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
taxes. These various records indicate that in old records we cannot
expect any coherent approach to the question, whether and to what
extent one should support these underprivileged groups by tax
So far we have been concerned with tax lists, which were pre-
served in a great numbers, but which bear witness to the conditions
of the blind only indirectly. We have learned that these people
were in some cases (at least one) able to secure their livelihood
without begging, but now we want to know how it was possible 24.
A man who gained considerable resources before he lost his
sight 25 could manage his house and business through his servants 26.
Thus business records involving blind persons were preserved. The
author of CPR VIII 49 paid Ation the blind man an unrecorded
number of nomismatia (coins). Yet another blind person whose
name we donâ€™t know is mentioned in the list of those who paid 140
drachmae (O.Mich. I 104). The men around the blind Diodoros
(probably according to his instructions) bought a vine-vat, as was
stated in the already mentioned business message (P.Koeln IV 198).
The business activities of the blind Apollonius (P.Ross.Georg III 1)
were discussed in the previous part and in the only parchment in
our selection a certain blind Markrina confirms to Foibammon a
delivery of wine (Stud.Pal. VIII 1101 â€” Arsinoites, seventh century
It is interesting that we encounter no blind persons among busi-
ness partners in treatments containing physical description, al-
though these descriptions often mention eye defects 27. Obviously
Marcus Furius Camillus (446-365 BC) even taxed orphans, who were hi-
therto tax-exempted (Plutarch, Life of Camillus 2).
ESSER, Das Antlitz der Blindheit in der Antike, 96-111, enumerates in ad-
dition to begging also other occupations which blind persons performed: musi-
cian, poet, seer and prophet, teacher, philosopher, usurer and spy. Moreover
blind women were able to fulfil their household duties.
Acquired blindness was not so limited to an old age (e.g. cataract) as it is
now. Most often the lost of sight was caused by trachoma, as it continues to be
to these days. Cf. R. GARLAND, The Eye of the Beholder. Deformity and Disa-
bility in the Graeco-Roman World (Ithaca, NY 1995) 112; World Health Organi-
sation, Strategies for the prevention of blindness in national programmes. A
Primary Health Care Approach (Geneva 1997) 40.
ESSER, Das Antlitz der Blindheit in der Antike, 95, adds also the fact that
money supplied â€œErleichtungen und Hilfeâ€.
In these texts, expressions such as â€œof infirm eyesâ€ or something alike