Papyrus: language of flowers and plants

Papyrus: language of flowers and plants




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The papyrus among the ancient Egyptians was, in absolute terms, the symbol of gestation, joy and youth.

However, it also had other distinct meanings depending on how it was found and how it was used: carrying it out meant evolution, knowledge; the wrapping up in involution, secret. It was the alternation of secret and revelation.

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How to grow papyrus


  • 1 The papyrus plant
  • 2 Invention, use and trade of papyrus paper
  • 3 The end of the papyrus trade
  • 4 Ancient production
    • 4.1 The production of single sheets
    • 4.2 The roll
    • 4.3 The volumen
    • 4.4 The rotulus
    • 4.5 Opistograph papyri and papyrus codices
  • 5 Modern production
  • 6 The papyrus in the Egyptian religion
  • 7 Curiosities
  • 8 Notes
  • 9 Bibliography
  • 10 Related items
  • 11 Other projects
  • 12 External links

The papyrus is a perennial herbaceous species, with stems from 2 to 5 meters high and a very large woody rhizome. The stem is trine, without leaves, with a diameter of 3-4 centimeters, smooth, of a very dark green color.

At the apex of each stem, lanceolate, arched bracts appear, arranged like an umbrella.

The inflorescences are umbrella-shaped with rays from 10 to 30 centimeters long, they form at the upper end of the stems and carry straw-colored spikes that contain elongated achenes.

Flowering occurs from July to September.

In Europe it grows spontaneously only in some wetlands of eastern Sicily, in particular in the territory of Syracuse, along the course of the Anapo and Ciane rivers, and at the sources of the Fiumefreddo in the Catania area.

It is a light-loving species, growing along the banks of slow-flowing streams, with its roots submerged.

Today papyrus is grown mainly for ornamental purposes, but in Ancient Egypt it had multiple technical uses: the pith was used as a food and source of textile fibers, flowers to make garlands, the rhizome as fuel and the most robust parts (roots and stem) for pots, tools, footwear, rigging and even boats.

While clay tablets were used almost only in Mesopotamia, papyrus was the primary writing support material for nearly four millennia and was used over a much larger area than the territory in which it originated and where it continued to be located. almost all of the production, Egypt. Its use disappeared only when the production of paper, obtained from rags and therefore much cheaper, spread. Papyrus was a kind of paper.

Its historical importance is still witnessed today by many European languages, in which paper is indicated with a word derived from "papiro": in English "paper", in French and German "papier", in Spanish "papel". The Italian is an exception, in which the word papyrus is used only to indicate some document. The word "paper" comes from the Latin charta, which indicated a single sheet, which could equivalently have been made from papyrus or parchment. In turn charta comes from the Greek chartes, a word of perhaps Egyptian origin used to indicate papyrus sheets. [2]

The first producer of the precious material was Egypt. In particular Alexandria, the city on the delta, controlled its international trade. The vast delta marshes, in fact, were particularly suitable for the cultivation of reeds from which the best quality fiber was obtained. [3]

Papyrus production was a great source of income for Egypt, as the Egyptians exported it in their trade throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. Starting from the third millennium BC there was a strong commercial exchange for papyrus through the ports of Phenicia, and from the 10th century BC. trade increased dramatically. After the peoples of the Mediterranean learned the art of writing, the demand for "papyrus paper" increased enormously: it became precious and common throughout the Mediterranean geographical area. The Arabs worked papyrus from the 7th century BC, the Greeks from the 6th century BC.

The importance of papyrus as a support in the transmission of culture was fundamental. Throughout antiquity, from the time of Julius Caesar to that of the Frankish sovereigns, the Alexandrian papyrus was the most used medium in Europe for the drafting of all types of documents (official, mercantile, literary, etc.). In the houses of the Romans there were often home libraries. The rolls were equipped with indexes, labeled (with a protruding tab which in Greek was called sillybos) and stacked in shelves.

The oldest papyri found by archaeologists date back to the third millennium BC. thanks to the dry climate of Egypt. The findings, which also occurred in other areas with an arid climate such as Dura-Europo in Syria, the Dead Sea area in Palestine or Nubia, are however rare and therefore some collections of fragments are very famous, such as the one found in the ancient city of Ossirinco and the one more recently discovered in Nag Hammadi. Finally, part of the famous Dead Sea Manuscripts (dating from between 150 BC and 70 AD) was written on papyrus. Many papyri are important for the originality of their content.

