Parsons, P.J. 1936–

views updated

Parsons, P.J. 1936–

(Peter Parsons, Peter John Parsons)


Born September 24, 1936, in Surbiton, England; son of Robert John and Ethel Ada Parsons; married Barbara Montagna Macleod, March 25, 2006 (died July 25, 2006). Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Christ Church, Oxford, B.A., 1958; University of Michigan, graduate study with H.C. Youtie, 1959-60. Hobbies and other interests: Music, cinema, cooking, eating.


Home—Oxford, England. Office—Christ Church, Oxford OX1 1DP, England. E-mail—[email protected]


Oxford University, Oxford, England, lecturer in documentary papyrology, 1960-65, lecturer in papyrology, 1965-80, Regius Professor of Greek, 1989-2003. British Academy and Egypt Exploration Society, chair of Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, 1966-2003; University of Cambridge, J.H. Gray lecturer, 1982; University of California, Berkeley, Heller lecturer, 1988.


Academia Europaea (fellow), British Academy (fellow).


Arts and Humanities Research Council grants, 1999; City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt was named one of the ten best history books of 2007 by the London Independent and a best history book of 2007 by the Financial Times; honorary degrees from University of Bern, University of Milan, and University of Athens.



(With J.R. Rea and E.G. Turner) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 33, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 1968.

(With L. Ingrams and J.R. Rea) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 34, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 1968.

Oxyrhynchus Papyri 42, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 1974.

(With A.K. Bowman, H.M. Cockle, and T.C. Skeat) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 50, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 1983.

(With R.A. Coles and H. Maehler) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 54, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 1987.

(With E.W. Handley, H.G. Ioannidou, and J.E.G. Whitehorne) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 59, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 1992.

(With N. Gonis and D. Obbink) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 68, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 2003.

(With R. Hatzilambrou) Oxyrhynchus Papyri 71, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 2007.


(Editor, under name Peter Parsons, with Hugh Lloyd-Jones) Supplementum Hellenisticum (in Latin), Walter de Gruyter (New York, NY), 1983.

(Editor) E.G. Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World, 2nd edition, revised and enlarged, University of London, Institute of Classical Studies (London, England), 1987.

(Under name Peter Parsons) City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2007.

(Editor, with A.K. Bowman, R.A. Coles, N. Gonis, and D. Obbink) Oxyrhynchus: A City and Its Texts, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), 2007.

Contributor to The Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Nahal Hever: 8 Hev XII Gr, by Emanuel Tov and R.A. Kraft, Oxford University Press, 1990. Contributor to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement. Author's works have been translated into Czech, French, German, modern Greek, and Spanish.


P.J. Parsons has devoted more than fifty years to the study, translation, and editing of a vast collection of papyrus manuscripts known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri—named after the ancient Egyptian city in whose garbage dump they were discovered. The longtime head of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Project, which is in the process of publishing the entire collection, he has also personally edited and translated materials for a number of the volumes. In 2007 Parsons added to his scholarly publications a work for general audiences, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt.

City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish (the fish of the title is an English rendering of Oxyrhynchus) takes translated excerpts from the papyri and pulls them together in what New Statesman critic William Dalrymple deemed a "fascinating and authoritative" book. The papyri include virtually every known type of writing, from classical poetry and drama down to shopping lists and schoolwork, and much of it has an "astonishingly contemporary feel," in Dalrymple's opinion. Mary Beard, reviewing the book for the Times Literary Supplement, expressed some concern that Parsons's translations and interpretation might make the ancient culture seem a little too familiar, but she acknowledged that, aside from that qualm, the book is "otherwise brilliant." Beard also remarked upon the "tremendous verve and wit" with which Parsons wrote the book and commented that "the sheer elegance of his style tends to make the reconstruction and synthesis he has attempted look effortless. In fact, it depends on truly phenomenal learning and expertise." A number of critics observed Parsons's apparent enthusiasm for his subject, even after his long involvement with it. Summing up the book for Minerva, Peter A. Clayton described City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish as "an engaging yet extremely erudite and well-referenced book that opens a window on a world that would have otherwise remained in the darkness of the rubbish pits."



Books in Canada, December, 2007, Geoffrey Clarfield, review of City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt, p. 16.

Geographical, June, 2007, Mick Herron, review of City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, p. 93.

Guardian (London, England), March 31, 2007, Tom Holland, "Everyday Stories of Ancient Folk."

Minerva, December, 2007, Peter A. Clayton, review of City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish.

New Statesman, April 23, 2007, William Dalrymple, "Unearthing History," p. 60.

Times Literary Supplement, April 27, 2007, Mary Beard, "Stone on Paper," pp. 10-12.


Telegraph Online, (March 18, 2007), Jane Stevenson, "A Worm's-Eye View of Ancient Egypt."

About this article

Parsons, P.J. 1936–

Updated About content Print Article