Dominik Opatrny, «The Figure of a Blind Man in the Light of the Papyrological Evidence», Vol. 91 (2010) 583-594
This article presents the status of a blind man in ancient society. There are three characteristics often associated with blind persons in the Bible: anonymity, passivity and beggary. The aim of this study is to confront these characteristics with the evidence found in Greek papyri. The author discusses both similar and opposite cases and comes to a more detailed conclusion on the situation of these people.
THE FIGURE OF A BLIND MAN
interesting series of letters of a certain Gemellus (known also as Horion)
who in 197 AD complains that he is mistreated because of his weak eyes
(P.Mich. VI 422,30-31: thn perÄ± thn ocin moy asueneian ; P.Mich. VI
Ã¹ Ã¹Ã¹Â¶ ÃŸÂ¥
423 dupl, 4-5 thv perÄ± thn ocin moy asueneÄ±av â€” he was about 26 at
Ëœ Ã¹Ã¹Â¶ Â¥
that time). One year later Gemellus already writes about himself: â€œfor I
have only one eye and I do not see with it although it appears to have
sight â€ (P.Mich. VI 425) and in 199/200 AD he writes that he is â€œafflicted
with weak visionâ€ and â€œ...not only am I one-eyed, but also I do not see
with the eye that supposedly remains, because a cataract has appeared in
its pupil and my sight is impairedâ€ (P.Mich. VI 426,3.18-22). Because of
that, and his Antinoite origin he demands that his right to exemption from
compulsory â€œliturgicalâ€ (it means public) service be confirmed. Does it
mean that only the totally blind could be called so? Or was this man just
hesitating to use this term (not accepting his fate) while others referred to
him as such? Although we cannot negate the occasional use of tyflov in Â¥
the â€œbroader senseâ€, the narrow usage can be considered to be prevailing.
In the case mentioned, if Gemellus called himself â€œblindâ€, he could
expect even more sympathy which he does try to arouse 10.
2. Anonymity and social exclusion
The first striking characteristic of most of the blind person in the
Bible is their anonymity, preserved throughout the whole story. Anony-
mous characters are of course not unusual in the Bible â€” we also donâ€™t
know the name of most of the healed women and men in the gospels and
Acts 11. But there are also exceptions: Bartimaeus (Mark 10,46), Lazarus
(John 11) and Mary Magdalene (Mark 16,9; Luke 8,2). Others are desig-
nated by their place of origin (Matt 15,22; Mark 7,26), nationality (John
4), background (John 4,46), appointment (Acts 8,27) or just by their il-
luscitiosus for a partially blind person (or night-blind), cf. Digesta seu Pandac-
For the use of the image of blind people for arousing sympathy cf.
P.Cair.Masp. I 67020 (Aphrodito, 6th century AD), where a lord (despota) is
asked to release a prisoner while his parents are called tyflwn kaÄ± eysplagx-
noi dothrev, Ä±na mh tÆ’ limâˆš anagxwntai ta auliwtata aytwn tekna (â€œ the
Ëœ â„¢ Ã¹ ÃŸÂ¥ Ã¹ÃŸ Â¥ ÃŸËœ Â¥
compassionate givers of blind, so that their sorely tested children may not suf-
fer from hungerâ€).
Similarly also, other healed persons occur in the ancient literature anony-
mously : those healed by Vespasian (Dio Cassius, Historia Romana 66.2 ; Taci-
tus, Historiae 4.81; Suetonius, Vespasian 7.2-3) or Iarchas and Apollonius (Phi-
lostratus, Vita Apollonii Tyanensis 3.38-40; 4.45; 6.43).