Since in the European climate a papyrus could be kept in good condition for about three hundred years, not many original papyri from the Greek or Roman age have survived in Europe. The only exceptions are the charred papyri found in the archaeological site of Herculaneum [4]

In the seventh century, the advance of Islam took place in North Africa. Egypt was conquered in 640-41. The consequences for the papyrus trade were fatal.
The Arabs decided to trade only with people of the Muslim faith [5]. All of Europe was therefore cut off from the papyrus trade. Papyrus paper was used until the eighth century, probably drawing it from the latest deposits. In Rome it lasted longer: the papal chancellery drafted the last document on papyrus in 1057 [6].

The sea routes across the Mediterranean remained interrupted until the 12th century. But even before their reopening, papyrus production in Egypt slowed down, until it temporarily disappeared, in the 11th century, after 4200 years of production, due to a severe drought that hit the Nile River from 1052 to 1055. almost extinguishing the papyrus culture [without source] .
In Europe, papyrus was first replaced by parchment, then by paper.

Egypt, as mentioned above, in ancient times had the exclusive right to produce papyrus paper thanks to the cultivation of the plant along the banks of the Nile river. The most famous commercial center for the export of papyrus was the city of Byblos in Syria and from this probably derives two Greek words that were very lucky: βύβλος (bublos, [7]) and βίβλος (biblos). The first indicates the papyrus plant and the goods derived from it (paper, but also ropes, baskets, mats, shoes, etc.). Theophrastus in the 4th century BC therefore limited the use of the word papuros to the food uses of the plant, but in general bublos is a synonym for papuros. The second term, biblos, indicates precisely the inner bark of the papyrus used for the production of paper and consequently also the writings on papyrus.

The production of the paper was distributed in several phases: the harvesting of the plant, the division of its stem into sheets, the realization of the sheet, the finishing and assembly of the roll. The sheets obtained from the papyrus were then destined for different uses based on their quality and their size. The Egyptians have not handed down information on the ancient art of papyrus production, however, something can be found in Pliny and Isidore of Seville or has been deduced from the examination of the surviving papyri.

The production of the single sheets Edit

The papyrus was produced by tearing strips (even about 40 cm long) from the triangular stem of the plant, which were placed side by side on a moist, hard and smooth surface. Above them was placed, at right angles, another layer. To amalgamate the two layers, they were beaten with a wooden hammer (or were compressed between two stones) and then dried while remaining connected by their natural juices (released as a result of percussion) without the addition of glue. Finally, the surface was smoothed with rounded stones. [8] In this way rectangular sheets were obtained (called in Egyptian shefedu and in Greek kòllema, plural: kollemata).

These sheets were rather delicate and risked fraying from the edges, so it was mostly preferred to connect them together by building rolls and leaving large margins above and below free from writing. The maximum height of the rolls was that of the sheets, but it was often much lower (10–20 cm), perhaps because the sheets were smaller or because they had been cut horizontally in two or three parts to produce shorter and more manageable rolls. Alternatively, the sheets were also used to compose papyrus codices, a technique that spread in the Greco-Roman world after the birth of parchment codes.

The papyrus sheets were written in horizontal lines 10–20 cm wide, using both a brush and a pointed instrument dipped in ink.

The Roll Edit

The papyrus sheets were put together and glued with a glue of water and flour, overlapping a few centimeters of the lateral edge (1–5 cm), so as to produce a strip many meters long, which was rolled up. The longest papyrus of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum measures 25 meters. The longest one in the British Museum, the Harris papyrus, no less than 41. In this operation, care was taken that all the sheets had the side with the horizontal fibers on the same face of the roll, which became the internal surface, the preferred writing surface. This had some advantages. First of all, during rolling the horizontal fibers were compressed and this reduced the risk of tearing, increasing the durability of the papyrus. Writing, then, was facilitated by the fact that the tip of the instrument ran parallel to the fibers.

For this same reason, depending on the direction of one's writing (to the right like European languages ​​or to the left like Semitic languages) it was useful that the junctions between the sheets (called kolleseis) did not offer resistance: for European languages ​​(Greek and Latin) the right edge of the left sheet had to be glued over the left edge of the right sheet and vice versa in the opposite case. This, however, did not require any particular attention for the manufacturer: it was enough for the scribe to rotate the scroll 180 ° and start writing from the other end of the scroll. Finally, the roll was placed on the market and could be used to produce two types of editorial products: the volumen and the rotulus.

The volumen Edit

When the scroll was to contain an entire literary work and therefore its entire length could be used, it became a volumen (Latin word indicating the rolling up of the papyrus roll). In this case, a first protective sheet was added to the outer end of the roll, the protocol. In fact, when the roll began to be unwound, the first sheet was subjected to intense and wearing traction. The "protocol" was not written, except for possible brief notes. The fibers of this sheet were arranged orthogonally to those of the subsequent sheets, i.e. the sheet was glued with the back on the front.

According to the Latin poets, the protocol of the most luxurious scrolls was even in parchment, thus avoiding having to replace it when it was worn out. Since parchment was expensive, the papyrus protocol could be strengthened by gluing a thin strip of parchment or at least a papyrus reinforcement to its outer edge. Probably a similar protection sheet, said eschatocollion, was also found at the end of the papyrus: in fact Martial mentions it [9], but for now there is no copy.

In addition, a wooden stick called a stick could be attached to one or both ends of the scroll umbilicus, around which the volumen was rewound. At both ends of theumbilicus there were two knobs, sometimes decorated with multicolored paintings [10]. The knobs were also called in Latin cornua, maybe because of bone? In ancient Greek, however, these knobs were called kefalìs (plural: kefalìdes), that is "little head", which can be translated literally into Latin with capitulum or capitellum [11]. Already in the Bible of the LXX this term passed to indicate also the entire scroll [12]. Each book, then, could be marked with a label containing the summary (and therefore called syllabus) or at least the text of the first words, which in ancient times served as the title of the works (index).

The scroll was kept in filing cabinets, known as nests or in special leather containers (capsae). Each box or each capsa it could hold ten rolls. For this reason the books of some works such as the history of Rome by Tito Livio (Ab Urbe condita books CXLII), were grouped into decades. For reading the volumen it could be held in the right hand, while the left unwound and rewound the read part. Evidently the text was written on parallel columns, 10–20 cm wide.

The rotulus Edit

Shorter texts such as contracts, agreements, letters were prepared by cutting the necessary quantity from the papyrus roll. In this case the text could also be compiled transversa charta, that is, rotating the papyrus by 90 ° and writing on a single column. The roll was then unfolded in a vertical position for reading and was re-rolled from bottom to top. In the absence of a generally accepted term Eric Turner uses the word rotulus to indicate these scrolls [13].

Opistograph papyri and papyrus codices Modification

When the text was written on both sides, the papyrus came and is called an opisthograph. Double writing can have several reasons. For example, trivially, after the first compilation the lack or the cost of the papyrus paper led to reuse the to of the volume to transcribe a work different from that of recto.

In other cases, the papyrus sheets were grouped into files from the beginning and used to compose papyrus codices. Quaternions were quite common, that is, booklets of four double sheets for a total of eight sheets. In this case the fibers can be arranged on the page both horizontally and vertically. In this and other cases the text continued from front to back of the page, etc.

It was an Italian who restarted the production of the millenary papyrus paper: the Catania archaeologist Saverio Landolina Nava, who took an interest in this plant in about 1780 and wanted to resume the manufacture of the aforementioned paper in the city of Syracuse, a production that has not since it has ceased to exist until today. In the sixties the Naro sisters of Syracuse were the only ones in the world to produce papyrus paper, heirs of an ancient tradition of over two millennia [14]. merit not to make the papyrus processing technique disappear from contemporary society. [15] From the seventies there was a new great processing of papyrus cards both in Syracuse and in Egypt. The Egyptians in fact resumed working on papyrus after a long stop which lasted about eight centuries. The new production involved a large quantity of paper manufactured with the papyrus plant and addressed to a tourist market. Exceptions of the time were then given by some specialized centers that did their utmost to create the aforementioned paper according to the thesis [not clear], through scientific reconstruction of the ancient technique. [15]

In the city of Syracuse there are some artisans who, even in the 2000s, reproduce the papyrus paper manually, as was worked in the past. [16]

The papyrus plant was also often represented in religious rites: in Lower Egypt, it was a symbol of fertility, fecundity and regeneration. The plant was also used as an offering to the Egyptian gods during religious and funeral processions.

Fundamental Egyptian religious text on papyrus is the Book of the Dead.

Meaning of flowers: the papyrus

The papyrus: thinking about this plant leads us all to remember Ancient Egypt, where its fibers they were intertwined to create papyri, the first sheets of paper used in this hemisphere. Not many, however, know what this is plant means, regardless of the use made of it in ancient times. We will find out together today, speaking of its history at the same time.

Papyrus is a spontaneous plant that arises only in two places: along the Nile in Egypt and along the banks of the Ciane river in Syracuse. The first certain evidence of the modern era on the existence of this plant in Italy dates back to 1674: in our country it was called "pappera", or "pampera" and was used by fishermen and farmers in the area to weave ropes, while in the course festivities were used to cover the floors of the streets and churches. It is believed that before the year zero the papyrus was commonly used, but that there was support in terms of quantity by Lower Egypt: Ptolemy Philadelphus, according to some documents, he sent several plants to establish commercial relations, strengthening the papyrus tradition for writing also in Syracuse.

A strong production of papyri resumed in 1700 and still today there are artisans who create paper as they once did, marketing these particular works of art from a time that no longer exists. The methodology comes directly from Pliny the Elder, who talks about it in his works. Its meaning is related to the Egyptian tradition, more than the Italian one. This plant was considered a symbol of gestation, joy and youth. A particular language, due to the strong presence of this vegetable despite the Drought which often affected the area. In ancient Egypt, then, it took on a particular meaning depending on the use made of it. When it was carried out it expressed evolution and knowledge: when it was wrapped it was synonymous with secret.

More generally it was considered the plant of secret and revelation.

the presence of thin cobwebs on plants grown in apartments, or in greenhouses, is generally an indication of the presence of red spider mites, these are tiny mites, not visible to the naked eye, which develop on many plants in hot and dry weather . In fact, papyri are grown with good humidity, and with the soil always humid, perhaps you don't have the habit of increasing the humidity of the air around the plants.

The air in the apartment is usually very dry, as the heating and air conditioning systems remove large quantities of humidity from the air poor airing of the apartment, as occurs in very cold periods, make the problem worse.

Then clean the leaves with a microfibre cloth, and provide your plants with a systemic insecticide-acaricide: it is a product that should not be sprayed on the plant, but which mixes with the water from the irrigation, and enters the foliage, killing everyone. insects and mites that feed on the sap of the plant.

This way you will avoid vaporizing a chemical in your home.

If you prefer to avoid using chemicals on your plants, clean the foliage from cobwebs and increase the ambient humidity by frequently steaming the leaves of your papyri, using a very fine nebulizer and demineralized water.

When spring arrives and when the weather is milder, take the plants outside and give them a nice shower, with the garden spear if you do not have a garden, move the plants on the terrace, and before this operation take them a quick shower, in order to wash and clean the leaves well.

The mites develop preferably in summer, when the air is dry and hot, a condition very similar to that which occurs in an apartment with the heating system active, or in a greenhouse, where very often the plants are kept in conditions of poor ventilation, because grouped very close together in order to make better use of the greenhouse environments.

They are not insects, they are arachnids, so they often resist the most common insecticides - it is therefore essential to try to eradicate them using a specific acaricide. The fresh and humid air in general is already sufficient to avoid the presence of mites on the plants, even if it is not always easy to obtain such conditions, especially in the apartment.

Often the mites are not visible on the plants, because their infestation has just begun, or because they are in a dormant stage in case of advanced infestation, the mite adults pierce the epidermis of the foliage and suck the fluids contained: quickly the leaf page will present. small yellow or red dots, at the point of insertion of each single mite.

The name spider mite often leads to a common misunderstanding that plant mites are very small in size, so tiny that it is unlikely to be able to see them with the naked eye.

The mites that damage plants are not the small red spiders we often see in the garden, on the contrary, the red spiders visible to the naked eye often feed on the harmful mites.

It happens very often that common red spiders are considered plant mites at the same time it happens very often that you do not understand a mite infestation because you do not see the tiny arachnids, and therefore it is mistakenly believed that the plant is affected by some strange form of rust or disease bacterial or viral, and therefore attempts are made to treat the plant with products that leave the mites completely undisturbed.


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