History of Papyrology - beta

Welcome to the History of Papyrology

The edition is still in progress.

The History of Papyrology is a digital edition of correspondence sent from papyrologists Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt to J. Gilbart Smyly in the early 20th century.

The edition was made with affiliation with the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at the University of California, Berkeley.

The images of the correspondence appear here courtesy of The Board of Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin.

The edition is still in progress. For further information about the project including editorial guidelines and technical information please visit the About page.

Copyright © Center for the Tebtunis Papyri

How to cite this project: Center for the Tebtunis Papyri. History of Papyrology. https://histpap.info/

Biography of J. Gilbart Smyly

By Dr. Brian McGing, Emeritus Professor of Greek, Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

As originally published in “Smyly, Josiah Gilbart (1867-1948).” In The Dictionary of British Classicists. Volume 3, O-Z, by Robert B. Todd, 907. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004. doi:10.1017/S0009840X05001241

SMYLY, Josiah Gilbart (1867-1948) Gilbart Smyly was born in Dublin on 10 July 1867 and died there on Christmas Day 1948. He was the second son of Sir Philip Crampton Smyly, a distinguished Dublin surgeon, of a family settled in Ireland since the sixteenth century. His elder brother became Chief Justice of Sierra Leone. He was educated at Charterhouse before entering Trinity College Dublin in 1885. He won a classical scholarship pin 1887 and graduated in 1889 with a senior moderatorship in mathematics, an unusual combination of subjects. He was elected to a fellowship of Trinity on his fifth attempt in 1897, appointed professor of Latin in 1904, and Regius Professor of Greek in 1915. He resigned the Greek Chair in 19227, when he became a senior fellow, but retained the librarianship from 1914 until his death. He never married.

Smyly is mostly remembered in Trinity College for his long, but unusually negligent, administration of the Library. Although McDowell and Webb (p. 400) concede that ‘of the eighteen fellows who were elected from 1896 to 1915 Smyly and A.A. Luce alone produced original work of any substance and distinction’, Smyly’s academic qualities deserve greater recognition than they have received, as he was a Greek papyrologist of exceptional ability and international reputation – a much better papyrologist, in fact, than his more famous colleague, J.P. Mahaffy. Letters from many of the leading European scholars of the day attest the high regard in which his expertise was held, particularly in the reading of difficult texts. He collaborated with his friends Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt in the publication of the first volume of The Tebtunis Papyri (1902), and, as C.C. Edgar notes in the Introduction to the second part of volume 3 (1938), his ‘first transcripts laid the foundation for the whole of volume 3’. His most important publication was the third volume of The Flinders Petrie Papyri (1905), edited ostensibly in collaboration with Mahaffy, but in reality very largely by Smyly himself. Greek Papyri from Gurob (1921) – praised as an unusually interesting publication by U. Wilcken (unpublished letter in the Smyly Papers at Trinity College) – also showed his talents to good effect, as did a steady flow of articles on papyrological and other matters. In later years he transcribed many medieval manuscripts in the Library of Trinnity, one of which he published as a book: Daniel of Beccles: Urbanus magnus Danielis Becclesiensis (1939).

Smyly’s close friendship with Grenfell and Hunt placed him very much at the centre of the papyrological world in its early days, and gave him access to some of the most important material emerging from Egypt. There were few scholars who could read Greek papyri as well as he did, and in retrospect it is disappointing that he did not publish more. But he was a strange and reclusive person (‘one of the least sociable of the Senior Fellows’, according to W.B. Stanford), whose contribution to the development of papyrology, as one of its most expert and respected early practitioners, should not be underestimated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (with B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt), The Tebtunis Papyri, vol. 1 (1902); (with A.S. Hunt), vol. 3, pt 1 (1933); (with A.S. Hunt and C.C. Edgar), vol. 3, pt 2 (1938). (with J.P. Mahaffy), The Flinders Petrie Papyri, vol. 3 (1905). Greek Papyri from Gurob (1921). Daniel of Beccles: Urbanus magnus Danielis Becclesiensis (1939).

Further Reading Dillon, J.M., ‘The Classics in Trinity’, in C.H. Holland (ed.), Trinity College Dublin and the Idea of a University (Dublin, 1991), p. 250. McDowell, R.B. and D.A. Webb, Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952: An Academic History (Cambridge, 1982).

Stanford, William Bedell, Memoirs (Dublin, 2001), p. 93.