The Stopper in a Jug of Wine

September 26th 2010

"The reason we know so much, and in such detail, is rubbish." Thus writes P.J. Parsons in a brief account of the discovery of literary and historical treasures preserved in huge mounds of rubbish in the Egyptian desert. This rubbish brought to light previously lost ancient Greek texts. Excavation and examination continues to this day and hope remains for yet more lost texts to be brought to light again.

Why am I discussing this fascinating rubbish?

Because of two recent works with classical origins that would not be possible (or at least nearly as interesting) without the scraps found in some forgotten soul's two-thousand year old trash. First is Fragments, setting of fragments of Sappho's poetry for soprano and piano, commissioned by the inimitable Two Sides Sounding; the other is the libretto of an opera about the Roman emperor Hadrian and his young—later deified—love Antinous.

How amazing is it that scrap paper used to wrap fish, stop wine jugs and who know what else, contained some of the greatest literary gems of ancient culture. While the thought is disturbing--its was their status as trash that caused them to be left in the very place where they would be preserved, undisturbed for centuries.

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