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.
592 DOMINIK OPATRNY
blind people could not read the treatment, but that was impossible
also for their illiterate fellow-citizens (agrammatov â€” e.g. BGU I
These observations indicate that it was possible for well-off
persons to maintain their living standard even despite loss of sight,
so that they did not have to beg. Somebody may be surprised by
the fact that these â€œwell-offâ€ blind persons occur in documentary
papyri more often than the poor ones â€” but we mustnâ€™t consider it
as evidence that they represented the majority. On the contrary, we
should be astonished that this disproportion isnâ€™t even greater.
Business records and messages â€” which are the basis of our
corpus â€” naturally deal more often with rich persons rather than
the poor ones (which can be illustrated e.g. by the fact that the
database DDbDP contains no hint of the word â€œbeggarâ€ â€” pro-
saÄ±thv). The records about poor people are improbable and there-
fore they are more interesting.
But what was the condition of those who didnâ€™t have such re-
sources ? Was a blind man able to earn his bread through manual
work ? Concerning this question, one interesting document came
down to us: in the name list from Heracleopolites from the first
century BC (BGU XIV 2425.24) a blind grinder is mentioned
(Tyflov alethv). This work was usually done by women (ale-
Ã¹ ÃŸÂ¥ ÃŸ
trÄ±v) at home or by animals in mills, but as we can see, it was also
a suitable job for a blind man 29. Nevertheless he had to be capable
also of doing more complex manual work, for his name is listed
among the workers who maintained the irrigation channels. There-
can be found (P.Adl. G17, P.Lond. III 678). However, in the DDbDP we can find
no instance of the term tyflov in this context. The word is used as an epithet
in tax-records, payment records, other name lists and public correspondence in
contrast with other expressions mentioned above.
Roman law prohibited the blind, in contrast to â€œthe women and illiterate
persons â€ from making a will in secret (The Enactments of Justinian 2.12.4).
This inconsistency was remedied by the emperor Leo, Const. 69. As to the
treatments, in Digesta seu Pandactae 18.1.11 we find discussions on â€œwhat can
we say where a blind man was the purchaser, or where a mistake was made in
the substance, or where he was unskilled in detecting the nature of substancesâ€.
The term alethv can be used either for the man working the mill (as in
P.Oxy. LXIV 3169,91; Psi.Congr. XXI 12) or for the upper millstone (onov Â¶
alethv). For the image and description of an ancient hand mill cf. PESTMAN,
The New Papyrological Primer, 123.