Harold Stone and The Derveni Papyrus
Harold Stone's lectures as he teaches: raising more questions by the end of your time than those with which you began. Indeed, this is common at Shimer; students and a facilitator will enter a class with questions, and inevitably raise new and provocative ones by the end of their time together. In fairness, Stone’s topic, The Derveni Papyrus, is already an enigmatic piece of history. According to Stone, the papyrus is the only material of its kind to be unearthed. No papyrus had ever been found in Greece before the 1962 discovery outside the city of Derveni, Macedonia when bulldozers first uncovered part of a rich cemetery belonging to the ancient city of Lete. Uncovered along with several coffins of ancient Greek nobles, the papyrus was originally burned, leaving 26 fragments for historians and scientists to unravel and interpret.
Part of a longer scroll, the Derveni Papyrus elicits a treatise on a lost poem describing the birth of the gods and other beliefs focusing on the Orpheus, a mythical musician who visited the underworld to reclaim his lost love and engendered a cult following in the ancient world. The papyrus’ insight into some of the more peculiar aspects of Greek mythology, mysticism, and social currents around the time of Socrates sparked many questions from the Stone’s audience. Elements of creationist, atomist, and philosophical commentary, along with mentions of daimons, a prime mover, and references to the sun as genitalia all proved perplexing.
In sum, the hour long lecture provoked much interest, and even appears to be a candidate for inclusion to the Natural Sciences 1 or Humanities 3 curriculums. As anyone familiar with the Pre-Socratics knows, that which might contribute to a better understanding of these puzzling and ancient thinkers, or their lost society, would be a helpful addition for students and laymen alike. Whether the Derveni Papyrus will actually make it into the curriculum remains to be seen (keep in mind the college is in the midst of a curriculum review), but for now all interested parties will have to content themselves with a less involved speculation away from the octagonal table.