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The Herculaneum Library

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  • Vesta
    Has anyone else read this? ... Digital device reads wealthy Roman s library of lost classics By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent 11 February 2001
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2001
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      Has anyone else read this?

      Digital device reads wealthy Roman's library of 'lost' classics

      By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

      11 February 2001

      Hundreds of long-lost works of ancient Greek and Latin philosophy,
      science and literature - possibly including works by Aristotle,
      Archimedes and Seneca - are about to be rediscovered in what promises to
      be the most important re-emergence of classical literature and thought
      since the Renaissance.

      American scientists have succeeded in developing a remarkable new
      high-tech system for reading previously illegible manuscripts. Using
      digital technology, academics from Brigham Young University near Salt
      Lake City, Utah, will "remaster" the lost wisdom of the ancients.
      Classical scholars believe the technology will open up the world's
      greatest surviving ancient works which have been illegible because of
      their poor state of preservation.

      As many as 850 Greek and Latin philosophical and literary works were
      excavated from a 2,000-year-old Roman villa in the ancient city of
      Herculaneum near Naples by Italian antiquarians in the 18th century.
      Among the works, which academics hope to read using the new equipment,
      are the lost works of Aristotle (his 30 dialogues, referred to by other
      authors, but lost in antiquity), scientific works by Archimedes,
      mathematical treatises by Euclid, philosophical work by Epicurus,
      masterpieces by the Greek poets Simonides and Alcaeus, erotic poems by
      Philodemus, lesbian erotic poetry by Sappho, the lost sections of
      Virgil's Juvenilia, comedies by Terence, tragedies by Seneca and works
      by the Roman poets Ennius, Accius, Catullus, Gallus, Macer and Varus.

      "The development of sophisticated digital technology for reading ancient
      manuscripts is the most important technological advance in the
      archaeological and historical world for several decades," said the
      Scandinavian classicist Professor Knut Kleve, one of the leading
      academics involved in reading the lost works.

      The illegible texts all came from the library of a wealthy Roman
      politician and intellectual who was the father-in-law of Julius Caesar.
      For more than a century the library flourished as a major centre of
      Roman scholarship and intellectual achievement. But in the summer of AD
      79 it was overwhelmed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and was buried
      under almost 100ft of volcanic debris.

      Extraordinarily, although the volcanic catastrophe destroyed two cities
      and killed tens of thousands of people, it actually served to save the
      library for posterity. The searing heat charred the library's papyrus
      manuscripts, preserving them forever, albeit in a damaged state.

      A small portion of the library - about 1,200 scrolls - was discovered
      during excavations in the mid 18th century, but until now most of the
      material has been largely unreadable because of the degree of fire
      damage and the fact that the layers of the papyrus rolls had stuck

      The new high-tech digital reading system, developed by US academic
      Steven Booras, of Brigham Young University, means many more manuscripts
      will be readable for the first time.

      Out of the 1,200 or so individual manuscripts only 800 have been
      unrolled, and 450 are so difficult to read that their contents have been
      little understood and their titles and authorship unknown.
      "'In my experience,' he said, 'the trouble with oaths of
      the form *death before dishonor* is that eventually, they
      separate the world into just two sorts of people:
      the dead and the forsworn.'"
      _A CIVIL CAMPAIGN: A Comedy of Biology and Manners_
      by Lois McMaster Bujold

      Barbara J. van Look vesta (at) internetcds (dot) com
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