Between autograph and copy: writing as thinking on papyrus

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This paper examines at the physical traces of cognition left on papyrus manuscripts from Graeco-Roman Egypt. It borrows from theories developed in the cognitive sciences and philosophy which extend cognition beyond the brain to view it as a cooperation between mind and environment. Examined from this perspective, the classic opposition between scribe as wilful editor and scribe as pure medium for transmission breaks down. The invective of literary sources against the scribe as corruptor of text sits awkwardly with papyrus evidence which shows scribes acting as trusted allies in composition. This binary way of thinking of the scribal contribution to the transmission of knowledge might be alleviated by thinking of scribal practice as a cognitively rich collaboration between material and mind and by attending to physical traces of this engagement. In particular, this paper suggests that patterns of re-inking the stylus may correspond to sense breaks if the scribe is particularly conscious of or invested in a manuscript's content. If such is true, an examination of re-inking patterns may offer papyrologists a new technique to track scribal engagement in the content they produce.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)1–28
Number of pages28
JournalBook History
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2018


  • extended mind
  • papyrus
  • cognition
  • copies and copying
  • Manuscripts (Papyri)
  • Scribal culture


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