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Herculean task for modern scholars - More on the Discovered Roman Literature being unearthed.
The UK Times ^ | April 05, 2002 | By Robert Fowler

Posted on 04/05/2002 3:43:19 PM PST by vannrox

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 archaeologist’s 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 sites remains to be fully explored.

Pompeii is deservedly the most famous archaeological excavation in the world. Buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 and brought to light by generations of painstaking archaeologists, the massive site, some 100 acres, contains the heart of a bustling merchant town, whose market, public buildings, recreational facilities and residences afford the visitor a ghostly sense of antiquity, rendered poignant by the looming bulk of the distant and beautiful volcano.

But besides Pompeii there is Herculaneum, situated on the coast just west of Vesuvius and five miles south of Naples. This was a seaside retreat for the rich. Although smaller than its sister and crowded on all sides by the modern town, it is in some ways even more pleasant to visit. Instead of the pumice that crushed and burnt Pompeii, Herculaneum was first smothered in super-heated gas and ash, then volcanic mud. The first surge carbonised the contents, and the second entombed them.

Consequently, Herculaneum is in a much better state of preservation. Upper storeys, furniture, woodwork, paint and replanted gardens all give an immediate sense of life.

The most famous of Herculaneum’s buildings is not, however, excavated as yet. In 1752-54, tunnellers acting on the orders of the Bourbon King Charles III came across the only intact library known from ancient times, in the house accordingly dubbed the Villa of the Papyri. At first they did not recognise the blackened lumps for what they were, and nearly threw them away. But the chance spotting of a few letters led to the rescue of the rolls from the rubbish heap, and inaugurated the modern discipline of papyrology. Not for the only time in the history of this site, however, financial, administrative and political difficulties put a premature stop to the explorations before the rest of the books could be unearthed.

The library turned out to be peculiarly one-sided, consisting mostly of philosophical books in Greek by Philodemus of Gadara, who was virtually unknown except as the author of some very fine epigrams. But this discovery put him in a wholly new light. He was the most important Epicurean philosopher of the 1st century BC. His patron was Lucius Cal-purnius Piso, father-in-law of Julius Caesar, to whom he dedicated one of his works. In all probability this was Piso’s villa, and Philodemus’s personal library.

Deciphering the charred rolls — black ink on black papyrus — is phenomenally difficult. The books must first be unrolled. Early efforts were disastrous. A common method was to cut a roll in half vertically (which in itself caused much damage either side of the knife), to transcribe as much as could be read on the inner surface, then scrape off the first layer to get at the next one. This first layer was, of course, lost for ever, and we are now dependent on the deficient transcripts of these early scholars, working long before the age of powerful microscopes, infra-red light and digital image-enhancing techniques. It did not help that the rolls and half-rolls were often jumbled or separated, making their reconstruction a puzzle of fiendish difficulty.

In spite of these obstacles, modern scholars have made spectacular progress in the past 30 years. The driving force was Marcello Gigante, Professor of Greek at Naples, who died last November. At his instigation an international team of scholars set to work on the nearly 1,800 rolls of writings on poetry, rhetoric, theology, physics, ethics and the history of philosophy, throwing floods of light on the literary and philosophical culture of the day. The most immediate connection is with Horace’s Art of Poetry, which owes much to Philodemus. Virgil was another pupil, who no doubt studied with him in this very villa.

The library contained works by other Epicurean philosophers, including Epicurus himself. There were also some Latin books. Fragments of a Roman comedy from the time of Terence have recently come to light. Still, Epicurean philosophy preponderates. The question must be whether this was the whole of the library. It seems extremely improbable. Where is the Greek poetry? Where are the other Latin books? Perhaps the remainder has disappeared. But it may still be there, containing who knows what riches. The potential importance of such a discovery cannot be overstated.

It is thus imperative that the excavation be completed. Should the volcano erupt again, we could lose the chance for ever. Partial excavation in the 1990s has established the dimensions of the villa, which we now know stretched down towards the sea on several terraces. It has emerged, too, that during the eruption attempts were made to remove the books in packing cases, some of which could well be found on these lower levels. But, once again, the excavations were interrupted, and we now have the worst of all situations, for, partly exposed as it is, the villa is vulnerable to flooding.

Chronic lack of funds has meant that the already excavated sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum have been slowly deteriorating, creating a crisis of preservation. The villa must compete with many other projects clamouring for support. But among all the buildings of this World Heritage Site, this villa is unique because of the papyri. The will, and the money, must be found to finish the excavation properly, and so, one hopes, restore the great library to an expectant world.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: archaeology; economic; epigraphyandlanguage; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; herculaneum; history; library; pompeii; roman; romanempire; scribe; text; vesuvius; villaofthepapyri
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1 posted on 04/05/2002 3:43:19 PM PST by vannrox
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To: vannrox
My God! Ye Gods! What a treasure!
2 posted on 04/05/2002 3:47:52 PM PST by null and void
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: abwehr
Eeeeevil man!
4 posted on 04/05/2002 3:56:13 PM PST by null and void
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To: null and void
Go here to see the first related article that this refers to.
5 posted on 04/05/2002 3:57:18 PM PST by vannrox
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To: vannrox
ALMOST all the texts we have of the ancient classics derive from generations of scribal copies, separated by many centuries from the originals.

