The Lister List

Folding Papyrus

In jest, Pat Slider wonders what an ancient Roman would call a paperfolder and goes on to muse that papyrus would be a litle thick for folding, but perhaps it could be wet-folded.

I don't think the Romans had paper, but we should bear in mind that paper is only a particular kind of felted material and it is conceivable that in Roman times there was some such material that history has not recorded and that has perished before the archaeologists could get their hands on it. But assuming that this was not so, the ancient Romans could not, of course, have had a word for folding paper in the modern sense of paper. On the other hand there might well be a word in late mediaeval or modern latin. The language survived and continued to evolve after the fall of the empire! Perhaps someone with access to a mediaeval or later Latin Dictionary could look it up

It has always been generally assumed that papyrus could not be folded and that therefore folding only became possible with the introduction of paper from the East. (I am not of course referring to folding cloth.) I think, however that we are possibly a little over pessimistic about the folding potentiality of papyrus. New papyrus is not nearly so brittle as most people think and it can be quite thin. Moistening it would certainly make it more foldable.What seems to clinch the matter is that in a museum in Italy (in Turin, I think), there is a fragment of a folded map made of papyrus.It is folded in the normal way maps are folded today. It came from Egypt and apparently dates from either the Hellenic or the Roman period. Perhaps the maker of the map spoke Greek or Coptic, but if he spoke Latin, what did he call the process? My Latin has rusted to the stage of disintegration but the Latin word "charta" was used for papyrus, so Pat's suggestion of "chartam plicatus" seems a possibitity to me. Or it might be "charta plicator".

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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