters were crossed out, and the correct letters were inserted above the line.
Religious texts share many of the same features of other literary texts; they were copied by scribes and written in a book hand. Christian texts, however, have one major difference in their physical appearance; they were written in codex form, not in rolls. A codex, much like a modern book, consisted of many pages, rather than the single sheet of a papyrus roll. Below are two facing pages from a codex containing the letters of St. Paul.
The Pauline Epistles
The Letters of St. Paul are rather well preserved, despite some loss around the corners. The margins are clearly visible, and since this is a work of prose, you can see how the right margin has been kept as straight as possible (as opposed to the jagged margin of the poetry example above). At the top of each page is a page number; these are pages 31 and 32, which is represented by the letters LA and LB using the Greek numbering system. For more information about Greek numbers, see Greek Numbers, Dates and Currency.
Follow the link below to see some examples of documentary texts.