With the exception of the New Testament documents, virtually all the other classic texts are represented by only a very few copies written many hundreds of years after the originals. The generations of scribal copying isn't too bad a thing unless one has only a very few copies to work with in which case it is difficult to get a good idea of what the original documents actually were. Polar opposites are the early Christian literature/New Testament and the Koran. In the former, there is such a wealth of literature that most of the New Testament can be reconstructed from quotes in the early church fathers alone. There is a very good degree of certainty about the text of the original writings as they existed in the latter half of the first century and the early second century. In contrast, "reformers" in Islam caused non-authorized versions of the Koran to be rounded up and burned. The discoveries in Herculaneum are truly wonderful and terribly exciting.
6 posted on 04/05/2002 4:03:44 PM PST by aruanan
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To: vannrox
Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said:

O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you.

Solon in return asked him what he meant.

I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes...."

Keep in mind, the collective Western memory has been largely destroyed by the Burning of the Library of Alexandria, along with all the book burnings from the Sack of Rome, to the Dark Ages forward. We in the West suffer from a collective cultural amnesia.
Library of Alexandria #1
Library of Alexandria #2
Library of Alexandria #3


7 posted on 04/05/2002 4:23:12 PM PST by Jurist
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To: aruanan
Is that why the Christians are having a hissy fit about the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Personally, I will trust text that can be dated close to the original even.

8 posted on 04/05/2002 4:29:51 PM PST by Hunble
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To: Hunble
<> What hissy fit ar you refering to? As far as I've heard the Dead Sea Scolls contain Old Testament material which thus far has proven to be very close to our current translations. Is there something new I haven't heard about?
9 posted on 04/05/2002 4:42:48 PM PST by foolscap
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To: blam
10 posted on 04/05/2002 4:44:04 PM PST by Fish out of Water
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To: Hunble
"Is that why the Christians are having a hissy fit about the Dead Sea Scrolls"

I haven't heard anything about this. Could you please explain?

11 posted on 04/05/2002 4:44:38 PM PST by freedom9
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To: Jurist
World Heritage Site

Isn't this one of the infamous UN projects? Money should be no problem. Of course since it is in town now, doing any work on adjacent lots to protect from flooding would require permits and buying up land, all requiring money.

Knowledge and history from the old days isn't really lost, it's just mixed in and jumbled together. Anyway, the contents of this library would be a private collection of contemporary works, and would bring this period to life. Whose ox could be gored; it's been a long time.

12 posted on 04/05/2002 4:44:56 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: freedom9
Just wait, I am sure some of our Freeper frinds will be more than happy to enlighten us.

Almost 50 years later, the full text of the Dead Sea Scrolls has not been released to the public.

Like you, I would like to hear the reasons why.

13 posted on 04/05/2002 4:49:27 PM PST by Hunble
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To: vannrox
14 posted on 04/05/2002 4:51:37 PM PST by Don Myers
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To: Miss Marple;
15 posted on 04/05/2002 4:56:09 PM PST by father_elijah
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To: Hunble
I would like to hear the reasons why.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are in three bodies today. The Isreali's have a few, there is an unknown number in private collections and the Catholic Church controls the rest of the scrolls in the Scrollery in Jerusalem. All scrolls published prior to 2000 can be contained in 3-4 books with extensive writings filling innumerable additional volumes. Since the Office of the Inquisition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church (actually they changed their name about 60 years ago but I can't remember it) lost control of the scrolls in about 2000, we now have 47 additional volumes of scrolls published.

Of course, the Catholic scholars claim they were just being careful for 56 years but they have put out a lot of "spin" and "smoke" in two years for a bunch of guys that were just figuring out what it says. They probably haven't learned too much more than they already have in the Vatican Libraries but they won't let us see that either. Now that the Huntington Library in Pasadena has photographs of all of the scrolls and will let any serious scholar look at them, the truth will begin to emerge.

16 posted on 04/05/2002 5:56:49 PM PST by IncredibleHulk
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To: IncredibleHulk
Thanks for your reply. I have a feeling we will hear some other version tonight also.

Frankly, I am 47 years old and have waited most of my adult life to read the actual text.

What are they hiding?

17 posted on 04/05/2002 6:06:08 PM PST by Hunble
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To: Hunble
Archeologists today released transcripts of the long lost "Freerepublic" hard drives.

While scholars disagree on most of the references to a "constitution", most do agree that the recuring use of "tinfoil, flame, and Clymer" in the same sections seem to indicate a relationship between these obtuse terms.

Dr. Seamus Johannson, head of the Dept. of Cyber-archeology at Princeton also noted the cyclic nature of complaints regarding "new format" which while cryptic seem to indicate separate periods of cyber-realignment,the largest seemingly occuring prior to the Oslo war of the first half of the 21st century.


18 posted on 04/05/2002 6:13:30 PM PST by tet68
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To: blam
19 posted on 04/05/2002 6:16:50 PM PST by kiryandil
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To: tet68
Should I continue laughing as you intended, or should I cry?

Thanks tet68, you did not let me down.

20 posted on 04/05/2002 6:20:54 PM PST by Hunble
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