Last year, two new poems of Sappho emerged out of nowhere and took the internet and academia by storm. I blogged about them here. I did not know back then that the discovery was called into question by the academic community. In an article by Megan Gannon, for Live, these issues have recently been addressed. From the article:

Dirk Obbink, a leading papyrologist at the University of Oxford, announced that he had recovered substantial sections of two never-before seen poems by Sappho: one about her brothers, the second about unrequited love. Obbink's discovery of the two new poems was hailed as a miracle, but in some circles, it was met with hesitation. Sappho's long-lost verses had been translated from an ancient papyrus that was in the hands of an anonymous collector in London. The manuscript's origins were unknown.

Some archaeologists and historians worried it came from Egypt's black market, or feared that it could be a forgery akin to the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, a sensational manuscript that now seems to be a fake. Others were suspicious of the papyrus' apparent links to an American evangelical Christian collection of ancient texts.

From the beginning, Obbink maintained that the new Sappho papyrus has a legal, documented collecting history, but after a year of buzz, he finally revealed that provenance: the text had been folded up inside a tiny piece of glued-together papyri that was purchased by the anonymous collector at an auction in London in 2011.

The lot sold for 7,500 British pounds, or about $11,400. Obbink said the anonymous buyer called to ask for advice a couple of months after the auction, in January 2012. The new owner wanted to know if some of the compressed bits of papyri could be identified without peeling the layers apart.

Obbink said he went to see the packets for himself later that month. One small chunk of cartonnage appeared to contain multiple layers of papyrus, with fragments peeling off from the outside, Obbink said. The anonymous owner — who is a businessman, not a professional collector or academic — had his staff dissolve the tiny stack in warm water. From that pile, they found a folded-up, postcard-size manuscript with lines of text in ancient Greek. When Obbink later read the text, he said he knew he was looking at poems by Sappho.

Obbink was confident in the papyrus' authenticity. The poems had Sappho's signature meter and language and, for the first time, her brothers' names, Charaxos and Larichos, which were only previously known from later biographical works about Sappho. Parts of the 'Brothers Poem' and 'Kypris Poem' also overlapped with previously published Sappho fragments.

A carbon-14 dating of a portion of the papyrus returned a date of around A.D. 201. Though the anonymous owner initially believed the cartonnage was from a mummy, Obbink found that it contained no traces of gesso or paint. That fact, combined with the age of the papyrus, suggests the cartonnage was more likely used for an industrial purpose, perhaps a book cover. The owner of the papyrus agreed to let Obbink publish the poems, so long as he could keep his anonymity.

Yet, not all classicists and archaeologists were thrilled with the way the findings were presented. Some took to the blogosphere and opinion pages to fault Obbink for not addressing a key question: Where did the papyrus fragments come from? Obbink made no mention of the Christie's sale in those first publications.

So why wait a year to reveal its collecting history? For one, Obbink said he had been invited to take part in the panel at the 2015 SCS meeting specifically to address the text's provenance, with the understanding that he would be announcing new information. He said he thought the meeting would be an appropriate, scholarly venue to talk about the collecting history.

Those intervening months also allowed Obbink to try to track down other papyri pieces that may be linked to the new Sappho poems. Robinson's total collection at the University of Mississippi included many more items than the 59 packets from the 2011 Christie's sale. Through various sales, these texts have dispersed widely across collections in Europe and the United States over the past few decades. Obbink said he wanted to check if any more Sappho fragments were hidden in those scattered manuscripts. Obbink did not actually find any more Sappho pieces from earlier dispersals of Robinson's collection.

Work on the new Sappho papyrus isn't finished. Obbink will further examine the manuscript with a noninvasive technique called multispectral imaging, which allows researchers to take very high-resolution photographs with multiple wavelengths of light. Better images of the text could help clarify some of the uncertain letters, which could change how scholars read the poems.