Florent Jacques is the only papyrothecary in France.
"My job did not have a name in academia, so I invented it. A papyrologist deciphers and edits a text; I manage the collection of papyrus and restore them, so that others can in turn decipher them."
On the campus of the Higher School of Teaching and Education, he takes care of the extraordinary collection of ancient Egyptian papyrus from the Sorbonne University Institute of Papyrology, the only French university to have this type of collection.
After studying classical literature at the University of Lorraine, Florent Jacques trained in the ecdotics, a science that consists in deciphering ancient writings, in Lyon with a publisher and translator of early Christian writings. He then learned about Byzantine codicology, the study of manuscripts as an object, at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS). In 2012, he obtained a post at the Institute of Papyrology, then headed by Jean Gascou, "one of the greatest French papyrologists," he remembers with emotion. This meeting will be decisive for the rest of his career, since Gascou, among others, taught him restoration techniques.
More than 2,000 years separate us from the writers of the papyri that Florent Jacques carefully holds in his hands. With attention and extreme care, he gathers the pieces, connects them, and uses brushes to clean them. He knows all the specificities.
"In the 3rd century B.C., for example, gum arabic, which is resistant to water, was used. However, metallogallodic inks do not resist water. I always analyze the object for a long time before starting the restoration, so as not to distort it."
These meticulous rescue operations can last several days before texts appear that can be studied by the professor-researchers and their students.
"Some papyri are literary documents, stories of Homer for example. Others are simple tax records, account statements, and so on. They are a great source for understanding lifestyles and ancient customs."
Among the pieces, there are also cartonnages, colorful ornaments that adorned the mummies. "They were made from papyrus used as paper mache, then covered with stucco. It is possible to deconstruct it then to reconstitute the papyrus to decipher it ", details the papyrothécaire.
The original collection was created by Pierre Jouguet, founder of the Institute, and Théodore Reinach, an academician at the beginning of the 20th century. The richness of the collection is such that Florent Jacques affirms that he will never finish discovering all his treasures. A lesser evil when watching over 2,000 years of history.
© Pierre Kitmacher - Sorbonne Université