Skip to comments.Experts urge race against time to unearth last secrets of Herculaneum s lost library
Posted on 04/03/2002 4:32:14 PM PST by Korth
CUT OFF by a muddy pool fed by an ancient river, close to the bottom of an excavation 30 metres deep, archaeologists exploring a villa buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 have found two great doors of carbonised wood.
Behind them could lie a lost treasure trove of Roman scrolls, scholars say, part of the celebrated lost library of the Villa of the Papyri. However, a unique chance to recover great classical masterpieces, lost to humanity for 2,000 years, could fall victim to flooding or a new blast from the volcano Vesuvius, they warn. The leading names of ancient Greek and Roman studies in Britain and the United States are pleading for urgent action before it is too late.
The Villa of the Papyri is described as one of the greatest Roman villas discovered in the world. It was a jewel in the crown of the city of Herculaneum, which served as the luxury seaside resort for the neighbouring city of Pompeii. Once the property of the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, its awe-inspiring scale moved one of the modern eras richest men, John Paul Getty, to build a reconstruction in Malibu, California, and fill it with his extraordinary collection of Greek and Roman artefacts.
In AD79, however, the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii bought terror and death to Herculaneum. A blast of gas at an estimated temperature of 360C swept through the city. It carbonised bread sitting on the table, cupboards, doors, and people, and did the same for the villas precious books.
Herculaneum was buried under 20 metres of volcanic mud, which hardened to the consistency of soft rock, and was later capped by the lava from successive eruptions.
The villa was first discovered by well-diggers in the Bay of Naples more than 200 years ago. Early excavations dating back to the 1790s, much of it funded by George IV, then the Prince of Wales, turned up what were first thought to be sticks of charcoal
However, they were recognised on closer inspection as scrolls, turned to charcoal in the first blast of the volcanos heat. Eventually they were partly unrolled. The heat that had seemingly destroyed them had actually preserved them.
Work to pick out the charred ink of Latin and Greek began with early magnifying glasses. It picked up in the 1990s with multi-spectral imaging technology, first developed by the US space agency, NASA, to study minerals on planet surfaces. Scientists at the Brigham Young University in Utah, working with staff at the National Library in Naples, have continued to decipher writings from more than 10,000 fragments, painstakingly unrolling and reading the documents.
Most have turned out to be works of Greek philosophy, including writings of Epicurus missing for more than 2,000 years. But it is what lies hidden that is tantalising scholars. Early digs discovered only one level of the villa, with the scrolls; later excavations have shown at least four more levels. "They have discovered these huge doors on the second level," explained the archaeologist leading the dig, Francesca Auricchio. "They have small round windows, closed by glass, which was very precious. This means it was a very important part of the house."
Investigation of a small area behind the doors suggests the rooms there are rich in paintings, statues, and mosaics, Ms Auricchio said. But far more compelling, in this case, is the prospect of finding copies of Virgils Aeneid, missing volumes of Livys History of Rome, or lost works by Sophocles or even Aristotle. The Villa of the Papyri has already yielded nearly 2,000 scrolls, but a substantial part of the only intact Roman library may lie undiscovered.
"People are very concerned to save this thing," said Richard Janko, professor of Greek at University College, London. He was one of eight scholars who signed a recent letter pleading for the "vital excavations" at the villa to go ahead.
"Flooding now poses a grave danger to the building and its contents," the letter warned. "The excavation must be completed, and the building preserved," it stressed. "Most importantly the books must be brought to light."
Vesuvius last erupted in 1944; but with earthquakes in Naples in 1980, the risk of further eruptions is considered high.
The novelist Robert Harris has added his voice to those pleading for a renewed excavation that experts say could cost £15 million or more. "In cultural terms," he wrote, "this is about as important as it gets."
Many of the original scrolls turned up in boxes, with some scattered across the villas garden. It has led to visions of a desperate rush to save some of the precious library as the volcano exploded; less dramatic theories suggest that the scrolls were routinely moved from a storage area to a reading room.
Prof Janko describes the current excavations as something out of Dantes Inferno; a great gash in the ground, 30 metres deep, with the water level at the bottom kept low by a pump. "There are actually walls sticking out of the water; the wooden doors are there, still intact, and we dont know whats behind," he told The Scotsman. "It was an enormously expensive excavation, and the money ran out. I think it cost $30 million [£20 million]. The Italian authorities feel, not without some justice, that they have a lot to look after already ."
However, he added: "The reason we feel this site is special, is that it is the only place in the ancient world where we know that a library was buried in conditions that preserved it.
"We have lots of ancient buildings, but a limited number of ancient works of literature, and this is the place we are most likely to find them."
How the secrets of the scrolls are brought to light
THE ANCIENT city of Herculaneum was destroyed in the same volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii in AD79.
Whereas Pompeii was regarded as a commercial centre, Herculaneum is characterised as a seaside resort town with many wealthy residents.
Hot mud that enveloped Herculaneum helped to preserve the buildings over 2,000 years.
The partially excavated Villa of the Papyri, which was initially explored by the Bourbons through a series of tunnels in 1752, is where all 1,800-2,000 Herculaneum papyri were found.
Windows that can be seen on the lower level would have faced the sea; scholars believe that other papyri may still be buried here on this level.
Although they were excavated in the 18th century, many of the scrolls are so badly carbonised and compacted that scholars have not yet been able to unroll them or learn anything about their contents.
The papyrus layers were rolled around a wooden rod, or umbilicus; many scrolls have a hole in the centre because the umbilicus is missing.
Six of the scrolls were given to Napoleon Bonaparte as a gift, and a fragment of one of them is typical of the fragile condition of the carbonised documents. Despite the deteriorated condition of the Napoleon scrolls fragment, however, scholars have determined that it refers to the great Roman poet, Virgil.
In the Officina dei Papiri at the National Library in Naples, scholars from around the world are working to read scroll fragments and produce or modify transcriptions of the ancient philosophical texts. In a one-year assignment, a team led by Steve and Susan Booras, of Brigham Young University, Utah, conducted multi-spectral imaging on carbonised scroll fragments at the National Library.
The team imaged more than 10,000 fragments during a one-year assignment at the library, where the scrolls are stored.
Two thousand years ago, on the Bay of Naples, in the outskirts of the luxurious resort of Herculaneum, stood one of the grandest houses of the Roman world.
The Blenheim Palace extended more than 200 metres along the shoreline and included an Olympic-sized pool. The extraordinary construction, which has never been fully excavated, is now the subject of an academic controversy.
Eight of the world's leading scholars of ancient literature, including four professors of Greek (from the universities of Bristol, Harvard, London and Oxford) have launched a campaign to recover what they believe the villa may still contain: one of the greatest cultural treasures of all time. Unless work starts soon, they warn, it could be lost for ever.
The villa probably belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law of Julius Caesar and one of the rulers of the Roman republic. In AD79, a century after his death, it was buried under 30 metres of volcanic debris by the same Vesuvius eruption that wiped out Pompeii and Herculaneum.
In 1738, it was rediscovered and the excavators removed statues and objets d'art. In the process, they threw away many lumps of what they took to be coal or charcoal. It was not until 1752 when they discovered the villa's library - neatly lined with 1800 rolls of papyrus - that they realised the discarded material had been books.
It remains the only intact library to have survived from the ancient world and the palace became known as "the Villa of the Papyri".
These rolls of papyri were difficult to decipher and it was not until the 1970s that they began to receive proper scientific study from an international team of scholars led by Professor Marcello Gigante of the University of Naples.
Hundreds of Greek works - including half of Epicurus' entire opus, missing for 2300 years - and some Roman odes were read for the first time.
The author most commonly represented turned out to be Philodemus, an Epicurean philosopher attached to Piso's household, who taught the greatest Latin poet, Virgil, and probably Horace.
It was increasingly Professor Gigante's conviction that only about half of Piso's collection had been retrieved and that much more awaited discovery.
Fresh attempts were made in the 1990s to explore the old excavations and these yielded an astonishing discovery. The villa was not merely built on one level, as had been previously thought, but was terraced down to the sea. It appeared that slaves had been trying to carry crates of books to safety when they were overwhelmed by the eruption.
And the mosaic floors, frescoes and painted ceilings of these lower storeys supported Professor Gigante's belief in the existence of a second library.
Unfortunately, the project ran out of money and Professor Gigante died in November. All that now remains of the exploration is a huge waterlogged hole in which float the syringes of local heroin addicts.
Several of the experts involved in the campaign to save the villa agree there may be lost plays by Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, or even the lost dialogues of Aristotle, as well as works by many other Greek writers, in the lower level.
A contemporary copy of the Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things - which has been recovered - suggests that the villa may yield copies of Virgil's Aeneid, or copies of Horace, or even Catullus.
And it is possible that a family capable of owning such a villa also possessed a copy of Livy's History of Rome, of which more than 100 of the original 142 books are missing.
In the words of the campaigners: "We can expect to find good contemporary copies of known masterpieces and to recover works lost to humanity for two millennia. A treasure of greater cultural importance can scarcely be imagined."
In the meantime, the buried villa is threatened, in the short term by flooding, in the long term by renewed volcanic activity. What is needed is money to restart the excavation and sufficient will on the part of the Italian authorities to see the project through.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/04/01/1017206183365.html
Probably for "Yvrtle est Tvrtle" by "Dr Svess". It's never returned on time.
Their value is that they embodied the ancestor ideas & schools of thought that evolved into what we have today. Surely you wouldn't view the Federalist Papers & the Anti-federalist Papers as just a bunch of old writings?
!!!!! Oh my God, when is the next plane to Naples, I'll excavate the place for free mysef!!!
Here is the entire article from the Independent.co.uk:
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 together.
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.
I don't mean to pick on you but you have been listening to teachers unions too much. Millions more dollars are not what is needed to educate our youth. Inspiration and a desire to learn are more important, followed by inspired teachers and a desire to teach. A find such as this is truly inspirational.
I'll say. Western Civilization: ain't it grand?
The Dead Sea Scrolls were difficult to restore, and they weren't even carbonized by volcanic mud.
Let me have one or two and I'll use 'em to grill some burgers....anyone want cheese on theirs??
It didn't take long to find it! lol
Your comment reveals a profound ignorance of how ancient ideas have affected modern thought, religious and secular -- and hence affected the moral and political ideas and intitutions which constitute our modern world. The foundations of mathematics, formal logic, music theory, political theory and, of course, philosophy, are contained in the ancient world. Not to mention the emergence of drama, painting and sculpture as mature art forms. In addition, the library may contain manuscripts shedding new light on the origins, practices and beliefs of ancient Christianity.
"The proper study of Man is man." -- Francis Bacon
"Know thyself." -- Socrates
God bless our great private charitable foundations, and God bless Western civilization. Don't expect the UN to weigh in with a truck load of cash for this project, they are too busy blaming the West for everything.
Where is Bill Gates...? He really ought to cut loose some serious cash to expedite this project, but I believe his charitable conscience is under the strict influence of liberal guilt-mongerers, not anyone interested in promoting and preserving those ideas that have given form and substance to the civilization we too often take for granted.
Other than that, once you've read a good Epic story like Virgil's, The Aneid, you've read 'em all. :))
Get your goat yet?? :))
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Experts urge race against time to unearth last secrets of Herculaneum s lost library ^
Posted by Korth
On News/Activism ^ 04/03/2002 4:32:14 PM PST · 43 replies · 360+ views
The Scotsman ^ | Wed 27 Mar 2002 | Tim Cornwell
CUT OFF by a muddy pool fed by an ancient river, close to the bottom of an excavation 30 metres deep, archaeologists exploring a villa buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 have found two great doors of carbonised wood. Behind them could lie a lost treasure trove of Roman scrolls, scholars say, part of the celebrated lost library of the Villa of the Papyri. However, a unique chance to recover great classical masterpieces, lost to humanity for 2,000 years, could fall victim to flooding or a new blast from the volcano Vesuvius, they warn. The leading names of...
Herculean task for modern scholars - More on the Discovered Roman Literature being unearthed. ^
Posted by vannrox
On News/Activism ^ 04/05/2002 3:43:19 PM PST · 39 replies · 239+ views
The UK Times ^ | April 05, 2002 | By Robert Fowler
Herculean task for modern scholars By Robert Fowler ALMOST all the texts we have of the ancient classics derive from generations of scribal copies, separated by many centuries from the originals. Most works of classical literature -- some 90 per cent -- were not even lucky enough to be copied and survive into modern times. Very occasionally, the archaeologistís spade turns up fragments of books written in antiquity itself, allowing us direct access to lost works and what the ancients said. Some celebrated sites, such as Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, have yielded up splendid finds. Yet strangely, the most spectacular of...
Ancient Greek Bronze Fished From Sea Dazzes Italy ^
Posted by u-89
On News/Activism ^ 04/01/2003 11:15:04 AM PST · 32 replies · 1,099+ views
Yahoo News/Reuters ^ | 01-04-03 | Estell Shirbon
Ancient Greek Bronze Fished from Sea Dazzles Italy By Estelle Shirbon ROME (Reuters) - Italy unveiled an ancient Greek bronze statue of a dancing satyr on Tuesday, five years after Sicilian fishermen dragged it from the Mediterranean seabed in one of the most important marine archaeological finds ever. The 2,500-year-old satyr went on public display inside Italy's parliament in Rome, where it will spend two months before being moved to a permanent home in Mazara del Vallo, the fishing village in western Sicily nearest to where it was found. "The sea has given us back an extraordinary heirloom of our...
Focus: The search for the lost library of Rome ^
Posted by RightWingAtheist
On News/Activism ^ 01/23/2005 11:33:31 AM PST · 44 replies · 994+ views
The Sunday Times (UK) ^ | January 23 2005 | Robert Harris
Even in our age of hyperbole, it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of what is at stake here: nothing less than the lost intellectual inheritance of western civilisation Down a side street in the seedy Italian town of Ercolano, wafted by the scent of uncollected rubbish and the fumes of passing motor-scooters, lies a waterlogged hole. A track leads from it to a high fence and a locked gate. Dogs defecate in the undergrowth where addicts discard their needles. Peering into the dark, stagnant water it is hard to imagine that this was once one of the greatest...
Focus: The search for the lost library of Rome ^
Posted by snarks_when_bored
On News/Activism ^ 02/01/2005 10:08:49 AM PST · 25 replies · 868+ views
Times Online (U.K.) ^ | January 23, 2005 | Robert Harris
Focus: The search for the lost library of RomeRobert HarrisEven in our age of hyperbole, it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of what is at stake here: nothing less than the lost intellectual inheritance of western civilisation Down a side street in the seedy Italian town of Ercolano, wafted by the scent of uncollected rubbish and the fumes of passing motor-scooters, lies a waterlogged hole. A track leads from it to a high fence and a locked gate. Dogs defecate in the undergrowth where addicts discard their needles. Peering into the dark, stagnant water it is hard to...
Millionaire to fund dig for lost Roman library [Villa of the Papyri] ^
Posted by Mike Fieschko
On News/Activism ^ 02/14/2005 7:42:21 AM PST · 15 replies · 213+ views
The Times [London, UK] ^ | Feb 13, 2005 | Nick Fielding
A PHILANTHROPIST has stepped forward to fund excavations at the ancient city of Herculaneum in Italy, where scholars believe a Roman library lies buried beneath 90ft of lava from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. David W Packard, whose family helped to found the Hewlett-Packard computer company, is concerned that the site may be poorly conserved or that excavation of the library may not continue unless he underwrites the work. Herculaneum, south of present-day Naples, was buried by the same eruption that destroyed nearby Pompeii. ìIt is hard to imagine anything more exciting than excavating at Herculaneum,î said Packard,...
Do you have Claudius' history of the Etruscans? Shhhhhhhhhh!!!!
"Most have turned out to be works of Greek philosophy, including writings of Epicurus missing for more than 2,000 years."
Interesting claim, since the eruption was in 79 AD, and other copies must have been available somewhere in the Empire. File this message under "minor quibbles".
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