Everything Gourmet

Pivotal Papyrus

Papyrus growing wild and spontaneously in Sicily. Photo: V. Schram. Courtesy Collège de France. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Paris, France — It is probably one of the world’s most mythical materials. A material that has been with mankind for at least 6,000 years now. A material that has enabled humanity to record its journey through the ages. Papyrus, an infinitely green plant that when turned into a paper parchment becomes a transmitter of life stories. The Collège de France, a prestigious French institution of higher learning that was established in Paris in 1530 and open to all, is devoting an exhibition to papyrus from the Pharaohs to the present through unique pieces found in French collections ranging from mummies drapes to acts signed by the old French kings of the very early Middle Ages, Dagobert and Clovis. Entitled From Cleopatra to Clovis, Papyrus in All of Its Shapes and Forms, the show opened up on September 18th and will run to October 26th. So for those of you who can’t be in Paris right now, The Gourmet Gazette brings this intriguing and instructive show to you.

Element of a covering of a mummy from either the necropolis Ghoran or Magdola. possibly at Fayoum. Third or Second century BC.Institut de papyrologie, Sorbonne Université, inv. Sorb. 1385 verso. Photo: F. Jacques, Institut de Papyrologie, Sorbonne Université. Courtesy Collège de France. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

The exhibition showcases some 60 objects, documents and artifacts dating from Ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages, revealing the story of what was the essential medium for writing in the Mediterranean region for several millennia. While Egypt and the Near East are all included, the show underscores the lesser known use of papyrus in Europe. A papyrus from Herculanum which survived the eruption of Vesuvius and a decision by the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II are on hand alongside acts signed by the French kings Dagobert (603AD-639AD) and Clovis II (633Ad-657AD).

Signature of Clovis II on an act dated 22 June 654: Chlodovius rex sub(scripsi). Archives Nationales, K2, N° 3. Courtesy Collège de France. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

The story of papyrus is told chronologically from the Egypt of the Pharaohs to the Middle Ages as well as geographically from Egypt to Byzantium and Rome but, too, from Brittany to Afghanistan through pieces emanating from public and private collections that are little known to the public. The use of the papyrus plant as a medium for writing is among the inventions that changed the world and though invented by the ingenious Egyptians, its use quickly spread to the rest of world to become the major medium for writing in the Mediterranean region from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.

Design of a weaver or a mosaic artist.Photo: F. Jacques, Institut de Papyrologie, Sorbonne Université. Courtesy Collège de France. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

« The use of papyrus is essential for the development of civilization and in any case for binding things to memory, » wrote the Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder in the first century AD. Papyrus has brought down to us precious writings from Antiquity which without it we probably wouldn’t have today. It was the choice « paper » for 4,000 years before parchment and then paper emerged on the written word scene.

A flower cluster of papyrus along the Ciane River in Sicily.Photo: V. Schram. Courtesy Collège de France. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

The show introduces the plant and explains how it was transformed into ‘paper’ before taking the visitor on a world view journey from Cleopatra to Clovis. On exhibit are documents written in Egyptian, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and more. Conferences, visits and a 200-page catalogue are all on the agenda. The exhibition is open free and without reservations from Monday to Friday from 9am until 5pm.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
11 Pl. Marcelin Berthelot
75005 Paris, France
+33 (0) 1 44 27 12 11

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