City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt by Peter Parsons - review by Peter Jones

Peter Jones

The Sands of Egypt

City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 288pp £20

The Molesworth Self-Adjusting Thank-You Letter (‘Dear Aunt/Uncle/Stinker, Thank you very much for the train/tractor/germ gun. It was lovely/useful/not bad’ and so on) has proved a blessing to schoolchildren for many years now, but the principle is at least 1,700 years old. For the desert sands of an ancient Greek town in Egypt have yielded a model ‘Letter of Consolation’, datable to about AD 300: ‘--- to ---, be of good heart. When the terrible news was signified to me about the deceased ---, how I was distressed …’, etc.

It is just one of the thousands of items recovered a hundred years ago from a garbage-tip in the ancient Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchos, ‘sharp-nosed’, named after its sacred fish (modern el-Behnesa). Peter Parsons, Emeritus Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford and one of the world’s leading papyrologists, has been

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend