Association internationale de Papyrologues

International Association of Papyrologists

In memoriam Naphtali LEWIS


Discours prononcé durant l'Assemblée Générale de l'AIP réunie à Ann Arbor le 4 août 2007
Speech delivered during the General Assembly of the AIP gathered in Ann Arbor on August 4th, 2007
par - by: Roger S. BAGNALL

For a papyrologist to talk about another papyrologist, there can be no better place to start than with the archives. Toli came to email fairly late and never with a great deal of conviction; his preference for the Selectric typewriter lasted at least until 2001 as well.

My Lewis archive begins with a four by six inch piece of paper, torn from a cheap pad, handwritten transversa charta with nine lines on 9/22/68, when I was all of 21 and a first-year graduate student, promising to get back to me shortly about a question I had sent him concerning a liturgical post in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus I had edited during the summer seminar in papyrology that year. And he did, two days later, with a concise typed letter giving useful advice. I had met Toli at the Ann Arbor congress in August. He had given the keynote address, and I was surely the youngest person there. Most of the characteristics that the archive reveals later are here in a nutshell: efficiency, brevity, economy with materials, openness to the young, and generosity.

There is then a gap until the winter of 1974, when I had agreed to become Secretary of the American Society of Papyrologists. Toli, then Treasurer, fired off a broadside to the ASP directors on February 26 proposing-and assuming concurrence in the proposal-that the office of treasurer be recombined with that of secretary: that is, that he hand over this job to me. Nine days later, on March 7, after learning that I was going to come to Columbia that fall as an assistant professor, he wrote to me proposing that I take over his file of transcripts of the Columbia papyri from fourth-century Karanis and that we publish them jointly. This was an extraordinary gift, to which I have referred in the preface to Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton 1993). I can hardly think of a parallel act of generosity in the history of papyrological scholarship. It is true that he might well never have got around to publishing them himself, but that consideration has not deterred any number of other scholars from sitting complacently for decades, even a whole professional life, on material kept unavailable to everyone else. I cherish also a parenthetical remark that begins "Without in any way meaning to put myself in Wilcken's class..."

Toli the ASP director figures heavily in the early years of the archive. He loved to respond to my bureaucratic communications with marginal notes, the skinflint at work as ever. He turned one letter over and typed a four-line reply about the efficacy of self-stick address labels. One marginal note probably saved me from taking on the job of distributing the ASP's monographs; he wrote, "You should not take it-it is a commercial, not an academic, activity."

After Toli's retirement from CUNY, when he was settled in Connecticut and attached to Yale, his letters become longer. One from February, 1977, when I was in the Netherlands, recounts the collapse of the Phelps Hall heating system during the second worst recorded winter for that area, "exceeded only by that of 1918, the winter of the dreadful, lethal flu," he says. Two months later, economical as ever, he notes caustically the printing of the same two dozen pages of edition of Tebtunis papyri in two different text volumes: "What a waste of two dozen precious pages-and in these times of astronomical printing costs!"

In late May, for reasons I do not recall-perhaps the need to enlist his cooperation to make sure his bibliography was complete-Helen told Toli about the Festschrift for him that Michael Browne and I were in the process of putting together. He wrote to Michael; after thanks and some words about the bibliography, he started offering suggestions for additional contributors and proposing that the collection be a first volume of a new supplements series rather than a volume of the Bulletin. Chutzpah, perhaps; but in a world where the self-organized Festschrift is not unknown, manageable. When the volume appeared, however, the letter (from Croydon) is nothing but gracefully-expressed thanks: "In the world of fact today is overcast, gloomy and raining; but in the glow cast by the festschrift it is bright, sunny and warm."

Toli's experience of the world of papyrology was particularly valuable when I had to organize the international congress in 1980. A note from February of that year includes "Re: chairmen of sessions. Avoid using (experience has shown that they have not the stomach for interrupting windbags): [here follow the names of five eminences, after the last of whom he remarked, "he looks frightening but is in reality a very tame, gentle creature"]. And he was right about all of them, of course. He also offered some positive suggestions.

By 1981 health began to make its way into the letters, something absent before except for one bad case of flu. A letter in May telling me he planned to step down from the presidency of the Association Internationale de Papyrologues says "and I also think a septuagenarian, which I will be if I live till Xmas, should make way for 'younger blood.'" Probably the arthritis about which he wrote in more detail in October, causing him to walk with a cane, lay behind this caveat. By February, despite a bad winter, he was doing better, but all of his friends know how much Toli's joints interfered with his enjoyment of life in the coming two decades, and by November he writes about his impending first surgery. He was hoping to be mobile again by early spring to come to a colloquium I was organizing-to "rejoin the human race, or at least the papyrological part of it", as he put it. The surgery was delayed, but on the Ides of March, 1983, he was jubilantly mobile. In the summer of 1984 he spoke of himself as "the standard picture of the retired professor, except that I'm not writing my memoirs"-that is, he was busy at his desk and in the garden.

That fall he wrote almost lyrically about the simple life in Croyden, but concluded, "Who could ask for more? We could." Therewith he announced that they were taking up residence in Cambridge for the winter months, apart from a stay in Santa Barbara. A year later, however, he was complaining about the inadequacies of the Harvard library and asking for a photocopy of an article from The Irish Jurist that they lacked. Those gaps were to plague him for the rest of his life, at least until the last year when he couldn't go to the library at all; that was worse.

Next in the archives are the moving pages that Toli sent out as a circular letter in February, 1987, talking about Helen's illness and death and his own heart attack and recovery: photocopied, with characteristic thrift, back to back. By April the postcards were flowing, by fall the xerox requests. Even becoming a dean a couple of years later didn't save me from them. But Toli's pleasure at being back at work repaid all. A letter from June, 1991, records his pleasure also at being elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

Although mobility remains a perennial theme, ranking with photocopies and reactions to publications I sent him, a letter from fall, 1997, shows Toli making plans to get to the Florence congress the following summer-which he did, as I have noted above. He took on the role of Nestor with much self-awareness and enjoyed it thoroughly. The same letter talks at some length about his children Judy and John, with enormous pride in their accomplishments, even in the parts he could make little of; he mentions a recent paper of John's "of which I understood occasional words, like the and lemma". Toli's notes over the years are in fact full of interest in the progress of our children.

There is more. These scraps of paper are aids to memory, calling the man back to mind, with all his delight in life, work, family, and friends. There are many gaps, only some of which I can fill in from what else I knew and know. It is all much like bringing people to life from the papyri, that craft at which Toli had no equal.

[See also: BASP 43 (2006) pp. 5-8.]